QUESTION: How are John the Baptist and the Ayatollah Khomeini alike?
I talked to a friend from Iran today; he had just returned from that region and he told me some amazing facts and stories. But first, a little background.
I first drove across Iran in 1970 and it impressed me as being much better developed and generally a more advanced civilisation than either Turkey to the west or especially Afghanistan to the east. The roads were good; there were attractive public places,; new buildings and the people were fashionably dressed.
What I didn’t see was the seething unrest and hatred for the Shah and SAVAK, his secret police (with 60,000 employees!) who had tortured and killed hundreds of thousands of Iranian citizens. That intense hatred was also aimed at the countries that put the Shah in power. (This is where Brits and Americans hang their heads.)
America and Great Britain conspired together in 1953 to assassinate the elected Prime Minister of Iran, who wanted to charge more money for Iranian oil. so they could replace him with a sympathetic ruler who would not demand higher royalties. The PM was duly assassinated and Shah (or King) Mohammad Reza Pahlavi was installed.
Towards the end of his reign, he also wanted more money from American and British oil companies, so support for him was withdrawn and an Islamic Revolution filled the vacuum. The Ayatollah Khomeini arrived from Paris to a vast crowd of rapturous followers in 1979 and immediately declared that Iran was henceforth an Islamic Republic.
The promised joy, peace and prosperity never materialized and the people of Iran gradually realised that they had exchanged one tyrannical system for another. Instead of SAVAK, they had religious police and an extensive network of informers linked together via the mosques. Sharia law did not produce the promised liberation.
Though Khomeini died in 1989, his successor, the Ayatollah Khamenei has continued the tradition of the religious “Supreme Ruler”, and discontent has saturated Iran.
So, back to my conversation earlier today: My friend visited bordering nations where Iranian followers of Jesus come steadily and in large numbers for Bible training. There are millions of Iranian exiles around the world and where ever they are, there are Iranian churches. So, many are coming to faith, but then they say, “What now?” We are working to get discipleship training and Bible knowledge to them.
One of the men my friend met with, in a country near Iran, oversees three to four thousand underground churches in Iran. He says what they all say. “The Islamic Republic has shown them the true nature of Islam and they want nothing to do with it.” He said that the mosques that used to be overflowing with young people are now deserted. His estimate is that about 70% of the mosques have no young people at all.
As you would expect, though, not all of them are coming to faith in Jesus. Atheism is popular and even Satanism has become evident. Here it is important to remember one of the clearest commandments Jesus gave us. “The harvest is ripe, but the labourers are few. So, pray that the Lord of the Harvest will send more labourers!”
To illustrate the nature of the ripe harvest, my friend mentioned today that just a few years ago, when he talked to Iranians about Jesus, they would typically ask questions like: “Mohammed came after Jesus, so how can you say he was wrong and Jesus was right?” Or they might state, “We know that the early Christians changed the stories to make Jesus out to be God, but he never claimed that, so how can you believe the Bible?” Now, he said, they never mention those objections; they just want to know more.
So, how are John and Khomeini alike? They both “prepared the way of the Lord”. John brought a message which demanded a change of heart from legalistic religion to the Lordship of Jesus. The Ayatollah showed the people of Iran how ugly a legalistic and coercive religious system can be. Then Jesus came.