I want to lead you in exploring the beauty of martyrdom and persecution. You may think, “She thinks that dying is beautiful? It’s official, She has lost her mind!” Well you may be right on the part of me loosing my mind, but dying can be beautiful, and it is. I want to take you back over two thousand years to Israel.
There Jesus stumbled, tiered, bloody, abandoned, and hated. He struggled beneath the load of the cross that he was to die on. It was to much for his body and he fell to the ground. They grabbed a man from the crowd and told him to carry this man’s cross. Jesus made it to the place of the scull, the place that was scorned and cursed. The roman cross was lain on the ground so they could lay him on it. As his back touched the coarse wood he must have groaned. It would have felt like fire on the flesh torn back. They took his hands, at the wrist and pounded the huge metal spike through the bone. It was horrible pain. Then as the cross went into the ground with a loud thud the worst of it began. He had to pull himself up, meanwhile scraping his gouged back against the splintering wood, just to get a breath.
And as he slowly died, he found no comfort, because his father had turned his face from him. He was bearing every sin the world had ever committed or ever was to commit. The feeling of being far from God was more than he could bare. He must have longed to call the angels to rescue him, longed to not go through with the days that were before him. But he did. He went through the worst spiritual suffering that can be imagined along with the intense physical pain. And he did it for us.
He knew that the pain, the suffering, the separation from God was worth it. Because it meant that we could be reconciled to God. There is a quote that I love dearly. I can’t remember who it is by but it goes like this, “The reason that Christ can ask for everything from us, is because He gave EVERYTHING to us.” As I was explaining to my group of first graders at VBS just this morning, when we give stuff (and even our life) to God, it’s a way of saying “Thank you” for saving us.
He died so that we could be reconciled to God (1 Timothy 2:5). He did it out of immense love. It was the most beautiful thing that the world has ever witnessed. Among the grief and pain, there was love. The most beautiful man to ever walk he earth was covered in blood. He told us that the way to beauty was through his death. Through his death we have life, we have joy, we are free from the burden of sin!
Now let me take you to another scene. It is a dark prison chamber and a man lays on the dirty floor because he lacks the strength to stand. His abuser had left little life in him. The man uses the wall to pull himself to his knees. He lifts his hands slowly, drawing strength from an unknown source. “Oh Lord, thank you that I may suffer to bring glory to your name. You gave everything to me, so I will give it back to you. I pray for my enemies, that you will touch them with the light of your love. Thank you for giving me the power to forgive. I am weak, but you make me strong. Take me home to be with you.”
The next day a man comes in and asks one more time, “Will you put behind you the foolishness of your religion? Deny your faith. This is your last chance.”
“I will not deny the one that did not deny me. He stayed faithful when he wanted to run away, how can I betray him? He never has left me, so how can I leave him. I do not fear death, for to die is gain because I will go to my precious Jesus. I will be in my home. My flame will not go out because I go, but it will spread and grow. Unless a seed falls to the ground and dies, it shall not produce fruit. I shall choose to die and bring glory to my redeemer through it.” Then there was a loud shot that rung through the building. The next words that the man heard were, “Well done, good and faithful servant, enter now into the kingdom of God.”
That story is not one that is based on a certain person. It is in some ways fictional, but this has happened before in many countries, both in the past and in the present. I always get teary eyed at the thought of such love and devotion. The beauty overwhelms me as I think of the honor to die for Jesus, the honor to die for the one who redeemed my spirit and who has given me life.
Most of us have been asked before if we would die for your faith. We usually say that we would. That is just the “good” Sunday school answer. But next time you are asked that question think of the verse, “To live is Christ, THEREFORE, to die is gain.” If we can’t live for Christ and stay strong when the small things happen, how can we expect to be able to face death? If we can’t up for our faith around our friends, who might make us unpopular and uncool, how can we expect to stand up for our faith around communists, who might kill you? “Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and relive you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the son of man” So we will be blessed and honored for being persecuted for our faith.
I love the idea that Randy Alcorn has from his book Safely Home, of in heaven having a wall of martyrs. This wall in his book has the name of every person who ever died for Jesus, starting with Stephen. Now I do not know if this is how it is in heaven, there is a good chance it is not like this, but it reminds us of the honor and privilege it is to die for our faith.
I hope and pray that all of you reading this will understand what I am saying and put it into action. That when you are faced with a time were you have to stand up for our faith, that you will stand up proudly and boldly. For we do not boast in anything, no gift, no power, no wisdom, but we will boast in Jesus Christ, his death and resurrection. To God be the glory.
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