Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them. He said…
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. "Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matt 5:1-2,10-12)
We have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you. (2 Corinthians 4:7-12)
Persecution has been a part of the Christian Church ever since Stephen was stoned to death, as recorded in Acts chapter 6. It was experienced by St Paul on countless occasions (see 2 Corinthians 11:23-27) and continues in many places around the world today.
Premier Christian News has reported today that at least 12 Christians in Northern Nigeria have been killed and many more women and children have been kidnapped by Islamic extremists, thought to be associated with the terrorist group of Boko Haran. This is in Chibok, the town from which 270 mainly Christian girls were kidnapped in 2014. And Nigeria is ranked only 12th in the
world for the persecution of Christians, behind countries like North Korea, Afghanistan, Somalia, Libya, Pakistan and Iraq.
Persecution on this scale is not something we face in the UK. If the worst we have had to cope with is the closure of our churches in the first lockdown and the restrictions on live congregational worship in the second lockdown, let us be thankful for God’s mercies, and let us pray for our brothers and sisters around the world who do not enjoy the freedom to worship that we have enjoyed and will enjoy again.
Some, though, face persecution in a less obvious form; maybe in discrimination at work or a negative bias in decisions that are made in organisations or reported in the news. In these situations, let us pray and work for justice, and let us do it with the grace of people who know they are blessed by God. As Jesus said, ‘Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven’.
History has shown that persecution will not destroy the Christian Church; indeed it was founded on death and resurrection. As St Paul wrote, ‘We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed’.
God of mercy, look with compassion on all who are persecuted for their faith in you.
Be their strength in weakness, their peace in trouble, their hope in despair, their comfort in sorrow; and may your life be revealed in their mortal bodies, to your glory.
You never let go