You probably remember something from a history class somewhere in your past that during the first few centuries after Christ, that His followers were periodically arrested, beaten, thrown to the Lions and under Emperor Nero, covered in tar and set on fire as street lamps for the city of Rome. But you probably have the opinion that such persecution and danger for followers of Jesus is a thing of the past. Surely in 2,000 years we have progressed as people and there is a tolerance for people of other faiths. Live and let live.
In spite of our optimism, some reports claim that more people have died as martyrs for Christ in the past 100 years than in all the 1900 years prior. Such statistics can leave you overwhelmed and staggered, searching for some way to block out their significance and more one in life pretending that it doesn’t impact you. Such a notion runs totally counter to what Paul said in 1 Corinthians 12:16, “When one of us suffers we all suffer”. Every once in a while such numbers get personal and hit a little closer to home. That happened on April 17th 2010 in the town of Selaiya in central India.
For me it started in November of 2009 when I was at a conference in Delhi hosted by Rod Gilbert. Rod is an Indian who loves Jesus and is a leader in the House Church Movement in his country. He is a gracious man who is sold out for Jesus along with many members of his extended family. On April 17th the persecution of Christians struck very close to home for him. Rod has a cousin whose family follows Christ. On that day, Amit Gilbert, a member of that family was attacked by members of Bajrang Dal. These are Hindus who worship the Monkey God. Amit had been sharing the Gospel in that town and these men did not like that. So that beat him to death and threw his body down a well. That is not an isolated occurrence. Christians around the world are having their homes burned, being beaten and threatened, as well as kid-napped never to be seen again.
Two things come to mind when I consider the persecution of Christians around the world. First is that Jesus promised this would happen if we followed Him. 20Remember the words I spoke to you: ‘No servant is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. 21They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the One who sent me. John 15:20-21
Certainly there are Christians who invite suffering simply because they are obnoxious and argumentative. That is not persecution for following Jesus. That is a just reward for being Un-Christ-like. But there are those who do follow Jesus, loving their neighbor, reaching out to those in need, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, setting people free with the life changing message of forgiveness. Those people are being persecuted and killed all around the world. It is just as Jesus said it would be. Following Jesus is not for sissies.
The second point that comes to mind is this. If you are following Jesus and never been ridiculed, laughed at, rejected, or mocked, are you really following Jesus? You may believe in Him and have knowledge of Him that includes things like going to church. But if you have never faced anything close to the rejection that Jesus promised, are you really walking in His footsteps? Again that doesn’t mean you go out and make a nuisance of yourself. But trust me, if you decide to go feed some homeless people, or use your vacation for a mission trip to New Delhi instead of a beach trip to New Smyrna, if you tell people you believe in a God of absolute truth, or that Jesus is the only way to heaven, you will find opposition and rejection. You will be persecuted as Jesus promised and if you are not that maybe you need to reassess how closely you are following Jesus.
Lest you leave this all bummed out and depressed let me share this final thought. Many in the west think that Christianity is on the decline. We look around us and think the influence of Christians is less than ever and fewer people are following Christ. Maybe, maybe not. What I do know is that around the world, Christianity is growing like a weed. It is growing in places like India, China, all over Africa and South America. It is growing in spite of a lake of resources and in spite of, or maybe because of life threatening persecution. Maybe the persecution exists in those places because more and more people are truly following Jesus by being loving, gracious, hospitable, committed to the poor, sacrificing for their neighbor in ways the west does not. And so as more people follow that kind of Jesus, the opposition grows and so does the church. Maybe the lack of persecution in the west and the decline of Christianity are linked. When it is so easy to follow Jesus, few people see the need and few people do, so few people bother to make Christians suffer.