The Persecuted Church

Publié le 30 octobre 2021 dans Traductions

Sermon preached by Anthony Granger of Portes Ouvertes on 31st October 2021

Today is the Sunday of the Persecuted Church. Firstly we will watch a video about the persecutions happening around the world.

Title slide: We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed –2 Corinthians 4:8

Let’s talk about the 2021 Index of Persecution. This year, the yellow color has disappeared. Yellow signified « Strong Persecution ». Now we start directly with Orange, or « Very Strong Persecution ». This shows us that persecution continues and increases, as it does every year.

We see that:

  • North Korea is still the country with the most persecution (and this has been the case for the last 20 years)
  • Two additional countries added to the list of countries deemed « Extreme Persecution »
  • In sub-saharan Africa, persecution tends to migrate south down the continent (Congo, Mozambique)
  • COVID-19 served as a catalyst in some countries, like Nigeria and Somalia

Let’s have a closer look at Iran, which is the 8th country on the list for « Extreme Persecution ».

The government is the principal persecutor in Iran. Christians are considered as western spies sent to weaken the Islamic regime. Iran is an Islamic republic. Church life is completely controlled by government authorities.

Christians who come from the historically present Armenian and Assyrian churches are recognized by the state but are treated as second-class citizens. The government especially targets Christians that come from a Muslim background. They meet secretly, and if they are caught, they are imprisoned.

Amazingly, the church in Iran is the fastest growing one in the world! According to analysts of the persecuted church, there is a massive exodus happening from Islam to Christanity. According to certain partners, there are more than 1 million Christians in Iran. Let’s watch a video that demonstrates the persecution Christians experience in Iran.

Let’s read 2 Corinthians chapter 4.

1Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. 2But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. 3And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. 4In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 5For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. 6For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

7But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. 8We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. 11For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. 12So death is at work in us, but life in you.13Since we have the same spirit of faith according to what has been written, “I believed, and so I spoke,” we also believe, and so we also speak, 14knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence. 15For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.16So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. 17For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

Paul tells us about these pressures that the first Christians were also under. He was one of the first persecutors of the Christians, and he in turn had to suffer persecution, even death. Let’s see what enabled Paul yesterday and the persecuted Christians today to stand firm in spite of all the persecution brought against them. And let us discover how these teachings can impact our own lives.

Why are we hard pressed on every side?

1) We are persecuted because we have a treasure

To know Jesus is the greatest treasure of all. Are we as convinced of this as Paul?

According to the dictionary definition, a treasure is a collection of valuable things, accumulated and often carefully hidden. Well, that’s the opposite of what God wants us to do with the treasure He has placed in our hearts! V.6

But we have a problem…
As a rule, a treasure arouses covetousness, curiosity, the desire to see, etc. But as we all know, this treasure does not systematically attract crowds. We can even say that in some countries, as in most persecuted countries, it attracts hatred.

Even here in France, the Gospel disturbs: it bothers the unbelievers and above all the devil! He hates this treasure, because he knows how precious it is to open our eyes. He will do everything to prevent men from discovering or keeping this treasure. It is a struggle that will only end when Jesus returns.

2) We are persecuted because we are fragile

In verse 7 we read: « We carry this treasure in earthen vessels, so that this great power may be attributed to God, and not to us. »

We carry this treasure in earthen vessels. A contrast appears between the treasure and the earthen vessel that contains it. Man, a creature of God, but formed from the earth, dust of the ground (Gen 2:7), is compared to a vessel. The vessel is fragile, the outer man withers, the tent is destructible. The messenger is of little value, but he carries a message of great value. Note that God did not choose angels who would have seemed more powerful and more capable than men. In his wisdom, God takes men and women who can bear witness to the grace of which they are the recipients.

Let’s listen to the testimony of Taher:

With a strict Muslim upbringing, Taher always felt that he was missing out on life. It wasn’t until his youngest daughter, Farah, became deathly ill that things changed dramatically.

Taher and his wife, Donya, took Farah to many Muslim leaders for prayer and healing, but nothing helped. Desperate to see their 10-year-old daughter survive, Donya asked Christian friends to pray for Farah.

They met and these believers put their hands on her daughter as they prayed and God miraculously healed Farah.
After that moment, Donya and Taher left Islam to follow Jesus.

Taher had heard about the raids on Christian homes by the Iranian secret police, but he was willing to take the risk of continuing to meet other believers and share his faith, secretly, with his friends and co-workers.

One morning, while Taher was working in a textile factory, he received an urgent call.

It was the secret police at his home.
The secret police burst into their house, insulted Taher’s wife Donya and gathered the whole family in the living room. They turned over tables, searched drawers and ransacked their house looking for evidence of their Christian faith.

They took Taher to the police station.

For the next week, the secret police interrogated Taher from midnight to 4 a.m. every night and at different times of the day.

What do you do when you meet other Christians?
What organization do you work for?
Do you receive money from Israel?
What are the names of all the other Christians?
Write down their names!

But Taher refused to give the names of other Christians.

At one point, they took Taher to a cell with murderers, rapists and dangerous criminals. And they asked him, « Is this where you want your children to go? Here with them? This is where they will end up. You must cooperate and give us the names, now! »

Taher is terribly persecuted, how can he not be crushed in such a situation…?

Why are we not crushed?

3) We are not crushed because we are instruments in the hands of God.

Is it necessary to remember that every vessel depends on the potter who holds it in his hands? Paul, as a servant of God, knew tribulation, persecution and despondency. Yet there was no despair in him, despite what he expresses above (2 Corinthians 1:8), because his support is divine. In the text we have read, he strikingly parallels the trials and sufferings endured in his body, his mortal flesh (the vessel), with the divine resources that enable him to endure and be victorious.

Apostle’s situationImpact of God’s power
We are hard pressed on every sidebut not crushed
perplexedbut not driven to despair
persecutedbut not forsaken
struck downbut not destroyed

4) We are not crushed because we lift our eyes upward, to the eternal reality of the kingdom of God.

Taher looks to the eternal realities and the vision of the kingdom of God, this was the greatest test of his faith, but Taher still did not give in.

He never gave a name.
Every day he sang the same song, a hymn that he and his family often sang when their secret house church met. (Hymn known in France as « Entre tes mains j’abandonne »)
Verse: Into your hands I surrender all that I call mine…
Refrain : Yes take it all Lord…

When the guards came for him, to drag him to the interrogation room, he felt ready.

The secret service finally released Taher on bail. Taher was ordered to stop evangelizing. If the authorities arrested him again, the judge would have no leniency, and the sentence would be the death penalty.

However, the warning to stop preaching did not deter his vocation. When asked what he did next, Taher replied, « I went back home and started serving and evangelizing again. »

Eventually, the situation in Iran became too dangerous for Taher and his family. The secret service was following them everywhere. He couldn’t find a job and the usual harassment became overwhelming. The Iranian authorities prevented them from living freely. One night, they met as a family at the dinner table and made the decision to leave Iran.

Today, Taher, Donya and their two daughters are refugees in Turkey, but they still love their country and hope to return one day if God opens a door for them.

As Christians, we believe that just as Christ rose first, we too will rise. Verse 14 of our passage shows us the glorious outcome of our journey: « For we know that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also through Jesus and will make us appear with you in his presence. » First there is faith: « believing », then witnessing: « speaking » (v. 13), hence the persecution of the witness to the point of death. But our resurrection is as certain as Christ’s.
Paul may mean, « I believed in God’s resources, so I delivered this message without reservation no matter what the cost. » This is what many persecuted Christians experience every day as they courageously witness to their faith despite the risks to their lives.
And then there is the future glory: « For our light difficulties of the present time produce for us an eternal weight of glory beyond measure » (2 Cor 4:17).

This glory is :

  • infinite in quantity: superabundant
  • infinite in quality: an unsurpassable value
  • infinite in duration: eternal

What a heart Paul had! A broken heart but a heart encouraged, energized, fulfilled by his vision of future glory! His eyes were literally fixed on the reward to come.

Let’s sing the song that Taher sang throughout his persecution:

All to Jesus I surrender,
All to him I freely give;
I will ever love and trust him,
In his presence daily live.

Refrain:
I surrender all,
I surrender all,
All to thee, my blessed Savior,
I surrender all.

All to Jesus I surrender,
Humbly at his feet I bow,
Worldly pleasures all forsaken,
Take me, Jesus, take me now.
(Refrain)

All to Jesus I surrender;
Make me, Savior, wholly thine;
Let me feel the Holy Spirit,
Truly know that thou art mine.
(Refrain)

All to Jesus I surrender,
Lord, I give myself to thee,
Fill me with thy love and power,
Let thy blessing fall on me.
(Refrain)

All to Jesus I surrender;
Now I feel the sacred flame.
Oh, the joy of full salvation!
Glory, glory, to his name!
(Refrain)

Conclusion

Our treasure is the Good News of Jesus Christ’s glory.

We are called to shine in our human weakness, by God’s power.

May Paul’s example, and the examples of our persecuted brothers and sisters encourage us to deny ourselves and to serve God in a truly sacrifical way.