Numbers 33:55-56 > Jeremiah 1:17 > Jonah > Acts 1:8
During the last 10 days of September 2013, radical Muslims killed 250 people and injured 350 in three seemingly 'unrelated' attacks in Kenya, Pakistan and Nigeria. During the same week, it so 'happened' world leaders attended a Global Counter-Terrorism Forum – the fourth such high level forum in the last few years. Reflecting on these horrific events, Raymond Ibrahim, a leading researcher of persecution, connected the dots in a brilliant article, Nigeria: Where Jihad and Christian Persecution Run Rampant.
One week after these events the cover story of the Spectator highlighted anti-Christian persecution. Although this magazine is secular, it declared, “one doesn't need to be a Christian to see the defence of persecuted Christians as a towering priority.”
Six months earlier, three seasoned scholars published Persecuted: The Global Assault on Christians affirming that, indeed, Christians are the single most persecuted group worldwide. Not only so, the writers say persecution is happening in Muslim majority nations on a scale that is “widespread, intense, and, ominously increasing."
What should we do?
First of all, we ought to pray and offer support to our suffering Christian brothers and sisters. There is, however, another question that weighs on my mind, “Is God trying to get our attention? Are these increasing terror attacks a wake up call?” I started glimpsing this a couple years ago and subsequent events have confirmed it. Please be patient as I connect the dots between the 5 passages in the title.
Connecting the dots
If you carefully read each passage you'll see what happens when God's people fail to obey him (fully). Obviously, in Jonah's case, it optimistic to say that he obeyed, even partially. At any rate, the main point is: Each story contains a warning (explicitly or implicitly) that there are dire consequences if we disobey.
In Numbers 33, Moses warned the Israelites, "But if you do not drive out the inhabitants of the land, those you allow to remain will become barbs in your eyes and thorns in your sides."
The dire consequence in Jeremiah chapter one involves terror. Look at verses 7,17 , "Do not be afraid of them... Do not be terrified by them or I will terrify you before them."
As for Jonah, the ship in which he stowed away was struck by a terrible storm. His disobedience brought him deep trouble, but it also imperilled the sailors who were with him! The storm was so severe that they were "terrified".
What about Acts 1:8 where Christ commanded us to take the Good News to the whole world? Does it mention any threat of dire consequence if his followers disobey? Not exactly, but if we look carefully, we see this principle is implicit as the story unfolds. For example, speaking of his responsibility to take the Gospel to the whole world, Paul said, "Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel." (1 Corinthians 9:16) We see another hint of this in Acts 20:26-27, where Paul says, "I am innocent of the blood of all men for I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God." (compare Ezekiel chapter 3)
Furthermore, we gain another glimpse of a painful consequence in Acts 8:1 where we read, "a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem." Look at the wider context and you'll see that up to this point, the church had not taken the Gospel to Judea and Samaria – they had not fully obeyed the Lord. Interestingly, this persecution resulted in the Gospel being spread into the very two regions where Christ commanded them to go! It makes sense, therefore, to see this dire consequence – at least in part – as a disciplinary or corrective measure.*
Let us conclude with a thought provoking question, “Is the church, perhaps, experiencing "barbs" and "thorns" like the Israelites of long ago?” It is easy for us to criticize the Israelites for failing to fully obey the Lord. But what about ourselves? Will we humbly admit we've not shared the Good News as we ought, especially to the 1.6 billion Muslims -- the largest group of unreached people in our world?
This last year I have written several articles dealing (in one way or other) with terrorism and persecution. Most of them are written with Muslim readers in mind. They serve as appetizers or door openers to explore the Good News. And by God's grace, many people are reading them.
If you want to discuss this further or share a similar experience you may have had I'd love to here from you. You can email me here.
All Bible quotes are taken from the New International Version.
Endnote: Persecution & Divine Providence
* Isn't it amazing how God is able to work all things out for the good of his children? (Romans 8:28-29) This is illustrated in Acts 1:8 and 8:1 where God “great persecution” was a vital step in working out his good purpose, i.e. spreading the Gospel to Judea and Samaria. In modern times, we can also see a phenomenal spiritual harvest in spite of worsening persecution!
Dr David Garrison, reports in book, A Wind in the House of Islam, “Today, in more than 60 separate locations in at least 17 of the 49 countries where Islam holds sway, new communities of Muslim-background followers of Christ are emerging ... Each of these movements has seen at least 1,000 baptized believers and at least 100 new worshipping fellowships, all of whom have come to Christ over the past two decades. In some countries, the communities have grown to number tens of thousands of new Muslim-background followers of Christ."
I am compelled by world events to write this additional end note in February 2016 - two and a half years since I wrote this article. It is widely acknowledged that the most significant event or perhaps, trend, that unfolded during 2015 was a massive influx of Muslim refugees fleeing from Muslim countries to Europe and other so-called Christian countries. Hand-in-hand with this there have been serious problems involving the threat of terrorists who are masquerading as refugees as a way of infiltrating into western countries. Thoughtful readers should be able to connect the dots with the main point of this article.
Another article on persecution you may want to look at is entitled, Persecution: A Sign of the Times.