The question was posed to me yesterday as to how we can know that Jesus isn’t just another religion, and His followers are not just looking for another way to feel secure about their eternity. A good, valid and commonly asked question.
I answered with my usual answer about what make Christianity different from all other religions, specifically grace. Jesus promises to save us despite ourselves, all other religions expect us to perfect ourselves. I told him how there’s nothing more real to me than Jesus, and although I can’t prove the Invisible to another human, there is absolutely no doubt in my mind at all that He is real and Majestic and the King of kings.
But this morning I woke up feeling like I’d fallen short of really answering his question in it’s fullness, like the answer is much deeper and more substantial than I’ve ever noticed before.
So I began to pray. The book of James makes it clear that if we lack wisdom we should confidently ask God for it. And I felt like I was lacking wisdom, so I asked God, because if He is Who I am convinced whole-heartedly that He is, then He’s got all the answers.
So here’s my prayerful response to the question…
The answer’s found in death! And I am not talking about Jesus’ death.
In Acts 5, there is a story of the apostles boldly preaching the gospel in the public square, going to prison for it, having an angel release them, and then them being found back in the square preaching again the next day. The Pharisees were disturbed as to how to deal with this “rebellion”. It says that “a Pharisees, named Gamaliel, a teacher of the Law, respected by all the people, stood up in the Council and gave orders to put the men outside for a short time. And he said to them, ‘Men of Israel, take care what you propose to do with these men. For some time ago Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a group of about 400 men joined up with him. But he was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and came to nothing. After this man, Judas of Galilee rose up in the days of the census and drew away some people after him; he too perished, and those who followed him were scattered. So in the present case, I say to you, stay away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or action is of men, it will be overthrown; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them, or else may even be found fighting against God.’ They took his advice; and after calling the apostles in, they flogged them and ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and then released them. So they went on their way for the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name. And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they kept right on teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.” (vs. 34-43)
The actual response to Jesus’ life and teachings, throughout history is that soon after Jesus’ death, Christianity began exploding. They tried to kill off the apostles and a whole slew of other saints, and it just kept spreading. They killed us and we multiplied. And we are able to give thanks in the midst of it.
In fact, 10 of the remaining 11 disciples (excluding Judas Iscariot, of course) were killed for their faith. The only one that lived to be an old man was John, and that’s only because they tried to kill him and couldn’t. They actually boiled him in a vat of boiling oil and couldn’t make him die, so they sent him to isolation on the island of Patmos, and he ended up having the visions (and recording them) that make up the book of Revelation.
Did you know that Christians have been being killed for their faith ever since Jesus was?
In America, sadly, we tend to experience a very watered-down version of Christianity. It’s almost like drinking watered-down lemonade, which is okay if you expect it to taste like lemon flavored water, but not if you’re expecting lemonade. This is in part, due to the lack of persecution we face. If people don’t have to believe something enough to be willing to die for it, then how can we be sure that they actually believe it. I wonder how many “believers” in America are really just folks that enjoy church gatherings as a social club, or feel more secure about their eternity because they “believe” in Jesus, but that faith isn’t the radical, life-altering kind-of faith that we’re called to or would be willing to die for. Sure, we are starting to be tried for our faith and our convictions a little bit, but barely, compared to what has been happening all over the world for a couple thousand years.
Did you know that Christianity is illegal in, I believe, 51 countries. I say “I believe” because it may be more by now. That means there are countless saints sitting in prison cells right now, or being killed, simply because they refuse to deny what so many have disregarded as myth, or just a wise guy that once walked on earth. I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t die for just some wise guy that lived a couple thousand years ago… unless I was convinced that He is God.
We once had bumper-stickers made that said “Would you die for what you live for?” The question also must be posed, “How would you die for it?” The truth is, we see these Muslim extremists dying for their faith as well, but in actuality, it’s murdering for their faith (and no, I am definitely NOT saying that all Muslims are this way, just like not all Christians stand on street corners bashing gay people- and I am curious as to whether or not any of them are actually Christians anyways).
There is a stark contrast between the way that Jesus and His followers have died and the ways that other religions have “sacrificed” their lives for their religious beliefs, namely that one’s purpose is to kill and destroy, and the other’s is to testify that Christ is worth it, even if it costs them their lives. One takes lives, one gives up their own. This is not a suicide mission, this is a matter of believing something with such conviction that not denying the Truth is more significant to us than even our own lives.
There was a crew of men awhile back, who believed the gospel with such immense conviction that they went into a tribe of people who were known to be brutally vicious cannibals. They sought to share the love of Jesus with these “heathens” and they ended up being killed. Their wives believed in the grace and forgiveness of Christ with such conviction that they, in the wake of their husbands’ murders, went to live among these tribal people and won them over to Christ’s love. This is some serious conviction to subject yourselves to your husband’s murderers. They loved Jesus more than their own lives, and because of that, they loved these people that had made them widows. You can find more about this story if you look up Nate Saint or Jim Elliot, or just watch the movie “End of the Spear”. And if you live locally and want to borrow the movie, call me.
Soren Kierkegaard said “When the good man truly stands on the other side of the boundary line inside the fortification of eternity, he is strong, stronger than the whole world. He is strongest of all at the time when he seems to be overcome.” (“Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing” pg. 98).
If you want to hear stories of modern day persecution, check out Voice of the Martyrs (persecution.com) or also persecution.org.
Jesus, when He died, knew that on the third day there’d be an empty grave. We know, and are convinced without a shadow of doubt, that though our bodies are not immortal like His was, and though we are subject to an earthly death, that we will also raise from the dead, and our resurrection will be in heaven, where all is perfect and holy and God’s throne is.
You may think we are a little wacky. That’s okay. It’s not my job to convince you of my convictions and I can’t convince you of the Invisible, but what I can tell you is that I’d gladly give up my body if it meant not denying Jesus, because He is far more real and lovely to me than anything I could touch. Besides, I know and am fully convinced that this earth isn’t my true and lasting home, so why should I fear the train that will take me there?
There’s an old book titled “Fox’s Book of Martyrs” that chronicles some of the early Church followers and the ways that they willingly gave up their life on earth for the life eternal, firmly convinced that Jesus is worth it. I will leave you with one of my favorite stories from Fox’s Book of Martyrs. This is the story of Andrew’s death. Andrew was one of Jesus’ disciples and Simon Peter’s big brother. He was on trial for speaking out against the false gods of his day and for this he was murdered, on a cross. Here is the story, as documented by John Foxe, in the 1500’s…
“The proconsul ordered Andrew not to preach these things anymore or he would face a speedy crucifixion. Whereupon Andrew replied, ‘I would not have preached the honor and glory of the cross, if I feared the death of the cross.’ He was condemned to be crucified for teaching a new sect and taking away the religion of the Roman gods. Andrew, going toward the place of the execution and seeing the cross waiting for him, never changed his expression, neither did he fail in his speech, his body fainted not, nor did his reason fail him as often happens to men about to die. He said, ‘O Cross, most welcomed and longed for, with a willing mind, joyfully and desirously I come to you, being the scholar of Him which did hang on you. Because I have always been your lover and yearned to embrace you.'”
with devotion and firm conviction,