Cross & Crown
Deny Christ, flee, or die.
This is the threefold choice laid before those who follow Christ in Iraq. Even as I write these words, hundreds of thousands of our brothers and sisters—members of our very body—are fleeing from enslavement and death at the hands of men who have been captured by Satan to do his work. Many of those who escape are left with nothing but the clothes they have on, abandoning homes, possessions, and livelihood. Those unable or unwilling to flee are being killed. These are the facts.
It’s easy for those of us in the West to remain insulated from the horror of persecution. All you have to do is shut your eyes, change the channel, and try to forget this is happening. But that isn't the answer. In 1 Corinthians 12:26, the apostle Paul tells us that we’re all in this together. If one suffers, so do we all. If one is honored, so are we all. Now is a time of suffering, and many of us have felt this, weeping for our distant family, standing with them in prayer. Many of us have wondered what we would do if our places were changed. Would we stand? I fear that the testing fire of persecution would be a purifying one for the visible church in the West, revealing much of our work to be stubble and hay rather than precious silver and gold.
Really looking at what’s happening in Iraq should cause us to pause and examine our hope and our message. What is it that we really believe? Would the Gospel we preach stand as strong in Mosul, Iraq, under threat of death, as it does in our city? Are we preaching the glorious, rich, and awesome Gospel of Christ, or a diluted message of material prosperity, worldly success, and self-improvement? Friends, don’t settle for anything less than the Gospel that makes the choice between death and denial of Jesus a simple one.
How are we to stand with our suffering family? What can we do? We may feel impotent, but that is only because we have forgotten whose ear we have. We’ve forgotten that Christ purchased our access into the very presence of the Father. We can pray! We have weapons that are mightier than any military array, any government war machine. Our weapons have spiritual power, power to tear down the strongholds of the enemy—strongholds that are made of black hearts rather than gray stone. We are vessels of the same power that transformed the apostle Paul from murderous oppressor of the Church into a preacher of Christ crucified.
So pray! Pray that the Spirit of God would empower our brothers and sisters to stand firm in the faith, running the race to completion. Pray that they would die well if that is what it takes to stand. Pray that God would put words of mercy on their lips and that their last breaths would be spent begging for the salvation of their oppressors. Pray that their values would be eternal and heavenly rather than earthly and small. Pray that they might stand before Christ, having counted the cost and found it immeasurably small in comparison to the eternal weight of glory prepared for his saints. Pray that they might have a crown to cast before the throne.
Friends, we don’t mourn as those who have no hope. Yes, the world hates us. It hated our Lord first. But we have a better hope than a long and prosperous life on this earth. We may carry a cross, but in the end it will be exchanged for a crown.
“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” (2 Cor. 4:16–18)