Blessed are the persecuted

Over the Easter weekend in Sri Lanka, more than 280 people were killed and over 500 were injured. Many of those who died or were injured in the coordinated, suicide bombings were Christians who were assembling to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. Jesus said, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:10). These Christians were indeed persecuted for “righteousness’ sake,” and Jesus calls them “blessed.”

On the most celebrated day of the Christian calendar, anti-Christian terrorist targeted the followers of the resurrected Christ. The scenes, which were graphically captured by several photographers, are devastating to contemplate. As Christian families streamed into buildings and hotels and began to settle in for a time of jubilant celebration of eternal life, violence erupted as a result of the cowardly attacks that terrorists had been planning for weeks. Such devastation and darkness on a day set aside to remember and rejoice in the Light of the World should serve as just one more reminder that “if Christ has not been raised from the dead, then our faith is in vain” (1 Cor. 15:14).

According to various reports, officials in Sri Lanka are investigating a radical Islamic group named “Sri Lanka Thawheed Jamaat (SLTJ),” also known as National Thowheed Jamath. SLTJ is considered a “Wahabi-aligned” Islamic group, which, according to Nabeel Jabbour, is typically considered a more fundamentalist, “back-to-the-roots” form of Islam that “rejects all innovation in Islam after the seventh century.” Even many Sri Lankan Muslims reject and denounce the SLTJ form of Islam.

While the loss of human life is an inestimable tragedy, one of the greatest tragedies in the whole event is the blindness of the attackers. Not only did these suicide bombers take innocent life in the vulnerable Christian setting of corporate worship and fellowship, they believed that they were “doing a holy service for God.” The reason, according to Jesus, that the terrorist in Sri Lanka committed these atrocious acts of violence against Christians is because they do not know the true God: “they will do these things because they have not known the Father, nor Me.” In other words, they have a gospel problem.

Jesus, however, prepared and equipped his people to count the cost for following him. He goes on to say, “I have said these things to you, that when their hour comes you may remember that I told them to you” (John 16:2-4). So, how could Christians ever persevere and remain faithful in their gospel witness in places where these types of attacks happen? Where could Christians ever find the hope to press on in the “blessed life” of “being persecuted for righteousness’ sake?” How does one continue to gather with God’s people under the threat of death? Jesus gives us the power to persevere through the truth found in the rest of John 16,

I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged . . . Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy. When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world. So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you . . . Behold, the hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home, and will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me. I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.

May he strengthen the Christians who are hurting in Sri Lanka, and may he hasten the day we see the evils of this world done away with.