Protests in Iran have met censorship and brutality, but Christian broadcasters use daily media to spark lasting reformation. (Associated Press)
It’s noon in Dallas and 8:30 in the evening in Tehran when Hormoz Shariat, founder of satellite television’s Iran Alive Ministries, steps to the camera to begin the station’s daily live satellite broadcast. The 62-year-old Iranian-American pastor, wearing rimless glasses and a suit and tie, strikes a friendly posture whether he is preaching to a large studio audience or seated in comfortable chairs with his co-hosts. But he takes the one-hour live show very seriously: With a prime-time slot beamed from Texas into the Islamic republic, Iran Alive’s Christian programming has an estimated audience of 6 million people.
That’s nearly 8 percent of Iran’s population of 80 million, the overwhelming majority of whom are Muslims. Whether Iran has 2 million Christians—an estimate Shariat believes is not inflated—or closer to 500,000, as some experts claim, “that’s a lot of Muslims watching us,” he concedes. In addition to Iran Alive, the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) has Persian-language programming in the Middle East, and Cyprus-based SAT-7 PARS also carries round-the-clock Persian-language Christian shows.
God is the God of history. He uses historical events to advance his purpose. In this blog, by looking at the recent uprising and comparing it to 2009 Green Movement, we will see that in the midst of all these events and even chaos, God is advancing the people of Iran, step by step, toward the fulfilment of his promise in Jeremiah 49:38: “I will set my throne in Elam (Iran).”
In 2009, the Iranian people rose up in protest against the government and demonstrated in the streets. In late December 2017 and early 2018, the people again took to the streets in protest, tore down pictures of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and chanted death slogans. Government forces responded brutally both times, arresting thousands and killing scores of people.
But these two uprisings are very different. Their outcomes will be different, too. This time, the eyes of the people have opened.
What Happened in 2009?
The Green Movement of 2009 happened because the people protested fraud in an election that declared incumbent hardliner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad the presidential winner. A majority of people had voted for a moderate candidate, yet the election result did not reflect that vote. The demonstrators, protesting in a few large cities, demanded a recount.
After a brutal crackdown, the people also began demanding civil liberties promised them in the 1979 Revolution.
In 2013, a moderate candidate, Hassan Rouhani, won the election, and the people celebrated.
The Clerical Government’s Political Game
Over and over again, the Islamic government of Iran has deceived its people with a political game: alternately “electing” a hardliner or a moderate candidate to the president’s office. This game show has been going on since the mid-1990s. The people of Iran would become so desperate after a period of a hardliner rule that they would feel victory and relief when they got to elect a moderate president.
They celebrated on the streets when Rouhani was elected in June 2013 and again in May 2017. The majority failed to realize that this election was just a staged political play to keep them busy year after year, for president after president.
During last year’s election campaign for Rouhani, the people were very excited and involved, not fully understanding the implications of having only two clergy-approved candidates: Ebrahim Raisi (with a black turban) and Rouhani (with a white turban).
Both candidates were required to implement the will of the mullahs. The real choice that Supreme Leader Khamenei was giving the people was this: Do you want a president with a black turban or white turban?
Candidate Ebrahim Raisi (Tasnim News Agency, CC 4.0)
President Hassan Rouhani (Tasnim News Agency CC by 4.0)
The people did not realize that moderate candidates are just a faction of the extremists who want to give the people a little freedom (e.g., letting a woman show her hair a little more without threat of arrest). Otherwise, in policy and decision making, moderates are still committed to obey the Supreme Leader Khamenei and implement his wishes.
“Over and over again, the Islamic government of Iran has deceived its people with a political game: alternately “electing” a hardliner or a moderate candidate to the president’s office.”
What is Happening in 2018?
What is happening now is that the people of Iran are finally waking up to this game. They realize that the mullahs in power have been manipulating them for decades: keeping them busy with governmental politics while advancing their own agenda domestically and internationally and personally benefiting from their positions of power.
They now know that electing a moderate president is a hoax and will never do them any good. We are seeing a big shift in awareness and a desperation for something different, something more.
After the first large-scale demonstrations died down, many mainstream media outlets reported that the spontaneous uprisings had fallen apart. But the eyes of the Iranian people are now open, and this hunger will not go away. I am not the only one saying this. Alireza Nadar, a senior policy analyst at RAND corporation recently wrote the following:
There has been speculation that the uprising will die out or be crushed by the regime. However, a key barrier has been broken: Iranians are no longer contained by the wall of fear created by the Islamic Republic. Not only has Iran’s theocracy lost its legitimacy, but it has lost its ability to control the public through the instruments of violence. Unlike in past protests, countless Iranians have demonstrated that they will no longer participate in the political game of “reformist vs. conservative” (better known as “moderates vs. conservatives” in the West). For them, no one from the establishment, including the so-called reformists, can make their lives better. For them, the entire system has to fall for a new Iran to be reborn. —Alizera Nadar, Politico Magazine
The #IranProtests are the beginning of change. It will take time, but change will happen in the next couple of years. The clerical government likely will not stay in power.
Consider these differences in the response of the people:
In 2009, the people rejected the result of an election; now they are rejecting the whole Islamic rule, even Islam itself.
In 2009, the people chanted, “Where is my vote?”; now they are chanting, “Death to the Islamic Republic” and “Death to Khamenei.” Even Rouhani, who was popular and celebrated in the streets after the May 2017 election, is facing “Death to Rouhani” slogans.
In 2009, the demonstrations occurred in only a few large cities; this time they started in scores of smaller cities and towns before getting to the big cities. The voices of some of these rural people have not been heard as a group since the revolution of 1979.
“This time, the eyes of the people are open.”
How You Can Pray for Iran
The hopelessness and desperation that brought about these protests are real. Iranians are suffering. Officially, forty percent live below the poverty line. In reality, the number is probably higher. They cannot find work. They cannot buy food or gas. Drought and water mismanagement has made it difficult to grow crops.
During our live, prime-time, daily programs in January, we encouraged people that God loves them and cares about their suffering, just as we do. We also shared that God has a plan to save and bless Iran. We showed Christians how to reach out to the demonstrators and provide love and hope. Many did.
Please pray that, God willing, we will be able to continue to mobilize the 2 million Christians in Iran to share the gospel and be the light and love of Christ to a hurting nation.
Pray that their pain will be a bridge to salvation.
Pray that their eyes remain open.
To learn even more about what is happening in Iran and how Iran Alive is responding, read this article by Mindy Belz in World Magazine, “Signals of Change.” You can also text “Iran” to 74784 to sign up for updates and testimonies.
Trump’s speech on the nuclear deal with Iran on January 12, 2018, has caused a jolt around the world. His ultimatum giving 120 days to fix “disastrous flaws” in the Obama-led nuclear deal has created shock waves not just in Iran but Europe and other countries as well. The reason is that the continuation, cancellation, or even modification of this deal will impact many countries in several tangible ways.
Below, I give a summary of the reactions, the reasons behind them, and what I think various sides of this agreement will do. I hope this will benefit your thinking through the different opinions on this hot-button issue.
The Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI)
For the IRI, there is panic and fear. They know that if sanctions are restarted, it will put much pressure on both the government and the people of Iran. The government will become weaker, and the people, who are already fed up with the situation, may develop a more effective uprising that threatens even the IRI’s existence. It is a known fact that the previous set of sanctions imposed from 2012 to 2015 was bringing the government of Iran to its knees. The nuclear deal and the resulting $150 billion given to Iran was truly a lifeline to them, enabling them not only to survive but to thrive.
The previous set of sanctions imposed from 2012 to 2015 was bringing the government of Iran to its knees.
Nevertheless, the IRI has several ways to stop America from imposing new sanctions. How? Many European countries have made lucrative financial deals with Iran since the removal of previous sanctions, and they receive a substantial portion of their oil from Iran. Therefore, new sanctions will not only damage Iran but will also damage these countries. Russia and China will also join the pack supporting the IRI, not because of financial gain—they benefit either way because they will continue a financial relationship with Iran secretly even with sanctions—but because they do not agree with US policy.
So, it is very possible that the IRI will persuade the other countries to stand up to any U.S. demands to negotiate a new deal and impose new sanctions.
The People of Iran
Surprisingly, most Iranians support Trump’s policy towards Iran. It is interesting to note that the U.S. mainstream media covers the reaction of the IRI to Trump’s remarks regarding rewriting the nuclear deal, but they do not cover what the people of Iran say about it. Why? Because contrary to the mainstream media, the Iranian people are mostly pro-Trump on this issue.
Surprisingly, most Iranians support Trump’s policy towards Iran.
Here are the reasons:
In 2012 when the previous sanctions were imposed, the people of Iran stood behind their government and blamed the American-led sanctions for their bad economy and hard life. But now they have seen that even when the sanctions were lifted and the Obama administration gave the IRI $150 billion, the people’s situation remained the same. They are desperate and know that with or without sanctions, they will have a hard time earning a living, they will be oppressed, and they will be killed if they protest. They feel they have nothing to lose. They are so utterly hopeless that Trump’s standing up to IRI and trying to restore sanctions gives them some hope that they desperately need. It gives them a faint hope that maybe the future could get better.
Trump is addressing the human rights issue in Iran. President Obama never did that. Even during the uprising of 2009, he was silent and gave not even a word of encouragement or support to the Iranian people. Trump, in contrast, has put 14 Iranian individuals on the blacklist. One is Mr. Larijani, who is the head of judiciary in Iran and has been directly involved in the arrest and execution of the young people in 2009 and 2018. This gesture by Trump gives Iranians a feeling that finally somebody is caring and talking about the human rights violations in Iran and doing something about it.
Trump’s tough stand against the IRI gives the people of Iran hope that maybe this administration somehow will remove the brutal dictatorship from Iran. They deeply desire this and will support Trump even if it means they will have to suffer through another set of sanctions. Through eight years of Obama’s foreign policy that appeased the IRI, the people of Iran lost hope that the U.S. would ever do anything to help them and even doubted that the U.S. cared at all. Do not forget that the Iranian people love and admire the U.S. If they were given a choice, they would choose to have an American-style democracy established in Iran. They even desire that Iranian society would adopt American social norms and lifestyles.
The European Governments
They will not support Trump’s call to renegotiate the nuclear deal and impose new sanctions. Why?
They have much to lose. Just as Trump’s “America First” financial policy puts America’s financial interests above the interests of other countries, the European countries will also put their financial gain above Trump’s foreign policy toward Iran. Currently, Iran is sending 40 percent of its oil export to Europe, and these countries are dependent on that oil for their economy. Many have made lucrative long-term deals with Iran in the past two years. For example, the French energy giant Total has closed a deal with Iran to invest US$4.8 billion there.
In general, these countries do not care about U.S. foreign policy, and they may even be against it. It is not an issue for them when Iran stands up to the U.S. in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, and Yemen. They are not alarmed when the IRI threatens to wipe Israel off the map—and for certain they are not ready to pay a price just to diminish that threat to Israel.
European countries will put their financial gain above Trump’s foreign policy toward Iran.
Russia and China
They most likely will side with the European countries and stand up to Trump trying to renegotiate the nuclear deal.
Russia and the IRI both have similar goals for the Middle East and in many cases are working together to accomplish those goals (such as in Syria). A weak Iran could mean that the U.S. gains the upper hand in the areas where the IRI has been effectively meddling.
By supporting Iran against U.S. demands, they will improve their relationship with the IRI even more both politically and economically. Iran needs them to help stop new sanctions and will probably offer them new trade deals if they help defend against Trump’s ultimatum.
Iran will probably offer Russia new trade deals if they help defend against Trump’s ultimatum.
It looks as though Trump does not have enough support or leverage with the world powers and European countries to renegotiate the nuclear deal and muster up new sanctions. Of course, the U.S. could put sanctions on Iran unilaterally, but that would not be effective. Canceling any American financial dealings would create a vacuum that would be gladly filled by offers from Russia, China, and European countries.
As a result, Iranians will continue to be oppressed by a dictatorship that has shown that its main goal is survival and not caring for its own people.
There remains one possible hope for Iranians: the Revolutionary Guards, with or without direct help from America, could topple the rule of the clergy and establish a secular government. For the foreseeable future, that seems like the only way the government in Iran might—and probably will—change.
Meanwhile, Christianity is fast growing in Iran. The current events are the perfect storm through which the Lord is weaning Iran from Islam and attracting them with his love. Through all the bad news in Iran, he remains as the only good news.
Unfortunately, if the government of Iran changes to a secular democracy, the spiritual hunger of the people will die down very rapidly. So the time is short for Christians to work in Iran while this supernatural spiritual hunger exists.
We must work together to establish a strong church now. If we wait for Iran’s government to change, it will be too late.
The time is short for Christians to work in Iran while this supernatural spiritual hunger exists—so we are starting an equipping school called the “412 School.”
In 2018, we at Iran Alive are focusing on strengthening the underground church in Iran through equipping each Christian to be an agent of transformation. We are starting an equipping school called the “412 School” based on Ephesians 4:12—equipping the saints for the work of the ministry.
Would you join us to make this happen this year? Without friends like you, we are not able to do what we are called to do. We are issuing a “Macedonian call” to come and help us. Please contact me if you feel led to answer this call.
To express interest, you may send an email to info@IranAliveMinistries.org, which I check daily, or call (469) 982-0000. We will contact you to explore possibilities for partnership.
In this series, I have been addressing the spontaneous protests that began in Iran on December 28, 2017, in response to rising economic distress and the corrupt government. Since the demonstrations started, we have been broadcasting special live programs every evening at prime time in Iran to comfort the people and share the heart of God with them.
The 2 million or so Christians in Iran now have a chance to be the voice of real hope—hope that only exists in Christ.
Even though at least four thousand are reported arrested and are being tortured in prison, there is a bright spot in what is happening right now in Iran: the uprising creates a window for increased Christian activity and evangelism. Its impact will be in three areas:
1) It reduces persecution of Christians. The uprising alleviates—at least for a while—the focused persecution of Christians. The outbreak of mass dissent in the past two weeks is “one of the most serious crises Iran has faced in the past 25 years.” Right now the government has a more urgent matter than arresting Christians; they must work to bring the current situation under control.
2) It will give Christians greater opportunity to evangelize. The 2 million or so Christians in Iran now have a chance to be the voice of real hope—hope that only exists in Christ—to a hopeless, aimless, and desperate young generation.
Reaching this generation with the gospel will be easier because they have shown that they are desperate enough to take huge risks with their lives to oppose the government. Over 60 percent of the population is under age 30, meaning that at least half the country is now even more open to the good news of Christ.
3) It gives us an opportunity to train fearless young leaders for Christ. The demonstrations give Christian leaders like us at Iran Alive a historic opportunity to train mighty young men and women of God for his service. We have a great opening to bring to faith and train a generation that has no hope for this life so that they can wholeheartedly live for Christ.
These are brave young people who are not afraid of death. As one young Christian told me, “I am not afraid of death because I was dead anyway before I came to Christ.” Another said, “I am not afraid of them [the government]; in fact, they are afraid of me and my message. That is why they want to put me in jail.”
How You Can Help
Would you pray especially for those young people being tortured in prison and their families who are demonstrating outside, hoping to hear news of their loved ones?
Would you also pray for boldness among Christians in Iran, to use this unique opportunity to share Christ with many? As you may know, we have a large number of underground house churches in Iran and many leaders who are serving them. These leaders are already spreading the gospel without fear of what will happen to them. Pray that God would protect them and embolden others to do the same. Pray for open hearts to receive Christ.
My friend Mani Erfan predicted a year ago that Christians would make up 10 percent of Iran’s population by 2020. I believe that is quite possible. This new level of desperation and hopelessness expressed in these demonstrations indicates that millions more are open to the message of the gospel, and the number of Christians in Iran will continue to grow exponentially as it has the past 10 years.
Just imagine what would happen if we join together and equip, encourage, empower, and mobilize 2 million Christians for Christ.
And would you pray about contributing to a training initiative for Iran? We at Iran Alive are beginning a new 412 School, based on Ephesians 4:12, “to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up.” With this school, we can multiply our efforts to reach and disciple millions in Iran for the gospel. Just imagine what would happen if we join together and equip, encourage, empower, and mobilize 2 million Christians for Christ. I believe not only Iran but also the whole Middle East will be impacted by the gospel.
In this series, I have been addressing the spontaneous protests that began in Iran on December 28, 2017, in response to rising economic distress and the corrupt government. At least 22 people have been killed—likely a higher number is true—and a minimum of 1,000 arrested, most under the age of 25.
What is the goal of the protestors?
The demonstrators have no clear vision or clear demands. These demonstrations are the groans and pains of society. The people are crying out because they feel pressured economically and see no way out. They see social injustice and oppression and no hope for any better future.
We must remember that this uprising is not like a Western demonstration, where people fill the streets to protest an issue or stand up for a cause—and then go home. These Iranians know that they can be killed for protesting. Several have been killed already; thousands of others are under arrest.
The protestors’ hopelessness and frustration are so deep that they do not care anymore if they die.
Will violence and arrests stifle the uprising?
The demonstrations have no leadership that can guide them toward a common goal; they are just protesting out of pain, hopelessness, and desperation. Therefore, the movement is not coherent yet, and it has no clear direction to keep it going against repressive violence. So it is very likely that it will be stopped through upcoming violence.
When the uprising quiets down, will that be the end of it?
Even if the demonstrations quiet down, the divide between the people and the government will deepen. The movement will continue as an undercurrent that will show its head again later, stronger than before.
One thing is for sure: the people will no longer be deceived by the “moderate clergy candidate” political play by the clergy. This political show has kept the people entertained and busy for the past 20 years. It will not work any longer.
They may, however, be deceived by the offer of a “secular” or “nonreligious” candidate. This type of candidate will be a deception once again because the government always creates an illusion of change on the surface while doing nothing to change a system where the clergy and the Revolutionary Guards maintain the main economic, military, and political power. As an Iranian proverb says, “It is the same donkey, but the saddle is changed.”
What will result from the uprising, in the near future?
We will most likely see a surge of violence. Plainclothes mercenaries from Syria will shoot and kill hundreds on the streets just as they did in the 2009 uprising. Many young people will be arrested, tortured, or simply disappear. The University of Tehran is already trying to track some of its students who have disappeared.
The Supreme Leader, to appease the people, may blame the situation on a few people in government positions, order their arrest, put them on trial, and execute them. This way, he can show the people that he has heard them, cares for them, and is taking care of the problems of corruption and social injustice.
By eliminating these few, Khamenei will both appease the people and at the same time remove some of those who are causing him trouble. One of these potential figures is the ex-president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He has lately been causing some trouble for the power structure. His life may be in danger in the next few weeks and months. The government may blame this mess and corruption on him, arrest him, and put him on trial.
What is Iran Alive Doing?
Since the beginning of the protests, we have been broadcasting a special live program at noon CST (prime time in Iran) every day, even on Saturdays and Sundays. Our goals are to show that
God knows their pains, and so do we;
God cares about what they are going through, and so do we;
God has a plan for Iran and is active in the midst of this chaos and suffering, and we all need to align what we do with what he intends to do in Iran.
We teach them that to do the will of God, we need first to have the mind of God and the heart of God.
We know that Iran will be saved according to Jeremiah 49:38, and this is just another step towards that end.
Every day in our live program, we look at the events of the day from a biblical point of view.
We evangelize by telling people that they will be again disappointed if they put their hope once again in men.
We tell them that if they do not change, then even if the government changes, they will still be miserable.
We point out that if they have personal struggles, if they have marriage problems, and if they have an addiction, a change of government will not solve that. Their only hope is Jesus Christ, who can make a true and eternal change both in their lives and also in the society.
We also teach Christians to be salt and light in the midst of this darkness. They must be active in helping people who are suffering and at the same time share the gospel by telling others that only Jesus is the true solution to the problems in Iran.
How should we pray?
Many families have been torn apart. Many reports tell of people congregating around Evin Prison in Tehran, hoping to secure the release of family members. Some young people have been killed, and many have disappeared. Please pray for these young people and their families.
People are also suffering economic hardship, no longer able to buy milk, cheese, or eggs. Pray that they would come to know that God loves them and cares about their situation. Pray that the leaders in Iran will have compassion on their people and instead of treating them as thugs, accusing them of being CIA agents, and heartlessly killing them, that they would care for their felt needs.
This is a great time for Christians to shine. Pray that the 2 million Christians in Iran will reflect Christ’s character by their love and actions. Also pray they will bring true hope and lasting change to the lives of millions by sharing the gospel.
And finally, please pray for Iran Alive. God has graciously positioned us to have a tangible impact on at least 6 million people according to a recent poll. This is the number who watch us regularly and for whom we are their favorite channel. Pray that the Lord will give us wisdom and provide for us financially so that we can have maximum impact during this historic time in Iran.
Look for parts 4 and 5 of this series later this week.
The main cause for these demonstrations? The economic pain and desperation of the people. In the past six months, about 30 percent of our incoming prayer requests from Iran have been related to the economic situation. One of our viewers shared last week that she and her husband are so financially desperate that they were considering selling their three-month-old baby to human traffickers!
Basic Goods out of Reach for the People
In recent months, the price of some basic goods like dairy products, meat, eggs, and gas has risen sharply. For the past two years, many families in Iran had to cut their consumption of meat to once per month. Now they cannot even afford that. Forget meat; now they cannot afford milk, cheese, or eggs.
While the Corrupt Elite Enriches Itself
What makes the people’s pain worse and makes them even more angry and frustrated are the following realities:
The religious elite controls the economy. More than 85 percent of the economy is controlled by those in power (the clergy and Iran’s Revolutionary Guard). The people see this as the elite taking advantage of the common people so even though they are rich, they can be richer.
Corruption within the government continues freely. Every month the people hear news of large embezzlement by those within the government—but no arrests or accountability. While common people continue to suffer, those in power steal the oil income and store it in foreign banks. They steal instead of investing that money in the country’s economy because maybe they also see that their end is near.
The powerful live in luxurious abundance. Daily, the people see the elite living in luxury homes and driving luxury cars—more Lamborghinis, Ferraris, and Maserati’s travel the streets in Tehran than in Beverly Hills.
More than a quarter of the country is unemployed. The unemployment stated by the government is 12 percent, but in reality, more than 25 percent are unemployed. Unemployment among young adults is as high as 40 percent. Noticeable segments of society in their 30s and even 40s are educated (often highly) but have no jobs—not even low-level jobs such as driving taxis. They still live with their parents, cannot find jobs, and cannot get married. They battle a hopelessness with deep depression that they often relieve temporarily with some addiction. Most families in Iran are impacted by addiction because at least one close family member (father, mother, son, daughter, brother, sister) is addicted. Unemployment and addiction are prime causes for people being on the streets, the majority of these people being under 30 years old.
The children of the elite “inherit” the best paying jobs. The people have seen that those in power have the best paying jobs—and now the elite are passing on these jobs to their kids, a generation of spoiled children with no education. Children of the powerful receive a job without earning it while millions with education cannot make a living.
The Islamic government cares more for supporting regional allies than its own people. The people now see that the Islamic government has no heart for the suffering of its own but spends millions of dollars monthly to help Hezbollah in Lebanon and President Assad in Syria. They know that the government is spending large sums of money to take control of Yemen and Iraq. They were hoping that the $150 billion that Obama administration gave Iran’s government would benefit them, but as I predicted in 2015 and again in 2016, the windfall did not benefit them but was used instead to oppress them and persecute Christians even more.
What Can You Do?
Throughout this time of unrest, we have broadcast live every evening during prime time to share God’s heart and mind with the people. They are crying out in pain and looking for answers. Would you pray that millions will hear and receive God’s love and concern for their suffering?
In the next few days, I will be posting more on this issue. I will let you know what I expect will be the outcome of this mass demonstration, what the differences are between this uprising and the Green Movement of 2009, and yes, how this uprising will help Christians and the cause of Christ in Iran—at least for the short term.
If you wish to read more stories and stay up to date on issues in Iran and with our ministry at Iran Alive, please text “Iran” to 74784.
In the story of Christ’s birth there are many familiar characters: Joseph, Mary, Herod, the Jewish leaders, and shepherds. But there are also several (at least three) strange foreigners called “Magi” who unexpectedly come out of nowhere. Even more shocking is that they are more alert, more knowledgeable, and have deeper spiritual understanding of the meaning of the birth of Jesus than most of Jesus’s ethnic relations.
But who are these Magi who mysteriously appear around the time of Jesus’s birth and who are prepared to worship him and give him gifts? Where are they from? How do they know so much about his birth and who he is?
People from many nations—places such as Pakistan, India, and even China—claim that these Magi were from their lands. But I say they were from Iran. I say this not because I am from Iran and want to force Iran into the Bible—the Bible already has a lot to say about Persia (Iran)—but I say this because of the evidence.
May I present to you three reasons that support the fact that the Magi were from Iran?
1) The word “Magi” is a Persian word.
The Magi were not kings but were dignitaries and advisors in the court of Persian kings. They were high priests of the Zoroastrian religion. The Persian kings respected them, valued them, and sought their advice in their decisions.
2) Images in the Church of Nativity in Bethlehem depict the Magi as Persians.
The Church of Nativity was erected in AD 329 by Empress Helena, Constantine’s mother, in the area believed to be where Jesus was born. In AD 614, a mosaic of the Magi on the floor of the church saved it from destruction by a Persian rampage. The mosaic depicts the Magi in Persian clothing. (A ninth-century synod in Jerusalem quoted this example to show the utility of religious images.) This early image does not prove the identity of the Magi, but it shows an early, widespread understanding of who they were.
3) The Magi were familiar with the prophecies of the Old Testament.
As we can see in Matthew 2, the Magi were not just following a star out of curiosity; they had great preknowledge about this birth and the identity of Christ. They knew who they were seeking, and what to do when they found him: worship.
When they saw the star, they knew instantly that it was pointing to the Christ child. They told Herod, “We saw his star” (Mt 2:2, emphasis added). They knew that a child would be born around that time and were expecting it. They knew Jesus was a King, asking Herod, “Where is the one who has been born King of the Jews?” They also knew that the child was not only a King but was God. They proclaimed, “[We] have come to worship him.”
Zoroastrians believe there is only one God, and he alone must be worshiped. The name of God in Zoroastrian books is “Ahura Mazda” (meaning “the good Lord”). Incidentally, the short form of this word is “Hormoz”—yes, the Zoroastrian name for the One God is where I get my name.
But how did these men know about the coming King? The answer is easy: Daniel. Daniel was (and is even now) respected in Persia as a prophet from God. His book, written in Iran, was available and revered by Persians. Not many people know that for centuries, many who lived in Iran were true believers in the God of the Bible. This was not just because of Daniel, but also because of Nehemiah, Habakkuk, and Esther. At the end of the book of Esther, we read that many Persians came to know the God of Israel.
The Bible also says that when Persian King Cyrus set the captive Jews free, only a small number went back to their land. They returned at several stages, and the total number of those who returned are estimated to be only around 50,000 people. Therefore, millions of Jews stayed in Persia and lived there for centuries.
It is probable that the high priests of the Persian kings were required to know the Old Testament and especially the prophecies of Daniel. That is the reason these Magi were so knowledgeable about who Jesus was and the timing of his birth.
Conclusion: What Can We Learn?
It is not really important to prove where these Magi were from. What is important is that “non-Jews” found the Christ child and worshiped him long before hardly any Jews even knew he existed. This teaches us that God’s great desire is for people from all nations to know him and worship him.
We also learn that giving is an inseparable part of worship. Yes, we should worship God with praises on our lips, but that alone is not enough and might even be considered as an empty worship—just lip service.
Giving is an integral part of worship. We should worship God with our gold (possessions), our myrrh (willingness to suffer for him, to deny ourselves, to carry our cross, and to participate in his work), and our frankincense (becoming the fragrance of Christ to this world, as in 2 Cor. 2:15, by reflecting his character and loving the lost).
Worshiping God in this manner is exactly what you are doing by standing by us, loving the Muslims enough to share the gospel with them. Persia once worshiped the God of the Bible and Jesus, his Son. Many Persians are seeking him once again. Thank you for showing them the light of God’s star, that they might follow him.
A vibrant church in Iran has the potential to change the face of the entire Middle East. But the church in Iran has unique challenges that we must address. Indeed, three current challenges are creating a crisis for the Iranian church. Yes, a crisis!
Of course, these three challenges mean that there are also three opportunities for responding and correcting the problems. I want to visit the first of these crises and opportunities today, a crisis that is a bigger threat to the future of church in Iran than even the Islamic government.
Crisis 1: Shiite Christianity
The Church is growing, numerically, very fast in Iran. Operation World lists the annual growth rate at one new believer for every five existing. But the growth of leadership, training, and teaching is not keeping up.
Ninety-five percent of believers in Iran are isolated Christians. So out of an estimated 2 million Christians, only 50,000–100,000 are connected to a church of any kind, such as underground, online, or above the ground.
Many individuals are coming to Christ—evangelism is relatively easy—but congregations are few and weak. Don’t get me wrong—the Christians in Iran, as individuals, are strong. They are dedicated and hungry to know Jesus and walk with the Holy Spirit. But when they gather, they do not automatically form healthy congregations.
“Three current challenges are creating a crisis for the Iranian church.”
Iranians have no model for healthy, biblical community. They know how to relate to the Word of God and the Holy Spirit, but they do not know how to relate to each other. With so many new believers and very few mature believers, there is nobody to teach and model such biblical relationships.
As a result, Iranian cultural values define their relationships instead—this is what I call “Shiite Christianity.” Shiite Christianity is a bigger threat to the future of church in Iran than even the Islamic government of Iran.
How Christianity in Iran Becomes “Shiite Christianity”
When Islam invaded Iran, it was Sunni Islam. But Sunni Islam did not suit Persians well, a people long known for their emotional poetry; it lacked any emphasis on emotional experience. So they adapted Islam to fit their culture. They invented what is now known as Shiite Islam.
“Shiite Christianity is a bigger threat to the future of church in Iran than even the Islamic government of Iran.”
Iranians are doing the same thing, unconsciously, with Christianity. Here are some of the symptoms of the influence of the Iranian culture on the church:
Overdependent on emotions. The good news is that Shiite Muslims already value emotional experience, and so they crave experience with God—a relationship. Praise God! Allah does not give them this, but Jesus does. Lives are often changed in dramatic ways for individuals and families.But Iranian Christians can become too dependent on emotions and experience, and this overdependence can be very dangerous. Without Bible knowledge, these Christians can be easily deceived since they don’t know how to discern between the Holy Spirit and a demonic spirit.
Dictator Leadership. For Iranians, Allah is a dictator. The government is a dictator. Even family structures are authoritarian. So when Iranians form a congregation, they know no other form of leadership. Dictator leadership seems normal and feels natural to not only the leaders but also most of the people in the congregation. Servant-leadership, on the other hand, is a mystery to them. Most Iranians view servant-leadership as “weak leadership” and do not heed to it.When dictator leadership combines with a lack of Bible knowledge, all sorts of heresy can slip in. The result is often a cult rather than Christianity. There are many cults in Iran—some are imported and some are homegrown—but they are growing fast.
Reactionary Individualism. After lifetimes of submitting to authority—often cruel authority—some Iranians become reactionary to any authority. Instead of submitting to one another in the Spirit (Eph. 5:21), they claim the presence of the Holy Spirit means they have no need to submit to or respect the teaching of pastors and leaders. This individualism makes leading and fostering unity even more difficult. There are many divisions among the believers in the few congregations that exist.
Opportunity 1: Using Media to Help Grow a Healthy Iranian Church
While a vibrant church in Iran has the potential to change the entire Middle East, a poorly trained church might end up creating more lasting damage for spreading the gospel in the region than no church at all.
This is why I have been working many years now not just to spread the gospel but to grow healthy Christian communities and transformed, mature believers.
The good thing about the media is that you don’t just tell but you can also show. The opportunity here is for us to model Christ-like community and servant-leadership while providing sound biblical teaching.
The Islamic government of Iran has outlawed any gathering of Christians and sentences those who gather in homes to long jail sentences. Under these circumstances, there is no other way to enter the homes of Christians and help them except through media.
Here are just some of the benefits of using media:
Media gives isolated Christians continuous access to comprehensive, sound Bible teaching.
Media makes available the virtual modeling of Christian community and servant-leadership in places where the infant church has been driven underground.
Media has the power to touch and change culture—for better or worse.
Four years ago I started a global church called “Church 7” as a response to Shiite Christianity. By connecting believers across the globe and modeling what a community of Christians should look like through weekly worship services and live programs, Church 7 goes beyond teaching individuals. It helps point to the kind of loving community that Jesus meant His Church to be.
Join Me to Make Lasting Change for a Healthy Church in Iran
The challenge of Shiite culture changing the Iranian church is a huge one, but the opportunity for the Iranian church to change Shiite culture is just as big.
The time is now to make a lasting difference for the growing Church in Iran. I hope you will join me in praying and working for the expansion of God’s Kingdom in Iran and the whole Middle East “…until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Eph. 4:13, NIV).
If you want to know more about how Church 7 is changing lives, text “IRAN” to 74784 to receive more information and video links.
You have probably read stories of persecuted Christians who have said with all sincerity that they were “honored to be tortured for Christ.” How is it that the persecuted church can be so thankful in the face of such horror, even death?
Persecuted Christians can indeed inspire and challenge us to be thankful no matter what circumstances we are in. But how do they do it? What motivates them to have that attitude of thankfulness? Here are some reasons that they are thankful even in hard situations. Maybe we can learn something from them.
1. They have first-hand experience of the transforming power of Jesus.
You see, when you come from darkness, you appreciate the light even more.
In America and the West, we often don’t realize how many Christian values have become an expected part of the culture. Yes, Western society has many problems, but we still value kindness, mercy, love, and human dignity as a part of our framework. We notice and are even outraged when these points of spiritual light are missing because we are used to them and take them for granted.
“You see, when you come from darkness, you appreciate the light even more.”
In Islamic countries, there is such spiritual darkness. People live with cruelty, judgment, and death as expected norms. In Islam, individual lives do not have much value. This kind of dark environment creates such hopelessness in people that Muslims who become Christians experience major change and joy.
From hatred to love, from hopelessness to hope, from darkness to light, from bondage to freedom—many Muslim-background Christians experience change in an extreme way.
This extreme change from darkness to light creates a great appreciation—thankfulness—for the One who brought about that change. And so these believers are willing and ready to suffer for Christ and not deny him, no matter how harsh the persecution.
2. They realize their desperate need for walking with Jesus.
Persecuted Christians easily realize that Jesus is all they need, so he is all they want. Walking daily with Jesus is not an option for them but a desperate need. Being willing to suffer for Christ is tied directly to thankfulness.
For many of us in the West, we know what Jesus did for us, but we do not see our desperate need to walk with him daily. If we do not read the Bible daily, pray regularly, or go to church weekly, we often don’t notice an immediate, negative impact in any kind of major or tangible way. For us, a vibrant, deep spiritual walk with the Holy Spirit seems optional. Therefore, for us in the West, we have to be intentional about remembering what Jesus has done for us. When we do that, we will be more thankful—and as a result, make a decision to walk with him daily.
3. They see suffering as a way to say “Thank You” to Jesus.
When persecuted Christians suffer for Christ, what they are doing is actively saying “Thank You” to Jesus in the best way they can. They are replying to his sacrifice with sacrifice of their own. And they are honored to do it!
Many persecuted Christians are even willing to give their lives for Jesus. Of course, Jesus does not ask such martyrdom from every believer. But we can still welcome suffering for him out of our thankfulness. The giving of time and finances is a sacrifice that the Lord recognizes and appreciates—especially when it is a result of our thankfulness for what he has done for us. It truly blesses him! Can you imagine the joy it is to know that Jesus feels blessed by something you do? The thanks you give him by willingly choosing to sacrifice your time, talents, and treasure for him?
In this season of thanksgiving, I want to encourage you to give your time and finances—not because you should, not because of obligation—but out of thankfulness.
Consider the darkness Jesus has delivered you from with his sacrifice. If you are thankful for the light, then reply with sacrificial thanks giving.
“We have to be intentional about remembering what Jesus has done for us. When we do that, we will be more thankful.”
Tuesday, November 28 is #GivingTuesday, a global thanksgiving movement that is helping to spread light throughout the world. If you are thankful for Jesus, would you partner with us and give sacrificially to what he is doing for Muslims and persecuted Christians in Iran?
Imagine the joy of Jesus when you say to him, “Thanks, it is an honor to serve you.”
To receive stories about persecuted Christians in Iran and learn more about how to support them and reach other Muslims hungry for the gospel, text “Iran” to 74784.