Verse 24 of Matthew 4 gives this fact about Jesus:
Syria in the New Testament
In The Expositor’s Bible Commentary on Matthew, Dr. D. A. Carson notes that the geographical boundaries of “Syria” in New Testament times are “uncertain.” He explains that, from the Roman perspective, Syria extended far beyond Palestine (Israel) and included all of Palestine, except for Galilee, the district where Matthew 4 locates Jesus’ itinerate ministry.
Syrians heard about Jesus early on in his ministry (Matthew 4:23). The good news (gospel) of the kingdom that he preached found root in the Syrian culture, and, since the days of the Apostle Paul, the Christian church has existed in Syria. (Acts 15:23, 41).
Christians in Syria Today
According to various news sources, today, about ten percent of Syria’s twenty-three million people are Christians. This ten percent is comprised of Eastern Orthodox Christians (the majority) along with Maronite Catholics, and evangelicals.
Under the current regime of Shitte President, Bashar al-Assad, the Christians have been allowed to practice their faith freely and have dwelt among Muslims as friends. Now, unsure about their status, due to rebel propaganda and other measures, Christians have chosen not to fight on the side of the current regime. Because they fear Islamic extremism and the rise of an Islamic state, Syrian Christians also choose not to fight on the side of the Sunni rebels. And to complicate matters even further, evangelical Christians suspect that some Eastern Orthodox Christians may be leaking information to the rebel forces, putting evangelicals at risk of persecution.
The situation is complex, and Christians are caught in the middle. Many are fleeing into exile due to extreme financial hardship, forced evictions, confiscation of property, random killings, the looting and burning of Christian churches, and kidnappings.
How should I respond?
Remember those who “are mistreated, since you also are in the body” (Hebrews 13:3).
In Psalm 90, Moses is praying for the exiled people he is leading through their desert wanderings. He begins his prayer by strongly affirming God’s eternal existence and his work of creation. He considers God’s judgments and the brevity of human life. Moses then asks,
Who considers the power of your anger
And your wrath according to the fear of you?
This is a good question for today, because, when we look at Syria and all that is going on around the world, and even in our country, it doesn’t seem that most people consider, must less fear, God’s anger or his just wrath toward sin.
After his question, Moses makes this request of God:
So teach us to number our days
that we may get a heart of wisdom.
Exile and wars like the one in Syria are reminders of the brevity of life – our years “are soon gone, and we fly away,” and of the hardship of life – “their span is but toil and trouble” (Ps. 90:10). So, in view of God’s eternal existence, and judgment, and our limited days on this earth, it is seems best to live out our brief lives here in wisdom. And wisdom, as you know, begins with fear of the Lord (Pro. 9:10), which I think means, at the core, to know full well that God is who he reveals himself to be and that he will do what he says he will do and to respond to him appropriately.
Moses ends his prayer with these pleas:
Return, O Lord! How long?
Have pity on your servants!
Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love,
that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.
Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us,
and for as many years as we have seen evil.
Let your work be shown to your servants,
and your glorious power to their children.
Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us,
and establish the work of our hands upon us;
yes, establish the work of our hands!
The Syrians, from the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry, had already heard and seen God’s glorious power in Jesus. Jesus, as God come to earth, was God’s favor already shown to the Syrians and to us. In other words, Moses’ pleas for the wandering Israelites and their children, has already, for Syria and the world, been met in Christ. In Jesus we are satisfied with God’s steadfast love (Rom 8:35). In Jesus, we have all already seen God’s glory (John 1:14) and power (1 Cor. 1:24).
For Syria and for us, Moses’ prayer has been fully answered. God has established the work of Christ’s hands in bringing eternal salvation, and of Paul’s hands in establishing the work of the church, and the work of other Christian hands in carrying on the proclamation of the gospel.
So how do I remember the part of our body that is being mistreated in Syria?
There will be different answers to this question for different people, but, like Moses, I can pray.
Praying that God will further establish the work of modern-day Christian believers who spread the good news of the kingdom through Syria so that Syria’s children will be saved and the world will see more clearly the glorious work and power of the Lord.
The district of Galilee was under Herod Antipas’ independent administration.
Barnard, Anne, The New York Times (nytimes.com), “A Wary Easter Weekend for Christians in Syria,” March 30, 2013, accessed April 4, 2013 from http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/31/world/middleeast/wary-easter-weekend-for-syrian-christians.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0
CBNNews.com, “Syrian Christians Fleeing as Islamists Take Over,” March, 10, 2013, accessed April 4, 2013 from http://www.cbn.com/cbnnews/world/2013/March/Syrian-Christians-Fleeing-as-Islamists-Take-Over/
International Christian Concern (ICC), ChristianNewsToday.com, “Eight House Churches Shut Down in Northern Syria,” April 4, 2013, accessed April 4, 2013 from http://www.christiannewstoday.com/Christian_News_Report_271.html
Lindner, John, Trinity Presbyterian Church, “Syrian Christians Struggle Amid Chaos,” February 28, 2013, accessed April 4, 2013 from http://www.trinitycville.org/Syrian-Christians-Struggle-Amid-Chaos