Don’t panic! Yes, Stand for the Persecuted Sunday is this Sunday, April 17.* I am sure that if every church around the country, every church in Western Christendom, had known this fact with a bit more lead time, they would all be throwing over all their previous plans for Sunday worship and devoting it to a Sunday of standing for persecuted brothers and sisters around the world.. . .
What? You don’t think so? Well, to tell the truth, neither do I. And that is an indictment on Western Christianity, and something for which we will answer before the throne of God, when, as Matthew 25 says,
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’
“They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’
“He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’
“Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”
What makes you think that passage is particularly about our response to persecuted Christians, you say?
Well, look at the chapter of Matthew right before this one, Matthew 24, which tells of the destruction of the Temple (70 AD) and Jesus speaks about the signs that the end of the age is coming, and the signs of His return. He calls them “the beginning of birth pains.”
The problem is — as I say when I am speaking to churches about their persecuted brothers and sisters in the global church — in the West, we have not felt the birth pains. To follow on with Jesus’ women-in-labor metaphor, with which a certain segment of us in the population can identify more than others! — Western churches have had an epidural.
It is our fellow Christians in Iraq and Syria, Sudan and Nigeria, North Korea and Pakistan, China and Saudi Arabia, Iran and Eritrea, Libya and Somalia, Turkey and Ethiopia, and elsewhere, with increasing intensification and widening gyres — that are feeling the birth pains, and have been throughout history. In Matthew’s record of the event, Jesus says:
Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.
I’m grateful for less bleak account of that same passage recorded by Luke:
On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. People will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken. At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.
Christians who are presently being humiliated, beaten, tortured, arrested, imprisoned, displaced, persecuted, and enslaved, will stand up with power of GOD enabling their starved, bruised, and broken limbs. They will lift up heads that Islamist Supremacists from al Azhar to ISIS, and from Mohammed to Anjem Chaudary, have attempted to push into the dirt. They will see their Redemption coming.
Will we stand with them with upturned faces glowing with the Son’s beauty as He comes? Only if we stand with them now! Otherwise we will have our heads lowered in shame, and be thinking — like goats — of excuses for why we did not respond with prayer and compassion to the plight of our fellow members of the Household of Faith.
With ISIS, and terrorist jihadi attacks invading our own shores, with more to come, we are finally starting to feel the birth pains. As horrible as that is, it seems to have opened the eyes of more Western Christians to the persecution suffered by their brothers and sisters in worldwide Body of Christ. It is encouraging more of us to stand with the persecuted. Sunday, April 17, is only a beginning. It should be a line in the sand saying from now on we will Stand with the Persecuted, individually and together as part of that one same Body of Christ.
*You can observe Stand for the Persecuted anytime and as often as you would like — not just on April 17, 2016. Please check out the resources at the Family Research Council’s special website. And make sure to watch and share FRC’s short video about our persecuted brothers and sisters!