Monday, March 21, 2016

RLPB 349. Easter Devotion: After Saturday Comes Sunday

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 349 | Wed 23 Mar 2016

Please forward this prayer bulletin widely, and encourage others to sign up to the Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin blog. "The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective." (James 5:16 NIV)  

AFTER SATURDAY COMES SUNDAY
By Elizabeth Kendal

'After Saturday comes Sunday' is the English translation of an Arab Muslim threat expressing genocidal intent. It means, 'After we (Muslims-- Friday people) get rid of the Jews (Saturday people) we'll get rid of the Christians (Sunday people),' and the seriousness of this threat is self-evident, with Mesopotamia (Iraq & Syria) already 'cleansed' of Jews and the remnant Christians now facing genocide. However, the Christian crisis does not end in the Middle East.

In Northern Nigeria, a
Christian community buries
some 500 victims of Islamic jihad
(Kaduna, 2010).
Hindu nationalists would love to eliminate Christianity from 'Hindu India'. Just as the Burmese military would love to eliminate Burma's Christian ethnic nations, so too would the Indonesian military love to see the Christian Papuans eradicated from Papua and the Vietnamese government would love to drive Christians from the resource-rich Central Highlands. The Government of Sudan has commanded its military to 'sweep away the rubbish' -- i.e. eliminate African Christians -- from the Nuba Mountains [see RLPB 194 (23 Jan 2013)]. All totalitarian regimes long to enslave Christianity or be rid of it. And in the post-Christian secular humanist West, those pursuing the Marxist dream of total sexual liberation are striving to achieve Christianity's death. The situation is anything but good. Of course Jesus did warn us it would be this way, saying, 'If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also ...' (from John 15:8-16:4a). Therefore, rather than being surprised or shocked, we should be ready, not only to stand firm in our faith, but to help one another.

To the followers of Jesus, that first Good Friday was anything but 'good'. On the contrary, it was absolutely horrendous. Three times Jesus warned his followers that he would be arrested, scourged and crucified in Jerusalem. But the disciples found the idea that the Messiah should suffer and die so incomprehensible they chose to reject it. Therefore, when events unfolded just as Jesus had foretold they were shocked and totally unprepared. Making matters worse, after Friday came Saturday, and the horror of the cross was followed by the silence of the grave. As far as Jesus' followers could see, not only was their Messiah dead and buried, so too were all their hopes and dreams. Injustice and evil had triumphed. Their journey with Jesus was over. Except that it was not! For after Saturday came Sunday and what happened on Sunday changed everything.
 Chinese Christians lift up the cross
(Wenzhou, Zhejiang, July 2015).

The resurrection left death dead, silence mute and shame ashamed. It dried up tears, melted fears and ignited joyous proclamation. Christ had achieved victory over our enemies (sin and death), not through proxies or from a safe and comfortable distance, but by inserting himself into our crisis (our captivity to sin and death) and destroying it from within, thereby setting us free. Horror and divine silence are not grounds to lose faith or to retreat from the world or disengage with the persecuted. God is at work destroying his enemies (1 Corinthians 15:20-26), fulfilling his promises (Deuteronomy  7:9), and building his Church (Matthew 16:18). This is no time to retreat; this is the day to engage so we might be fortified through solidarity with the Body; so the lost might be reached through amazing grace; so the persecuted might be sustained through sacrificial love. These are all forms of witness that point to Christ, the hope of the world. Today is the day of opportunity.

Pakistani Christian woman
in her ruins of her home after it was
sacked and burned in an Islamic a pogrom
(Joseph Colony. Lahor 2013).
It is tragic that many Christians and far too many churches remain disengaged from the world, deeming it a dangerous place and a hopeless cause. It is shameful that many Christians and far too many churches remain disengaged from the suffering church, burdened by its tears, ashamed of its suffering, and confused and repelled by the politics of persecution. When the world looks at a crisis it sees death and hears silence. But by faith we know that the Redeemer is there, alive and active. By faith we hear him calling us: 'Deny [yourself], take up [your] cross and follow me' (Matthew 16:24). By faith we say 'Yes Lord' and step out in mission, to scatter the seed where he is preparing the soil. By faith we respond with the provision of aid, with advocacy (speaking up), and through intercessory prayer, fuelled by our confidence that Sunday is coming.


PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT GOD WILL

* convict the Church of its sin in pandering to self-interest, preferring recreation and entertainment to the serious business of mission and ministry when the need is so great. 'And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.' (Galatians 5:24 ESV)

* awaken the Church to the significance of the Easter paradigm, so that regardless of circumstances -- persecution, injustice, the horrors of war or even divine silence -- our hope will endure, our faith will be firm, and our mission and ministry will advance undaunted. 'But the angel said to the women, "Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here [in the grave], for he has risen." ' (Matthew 28:5 ESV)

* energise the Church by the Holy Spirit to prepare for hardship, suffering and persecution so that, regardless of circumstances, we will witness to Christ through our endurance (remaining firm in faith), through our willingness to risk much to rescue the perishing and through our sacrificial love and care for the persecuted. 'But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses.' (The risen Jesus to his disciples, Acts 1:8 ESV)


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN WHOLE ARTICLE
------------------------------------------------------------
PRAY FOR THE CHURCH THIS EASTER

As we consider the story of the Cross -- from the horror of crucifixion Friday through the silence of Saturday to the exuberance of resurrection Sunday -- let us pray that God will convict the Church of its sin of self-interest, preferring recreation and entertainment to the serious business of mission and ministry when the need is so great. May God awaken the Church to the significance of the Cross, so that regardless of circumstances -- persecution, injustice, horror or even divine silence -- our hope will endure and our faith will be firm. May God energise the Church by the Holy Spirit to prepare for hardship, suffering and persecution so that, regardless of circumstances, we will respond in a way that pleases and glorifies the Lord our Saviour.

------------------------------------------------------------

Elizabeth Kendal is the author of Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today (Deror Books, Dec 2012) which offers a Biblical response to persecution and existential threat.

Elizabeth Kendal's new book, After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East, currently being published by Wipf and Stock (Eugene, OR, USA), will be available shortly.