An Iranian King - Part I

Part 1: “God’s Anointed Shepherd”

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A fascinating and often over-looked sub-plot in the “Grand Story” of the Bible involves a figure called “God’s anointed shepherd.” People would be quick to name Moses, whom God called while tending sheep on the backside of the desert, to lead Israel to the Promised Land. David, the great warrior-king, who learned his skills while tending sheep. Then there is God Himself, of whom David said, “The Lord is my shepherd.” Finally, Jesus Christ, that “good” (John 10:11) and “great” (Heb. 13:20) shepherd who gave his life for his sheep.

But in a remarkable prophecy 150 years before the emergence of the Persian (modern-day Iran) empire, Isaiah predicted that God would say of Cyrus, a pagan ruler and unlikely choice: “He is my shepherd, and will accomplish all that I please” (Isa. 44:28). “Cyrus the Great,” as he came to be called, would play a pivotal role in biblical history.

Greek historians picked up the story of Cyrus when Persia succumbed to Greek rule. He was a brilliant military strategist who conquered the dreaded Babylonians without firing a shot (or in his case, a bow). He reigned over the largest of ancient empires and was a respected statesman. Cyrus built bridges to other cultures and was a human rights advocate. His name appears ten times in four different books of the Old Testament.

Read more about this unique biblical figure in Part 2: “May the Lord their God be with them!”

By JC.

An Iranian King - Part II

Part 2: “May the Lord their God be with them!”

When Cyrus the Great conquered Babylon, he discovered Jews living there who had been taken captive and deported to Babylon 70 years earlier. The noble king issued a famous edict, releasing the first wave of Jews to return to Jerusalem, declaring: “May the Lord their God be with them!” (2 Chronicles 36:23, CEB).

Unlike previous super-powers, Cyrus was not interested in the wholesale slaughter of captives or deporting them to his Persian homeland. Instead, he encouraged and allowed them to continue to live in their own land and maintain their cultural practices, including religion. He sat in motion a policy that was still followed nearly 100 years later when his successor, Artaxerxes, not only allowed another group of Jews to return to Jerusalem, but financed the operation and guaranteed their safe-conduct (see Nehemiah 2).  

The epoch of Cyrus reaffirms God’s sovereignty over history, nations, and kings. God said to Cyrus: “I called you by name; I gave you an honored title, though you didn’t know me” (Isa. 45:4 CEB). The stories of Daniel, Esther, Ezra, and Nehemiah are all set in the period of Persian dominance. Its kings are referenced in the books of Isaiah and Jeremiah. Wittingly or not, ancient Iran had a critical role in the history of Israel and in Judaism, from which would emerge Jesus, the Messiah.

Read the concluding segment of “An Iranian King” in Part 3: “Paying it Forward,” which follows.

By JC.

An Iranian King - Part III

Part 3: “Paying it Forward”

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Impact Middle East team members had gathered in Erbil, the provincial capital of Kurdistan in northern Iraq, seventy-five miles from the Iranian border. We had gone down to the hotel’s small dining room for breakfast, where the waiter brought us a large plate of bread. Three young men arrived at another table. Seeing that we had the only bread, one of the young men approached and asked in English: “May we have bread?” (Later, the story of Jesus feeding the 5,000 came to mind. Jesus told the disciples: ““They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat”-Mt. 14:16). It felt like more than just a request for bread that perishes.

We discovered they were Iranians, in Erbil to take an exam for application to graduate school. We eventually identified ourselves as Americans and believers. Before they left, we asked if we might pray with them about the next day’s exam. They were eager for us to do so. There we were, Christ-followers, praying with three Muslims from the ancient home of Zoroaster, founder of a major religion in Iran (Persia). Over the next several months, I maintained contact with one of the students, Mohammed, He is now in a PhD program in Turkey, and has invited me to visit him in Iran.

Meanwhile, I find myself back here in the USA, giving leadership to a new church targeting the nations in our growing metro area. Can you guess what group is at the core of our new church? Yes, Iranians! They seem to possess a kind of cultural “DNA,” a prevenient grace, that encourages a positive response to the gospel.  God has enabled us to “pay it forward” here in our own backyard, by sharing Jesus with a people who 2,500 years ago kept alive the promise of the Messiah.

Impact Middle East has no formal presence in Iran. While such places remain closed and offer only “limited access” at best, the Lord God who is sovereign over the nations, may be opening some surprising “back doors” to those with little or no exposure to the good news of Jesus Christ.

By JC.

From Iran to Seattle... by Taxi

Steve and Diana (not their real names) are from northern Iran.  They were born and raised Shiite Muslims.  Diana was forced into an arranged marriage at 11 years old to a 40 year old man.  It was, as you can imagine, a traumatic experience.  She fled from him when she was 17.  Her family would not take her back and forced her into another arranged marriage, but before that happened she got an unexpected phone call from a man named Steve.  Steve told her that a taxi driver had given him this number and was told to call.  Steve didn’t know why he was calling but thought that God had wanted him to obey and do so.  Steve told her that she should not allow anyone, like the taxi driver, to give out her number.  It was dangerous.  Diana was rude on the phone and told him that she knew what dangerous was and wondered if he knew what danger was.  She didn’t know that Steve had come to faith in Jesus a few years earlier after praying for a Bible and praying to be welcomed into a church.  For years he would go to a church in his city that was for ethnic Christians and ask to be allowed to come inside.  They refused him week after week, year after year. 

Finally someone gave him a New Testament.  After work on the day he received the New Testament he began to read it.  He read it literally all night and finished the New Testament at 6 AM.  He gave his life to Jesus who had been wooing him for years.  Steve began to tell others about Jesus and started a house church.  This is how Steve knew what danger was.  The police had told him to stop sharing with Muslims about Jesus but he couldn’t.  Steve asked Diana how much money she needed to be set free from her impending arranged marriage; he would bring her whatever he could.  She finally said to Steve, “I don’t want your money; I want your God.”  Steve shared with Diana the Gospel and she too gave her heart to Jesus.  By faith, she refused the arranged marriage.  Her family, twice shamed now, was furious.  Steve went with her to talk to them and led many of them (her parents and siblings) to Christ and started a house church among them.  Steve and Diana married.  They continued to lead secret house churches for 8 years inside Iran until finally they had to flee for their safety with their two year old daughter.  They arrived in Turkey and lived there as refugees for two and a half years.  While there, they continued to minister to other refugees from Iran and Afghanistan.  Steve led a well-known Afghani mullah (Muslim preacher) to faith in Christ.  This former mullah and now Christ follower is still in Turkey.  Steve, Diana and their daughter recently moved to Seattle, WA where they felt God had called them to minister to Iranian Muslim immigrants.