Born behind the Iron Curtain in Bulgaria, Margaret Nikol has experienced persecution first-hand. Many times the police left her unconscious father at their door after a severe beating. She witnessed the confiscation of Bibles by the communists. Her mother, then her father, and finally her brother were martyred for their faith in Christ.
Through God’s working, Margaret became a concert violinist in East Germany. But because of her commitment to Christ, the communists threatened prison for her and an orphanage for her young son. Determined to stay faithful to Christ, it became clear they had to escape. During a concert season in Austria, God provided the opportunity. Miraculously, Margaret evaded a dozen KGB agents and found asylum with the Austrian government.
Margaret Nikol has made her home in the United States since 1981 and I had the great privilege of meeting her a few weeks ago at a women’s event. Her joy in Christ shines through her powerful testimony. Her comments about martyrs struck me. She said that martyrs are not “super Christians.” They are simply normal, faithful Christians that God empowers with His grace when persecution comes.
Persecution in America?
Christians die for their faith every day around the world. They make a decision to stand for Christ in the face of death. Persecution is not that extreme in the America, but it’s here. In fact, Margaret said she sees it building.
Let’s look at the last words of the very first martyr and see what we can learn to prepare our hearts.
54 When the members of the Sanhedrin heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him. 55 But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56 “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”
57 At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, 58 dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their coatsat the feet of a young man named Saul.
59 While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. Acts 7:54-59, NIV
How can we stand firm?
Two things jump out at me as I read this passage:
- Stephen kept his focus on Christ – In the middle of the persecution he looked at Jesus. He felt God’s pleasure and approval of his faithful obedience. I pray that when persecution comes in any form we will all keep our eyes on Jesus.
- Stephen committed his life to Christ’s will – Like Jesus committed Himself fully to the Father, Stephen surrendered everything he had and was to Jesus. Nothing else mattered but belonging wholly to Him.
Stephen was the first to die for faith in Christ, but many have followed. Since Christ died for us more than 2,000 years ago, untold numbers of faithful ones have identified with Him in His suffering. Around the globe, millions of Christians have been rejected, beaten, and killed for the name of their Savior.
As persecution escalates in our own country I pray that you and I will stand firm in our faith. May we keep our eyes on Christ and commit ourselves fully to Him.
What forms of Christian persecution do you see in the United States today? Have you experienced it personally?