The great cost and reward of following Jesus Christ
My heart is so very heavy with the news of the evil and oppressive Taliban takeover happening in Afghanistan right now and the horrific reports of the persecuted Christians in the region. My thoughts and prayers go out to our Afghan brothers and sisters in Christ who at this very moment, have gone into hiding and face being tortured and killed for their faith in Christ Jesus. While we should certainly do all that we can to help the persecuted Church—send financial aid, press our global leaders for humanitarian intervention and pray fervently for the safety and wellbeing of the Afghani people—we may feel overwhelmed by feelings of sorrow, anger or helplessness as this injustice takes place out of our reach overseas. While we shouldn't downplay the reality and severity of what is taking place in Afghanistan and many other parts of the world, we can find comfort in Jesus' promise that there is great blessing and hope for all those who suffer for His name's sake.
“Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great." Matthew 5:10-12
Christian persecution shouldn't be new or surprising to us. Since the days of the early Church, the good news of the Gospel has not been openly received by many. Today, Christians are the most persecuted faith group in the world. More than 2,000 years after Jesus' ministry, we're seeing an unprecedented spike in hostility towards Christ and Christians marked by increased martyrdom, attacks on church buildings, faith-related imprisonments and bans on church gatherings. The Bible says Christian persecution will only get worse as we near the End Times. According to a 2021 report from Open Doors, an international non-governmental organization that advocates on behalf of persecuted Christians, one in every eight Christians face persecution around the world. That is more than 340 million Christians who suffer from high levels of persecution and discrimination.
It may surprise you that the Bible says that all who live a steadfast life in Christ Jesus will face persecution. In the West, most Christians think of persecution in its most extreme forms but the word as defined in the dictionary refers to any hostility, ill-treatment, persistent annoyance and/or harassment experienced as a result of one’s beliefs. Even in the Western world where we take pride in our freedom of religious rights, we still experience mild forms of persecution, like societal rejection, that are not nearly as threatening as martyrdom. As our world becomes more corrupt with evil, there will be more and more pressure put on Christians and churches to abandon or compromise their convictions to appease society. Of course in these cases, we are to make every effort to stand boldly and firmly for Christ and use our voice to advocate for our brothers and sisters in Christ who are not afforded the same freedoms.
When persecution happens to us, we may ask ourselves “Where is God?” or “Why would He allow this to happen to His chosen people?” The truth is that Jesus Himself said that the Christian walk would not be free of trouble or hardship. On the contrary, we read at length about the trials the disciples and the early church members faced when spreading the Gospel, but even in those trying times, we see God’s faithful hand working. God does not simply abandon His children in the midst of persecution, but He is there through every tear, anxious thought or moment of weakness, providing His comfort, strength and peace.
The call to pick up our cross and follow Christ comes at a great cost, but it has an even greater reward—eternal life with our Saviour. When we suffer in the name of Jesus, we experience a little taste of the suffering and rejection He went through for us. Like Jesus, we will face trials and suffering here on earth but the grave will have no power over us, and that is cause to rejoice. In death, we will rise again and see the Lord face-to-face in Heaven, where there will be no more tears. As we continue to pray for Afghanistan and persecuted Christians all over the world who are suffering in ways most of us in the West may never know, may we take comfort in knowing that those who remain faithful to God unto death will be blessed a hundredfold and receive the crown of life in Heaven.
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