I have been shaken out of my comfort zone by a picture of what is to come – a reminder of the true cost of discipleship.
It’s so good to bask in the warm glow of a cosy fire on a cold winter’s night, but on discovering an intriguing YouTube site called The Two Preachers, I was drawn to watch one of the films they make available.
It’s all about Richard Wurmbrand, among the 20th century’s most remarkable Christians. A Romanian Jew, he was imprisoned and tortured for 14 years, including three years in solitary confinement, for refusing to bow the knee to Soviet communism.
But I was profoundly struck – and shocked – as I felt the Lord warning me that this self-same spirit of militant atheism is on the rise again. And it is manifesting itself – not in Russia or Romania – but in the supposedly free society of the United Kingdom, sometimes assuming various disguises including what has come to be known as wokeism – having politically correct views on gender, race, sexuality and much more.
Coming in the wake of secular humanism, and in many ways linked to what some see as Cultural Marxism, it seeks to undermine every Judeo-Christian principle in our culture for the purpose of enslaving us all to the kind of groupthink formerly imposed on millions of Soviet citizens. Those brainwashed by this view hate everything we stand for, and will stop at nothing to destroy our faith and witness – just as they did with Richard Wurmbrand.
As an example of wokery at its weirdest, Jayne Ozanne, a leading figure in the Church of England, is calling for a ban on what she calls ‘hate prayer.’ She is asking the government to ban praying for people tempted by same-sex attraction, even if they have requested such prayer! In other words, they want to abstain from such immorality. But this cleric wants to deny them that choice. You couldn’t make it up. It’s a reminder of Jesus’ warning that there will come a time when believers will betray one another (Matt 10:21). And this sort of violent verbal opposition could soon morph into something more physical and menacing.
Wurmbrand, although a Jew like his wife Sabina, was an atheist until an elderly carpenter preached the gospel to him after praying that God would enable him to win a Jew to Christ before he died. But there were no Jews in his village. However, Richard then took advice to retreat into the hills to convalesce from tuberculosis. As he records in his book, Tortured for Christ (Release International), “Something irresistible drew me to that village. I had no reason to go there. Romania has 12,000 villages, but I went to that one. Seeing I was a Jew, the carpenter courted me as never a beautiful girl had been courted…”
Richard had been a stockbroker mixing in high society, and his young wife was initially dead against his new-found faith – until she witnessed the utter emptiness of her way of life at a drunken party.
The gospel became a flame of fire burning in Richard’s heart and, when Russian troops invaded his country, they were hungry to hear about the God they were told did not exist.
Sabina too suffered terribly for her faith, and for years was led to believe her husband had died in prison. She was also forcibly separated from her son Mihai (Michael) who provided much of the film’s narrative.
Richard, meanwhile, was cruelly tortured, repeatedly beaten, even hung upside-down and virtually starved to death with no more than a slice of bread a day, spending much of his time in total darkness and silence. But he couldn’t be beaten into submission, and would even preach sermons to God and the angels.
He experienced a roller-coaster of emotions from total despair to ecstatic joy, dancing with delight in his cell as he praised the Lord! Eventually, terribly thin and emaciated, he was transferred to a cell shared with inmates who had simply been left there to die.
He gradually recovered, led each of these men to Christ, and they duly joined in communal prayer and praise, using their chains as percussion instruments as they worshipped the Lord of glory and light in the dire darkness of their dungeon. Richard even led one of the country’s top security officers (also a Jew) to faith, as a result of which he was freed from his first prison spell.
Wurmbrand had put into practice what Jesus taught – that we should not be afraid of those who kill the body, but cannot kill the soul. “Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matt 10:28) Jesus also said: “You will be hated by everyone because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.” (Matt 10:22)
Richard and Sabina’s testimony was that the more they were hated and mistreated, the more love they discovered they had for their persecutors. The “aroma of Christ” mentioned by Paul (2 Cor 2:15) was thus displayed. As Richard explained: “When you step on a flower, it gives off its perfume.”
Ashamed of fellow pastors who bowed to the pressures of communist ideology, he publicly called it what it was – evil – and paid the price.
He was eventually used to open Western eyes to the severity of persecution in communist countries and founded Voice for the Martyrs to serve persecuted Christians worldwide. He was duly feted on his return to Romania following the toppling of Nicolai Ceausescu in 1989 as the crowds shouted: “Communism is dead: God is alive!”
So, yes, I see more hardship ahead. But I also see hope – part-reflected in the London illuminations marking the Jewish feast of Hanukkah, matched by the warming of political ties between Britain and Israel.
Could we perhaps be witnessing another Cyrus moment (Ezra 1:1-3), when those enslaved by sin, atheism and wokery are set free to serve the God of Israel, who came to live among us through his Son Jesus Christ? The giant menorahs lit up at the National Gallery and the London Eye do indeed honour the brothers in the flesh of Jesus the Jew, but they also point to Jesus, “the light of the world” (John 8:12).
Charles Gardner is author of Israel the Chosen, available from Amazon; Peace in Jerusalem, available from olivepresspublisher.com; A Nation Reborn, available from Christian Publications International; and King of the Jews, also available from Christian Publications International.