Picking up in John 16, Jesus explains that He is not telling the disciples their position against the world because He is attempting to offend them, but to prepare them. He tells them that they will not only be put out of the synagogues for His sake, but there will come a time when the people believe they are doing God a favor by killing them.
We see the later fulfilled in the life of Saul of Tarsus who later became Paul. He believed that he was doing a good work by killing those of the Way– what the followers of Christ were know as before the term Christian was used of them in Antioch. In fact, the very trip on which He came to a saving relationship with the Lord, he was bound for Damascus with papers intended for him to persecute Christians.
What do we fear? In Vacation Bible School I taught the story of Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah and the firey furnace. These three stood their ground, refusing to obey Nebuchadnezzar in the face of death by bar-b-que. They looked him in the eye and said that their God was able to save them, but if not, they would still not worship.
During China’s Boxer Rebellion of 1900, insurgents captured a mission station, blocked all the gates but one, and in front of that one gate placed a cross flat on the ground. Then the word was passed to those inside that any who trampled the cross underfoot would be permitted their freedom and life, but that any refusing would be shot. Terribly frightened, the first seven students trampled the cross under their feet and were allowed to go free. But the eighth student, a young girl, refused to commit the sacrilegious act. Kneeling beside the cross in prayer for strength, she arose and moved carefully around the cross, and went out to face the firing squad. Strengthened by her example, every one of the remaining ninety-two students followed her to the firing squad. – Today in the Word, February, 1989, p. 17.
In America, we do not have much to fear, in comparison, for believing in Christ– or even professing that belief. We certainly have been derided verbally. We have been put down, scoffed, and ridiculed. We do not, however, know the concept of having to make a decision between life or death based on what we have to say about Jesus Christ.
I started every evening in VBS with the question, “What if a man entered the room, walked up to you [pointing a finger at a child’s head] and said that he would pull the trigger unless you stopped attending VBS or church?” Half of the children that I pointed at said that they would say they would not come back– but then break their word.
Jesus knew that His disciples would not forsake Him– and they would be punished for it. Reading the early chapters of Foxes Book of Martyrs reveals how the apostles died– and they aren’t pretty. Jesus was warning them that they would be dying for His namesake (something that would be foolish if the Apostles were just making all this up).
Many of us will not have to make a decision like the three Hebrew young men, the woman in China or my hypothetical question. Every day we are asked what we will do in response to things that are said and done where we live, work and go to school:
- People tell jokes about God– what do we say?
- People make fun of other believers– do we defend them or pile on?
- People gossip about another believer– do we pass it on?
- People make light of the things of the Lord– do we demand reverence?
- What do we do to positively impact people for the Lord?
We have to get out of this mindset– no matter how easy it is to get in– that we are of this world and this world is all that is. It’s the message that’s constantly blaring at us through entertainment, science and it is ingrained on our consciousness through education– but it’s not true.
We are part of a bigger story, a bigger picture. We are spirits with a body, not vice versa. We are pilgrims in a strange land, awaiting our rest with our Savior. This world is not my home, the song starts out. I’m just passing through. We need to be like Paul as he said that for him to live is Christ, to die is gain. He desired to be with God, but he also desired to make an impact for Christ while he was still in his earthly body.
Do we take advantage of our short time here to make an impact for Christ? Do we see the world recoiling from us– and wanting nothing to do with us? The answers to those questions should tell us something.