Matthew 16:18b – And upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. (KJV)
In 155 A. D., Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna (Izmir, in modern Turkey), entered the arena. Before an angry, bloodthirsty crowd, the proconsul tried to persuade him to renounce his faith in Christ at the age of 86:
- But when the Pro-Consul pressed him and said: "Take the oath and I let you go, revile Christ," Polycarp said: "For eighty and six years have I been his servant, and he has done me no wrong, and how can I blaspheme my King who saved me?"
Not long after speaking those words, Polycarp was burned at the stake, but his testimony lives on. Being one of the oldest documents outside of Scripture, this account was recorded and passed down by fellow Christians.
By the time of Polycarp's martyrdom, many believers had already been executed, including all of the apostles. Yet the Word of God continued to spread. Interestingly, it is believed that the apostle John led Polycarp to Christ. So as Jesus promised, the church was being built and was rapidly growing despite tremendous odds. Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Peter addressed this hardship when he adamantly wrote these words:
1 Peter 4:12-14 – Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. (NIV)
Today, not much has changed for Christians living in many parts of the world. In fact, it is reported there are currently one hundred million believers suffering for their faith. Yet, even in prison, they tell us of the overwhelming power of God experienced through the prayers of others. All too often, however, the plight of the persecuted goes unnoticed. Nevertheless, we are admonished:
Hebrews 13:3 – Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow-prisoners, and those who are ill-treated as if you yourselves were suffering. (NIV)
Therefore, on this International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church, we stand with our brothers and sisters who daily sacrifice everything for His name's sake. Perhaps the Lord is calling some of us to be a voice on their behalf. Ministries such as Voice of the Martyrs and Open Doors International offer a variety of outreach opportunities to raise awareness and support. Christians can serve by writing letters of encouragement to prisoners, educating church groups, sending monetary gifts, and much more. Above all, may we keep in mind that together, our prayers can inspire faith into action.
Prayer: Dear heavenly Father, we praise You for the unwavering faith and sacrifice of many brothers and sisters around the world. Grant peace to those who are now suffering, and stand watch with them in the night. Turn their sorrow into joy by morning. As we worship You, Lord, hear our plea: Surround Your church with glory and power. Let Your light shine upon all who trust in You. May it be done according to Your will, through Jesus Christ our Lord and for His name's sake. Amen.