"Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on My account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:10-12).
Perpetua was a 22-year-old Christian woman who died in Carthage in the year 202. At that time, when someone desired to be baptized as a new believer in the Christian faith, they had to first attend three years of intense discipleship classes.
This was to make sure they had a solid foundation in the Christian faith, because persecution was inevitable.
A faith with deep roots would not fall away like the seed Jesus described in the parable of the sower in Matthew 13:20-21: “The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away.”
Perpetua and her friends were killed by wild animals in an arena. Their lives could have been spared if they had renounced their faith, but they would not.
Lest you think intense persecution of believers in Jesus is only a thing of the past, more Christians were martyred in the 20th century than all previous centuries combined.
A Christian is killed for their faith today approximately every five minutes. Recently, a spy was sent to befriend underground believers in North Korea.
He turned in the people with whom he had pretended to worship, and 15 people were executed just for being Christians.
Yet, the church in North Korea continues to grow.
Pastor Saeed Abedini has been imprisoned in Iran since last summer. In January, he was sentenced to eight years in prison for “undermining national security” simply because he is a Christian.
Pastor Saeed has been beaten, has suffered internal bleeding, and has been placed in solitary confinement.
The nurse refuses to touch him because he is a Christian. In a letter written from prison, he described the torture and said, “They are only waiting for one thing ... for me to deny Christ. But they will never get this from me.”
If you think this kind of persecution only happens to foreigners, think again. Pastor Saeed has dual citizenship. He is an American who went to Iran to establish an orphanage.
How encouraging it is to hear of Pastor Saeed standing firm no matter what the consequences. “We boast about the way you continue to endure and believe through all the persecutions and sufferings you are experiencing.” (2 Thessalonians 1:4). Hebrews 13:3 tells us: “Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.”
In the United States, we are rather sheltered from the suffering that goes on in much of the world. We go to the doctor when we are sick and we eat when we are hungry.
But what if it was your faith that caused you to suffer? Would you stand up for Jesus no matter what? We need more than a Sunday morning faith.
Just two weeks ago, the Pentagon announced that any soldier who shared their Christian faith with another could be disciplined.
Sharing the gospel could be considered a crime under federal military law, even if it’s just a conversation between two friends.
Punishment for a court martial can include dishonorable discharge and imprisonment. Will even the spiritual counseling offered by military chaplains become a thing of the past under rules such as these?
How will you hold up when your faith is tested? Look back at the verses from Matthew 5:10-12. Jesus didn’t say IF, He said WHEN. Will you stand firm like Perpetua and Pastor Saeed?
Will you be like Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who knew their God was able to save them from the fiery trial they faced, but even if He did not, they would not renounce their faith?
• Lisa Jisa and her family have been residents of Ahwatukee Foothills since 2000. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.