A year has passed since ISIS began making worldwide headlines for their march to establish the Islamic State, driving out and murdering anyone in protest of their brand of radical Islam.
Boko Haram continues to ravage Nigeria with shootings, kidnappings, and car bombings.
And on June 26, there were three terror attacks in three different countries carried out by Islamic extremists. The list of assaults goes on and on.
But the rising hostility in our world — especially toward Christianity — does not surprise me.
Persecution isn’t new to the Church.
In fact, Jesus promised that suffering would come to those who follow Him. But in enduring the pain of persecution, He promises eternal rewards to those counted worthy of suffering for His Name.
Matthew 10 documents the very first mission journey. In this passage, Jesus sends the disciples to drive out demons and heal the sick among the Jews. Before the disciples depart for their mission, Jesus warned them of coming opposition:
“I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. Be on your guard; you will be handed over to the local councils and be flogged in the synagogues… You will be hated by everyone because of me…” – Matthew 10:16-17, 22a
This warning is confirmed throughout Scripture as Jesus foretells of oppression and martyrdom (John 16:2). As Dietrich Bonheoffer famously stated, “when Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die.”
The past year has continued to prove these words true… but there is hope in the face of persecution.
“What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs. Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell… Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven.” – Matthew 10:27-28, 32
Jesus promises to vouch for those who proclaim His Name and are persecuted because of it. He even calls us “blessed” when we’re hated, excluded, and insulted because of Him (Matthew 5:11).
And I believe this is why the Apostle Paul—inspired by the Holy Spirit—can boast in his suffering, viewing them as “light and momentary troubles” when compared to the eternal rewards of faithfully following Jesus (2 Corinthians 11:16-33, 4:16).
These two promises prepared the disciples for suffering. And when it came, they were not shocked. Instead of shrinking back in fear, they rejoiced, counting themselves worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name of Jesus (Acts 5:41).
The relationship they had with Christ empowered them to live — and die — for His great Name.
That’s why Stephen could echo the forgiving words of Jesus as he was stoned to death… peacefully looking heavenward to see Christ standing beside the Father, ready to welcome him home (Acts 7).
That’s why Peter could bear his own cross and Paul could fight for the faith until death (2 Timothy 4:7).
And that’s how 21 Christians — and many others who’ve lost their lives this year — could whisper the Name of Jesus as they were massacred on Libyan beaches.
In the face of rising persecution, I’m encouraged by some of Christ’s final words:
"I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." – John 16:33
Suffering is guaranteed, but so are the promises of heaven. If you are in Christ, you are counted worthy. But take heart… Jesus has overcome the world!
Kurt serves as East-West's President and CEO, providing leadership and oversight to all worldwide ministry endeavors in the more than 70 countries in which East-West currently operates. Kurt and his wife, Pat, live in Dallas, Texas, and have nine children and seven grandchildren.