God’s love and His gift of salvation, through faith in Jesus Christ, is offered to everyone. In the Old Testament, perhaps the Prophet Isaiah (56:7) says this best when he declares: “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all people.”
Faith is mysterious and unexplainable. How does one explain the concept of faith to a non-believer, faith in Jesus Christ and faith in His promise of an eternal life with Him in heaven? Knowing that God’s gift of salvation through faith in Christ is offered to everyone, why have so many Christians experienced open hostility over the centuries simply because of their faith?
Many years ago I worked in a large engineering office. One of my co-workers was a gentleman who had moved into our area from another state. He met and married a Catholic woman and, shortly after the wedding, he himself was baptized into the Catholic Church. He said that he came from a fairly large family, but his family was so scandalized by his becoming a Roman Catholic Christian that they disowned him.
His experience is certainly not unique. On July 3, 2014, CNN published a report saying that, “Religious hostilities are on the rise around the world. But the situation is so bad for Christians that the normally diplomatic Pope Francis just asserted: ‘The persecution of Christians today is even greater than in the first centuries of the Church, and there are more Christian martyrs today than in that era.’”
“According to The Pew Research Center, over 75% of the world’s population lives in areas with severe religious restrictions. According to the United States Department of State, Christians in more than 60 countries face persecution from their governments or surrounding neighbors simply because of their belief in the person of Jesus Christ. In the United States, it’s easy for believers to take for granted the rights they so regularly enjoy. But this isn’t the case in many nations in which religion, itself, is banned or where one faith system is permitted and touted, with all others being continually denigrated. The persecution is so severe in many localities; Christians are systematically targeted and mistreated because of their religious beliefs. According to The Pew Research Center, Christians today are the most persecuted religious group in the world.”
As I ponder the question of why, I look to Jesus for an answer and two things that Jesus said immediately come to mind. Jesus said, “I have come to light a fire on the earth. How I wish the blaze was ignited! — Do you think I have come to establish peace on earth? I assure you the contrary is true; I have come for division.” (Luke 12:49 & 51) And again Jesus said, “I for my part declare to you, you are Rock, and on this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18)
Even though God’s free gift of salvation is offered to all, Jesus told us that this gift would not be accepted by all, and that it would actually result in division. But Jesus also assured us that no matter how much the evil one attacks the faithful, the Church will endure. As Christians in a free society, we must not be blind to the sufferings of our persecuted brothers and sisters in Christ. We must speak up in their defense and we must pray for their protection and deliverance.