It is being reported all over the Internet that Iranian “Pastor” Youcef Nadarkhani–a Christian–may be executed as early as today for his refusal to renounce Christ (see this link). Iran, a strict Islamic state, has been persecuting Christians for longer than any of us have been alive. Notwithstanding their presence at the United Nations and their frequent denials of human rights abuses, the Muslim leaders of the Iranian government are likely to kill Mr. Nadarkhani because of his faith.
We know that this kind of persecution exists, even though we don’t see it here in the United States. Sure, we may experience ridicule or slander or ostracism at times because of our faith, but we don’t have to live in fear of losing our lives. At least, not yet.
Youcef Nadarkhani may be released, or he may be killed, but we must watch. Every Christian should pay attention and take notice of what is happening as around the world, false religions rise up as the devil masquerades as an angel of light in order to deceive a naive world (2 Corinthians 11:14). Yes, Islam is a false religion. No matter how nice some of its adherents are, and no matter if Muslims live as good citizens in their host nations, any religion that denies that Jesus is the Son of God, the Messiah, the Savior of the world–such a religion is false and will fall under the condemnation of God.
And so again, we must watch and pray for Youcef. I don’t know anything about his specific beliefs or understanding of Christian doctrine. But he stands as one who professes faith in Jesus, and so he stands where we or our children might someday fall.
In our Wednesday night class at East Point, we’re studying the New Testament book called Hebrews. It is a book written to people who aren’t sure that it’s worth maintaining their faith in Christ. The world was too anti-Christ, and that means those Christians were feeling the stress of being separate and distinct. Their businesses, their positions in their communities, their homes, their families, and even their lives were potentially in jeopardy unless they would walk away from Jesus. Persecution was real for them. Persecution is real for Youcef. Persecution may one day be real for us. And so we study and discuss the applications of Hebrews in order to remember the unsurpassable greatness of Jesus the Christ and to prepare ourselves for the ugly realities of a world that kills those who worship One who was killed for them.
So watch what is happening in the world around us. We don’t respond with hatred, violence, or retribution. Instead, we pray for our enemies (Matthew 5:44) and ask that God will bless them with open eyes and receptive hearts so that they might come to know the truth of God’s love for them. And while we pray for our enemies, let’s also pray for Youcef and all the others like him who stand to potentially lose their lives for faith in Jesus.
Dear God, please give us faith and courage to stand in days of trial. Please be with Youcef and his family and with all other Christians who live with the threat of persecution. We pray that their lives will be spared and that the gospel will be spread through their stories. We are encouraged by their examples of faithfulness, and we pray that you will make us ready to withstand whatever storms are coming in our lives. May we never take our eyes off of “Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 11:2). We have only one Lord: Jesus Christ. We offer our pray in his name. Amen.