Friday, October 24, 2008

To Die For

In my sermon series on the seven letters to the seven churches found in Revelation 1-3 I am on letter number 2, the letter to the church at Smyrna (Revelation 2:8-11). The church at Smyrna was being persecuted severely. It appears that this persecution dealt with discrimination, extreme and life threatening poverty, as well as imprisonment and death. Through all this hardship the Christians in Smyrna remained faithful. Even though they had been through a lot, Jesus urges them to remain faithful, because more is on the way.

Persecution, life threatening persecution, is not something that we have to face in the United States. We may be discriminated against at time, but the reality is that persecution is not one of the weapons Satan has leveled at us as a whole. In some ways it is very easy to be a Christian in the United States.

It is so easy to be a Christian that it could be argued that the vast majority of “Christians” in the United States are simply church goers and not true Disciples of Christ Jesus. Ministers are looking at their congregations and realizing that they are failing in the discipleship process. I know I am. That is why what Craig Keener wrote in his commentary on Revelation intrigued me so much. Dr. Keener writes:
“If we have not prepared ourselves and our congregations to die for Christ’s name if necessary, we have not completed our responsibility of preparing disciples (Mark 8:34-38). Like Daniel and his friends, we prepare best for more strenuous future tests by passing the ones we are given in the present. But when we remain faithful in the face of rejection and persecution, Jesus promises us a reward far greater than the power and status our oppressors now enjoy.” (p. 121; The NIV Application Commentary: Revelation)

Wow! That adds another level to our evaluation of our discipleship ministry. We are happy if a person comes to worship, gives, and serves somewhere in the ministry of the church an hour a week. That isn’t discipleship. True disciples are willing to die for Jesus. How many in our church families are willing to do that? How many of us are willing to die for Christ Jesus?

Mark 8:34-38 reads:
34 Then Jesus called the crowd to himself along with his disciples and said to them, “If anyone wants to follow me, he must deny himself, pick up his cross, and follow me continually. 35 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and for the gospel will save it. 36 For what profit will a person have if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life? 37 Indeed, what can a person give in exchange for his life? 38 If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes with the holy angels in his Father's glory.” (ISV)

This all starts with our personal commitment, for we cannot call people or lead people further than we are willing to go ourselves. Take some time today and ponder this question: Am I willing to die the death of a martyr? That is the type of faith Jesus expects us to have.

1 comment:

Sillie Lizzie said...

"Persecution, life threatening persecution, is not something that we have to face in the United States."


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