And falling to the ground, he heard a voice saying to him,
“Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” Acts 9:4
About two weeks ago, the world was rocked by news of a series of bombings in Sri Lanka which occurred on Easter Sunday, as worshippers were gathered in three churches. Amongst the dead were a group of Sunday School children from Zion church, who moments before were asked the question, “How many of you are willing to die for Christ?” According to a testimony by Nitharshan Prabha, a student of Colombo Theological Seminary who was their Sunday School teacher, “All the children had responded by putting their hands up and signalled their fresh dedication to Jesus by lighting a symbolic candle. For so many of those children, it would be their final act of worship.”
However, as horrific and terrible as these bombings were, they are not the first time that Christians have lost their lives because of their faith. And neither will they be the last. In fact, just last Sunday, six people were gunned down in a church in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. Sadly these brothers and sisters in Christ in Sri Lank and Africa, will not be the last either.
How should we as Christians respond to such tragedies? How should we prepare to respond if this happened in our own back yard? The SGSecure movement which was launched back in 2016 had the chilling tagline “Not If, But When. Our Response Matters.” It was a call for us to not take our safety and security in Singapore for granted. It is vitally important to be prepared physically, emotionally and socially prepared for such terrible acts of violence. But we as Christians should also be spiritually prepared, not if, but when we face trouble in this world. Jesus himself warned us,
If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember the words I spoke to you: ‘No servant is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also…(John 15:18-20)
In many ways, Saul (who later became, Paul) was a type of terrorist. The Bible describes him as, “ravaging the church” and “breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord.” (Acts 8:3; 9:1) Yet when the Lord confronted him while he was on the road to Damascus, and literally knocked him off his high horse, Jesus said to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” (Acts 9:4) So even as it is being done unto the least of these, it is being done to the Lord. Where is God when the children of God die? He is right there with them, in the midst of them. Jesus identifies intimately with those who suffer, but especially those who suffer for their faith.
The message is unmistakable. Jesus who suffered the cruel, horrible death at the hands of his persecutors, but who was also gloriously raised from the dead, is with his people who die at the hands of those who persecute. But as we die with him, we will also rise with him.
So, we know that the terrorists do not have the final word. And theirs is not the final act visited upon those who have lost their lives. We know that “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.” (Romans 8:11). And we live with this confidence and hope.
Alleluia, Christ is risen. He is risen indeed, Alleluia!