‘The Resurrection of Lazarus,’ oil on canvas painting by Henry Ossawa Tanner, 1896, Musee d’Orsay, Paris (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
Jesus said, Take ye away the stone. Martha, the sister of him that was dead, saith unto him, Lord, by this time he stinketh: for he hath been dead four days. Jesus saith unto her, Said I not unto thee, that, if thou wouldest believe, thou shouldest see the glory of God? … And when he thus had spoken, he cried with a loud voice, Lazarus, come forth. And he that was dead came forth, bound hand and foot with graveclothes; … Then many of the Jews which came to Mary, and had seen the things which Jesus did, believed on him.
But some of them went their ways to the Pharisees, and told them what things Jesus had done. Then gathered the chief priests and the Pharisees a council, and said, What do we? for this man doeth many miracles. If we let him thus alone, all men will believe on him: and the Romans shall come and take away both our place and nation. … Then from that day forth they took counsel together for to put him to death.
– John 11:39-40, 43-48, 53
The story of Jesus Christ raising Lazarus from the dead is one of the most dramatic in the New Testament. Yet, almost as amazing as bringing a man back to life after four days in the grave is the authorities’ reaction to this astonishing miracle: It made them want to kill Jesus.
This cosmic irony – of genuine godliness inspiring loathing and violence – has been reflected throughout our world ever since.
Christianity inspired hostility from the beginning; not only was Jesus crucified, but 11 of the 12 apostles were martyred.
Today, sincere followers of Jesus Christ are under attack everywhere, not only in lands dominated by religions and governments hostile to Christianity, but increasingly in those parts of the world historically home to, and founded by, Christians.
Think of it. The most transcendent way of life a man or woman can embrace on this earth – one that commands not only that you love God with all your heart and your neighbor as yourself, but that you “love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you and persecute you” – is cursed, hated and persecuted.
This persecution shows up in a broad spectrum of ways. In the United States it is, as a rule, far less overt and brutal than overseas, taking the form of censorship, demonization and criminalization – for example, the never-ending prosecutions of Christian businesses and individuals (including the jailing of a Christian county clerk) for being unwilling to actively participate in homosexual weddings. Then there are the ubiquitous assaults on Christian expression in the public square, online and within our public schools and armed forces, and the ongoing destruction of Christian memorials, crosses, nativity scenes and the like, and even the recent equating of Christianity with white supremacism and the open mockery of prayer.
Of course, in much of the rest of the world no such subtlety or restraints exist, with scores of nations persecuting, torturing, enslaving and slaughtering Christians daily.
By every measure, Christian persecution – and even more fundamentally, fear and loathing of biblical Christianity – is growing worldwide, even in the once-Christian West, including Europe, the United Kingdom and North America.
The most appalling manifestation within the U.S. has been church shooting massacres, including September 2017’s church shooting in Tennessee and the following November’s mass-murder in rural Texas when a militant atheist, calling believers “stupid,” slaughtered 26 churchgoers and injured dozens more.
Around the world, sums up Open Doors, a ministry serving the needs of the persecuted faithful, “Christians are being persecuted in more countries and in more ways than ever before.”
First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, where more than two-dozen people were killed in November
Why is this happening?
And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. – John 3:19-20
In many parts of the globe, the reasons Christian believers are targeted are clear enough: Christians are considered “infidels” by millions of Muslims taught from birth that such are deserving of death or forced conversion to Islam, or else dhimmitude (subservient second-class status including a punitive tax). Likewise, the ruling elite in communist societies indoctrinates the population that there is no God – or, as in North Korea, that their leader is a god – rendering Christianity a serious competitor for the people’s loyalty and thus a mortal threat to communists’ limitless ambitions to power.
But even in America, Christian believers are increasingly reviled in a land historically founded as an explicitly Christian one. America’s culture today is not merely un-Christian, but anti-Christian. The news and entertainment media mock and belittle Christian beliefs as do most of the nation’s colleges and universities, while the political left increasingly equates biblical values with ignorance and bigotry at best, and at worst, with white nationalism and fascism. Unfortunately, this growing antipathy toward Christianity was turbocharged by President Obama, who for eight years openly denigrated the very faith he claims to follow. In reality, raised by a Muslim stepfather and schooled as a follower of Islam in Indonesia, Obama later embraced the atheistic religion of Marxism for decades – and he has never publicly renounced nor even criticized either one.
Former President Obama has said he is a practicing Christian
But let us now turn up the magnification and take a much closer look at what actually underlies today’s growing antagonism toward the followers and teachings of Christ.
Bear with me, please, because it may seem at first as though we’re not dealing directly with the subject at hand – Christian persecution – although you’ll soon see we have arrived at the very heart of the matter.
Let’s zoom in on a common scene in 21st-century America. For the nearly four-and-a-half decades since Roe v. Wade, pro-lifers – the vast majority of them Christians – have been standing vigil and praying outside abortion clinics across the country and, when opportunity arises, speaking to the mostly young women entering therein. As a rule, these “sidewalk counselors” demonstrate genuine love and concern for both mother and child, frequently offering to take the expectant mother to a nearby pro-life crisis pregnancy center that gives free ultrasounds, counseling and support in dealing with a crisis pregnancy without abortion. Countless women have been helped this way; otherwise, pro-lifers wouldn’t engage in this outreach year after year.
But some women – and a great many of the abortion clinics’ staffers – insist they witness vile, hateful, vicious verbal assaults from the pro-life interventionists. It’s not true, of course. I have known many pro-life activists and sidewalk counselors, including some who offer – out of their own personal substance – to help these girls, to pay their way, even take them into their own home to provide them with a loving, supportive, life-affirming alternative to abortion. They are motivated by love.
Why, then, do some people experience the genuine concern of kindhearted, well-intentioned people as vile, vicious and abusive?
A young girl holds up a pro-life sign at the March for Life in Washington, D.C., in 2013 (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
Only because, in order to head down the dark path toward aborting their child, they have had to stifle or ignore their own conscience – that little spark of God within, the moral compass in every human being that illuminates right from wrong. And what happens when this conscience, which they have managed for the time being to evade, suddenly pops out in another person and speaks eloquently and boldly to them? They react to the voice of conscience in the pro-lifer the same way they react to their own conscience – as an adversary to be discredited and overcome.
In essence, since they feel pain when the Christian pro-lifer speaks to them, they conclude that the person did something terribly wrong to them!
But in reality, all that’s happening is the light of truth shining through one soul is exposing a dark deed in another – in this case, fortunately, a dark deed that hasn’t yet occurred. (This is why some of the most grateful people on earth are women who have been confronted by someone with a little love before entering an abortion clinic.)
Much the same dynamic is replicated in other areas of life, such as when Christian business owners including wedding photographers, bakers, event planners and venue hosts decline on moral-religious grounds to actively participate in homosexual weddings, which celebrate something the Bible explicitly condemns as immoral and sinful. To many who have fallen into the highly addictive world of homosexuality, someone shining a light on their sexual perversion by simply declining to participate in a wedding ceremony is seen as evidence not just of bigotry and hate, but of a crime.
Yet consider that a remarkable body of major peer-reviewed research confirms what previous generations of psychiatrists and psychologists knew, and what many people intuitively recognize – that homosexual identification frequently results from childhood sexual abuse. Thus, despite today’s supercharged cultural and legal affirmation of homosexuality as a perfectly normal, healthy, even glorious lifestyle, underneath it all great anxiety and guilt persist because homosexual acts actually are morally wrong and disordered and often rooted in trauma. When that deeply buried angst over one’s homosexuality is awakened by some innocent person who fails to affirm that homosexuality is moral and wholesome, it is often experienced as “hate.”
It is not hate, only an unwelcome truth.
Ironically, though Islam is infinitely harsher than Christianity in its treatment of homosexuals – lashing them, throwing them off buildings, hanging, stoning, torturing or shooting them – rarely are any complaints heard from the left about Islam. Only about Christianity. Why?
TerrorMoniter ASA posted this photo on Twitter, claiming it shows ISIS terrorists throwing a 15-year-old boy off a rooftop after they accused him of engaging in homosexual relations with a top ISIS officer (Photo: Twitter/TerrorMonitor)
Because the left’s real enemy is not Islam, it is the Judeo-Christian biblical precepts and commandments that for centuries served as Western civilization’s moral foundation. The left does not feel threatened by Islam because Islam doesn’t shine a light on the left’s sins; it just represents a different form of darkness and, therefore, causes no spiritual conflict or shame.
Moreover, for now at least, the left is strategically comfortable allying with Islam because “the enemy of your enemy is your friend,” and both Islam and the atheistic left are at war with Christianity.
It’s no coincidence that the two previous examples cited – abortion and homosexuality – both revolve around sex. Much of the American left’s hatred of Christianity has everything to do with sex and morality. Indeed, since the 1960s cultural revolution and the ascendency of the various “liberation” movements – “sexual liberation,” “gay liberation,” “women’s liberation,” legalized abortion and so on, much of it hinging on “sexual freedom” – one single factor has stood in opposition to total Marxist socio-sexual anarchy: biblical morality.
That’s right. Even today, most of those so strenuously denouncing the endless stream of sexual predators being exposed in Hollywood, Congress and the news media fail to realize that the only thing that has ever effectively restrained such misbehavior has been the Judeo-Christian moral laws found in the Bible.
How ironic that the very worldview the left mocks is the one and only factor that has, for all previous generations, provided our society with a sacred core of sound moral values with regard to sex, marriage and family. The secular elite’s hypocrisy is staggering: America’s colleges promote sexual anarchy in every conceivable way, with Harvard holding its annual “Sex Week” last month, including a clinic instructing students on how to have anal sex. And yet these same institutions complain bitterly about the “culture of rape” on campus – a culture they literally created.
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The very high cost of discipleship
And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not. – John 1:5
What about the rest of the world? In so many nations, life is more wretched and the human spirit more stifled than we in the West can ever imagine.
And in these dark regions, where the light of Judeo-Christian civilization has never dawned, and where the marvelous freedom, security, self-worth, individual rights and resulting entrepreneurism, innovation and other blessings of liberty have never existed, the dynamics of persecution just described manifest not as mockery and lawsuits, but as brutal suppression, mayhem, madness and murder.
For those who rise to positions of power in totalitarian nations, as well as for those unfree souls forced to serve as soldier-slaves of the regime’s enforcement machinery, the mortal threat posed by the very existence of the Christian Gospel being shared in that land – because of its exceedingly powerful appeal to the hearts, minds and souls of the people – is total. It must be stamped out at all costs. The darkness not only can’t “comprehend” the light – it absolutely can’t stand it and feels compelled to put it out.
The extreme penalties simply for being a Christian in much of the Arab-Muslim world, and especially for apostasy – converting to Christianity from Islam, generally earning a death sentence – are a measure of just how truly dark the state-mandated religion can be in many parts of the world.
Christians in Egypt
And yet, to the great masses of people living in totalitarian regions, hearing and receiving the Gospel message often is like being gifted with cool water in a stifling spiritual desert. This is why, despite the very high cost of discipleship, Christianity blooms readily in the most hostile places on earth. Places like Nigeria and Somalia in northern Africa, where being a Christian can easily mean having your home burned to the ground and your entire family beheaded, and North Korea, where simply being found to possess a small Bible can lead to summary execution with a high-powered rifle shot to the head. But many would much rather live with the extreme danger, yet with joy and the promise of eternal life, than continue in the living death they had before.
And then, there is Europe.
Currently in the process of being conquered by Islam, Europe has already largely been conquered by the seductive, atheistic, yet insufferably self-righteous “religion” of socialism/Marxism and the moral and spiritual emptiness it truly represents. Europeans rejected the stout Christian faith of their forefathers for the sake of gaining “freedom” from their prior bondage to old-fashioned morality, biblical values and the personal responsibility, self-denial and sacrifice that real liberty requires. However, that rebellion against their centuries-old Christian foundations has created a raging spiritual vacuum, which Islam has been only too happy to fill. With its rapidly expanding population – comprising both migrants and converts –Europe’s Muslims seem full of religious fervor and willingness to have lots of children unlike native Europeans, and to generate a never-ending supply of fired-up jihad warriors and wannabe martyrs eager to die while ushering in the Islamic apocalypse.
It’s been said it takes a religion to fight a religion – and Europe has none.
Indeed, the plight of Europe and the United Kingdom today is eerily reminiscent of the many biblical accounts of God’s chosen people who, having fallen into disobedience and corruption, were invaded, put to the sword and conquered by pagan armies serving an alien god.
Freedom from bondage
Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you. – Matthew 5:11-12
So where does this leave us? Our world, despite its natural beauty, wonder and awesomely dazzling complexity, is filled with the wretchedness of desperate people trying to bear up under the yoke of every form of bondage. Not just bondage to deranged leaders and enslaving philosophies, religions and governments, but bondage to drugs, alcohol, food, sex, gambling and everything in between. Human weaknesses like pride, doubt, anger, lust and greed manifest as cruelty, confusion, corruption, exploitation and criminality – and terrorism and war are never far behind. Even in the most civilized of nations like America, rage, depression, anxiety, mental illness, addiction, divorce, family breakdown, hopelessness and suicide far too often get the upper hand.
Yet, God is merciful. For into this exceedingly dark world, He sends a gift. The Creator of the entire universe, omnipresent, omniscient and omnipotent, somehow manages to wrap His nature and goodness and grace and healing and majesty and a plan for redemption all into a tiny package – a present for mankind – and sends it to earth in the form of an infant. A wonder literally beyond our imagining, God’s Son is not only full of love and truth and innocence – basically, everything this world is not – but bears the ultimate gift of healing for mankind. The child grows up to become not only the most important person to ever live – the greatest example, greatest teacher, greatest religious leader and so on – but much more. He becomes the savior of mankind, the doorway to a new life for us, both in this world and the next.
But, He says, there will be many difficulties as we journey through this present life.
Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also. – John 15:20
For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake. – Philippians 1:29
Even so, there is a sort of divine magic afoot, for all who embrace Him and faithfully follow His path to peace and fulfillment even in the midst of suffering, joy in the face of heartache, fullness of life even when surrounded by death. The magic of God’s love for us and our redemption is a great and mysterious heavenly miracle, yet down here at “ground level” we are called to focus on forgiveness: God forgives our sins through Christ’s sacrifice for us – and we, in gratitude and obedience, forgive everyone else’s sins. Everyone. Completely and totally.
Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven. – Matthew 5:44-45
If you think about it, when we bless those who curse us and do good to them that hate us and pray for those who persecute us, we can’t lose. No matter what. We become bulletproof. The good is good, and the bad is good, so to speak.
U.S. soldiers kneel in prayer
Moreover, let’s remember that as important as this life is, we are on a sojourn through this world to another kingdom. While here, we’re meant to live every moment of our lives in faithful service and obedience to our now and future king.
And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. – Revelation 21:4-5
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