INTERNATIONAL SITUATION REPORTS
Paying the Ultimate Price
from Ron Pearce
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A few days ago, I received a letter from the leader of one of India’s largest church planting networks that Empower supports. I will share part of it with you now...
A martyr is a person who has paid the ultimate price, death, for their decision to follow Jesus Christ. Persecution has been an integral part of Christianity. In the early centuries, stoning, crucifixion, burning, being thrown to wild beasts, beheading and other forms of cruelty were not foreign to those who chose to become Christ followers. Suffering for the Gospel, persecution, and martyrdom for following Christ continue in many parts of the world. Recently, Anant Ram, a believer in our ministry in India became a martyr.
Anant came to Christ less than a year ago. His pastor said, “He faithfully attended church and assisted me in the work of ministry. He was most eager to go with me to unreached villages of his tribe.” However, the villagers were angry at Anant’s decision to follow Christ. They ostracized him and the village council asked him to leave the village. Anant cleared a piece of forest and built a small makeshift home outside the village.
From the reports we received, we can only imagine that fateful night when Anant became a martyr; it may have happened like this:
One night, Anant heard angry noises outside his hut. He peered into the darkness. It was a mob. He looked at his young son who was fast asleep. He was glad that his wife and four daughters were not there. They had gone to visit relatives in another village. The mob barged into the hut. The leader carried a sickle, a sharp instrument used by villagers to harvest rice. The mob tied the hands of Anant and dragged him out. The sickle did its job quickly!
Sukbati, the wife of Anant, said, “We knew the cost we would have to possibly pay for following Jesus Christ. I miss him and I cannot describe my grief.” She stopped to wipe her tears and then said, “I will be faithful to my God, no matter what. And, I find strength in the hope that I will see my husband once again.”
The “human reaction” to this story of our brother in India dying for believing in Christ, is for us to rise up in “righteous indignation.” We want to demand justice for this atrocity, and crusade for the rights of this Christian, and thousands of others, who have paid the ultimate price for their faith. Over the years I have heard the following phrase repeated probably hundreds of times when I tell stories such as this – “We (Christians) have to do something about this!”
Those of us who are believers and are members of the Body of Christ, cry out in pain for our brother and his family. But, an abhorrent incident of a believer’s murder is not something new. In fact, two thousand years ago a somewhat similar situation happened and a dear brother in Christ had a similar “human reaction” when persecution and injustice raised their ugly heads.
What Would Jesus Do?
The events recorded in Scripture of the time Jesus and His disciples spent in the Garden of Gethsemane, just before His crucifixion, are packed with valuable lessons. One reveals how Jesus handles persecution. In the Easter season, we often pass over this section of Scripture rather quickly, jumping immediately to the crucifixion of Christ and His resurrection. But there is a critical lesson here to be learned that affects our daily Christian walk, and missions as a whole. It is found in John 18:4-11 (NASB). I’ve underlined the portions that I will comment on later.
The Garden of Gethsemane today
So Jesus, knowing all the things that were coming upon Him, went forth and said to them, “Whom do you seek?” They answered Him, “Jesus the Nazarene.” He said to them, “I am He.” And Judas also, who was betraying Him, was standing with them. So when He said to them, “I am He,” they drew back and fell to the ground. Therefore He again asked them, “Whom do you seek?” And they said, “Jesus the Nazarene.” Jesus answered, “I told you that I am He; so if you seek Me, let these go their way,” to fulfill the word which He spoke, “Of those whom You have given Me I lost not one.” Simon Peter then, having a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s slave, and cut off his right ear; and the slave’s name was Malchus. So Jesus said to Peter, “Put the sword into the sheath; the cup which the Father has given Me, shall I not drink it?”
Three things apply here to the national churches of the world and areas where there is a combination of persecution and incredible church growth:
- “…knowing all the things that were coming upon Him” – National believers are painfully cognizant of what trials and persecution may lie before them when they receive Christ as Saviour. This is because they have witnessed others being persecuted for their faith, and secondly, most of the time, they had been persecutors themselves (e.g. the Saul-turned-to-Paul scenario). The correlation between persecution for one’s faith and a close walk with God is astounding. Jesus was not surprised about His suffering, and neither are national believers today.
- “…they drew back and fell to the ground” – When Jesus revealed His divinity to the soldiers, the supernatural ran headlong into the natural and a different kind of miracle took place—the soldiers were stunned to learn Jesus’s somewhat-hidden identity, and lost all physical strength in His presence. Literally, no one can stand in God’s holy presence. In the same way, when believers undergo physical persecution, it is amazing how the presence of God envelopes them and gives them a combination of courage, appropriate words, strength, endurance, and above all else, a peace in the midst of tribulation (e.g. Stephen, when he was stoned – Acts 7). I have heard this testified to over and over again in my travels. Regardless of nationality or religion, the unsaved stand back in amazement when they witness the emergence of the indwelling presence of God displaying Himself in the faces, actions and words of those suffering physical persecution for their faith.
- “…the cup which the Father has given Me, shall I not drink it?” – Our heavenly Father has prepared a different “drink” for each believer on earth who pledges allegiance to Him. This cup can contain physical testing that sometimes leads to pain, suffering and death; it may mean physical or mental sickness; it may mean the loss of a loved one; it may mean carrying the weight of great wealth that could lead to spiritual distraction and a host of family problems; it may mean a mixture of all of these, as well as a list of trials, times of testing, and suffering that a library of books could not fully contain. This is the life of a Christian! And Jesus showed us that whatever is in the cup the Father presents to us, we must drink it willingly and with determination to be faithful to the last drop. National believers around the world usually have a greater proportion of physical suffering in their cups, due to the hostile environment created by other religions and governments that are opposed to the Gospel of Christ. Be that as it may, they are taught by those who lead them to Christ, that the cup of suffering is part of the price we pay to follow Christ. And they gladly agree to these terms!
Lessons from Former Muslims, Now New Believers
Just a few weeks ago I was in Ethiopia, meeting with and interviewing former Muslim mosque leaders and teachers who had recently accepted Christ as Saviour and Lord. One such individual stands out in my memory. He was a former mosque teacher who had turned to Jesus only a few months earlier. This is his story.
He sat on the floor and gave his testimony in a very soft, quiet voice. He ever so peacefully shared how the Holy Spirit had opened up and changed his mind and thinking about the Christian Gospel. He told me he had accepted Jesus, was baptized and discipled, and then began to be active as a church planter. In these few months since his conversion, he has led 20 people to Christ. This man was able to stay in the mosque for a short time after being born again, teaching those who attended, and explaining that Jesus fulfills what they had been searching for in the Koran and in Islam. People were coming to him, asking questions, and giving him the opportunity to sow seeds of hope and Truth in their hearts.
As the man went on with his story, it was clear that his time spent sharing Jesus boldly in the mosque, came at a huge price. He was expelled from the mosque and community life, and was imprisoned for three days. In addition, all of his earthly possessions were confiscated, including his livestock, house and even his family. He totally understands, accepts and is willing to pay the price to be a follower of the Lord.
This humble man is not alone in drinking from the cup the Father has given to him. A few months ago, I met another high-ranking sheik who lives only a short distance away from this man. This second man had several dreams in which Jesus opened his mind to the fact that He is the Messiah and the Son of God. He too accepted, followed and drank the cup of suffering for the way of the Cross. As a result, he was stabbed twice, beaten unconscious 10 times, lost all earthly possessions, and his wife and children were forcibly removed from him by his Muslim in-laws. Even so, he told me that he accepted God the Father’s plan for his life without argument or reservation. Not a trace of anger was present in his life.
What is our Response to Persecution?
There are so many believers worldwide who are experiencing what Jesus experienced leading up to and eventually on the Cross. What are they doing about it? They are not responding to persecution or even martyrdom with a “human reaction” of protest. They are not lashing out in anger like Peter did in cutting off Malchus’s ear. Rather, they are committing themselves to following Jesus closer, sharing the Gospel more aggressively, and never complaining or rebelling against the cup their heavenly Father has given them. Through the pain of their circumstances, they also hold onto this verse in Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV):
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
There is nothing wrong with the feelings of sorrow, grief, emotional pain, or even helplessness that we experience when we hear stories of believers suffering for the Name of Christ. But anger is not the appropriate reaction or response to the persecution of Christians. For those wishing to respond “in the power of the Spirit” rather than an “outpouring of the flesh”, our proper comeback should be to PRAY and to WORK for the salvation of those who are persecuting believers. This means—don’t get angry, don’t try to get even, but get motivated to support national believers in their mission to save the lost souls of their countries.
God clearly teaches us throughout Scripture, that we will not change this world through human means. In Zechariah 4:6 NKJV, we read:
…“Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,” says the Lord of hosts.
Jesus did pay the ultimate price for us on the Cross. And we will change this world through a Spirit-led strategy and a God-enabled drive to win the lost at all costs.
It’s on this basis that I wish you and your family a wonderful, blessed, meaningful and Happy Easter!
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