While reading John 16 this morning I was struck by these words of Jesus in light of the increasing frequency of persecution of believers in recent years (especially in the Islamic world where the persecutors frequently claim to be acting in the name of Allah). Although the original context was the persecution of the first generation of believers by the Jewish leaders, when I think of the butchery of Christ followers at the hands of Islamists during the current civil war in Syria, or the massacres in Nigeria at the hands of Boko Haram, or the persecution of the growing underground Iranian church at the hands of the authorities, these words of Jesus are as pertinent as if they had been spoken yesterday.
Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God. And they will do these things because they have not known the Father, nor me. But I have said these things to you, that when their hour comes you may remember that I told them to you. John 16:2-4
I can’t really imagine what it would be like to suffer or die for my faith. Compared to this, the opposition I have experienced as a Christian in Canada seems so small, although it is becoming more common and more frequent. But I know we are called to pray for our brothers and sisters, and this morning I am praying that those who suffer for their faith will know that their sufferings are not an accident or a mistake, that in a real sense they are sharing in the sufferings of Christ, that Jesus has gone before them, is with them in the fiery furnace and that they have a reward waiting for them as they remain faithful. I am praying that they will have an intimate knowledge of how much Jesus loves them and of His presence with them in the fire. And I am praying that I will be faithful – and fully alive to God – in whatever circumstances He calls me to walk through. I am also praying that I, and my brothers and sisters who are suffering things I can only imagine, will be able to walk in love towards those who oppose us.
I am so glad that the same Lord who promised suffering and persecution also had these words of encouragement for His friends.
Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy. When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world. So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you. John 16:20-22