GOD’S GRACE CAN REACH ANY HEART

This story from Voice of the Martyrs is just one of many demonstrating the truth of these words.

It is the story of Sergei Bessarab who was shot to death in a small city called Isfara, where he had planted a church.

Sergei Bessarab became a Christian in prison as a result of another man also named Sergei who had prayed for Bessarab’s salvation. The two men had met in prison while Bessarab was serving time for his criminal activities.

In prison, Sergei prayed every day that Bessarab would come to Christ. But Bessarab was less than grateful for his friend’s concern. “Don’t waste time praying for me,” Bessarab told him.

Sergei remained steadfast in prayer, however, and Bessarab did eventually bend his knee to Christ. This should be a lesson for all of us. Keep praying, particularly for family members and loved ones. The former criminal became a bold witness for his Saviour both inside the prison walls and, after his release, as a pastor on the outside. In addition, he made frequent return visits to the prison to share the gospel with inmates.

Soon after, Bessarab and his wife Tamara moved to Isfara and planted a church, which began to grow as Muslims turned to Christ, a headline in the local paper asked the pointed question, “What’s Going to Be Done About Sergei Bessarab?”

Picture of a man playing the guitar
Sergei Bessasab strumming his gutar in worship

On Jan. 20, 2004, the son of a local mosque leader answered the question, shooting and killing Bessarab as he strummed his guitar during his nightly time of worship, Scripture reading, and prayer.

When the young man who killed Bessarab was convicted and sent to prison, Christians were waiting there to meet him. In God’s amazing providence, the killer was eventually assigned to a cell with a Christian prisoner who had been led to Christ and discipled by Bessarab!

And over time, the mosque leader’s son became Bessarab’s spiritual grandson, placing his trust in Christ.

Think about it, Bessarab was once a convicted criminal. Many would have written him off spiritually. His killer, a Muslim was also far from God, and some may have written him off as well. But God’s grace can reach any heart.

Picture the final chapter of this story: Pastor Sergei Bessarab stands worshiping before God’s throne with the man who ended his life on earth and perhaps the two may be working together on this earth again during Jesus’ soon coming Millennial Kingdom.

Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years.Revelation 20:6

FAITH NEEDED FOR THE “LAST DAYS”

In his Dialogue with Trypho, the 2nd-century Christian apologist, Justin Martyr, summarizes the Christian life in those days:

And we who were filled with war, and mutual slaughter, and every wickedness, have each through the whole earth changed our warlike weapons, our swords into ploughshares, and our spears into implements of tillage, and we cultivate piety, righteousness, philanthropy, faith, hope, which we have from the Father Himself through Him who was crucified… Now it is evident that no one can terrify or subdue us who have believed in Jesus over all the world. For it is plain that, though beheaded, and crucified, and thrown to wild beasts, and chains, and fire, and all other kinds of torture, we do not give up our confession; but the more such things happen, the more do others and in larger numbers become faithful, and worshipers of God through the name of Jesus.

Virtue does not emerge from some inherent goodness or nobility in man. Virtue is God’s grace manifested in men. Left to their own devices, men, and even women, are anything but virtuous. 

Dialogue with Trypho, CX

For Justin and the earliest Christians, many things about their newfound faith were probably still unclear. However, what was crystal clear, they knew that Jesus rose from the dead and His claim to be the Son of God was true. They knew that only by repenting of their past life and accepting Jesus as their Saviour and Lord could they receive the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, and have the power to live the Christian life. Godly virtues, faith, hope, piety, righteousness, philanthropy were attainable only by the grace of God. These things were obvious to early believers in Christ.

Further, because of God’s grace, it was possible not only for men to become moral creatures, but it was by His grace that men could live freely. By His mercy, man could be liberated from the powers of supernatural oppression and the oppressive weight of their sins. In this freedom, the Christian had no fear of losing his head (literally), being thrown to wild beasts, put in chains, crucified, burned alive, or otherwise tortured. God’s grace provided the path to both virtues in life and victory over death.

Perpetual revolution” (not reformation) is the explicit doctrine of the foot soldier for the unconstrained vision of man.

As prophesied, men and women who reject any need for divine aid or help and who really believe a new revolution can solve the problem, are taking control of our institutions. Trade-offs are unacceptable for the advocates of the unconstrained view. Only total solutions are acceptable. Perfection is within society’s grasp, any identifiable flaw in the fabric of society must inevitably spur on the next revolution. The problem, of course, with this view, one Justin and the early church Fathers would have roundly decried as heretical, is that it consciously rejects what it regards as the most detestable doctrines of the Christian faith: original sin and the desperate need for God’s grace.

HARD WORDS OF JESUS RELEVANT FOR OUR TIME

In the days ahead we will need to take these words of Jesus’ seriously:

If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.  For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.Mark 8:34b-35

Agabus (one of several prophets who came from Jerusalem to Syrian Antioch where Paul was ministering) prophesied that, if Paul went to Jerusalem, he would be bound by the Jews there and handed over to the Gentiles. Paul’s followers pleaded with Paul not to go up to Jerusalem. Paul’s response;

Why are you weeping and breaking my heart? I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.”  When he would not be dissuaded, we gave up and said, “The Lord’s will be done.” Acts 21:13-14

What a challenge this is to us.  Even today, while we enjoy relative safety in our country, many brothers and sisters in Christ in countries under anti-Christian regimes are making the same decision as Paul, and they and their families are suffering intense persecution and deprivation as a result. 

Who can forget this image?

Islamic State Beheads Egyptian Coptic Christians

God has used the sacrifice of these twenty Coptic Christians and one Ghanaian for His purposes. The relatives of the Coptic Christian recently shared their pride in the men’s refusal to deny Jesus and how the tragic deaths of their loved ones has strengthened the faith of the local community.

Three years after their relatives were murdered by ISIS in the infamous “A Message Signed With Blood to the Nation of the Cross” video, members of the Coptic community of Minya province, Upper Egypt, gathered for the inauguration of a new church, The Church of the Libyan Martyrs, dedicated to the memory of these men.

What a challenge this is to all of us. I am not sure how I would respond but I cling to the firm promise of Jesus that He will give me the courage when I need it.

Whenever you are arrested and brought to trial, do not worry beforehand about what to say. Just say whatever is GIVEN YOU AT THE TIME, for it is not you speaking, but the HOLY SPIRIT.” Mark 13:11

PERSECUTION OF CHRISTIANS ESCALATING IN INDIA

At least 5 Christians have been killed for their faith in India during a surge of violence over the past two months. Voice of the Martyrs radio host Todd Nettleton has the latest on the tragic deaths — and their inspirational stand for Jesus in the midst of violent persecution. Just further evidence that we are in the prophesied last days before Jesus returns

A young woman in the Khunti district of Jharkhand has become the fifth victim in a string of Christians killed in India because of their faith.

The woman, 25-year-old Suman Munda, was found dead on July 19 in a deserted place near her home, according to Vatican News. Just one month earlier, on June 24, another Christian, 27-year-old Ramji Munda, was killed outside a village in the Khunti district. Speaking out about Munda’s murder, Bishop Binay Kandulna said, “It is a matter of serious concern because the state witnessed a Christian man killed only last month in the same district.”

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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.” 1 Peter 4:12-14

IN THE LAST DAYS MANY WILL COME TO CHRIST

Most of us are familiar with the story of the 21 Coptic Christians from Egypt who held fast to their faith and were beheaded by ISIS in February, 2015. But did you know that only 20 of them were actually Copts from Egypt? Did you know that one of the martyrs was from Chad, and he had not been a Christian prior to the day of his beheading?

All 21 men had been working in Libya when they were kidnapped by ISIS. But as can be seen in pictures where they are lined up on the beach to be killed, one of them had darker skin and different facial features. This was the man from Chad.

The Coptic Christians were given a choice to deny Jesus or die. They refused to deny Him, knowing it would cost them their heads.

When the terrorists ordered the man from Chad to deny Jesus or die, he answered, “Their God is my God,” thereby sealing his fate.

That’s how moved he was by the faith of these Christians. Their refusal to deny their Saviour, even at the point of death—literally, at the point of a knife to their throats—moved him to make a profession of faith, one that would cost him his head as well. Can we grasp the intensity of this story?

The man had not been a believer. All he had to say was, “I don’t believe in Jesus” or “Jesus is not the Son of God,” and he could walk away a free man.

He would be with his family again. He would not die a brutal death. He would live to see another day.

How many Christians would be sorely tempted under such circumstances? How many would waver and, for that moment, deny their Lord, just to avoid beheading?

Yet this man, who had not been a follower of Jesus before then, was so moved by the dedication of these Christians that he became a believer on the spot.

“Go ahead and behead me,” he was saying. “Your god is not my God. Their God is my God.”

That is the power of the gospel, and that is how we overcome Satan, by not loving our lives to the point of death (Rev. 12:11).

That is why this story needs to be told and retold until the faith of those martyrs becomes our faith, until people look at our lives and say, “Your God is my God, whatever may come my way.”

And here’s something striking. As I have listened this week to the stories of persecuted Christians, even hearing from family members of martyrs, I have not heard a word of self-pity. Not a word.

I have heard words of courage and dedication. I have heard words of great love for Jesus. I have heard requests for prayer and help. But I have not heard any self-pity.

The daughter of an Iranian pastor martyred 20 years ago spoke of her own life experience and of her father’s refusal to back down. Now, 20 years after her father was buried in an unmarked grave, she could speak of multiplied hundreds of thousands of Iranian Muslims coming to faith in Jesus. Her father’s blood was not shed in vain.

That is how a seed planted in the ground first dies and then produces much fruit (John 12:24-25).

A Syrian Christian leader shared how a radical Islamic group offered to arm them to fight against another radical Islamic faction. He replied, “We already have two arms: love and forgiveness. We don’t want to become another militia.”

That is how we overcome evil with good (Rom. 12:21). Some Christians even said to ISIS, “Thank you for helping to unite us!”

Yet it would be wrong to think of these suffering believers as super saints, which is another lesson for us all.

Most of them are just ordinary Christians, not preachers or pastors and certainly not big-name evangelists. They are mothers and fathers, young people and old people, laborers and housewives, educated and uneducated. Yet they have remained faithful under hellish pressure, enduring unspeakable suffering.

Yet rather than curse God, they bless Him, and rather than retaliate against their enemies with hatred and vengeance, they offer forgiveness and love.

Earlier this year, a couple told me about their trip to Ethiopia where they met with family members of the Ethiopian Christians beheaded by ISIS. They spoke with the widow of one of the martyrs, who was pregnant when he was killed, making his death even more painful.

But when they talked with this young woman, rather than bemoan her terrible loss, she said to them, “How is it that I had the privilege of being married to a martyr for Jesus?” She was an uneducated woman with no social status, and she was humbled beyond words that she was chosen to be the wife of a martyr.

This is why radical Islam will ultimately fall before the name of Jesus, and why every other force that seeks to wipe out the church will fail in the end. It’s also why we should stop feeling sorry for ourselves when things get a little rough. Are we not also more than conquerors through Him who loved us? (See Rom. 8:37)

Extract from article by Dr Michael Brown in Charisma News