Sunday, June 28, 2015

Death Has Lost Its Sting

    "'O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?' The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; but thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord."

     On a teen forum I regularly follow, the question was asked this week, "Why do we fear martyrdom so much? Is it just a human instinct we need to squelch? Or is there a purpose for that fear?" In direct answer to the question, yes, I think there is a reason for it. To keep us from simply traveling to the closest country with persecution, walking to the nearest security officer, handing him a gun, and telling him that I'm a Christian. Persecution for the sake of being persecuted helps no one!

     But at the same time, it's a good question, and one that deserves an answer. Honestly, it's hard not to look at the many verses in Scripture promising rewards to those who suffer persecution for the sake of Christ (Matt. 5:10-12, Heb. 11:35b-40) and not think that maybe we as American Christians have missed the boat a little. I mean, has there ever been a church so comfortable and lukewarm in history?

     So, what are we missing? Well, first off, I think we're missing an attitude change that Paul shares with us in 1 Cor. 15 (the passage written above). If we could just get this passage engrained in our minds, we might begin to live a little bit more like Jesus!

     When was the last time you went to a Christian's funeral? I have had the displeasure of having gone to several (I hate funerals). But what really gets under my skin is at Christian funerals, there is no joy! I can understand that at funerals for people who were not saved or maybe we're not sure. Okay, then I can understand gloom.

     But we're standing beside a Christian's casket, tearfully saying that we are gathered together today "to celebrate the life of", while acting as if he is in hell! If we really believe what we claim to believe, this is the best day of that dude's life! So, right there is an example of how we missed the boat.

     To some up what I'm trying to say, basically we have skipped over the concept of victory over death, won by Jesus Christ. There is no longer any fear of death. Death is not some abominable show-stopper stalking every one of us, but rather yet another power governed by a sovereign God that is simply another pawn in  His hands. And secondly, when it is my time to go, what actually happens? Am I not instantly ushered into the presence of the very Jesus I gave my life to serve and know better? Is that somehow supposed to be a punishment?

     Now, please don't misunderstand me. I am not a superhero. Yes, I am scared of death. I am not presenting these concepts as things I have mastered but rather things the Bible teaches, and as sheer logical concepts that we can see if we only take Scripture's statements to their logical conclusions. So don't get me wrong. Yes, I fear death. I am very much afraid of death.

     But as a Christian, that doesn't make an extraordinary amount of sense. Why do I fear death the way I do? Well, obviously, the finality of it. But what if that means I am forever better off than I am here? Wouldn't that soften the finality a little bit into a more golden picture? And toss in there physical pain; that too is one we think about. But again, what if that small window of pain brings about ultimate bliss and happiness? Even here on earth, I am willing to suffer marginal pain in order to gain something greater. How much more should I be willing to suffer immense suffering for eternal bliss and eternal satisfaction in the God I've given myself too?

     So, the question really comes down to: is the prize worth the pain? Well, I think Jesus and Paul both spend a lot of time on that one! Let's just glance for a moment at Lk. 14 where Jesus proclaims that if we are going to follow Him at all, we should count the cost of whether or not He is worth it. But let's skip straight to Paul's words, since I think his make the point the best.

     "The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him in order that we may also be glorified with Him. For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed in us."  (Rom. 8:16-18)

     Let's think that over for a moment. We, as children of God, are heirs of God and coheirs with Christ if what? What does Paul tell us that our being a coheir with Christ dependent on?

     If we suffer with Him. If we are joint-heirs of the sufferings of Christ, then we also become joint-heirs with the glory of Christ. So, tell me, is the prize worth the pain? Is the destination worth the expense?

    Well, let's ask Paul. He's the man who was whipped, beaten, shipwrecked, robbed, interrogated, and finally beheaded. What does he say? "The sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed in us." Let's see now, does Paul think the prize is worth the pain? Apparently! His claim is that the pain isn't even worthy to be compared with the glory!

     There's your answer. Is martyrdom to be dodged at all cost? Is it something to be feared? I don't think Paul would tell you so. Rather, his life seemed to reflect an adamant, maybe even stubborn, chasing after the risk and danger that following Jesus with his whole heart entailed. Yes, plenty of suffering was a part of that road. Yes, even death was a part of that road. But the prize!

     What does Hebrews 12 tell us after reading the horrific accounts of torture and martyrdom detailed in chapter 11? "Fixing our eyes upon Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you may not grow weary and lose heart."

    There you have it. The prize is worth it. And we endure the pain by fixing our eyes on the prize and constantly rehearsing His own act(s) of love to us. We endure the suffering, even place ourselves in positions of risk that demand it, by locking our gaze on the One who has run the same race before us.


  1. Thanks, the thought of martyrdom IS very scary, and it's always an encouragement for me personally to read things like this. The prize IS worth it!

    1. Yeah, and I want people to understand that I fear martyrdom too! This isn't something I'm writing because I am Mr. Fearless, but because it's simply what the Bible seems to teach. I whole-heartedly agree; martyrdom is scary, but yes, the prize is completely worth it!

  2. Hey, MFJ here. (Or Smiley Mimey, or Laura, or... yeah.)
    This is great, Taylor! (And now I see a pic of you... muahaha.)

    1. NOW you know what I look like, Mime! Well, it was your question that inspired it!

    2. Yep! But... it's so old...

    3. Ha, ha, it's the same age as the other pic you saw. Same camping trip. Maybe one day I'll put up a more updated picture of me. Don't hold your breath though...