The pictures were horrific. Members of ISIS marched a number of Christians out to their execution ground. One by one they were killed. As they were killed, many of them proclaimed their love for Jesus and the truth that Jesus loved them. In their battle to instill fear into the hearts of all who would oppose them, especially Christians, members of ISIS forgot one very important thing. Christians die well. Christians have been dying for their faith in Jesus Christ since enraged Jewish leaders stoned Stephen. Christians have endured persecution at the hands of the Jews, the Romans, the barbarians, other Christians, the Communists, and countless other groups. During all of those persecutions, more often than not, Christians died with the name of Jesus on their lips proclaiming His love to their persecutors.
There is a confidence the Christians have in the face of death. That confidence is based on the belief that we have already died to Christ. We have been crucified with Christ, yet we live for a purpose: to proclaim the love God has for each and every person through Jesus Christ. If we are really committed to Jesus we want nothing more than to see others, especially our enemies come to know the grace of Jesus Christ. It is a paradoxical truth that where those in power have oppressed Christians, the church has grown stronger. And so it was that Paul, who was involved in the stoning of Stephen, came to understand that truth. He put it this way: “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21)
In some countries, coming to know and acknowledge Jesus as Savior is a death sentence. In others, it may not lead to death, but it will lead to extreme hardships. I have met Christians in countries where those hardships come. Lost jobs. Lost prestige in the community. Harassment. Ridicule. Physical violence. It is one of those things we haven’t had to warn people about in the United States, but Christians around the world must: when you commit to following Jesus, you are signing your own death warrant. The strange phrasing in Paul’s words reminds us that death, rather than being feared, is gain. Some may question this and say, “Why not end it all immediately when you become a Christian?” There are two reasons we don’t. First, we don’t play God with our own lives. If we believe that God is in control, we shouldn’t take over for Him. Second, our lives are meant to reflect Jesus Christ to a world that needs to hear the message of redemption. To live, truly is Christ.
I have often wondered why the world hates Christians. Oh, there are the objectionable people who make it easy to hate Christians. But aside from those people, why are Christians so hated? I think the truth lies in the fact that Christians standing for God reveal the sins of the world. We speak God’s grace to a sinful world, but the idea that people need grace reminds them of their sins. People of the world are shocked when anyone talks about sinful behavior. They hate being called sinners. But those who truly follow Christ have a message of grace for anyone caught in sinful behavior. We proclaim forgiveness and mercy to a world that angrily replies that it doesn’t need forgiveness. Our job, as followers of Christ is to keep forgiving, and keep proclaiming the grace and mercy of God. We are to continue to do that in a loving manner that reflects the love that Jesus showed while He walked on earth. And should the time come. Our last words to those who persecute us should remind them of God’s love for them as we tell them of His mercy and grace. Live well. Die well.
Lord, we don’t like to think about dying. We especially don’t want to imagine living in persecution. We remember our brothers in the persecuted church. We pray that if needed, we could die well for You.