“Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, against the man who is close to me!” declares the Lord Almighty. “Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered, and I will turn my hand against the little ones. In the whole land,” declares the Lord, “two-thirds will be struck down and perish; yet one-third will be left in it. This third I will bring into the fire; I will refine them like silver and test them like gold. They will call on my name and I will answer them; I will say, ‘They are my people,’ and they will say, ‘The Lord is our God.’” (Reference: Zechariah 13:7-9 )
It has been shown, at least to the satisfaction of those who have investigated it, that persecution does more to advance religious faith then does calm and placid acceptance. Perhaps you have heard of such studies also. It has something to do with the forbidden being more attractive and compelling than the accepted. But can also be due to the fact that those who cling and persist to faith are more motivated than those who casually come to faith and belief. What every new faith needs at the beginning is a “job start” to get it going, and persecution is as good as ever. The same was true when early Christianity was established. The persecution the early Christians suffered helped to propel the faith, and scattered across the region. From a certain perspective, Paul did as much to advice Christianity as when he was Saul.
Persecution of religion gives motivation for it not to fail. Acceptance of religion gives it permission to fail, but also gives reward when it succeeds – apart, that is, from the knowledge that one is following God. But that is not to say religious persecution is right or should be tolerated, any more than any other persecution is right and should be tolerated. Being a spiritual descendant of the historic Anabaptists I am very grateful for the freedom to worship as I feel lead.
Another historic Anabaptist believer, Jerome Segers wrote to his wife Lijsken Dircks in 1551, while both awaiting execution in prison. You can tell it is from one beloved to another – that cannot be disguised. But there is as much admonition based on affection as there is based on correct religious belief. He says, “I beseech you, my dear wife Lijsken, by the mercies of God, constantly to have the Word of the Lord before your eyes, and not to suffer yourself to be moved from your faith, by the sleight of men, whereby they lie in wait to deceive you; for I know that you will suffer much temptation yet. Therefore, my most beloved, look not unto men; for cursed is the man, says the prophet, that trusteth in man; yea, the fear of man
bringeth a snare, says the wise man. Jer. 17:5; Prov. 29:25. And regard not the torture of flesh and blood; for this is the heat of the sun, yea, the storms by which the work of the Lord is tried. Matt. 13:6; 7:25. Hence confess Christ now, and He shall confess us before His heavenly Father; for He will try the third part with fire, as gold in the furnace, and all that remains shall be found pure gold. Matt. 10:32; Zech. 13:9; 1 Pet. 1:7. You have partly passed through the trial, and have remained steadfast in it, eternal glory, praise, and honor to the Lord, and may the gracious Lord strengthen you, that as you have commenced, you may be found pure gold before God and all His church.”
This passage from Zechariah does not hold out much hope for the one-third who are left, and for the two-thirds there is definitely not good news. But the writer of Zechariah says that those who are left will be claimed as God’s own. So once again, while the “here and now” is not so good, the time to come bodes well. Where do you place your faith and hope beloved? And from who will you seek solace and comfort when there are difficult days? It is my hope and prayer that you find what you need in your faith community; whether it is a safe place to practice your faith, or a place where the oppressor circles around you. And may God be where you are, claiming you as the Lord’s own. Selah!