This week has been a week of reality checks. One of the biggest has come from the news of this man, Youcef Nadarkhani, who has been sentenced to death in Iran.
Why such a harsh sentence?
Because he has refused to recant his Christian faith.
Just writing those words sends a wave of emotion through me. I've never met this man, but he is my brother. It has been moving me to tears to think of the incredible place he is in. He is prepared to die for his faith. Not as a suicide bomber or recklessly throwing himself at death, but living out what the apostle Paul said, "to live is Christ and to die is gain." The incredible reality of the cross has so transformed the life of Youcef that he would rather die than deny it.
But I don't cry out of despair. There is no despair here. Despair is the product of hopelessness. If my dear brother Youcef dies, I will suffer for his family, his two young boys and his wife, for those who will miss him for the next few decades before they too will face the throne.
But his life will not be in vain. The ancient theologian Tertullian said that the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church. Iran is an extremely Muslim country. Obviously from their response to Youcef's refusal to recant, they are aggressive toward the gospel. But Iran belongs to a powerful and merciful God. He will make His name known in that closed land. And He is doing so right now through Youcef.
The Lord is not hindered by governments that hate Him. He is not hindered by death sentences. Heck, He's not even hindered by death. And so I see the mighty hand of the Lord moving in Iran. And I cry tears of somber joy for Youcef. What a man, what a Savior to produce such a man.
This whole situation has come to my mind time and time again these past few weeks. It comes up when I find myself apathetic or frustrated with various parts of my life. When my computer is slow and I feel frustrated, I think to myself how incredibly ridiculous I am that such a silly thing would frustrate me. Youcef obviously isn't feeling frustrated from his slow internet connection. When I feel apathetic toward my work or what needs to be done here, I imagine myself on a road with Youcef, both of us moving toward the same goal and encouraging each other along the way. And it moves me to tears.
My dear Youcef, you are loved by many across the world, but most of all you are loved by the Lord almighty. For He has called you to be His and has made you His own. And this cross that you are bearing, much more literally than most of us, is a reminder of the death that we died in Christ and the life that we have in His resurrection. May He who overcame death give you strength to face this one. He is good and faithful all the time.
And so we proclaim, "to live is Christ, and to die is gain".