ISIS has begun to attract the attention of the world. Thinking that everyone is distracted by Israel and the unrest there, ISIS has started without consequence what is now being called a Christian genocide, murdering all who have not fled or converted, and marking the homes of Christians who have fled with the threat that they will be killed if they return. The United States responded this morning, with our first attack on their artillery.
But yet we get up and go to work like normal. We take selfies, plan our vacations, go out hiking or to see a movie, just like normal. We, after all, are not in danger, and what can we do anyway? As I listened to the news this morning and pondered the dichotomy of my personal activities for the upcoming weekend, I began to meditate on Paul’s experience:
Are they servants of Christ?—I speak as if insane—I more so; in far more labors, in far more imprisonments, beaten times without number, often in danger of death. Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep. I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren; I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. Apart from such external things, there is the daily pressure on me of concern for all the churches.
– 2 Cor 11.23-28
Consider with me the simple, yet profound reality of his lashings. The lashes were designed to bring a man to the brink of death. Forty was the maximum number allowed by Jewish Law, and they would only prescribe thirty-nine so as to not accidentally exceed what God had allowed – and to be sure to not unintentionally kill the recipient as killing him thus would be against the Law. Thirty nine was the penalty, the amount given to almost kill a man.
Paul was stripped naked, his back beaten with a whip that tore the flesh off his back. Bleeding. Infection. The scar tissue alone that developed in the aftermath would make him appear deformed. And five times this happened to him! Five layers of scar tissue for his entire back being ripped open. Could the man even walk? Added to that was beatings with rods, a stoning where they threw rocks at him until they believed him to be dead, multiple imprisonments and being robbed.
And these are only the attacks of man. Compounding his hardships were natural factors like shipwreck, a day and night floating on the sea, hunger and poverty!
Imagine your daily job, food instagramming, tv watching, pleasure seeking world being transformed into what Iraqi Christians are experiencing right now. Would your faith sustain you through this? Would you uphold your belief in Christ if it required lashings, beatings, stonings, the death of your children? Would you still care to scroll through your facebook feed and see all of the filtered pictures of your friends’ perfect lives?
It’s real people. Will it impact you today? We do not and should not seek martyrdom, that is not the point. But we should pray for the persecuted church, for the salvation of ISIS, for the completion of the Great Commission and God’s glory. Jesus tells us that Christians will be hated and murdered by all mean before the end will come. Not only that, He prepared us to be ready to stand firm during such trials. This was His prayer for us:
“But now I come to You; and these things I speak in the world so that they may have My joy made full in themselves. I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth. As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. For their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth.
– John 17.13-19
Jesus was not concerned to keep us from suffering. He came into the world to suffer and die, and in the same manner He is sending us into the world. In fact, Scripture tells us that all Christians will join in His sufferings (1 Peter 4.13). But He prayed for the disciples and for us that God would sanctify us and uphold us while we walk those paths.
Chances are high that you will not walk that path today. But pray, in the way Jesus prayed for us, for those who are walking it today. That God would sanctify them, uphold them, draw near to them, and comfort them. And if you have the ability to stand up for them, do it! Make a difference! The instagram of your lunch can wait. And the lunch we enjoy in eternity will make it quite unimpressive anyway. Be about eternal things today.