Philippians 3:10 “I may know Christ and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death.”
In her February 2018 interview with Todd Nettleton of ‘The Voice of the Martyrs’, Lesley Crews makes a statement that shocks many of us living in America: “Christian persecution in today’s world is at an all-time high. In 2016, estimates for the number of Christians worldwide who have suffered some form of persecution for their faith ranged from 200,000 to 600,000. These numbers have grown since.”
Last week marked the 50th anniversary of “The Voice of the Martyrs’, the global ministry dedicated to supporting persecuted Christians around the world. This ministry sends front-line workers to the most dangerous places on earth to be a Christian, providing meals, medical aid, Bibles, anything needed.
The founder of this ministry was Reverend Wurmbrand, a highly educated man fluent in 14 languages who is also the author of one of the most influential books ever written on what it means to follow Jesus Christ in the face of intense persecution. ‘Tortured for Christ’ shocked the world when he recorded the atrocities in Romania as the Communists took control in the late 1940’s. His story of faithfulness to Christ through 14 years of daily suffering in a Communist prison led him to be the voice for all persecuted Christians.
Christians in America have been increasingly under attack for their faith (you only have to read the Family Research Council’s June 2017 report ‘Hostility to Religion’ to be convinced). But we know nothing of the type of suffering Christians are undergoing now around the world. To understand what it means to suffer intense persecution for publically confessing Christ as Lord, you only need listen to Reverend Wurmbrand.
He became a follower of Jesus Christ as a youth growing up in Romania in the early 1930’s. Years later, as the star witness in the 1966 United States Senate hearing on Communist Exploitation of Religion, he explained what happened to believers after the Communists took control in the 1940’s: “For years I never saw the sun… no one except the interrogator who beat me. They beat until they broke the bones. They used red-hot irons, they used knives, they used everything. They would try to brainwash you by saying ‘Communism is good and Christianity is dead. Nobody more believes in Christ, you are the only fools.”
But Reverend Wurmbrand explained that suffering was not the worst thing: “The worse thing in Rumania has not been the persecution. That has made the Christians to be of steel. The worst thing has been the corruption of religion. The church can never have peaceful coexistence with atheism. Communism and atheism is much worse than drug addiction and drunkenness. You drink a little wine and the next day it passes, but communism poisons youth and our children… How can there be peaceful existence with this on the side of the church I cannot understand.” Reverend Wurmbrand accepted persecution. But his heart was broken over the Romanian churches’ willingness to compromise the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Our verse this week comes from the New Testament book of Philippians, where the apostle Paul writes to the church in Philippi that his greatest treasure is not only to know Jesus Christ, but also to be called by God to the deepest fellowship with Christ – to personally experience suffering that draws him to Christ. In the following quotes from ‘Tortured for Christ’, we can see that Wurmbrand knew what Paul meant:
“Did I believe in God? Now the test had come. I was alone. God offered me only suffering—would I continue to love Him? If the only Man who ever could choose His fate on earth chose pain, what great value He must have seen in it! So we observe that, borne with serenity and joy, suffering redeems. I have found truly jubilant Christians only in the Bible, in the Underground Church and in prison.”
What drew Wurmbrand to Jesus Christ? He knew the power that only the Lord Jesus Christ has that was made available to him – the forgiveness of his sins and the fellowship of being His personal friend: “When you speak in His presence about your past sins, He does not even understand your language. Only the present and the future have any interest for Him. . . I have committed crimes and have blood on my conscience. I told Jesus about it again and again. But because He had long ago washed all this away, there was no possibility of communication between us. He did not understand what I was talking about.”
It’s what Christ tells us in Isaiah 61:1 “My Father has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prisons to those who were bound.” Wurmbrand, once freed from the penalty of sin through the forgiveness Christ provides, understood no suffering in a manmade prison could ever defeat him.