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Rejoicing and Weeping with the Persecuted Church

“Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” (Rom 12:15)

“Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body.” (Heb 13:3)

You have probably heard about what is going on in Afghanistan. As the Taliban surges back into power, Christians in the small, yet growing Afghani church are in great danger. You may have seen on your Facebook feed, as I have, the numerous reports of believers in danger of being martyred for the sake of Christ.

And do not forget, the political and military situation pales in comparison to THIS story; the story of the persecuted Bride of Christ. The testimonies of the faithful in places like China and Afghanistan will continue to reverberate throughout all eternity, when all nations and empires are mere footnotes in ancient history.

The Apostle Paul and the author of Hebrews both urge us to rejoice and weep with our suffering brothers and sisters. 

But how?! 

Weeping we understand, but what does rejoicing have to do with the persecution? 

“Rejoice with those that rejoice”, teaches the Apostle Paul. Some might assume that he is referring merely to the idea of “being happy when things go well for others”, but we can’t ignore the paradigm-shifting words of our Lord Jesus Christ in Matthew 5:10-12:

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. REJOICE and BE GLAD, for your reward is great in heaven”

Did he just say to REJOICE when you are mocked or beaten or tortured or lied about?

Yes. Luke even records Jesus as saying: “Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven.”

Peter evidently remembered what Jesus said on this occasion, because in his first letter he also said the following to the persecuted church of his day: 

“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.”

But how is this possible? How can we truly rejoice when we are in the midst of severe pain or trials? There are two reasons from the texts we have just read: 

First, our reward in heaven is great! As redeemed and adopted children of the King of the Universe, we have been given an eternal inheritance in Christ that will not fade. That is why the persecuted Afghani believers can rejoice. And that is why we can and should rejoice with them! 

And second, the Holy Spirit of God rests upon us. In a special way, God’s Spirit visits and rests upon and comforts those who suffer for the Name of Christ!

One of the viral Facebook posts I saw this week states: Most Afghani Christians expect “to meet Jesus face to face in the next two weeks”. Does it even need to be stated that meeting Jesus is NOT a bad thing? As Paul put it in 2 Corinthians 4:17, “this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison”. Rejoicing in the wonder and glory and REWARD of being with Christ does not take away the physical pain, but does help to lighten it and put it in proper perspective.

But in the short-term, the pain is real. Which brings us to the second part of the verse…

“weep with those who weep.”

The pain and suffering experienced by Christ’s people is not a mirage. It is as real as the torturous beatings and bloody crucifixion that Christ Himself endured on our behalf. And just as Christ suffered on behalf of His people, in some mysterious way, the apostles call believers to enter into one another’s sufferings. 

“Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body.” says the writer of Hebrews. 

And Paul himself concludes his instructions in the letter to the Colossians with the simple, earnest plea: “Remember my chains.”

Remember. My. Chains. 

These somewhat obscure words of Paul could easily be amplified to say something like the following: “Think of me often and intercede for me in my suffering and imprisonment and pain.”

I want to illustrate both of these points with a short testimony from the late Pastor Richard Wurmbrand, who was imprisoned and tortured for Christ for 14 years in Communist Romania. 

After being transferred to a hot, crowded, underground cell in a new prison, Wurmbrand tells the story of his first day in his new confines, and reconnecting with an old Muslim acquaintance…

“Our friendship began while I was trying to eat my first meal at Craiova (prison). The vile, greasy smell of the soup preceded its arrival in the cell. Shreds of rotten cabbage and unwashed offal [intestines] floated in a scum. But to eat was a duty and I emptied my dish.

“How can you?” asked [my Muslim friend], whose stomach had revolted. 

“It was a Christian secret,” I said. “I think of St. Paul’s words ‘Rejoice with those that rejoice.’ Then I remember friends in America who are now eating grilled chicken, and I thank God with them as I take the first mouthful of soup. Next, I rejoice with friends in England who may be eating roast beef. And I get down another mouthful. So, by way of many friendly countries, I rejoice with those that rejoice—and stay alive.”

The [Muslim] and I had to share a bunk through the hot, stuffy nights. I was lucky not to be on the floor.

“You lie very still,” he said as others coughed and fidgeted around us. “What are you thinking? Does St. Paul help you now, too? 

I replied, “Yes, for now I rejoice with those in the West by thinking of their comfortable homes, and the books they have, the holidays they can plan, the music they hear, the love they have for their wives and children. And I remember the second part of the verse, from the epistle to the Romans, ‘And weep with those that weep.’ I am sure that in the West many thousands think of us and try to help us with their prayers.”

Richard Wurmbrand was convinced that many were praying, but I have my doubts. Surely many Christians were not interceding for the persecuted as he was hoping.

The cover is now closed on last century’s suffering, but the story of the persecuted church in places like Afghanistan and China and Nigeria is still being written, literally as we speak. 

May we be faithful intercessors, standing with the persecuted Bride of Christ in both the joys and sorrows of their suffering, crying out for them day and night in the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!