Dear brothers and sisters,
You are not forgotten. We see the horrible, graphic pictures on the Internet of those among your ranks who have been slaughtered because they chose to follow Jesus as their Lord and Savior. And we know that you, who remain in areas controlled by Islamist extremists, live under daily threat of being beheaded or raped. Even your little children are victims of these horrors.
I write to remind you of Jesus’ encouragement to all who would follow him:
Don’t be afraid, but be glad and rejoice
“Don’t be afraid of those who want to kill you. They can only kill your body; they cannot touch your soul. Fear only God who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matt. 10:28)
So when your persecutors demand that you renounce Jesus Christ or you die, remember that your physical death pales in significance to the eternal consequence of denying Christ in this life (Matt. 10:32-33). If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give it up for Christ, you will find it (Matt. 10:39).
Jesus assures you that even in the midst of danger and in death, your Father in heaven is aware of you and everything that is happening to you. So don’t be afraid, you are more valuable to him than even a single sparrow that dies in his care (Matt. 10:31).
Moreover, Jesus encourages you to be glad and rejoice in the midst of your persecution, for not only is he blessing you with his blissful presence that fills you with joy and peace as you face your persecutors, he assures you that your reward will be great in heaven. So, yes, rejoice! God’s kingdom is yours—now in this life and in eternity! (Matt. 5:10-12)
Be wary and wise as snakes and harmless as doves
In this current climate of Islamist terrorists of a variety of stripes—ISIS, IS, ISIL, Boko Haram, Al-Qaeda, and others—you are as vulnerable as lambs in the midst of wolves (Matt. 10:16a), so Jesus offers you these specific ways of conducting yourselves:
• Be wary and wise as snakes (Matt. 10:16b)—Be alert and observant about what is happening around you, and don’t be impulsive and gullible. Avoid premature martyrdom, and flee to safety when possible. Don’t be afraid to speak in defense of your faith in Christ, for the Spirit of the Lord will tell you what to speak. (Matt: 10:19, 20, 23).
• Be harmless as doves (Matt. 10:16c)—Like Jesus, you are to be nonviolent, peaceful, and harmless. It is Jesus’ deliberate will for us to live in weakness so that we might flourish in his strength (2 Cor. 12:9-10).
While Jesus does not forbid his followers from having weapons, presumably for defense (Luke 22:36), in almost every other instance he tells us not to resist when persecuted. For example, when Peter used a sword to defend Jesus, Jesus told him, “Put away your sword. Those who use the sword will be killed by the sword.” (Matt. 26:52; Luke 22:47-51; John 18:10-11)
So when they bomb your churches, you are not to bomb their mosques; when they invade your homes and chop off the heads of your children, do not attack their homes to do likewise to their children, nor should you render evil for evil. Vengeance belongs to God alone (Rom. 12:19).
Love your persecutors and pray for them
“You have heard that the law of Moses says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you. In that way you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven.” (Matt. 5:43-45, NLT)
Loving your enemies, especially those who seek to harm and kill you, is not something that is a natural human ability, but Jesus gives you the divine ability to love your enemies, even your persecutors. How?
• By praying for them—As followers of Jesus, you are instructed to seek the welfare of your enemies through prayer and forgiveness. Follow the examples of Jesus and Stephen who, as they were being killed, prayed that God would forgive their killers (Luke 23:34; Acts 7:59-60).
• By blessing them—If people persecute you because you are a Christian, don’t curse them; pray that God will bless them (Rom. 12:14).
• By heeding the warning about forgiveness in the Lord’s Prayer—Jesus taught us that when we ask our heavenly Father to forgive our sins, we must also forgive those who sin against us, and if we refuse to forgive others, God will not forgive our sins (Matt. 6:14-15).
Take heart, Jesus has overcome the world
The mission of Islamist terrorists is to use hate, violence, fear, and murder to intimidate peoples and nations into submission, and make the entire world into an Islamic State. However, God will not allow this to happen.
When Jesus was about to return to heaven, he told his disciples to expect hardship, trials, and persecution because of their allegiance to him, but he assured them that he has already won the ultimate victory over those who would oppose him:
“I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33, NLT)
“Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean that he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or are hungry or cold or in danger or threatened with death? (Even the Scriptures say, ‘For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.’) No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.” (Rom. 8:36-37, NLT)
From Genesis to Revelation, our Scriptures tell us that Jesus, the perfect Lamb of God who died to take away our sins, will return as the Conquering Lion of God and defeat Satan and his evil forces.
So brothers and sisters in Christ, you who are being persecuted because of your faith in Jesus Christ, take courage and be strengthened in the knowledge that God is about to destroy ISIS and the myriads of similar Satanic forces that seek to persecute the body of Christ. Their days are numbered, and God will defeat and destroy them as surely as he destroyed Hitler’s murderous Nazi regime and other tyrannical forces throughout history.
May you be encouraged in the knowledge that millions of Christian believers throughout our planet are praying for you that, whether you live or die, your faith and witness remain strong and unmovable, and that the Lord will be pleased with your life of worship, praise, and sacrifice.
And may our Father’s grace, love, and peace bless and sustain you. Amen.