Persecution is and has always been at the center of the Christmas story because Jesus came to rescue the lost and crush Satan’s head. This cosmic battle still rages on today. As Christians celebrate Christmas in Iran, they find comfort in the similarities between their story and the story of the birth of Christ.
We must first understand the connection between ancient Persia (Iran), the Wise men, and the birth of Jesus, and how persecution unites them all. Did you know that Iran has a historic significance all over the Bible? From Esther saving Israel to King Cyrus paying for the rebuilding of the Jewish temple, Iran has always played and will continue to play a major role in the biblical narrative. Let’s take the wise men for example. Did you know that the wise men were Persian? The Iranians were the first people to recognize and worship Jesus as Messiah. Let’s follow the Christmas story as it plays out so we can see how Iran is a major player in the Christmas narrative.
A star shone in the East, where wise men from modern-day Iran felt compelled to follow the once-in-a-lifetime cosmic event passed down to them by Daniel the prophet of God. It must be remembered that Daniel was the chief prefect over all the wise men (Magi) of Persia (Iran). Daniel’s prophecies about the coming King of the Jews including the 70 Weeks prophecy would have been known by the Magi.
“Then the king (King Nebuchadnezzar) gave Daniel high honors and many great gifts, and made him ruler over the whole province of Babylon and chief prefect over all the wise men of Babylon.” Daniel 2:48
When they reached Jerusalem, Herod demanded to know about this “king of the Jews.” So the Magi sensed what he was up to and made their way to Bethlehem, where they presented their gold, frankincense, and myrrh to Jesus, the toddler (The greek word paidion). That night, they were warned in a dream to return to their country by another route because Herod was about to launch a campaign to massacre the innocents.
This is the incident described in the nativity narrative of the Gospel of Matthew (2:16–18) in which Herod the Great, king of Judea, orders the execution of all male children, who were two years old and under. Jesus and His family knew what persecution tasted like from a very young age. Mary and Joseph were also awoken in the night by an angel and urged to flee in the cover of night to Egypt, where they escaped the wrath of Herod.
Some can say believers from Iran go through similar trials to worship Christ as they face persecution daily from their government leaders. Just as Mary and Joseph went into hiding to escape being killed by Herod, members of the underground church left their homes to protect their families.
Like the wise men, believers have received dreams and visions of the “Man in White”, guiding them to a real and tangible relationship with the Messiah. Many have had “power encounters” with Jesus, just as Mary and Joseph had encounters with the angel. In this way, the Christmas story remains more relevant than ever to Christians who put their lives on the line for their faith. Despite the persecution, the Iranian church loves to celebrate Christmas together. It’s a time to gather and experience the peace Jesus brought, even in dangerous areas of the world. They truly understand the truth of this Scripture.
“For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. 23 I am hard-pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. 24 But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account.” Philippians 1:21
As we celebrate this Christmas holiday season, let us make sure we pray for our persecuted Christian brothers and sisters not only in Iran but all over the world particularly in Muslim countries.