A brief moment of concern gave way to remembrance and rejoicing as I read the headline, published several days before Christmas: "Christianity Nearly Extinct In Middle East."
"Not hardly," I thought to myself, recalling another "headline," published more than two millennia ago:
"They crucified Him" (Matthew 27:35).
Beginning with its Founder, the Christian faith has seemingly experienced the finality of death throughout her history. The world, devil and flesh put away the Lord Jesus Christ, only to find a blaze of the most intense glory arising from the ashes of the cross. They do the same to His church, only to find her shining forth in a glory that could not have ignited save in the throes of rejection and persecution. Indeed, a religion of force cannot make extinct the reality of faith. It can only serve as a purifying and sanctifying agent whereby God uses the attacks of the wicked to draw the righteous more devotedly unto Himself. Moreover, He then sends us forth to "shine as lights in the world," lights more brilliant because our enemies' attempts to extinguish Christ's illumination always result in the dark nights that provide backdrop for the brightest moons (Philippians 2:15).
Certainly, public observance of Christianity may wane in the Middle East, even as on a lesser scale, we see in our culture the increasing attempts of the wicked to remove the Lord Jesus from open display and discourse. While I love manger scenes as much as any believer, and believe they should be freely displayed, I don't overly concern myself with their removal. Instead, I wonder what the Lord must be up to by allowing such evil to seemingly have sway. He does His best work when He grants Satan the longest leash, as it were. The cross illuminates this truth to us, as God uses the worst thing that ever happened, the cruel unjust murder of His Son, to redeem multitudes who believe that the crucifixion served as prelude to the resurrection. The same spiritual dynamic continues until this present hour. Yes, the brightest light shines in the blackest night. Losses pave the way for gains. Sorrows carve within our hearts new venues for Christ's joy. And death serves to make possible the risen Christ coming forth from sad tombs redeemed by God to become glad temples of His greatest glory.
I close with remembrance of the Marine Corps legend involving a sargent whose team was surrounded on every side by an overwhelming force. Despite such odds and apparently looming disaster, the uncowered warrior radioed back to his commander, "Sir, we've got them right where we want them!" This is the faith of the Captain of our salvation. It must also be ours, as we remember that the appearance of "extinction" means that some new tomb will soon become a temple.
"Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him that loved us."(Romans 8:35-37)
"Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body."(II Corinthians 4:10)