Thursday, May 19, 2011

To Die For

What would you be willing to die for?  When we look back through history, we’ll see that a bunch of different people have been willing to die for a lot of different things.  Many, many people have died for the idea of freedom.  We have some favorites of those – those who fought in the Revolutionary War and World War II, for example.  Some people have given their lives to help their family/friends/countrymen have a better chance of winning a battle – the men at the Alamo, the soldiers of the 54th Regiment of Massachusetts (the unit the movie Glory was based on) and the Spartans in the Battle of Thermopylae (the movie 300 is supposed to based on them).  There are also lots and lots of people who have been willing to die because of their religious beliefs – for example, the Jews during the Spanish Inquisition and the Holocaust, the Waldensees, Joan of Arc, Daniel, Shadrack, Meshack, and Abednego. 

Now, we may not agree with all these folks, in fact, we may be diametrically opposed to what they believe in, but they all believed with all their hearts in something that was so important to them that they would give their lives for that cause.  Truly, if any one of these people had had any tiny germ of doubt, he (or she) would not have gone through with it. The truth is, nobody dies for a lie, not if they know it’s a lie, anyway.
Ya know, we’ve talked before about the accuracy of the prophecies leading up to Christ.  But here we can go even further.  What if all of that WAS just coincidence?  What if it WAS a huge hoax?  Once Christ had died, the movement would have fallen apart.  It’s not like these apostles were really, really brave guys.  They all ran off at the first sign of trouble.  They hid in their houses for fear of the Roman guards.  If the Resurrection were a lie, everything would have ended right there, but it wasn’t and it didn’t.

When Jesus appeared to His disciples after His Resurrection, everything changed.  For the disciples, it was a life transforming moment.  In that instant, each disciple knew that everything that Jesus had said was true and, as far as we know, he didn’t waver after that.
 “The former treatise have I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach, until the day in which he was taken up, after that he through the Holy Ghost had given commandments unto the apostles whom he had chosen:  to whom also he shewed himself alive after his passion by many infallible proofs, being seen of them forty days,…And when he had spoken these things, while they beheld, he was taken up; and a cloud received him out of their sight.” Acts 1:1-3,9 KJV
The apostles believed what they saw and what they had experienced so strongly that from that moment on, they went willingly wherever God led them.  And their lives weren’t any easier from then on either.  They were chased and persecuted for the rest of their lives.  Just in the book of Acts we get a little taste of how things went for them:
“…the priests, and the captain of the temple, and the Sadducees, came upon them, being grieved that they taught the people, and preached through Jesus the resurrection from the dead.  And they laid hands on them, and put them in hold unto the next day: for it was now eventide. …But that it spread no further among the people, let us straitly threaten them, that they speak henceforth to no man in this name.  And they called them, and commanded them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus.” Acts 4:1-3,17,18 KJV
“Then the high priest rose up, and all they that were with him, (which is the sect of the Sadducees,) and were filled with indignation, and laid their hands on the apostles, and put them in the common prison.” Acts 5:17-18
And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Acts 7:59
“Now about that time Herod the king stretched forth his hands to vex certain of the church.  And he killed James the brother of John with the sword.  And because he saw it pleased the Jews, he proceeded further to take Peter also. (Then were the days of unleavened bread.)  And when he had apprehended him, he put him in prison, and delivered him to four quaternions of soldiers to keep him; intending after Easter to bring him forth to the people.  Peter therefore was kept in prison:…” Act 12:1-5
Do you think these guys would have put up with this if they were not 100% convinced of the truth of the Messiah and the resurrection of Jesus?  How long do you think they would have continued to perpetrate a lie or a hoax once they were faced with imprisonment, brutality and death?  You know, a lot of people have even denied the truth they knew to escape those things.  No one would die for a lie!
According to a gentlemen named Grant R. Jeffrey in his book The Signature of God says:
“…history reveals that not one of these men, who knew Jesus personally, ever denied their testimony about Him despite the threat and reality of imminent death.  This proves to any fair-minded observer that these men possessed an absolute unshakable personal knowledge about the truth of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.”
Mr. Jeffrey goes on to tell what is believed to be the fate of each of the apostles according to a church historian called Schumacher.
>         Matthew was killed by a sword wound in Ethiopia.
>     Mark was dragged through the streets of Alexandria, Egypt by horses until he was dead.
>         Luke was preaching in Greece until he was hanged.
>       John was the only apostle who died of old age…but not because no one tried.  At one point John was boiled in oil in Rome.  He was unharmed.
>         Peter was crucified upside down at his own request.  He said he was not worthy to die the same way Jesus did.
>         James was thrown down from the pinnacle of the church in Jerusalem.  He fell over 100 feet.  When they discovered that he had survived the fall, he was beaten to death.
>         James (John’s brother) was beheaded in Jerusalem.  According to this account, the Roman guard was so amazed to watch James defend his faith that he declared his own faith and knelt beside James to be beheaded for being a Christian as well.
>         Bartholomew was in Armenia when he was whipped to death.
>    Andrew was crucified on an x-shaped cross in Greece after being whipped.  According to his story, he survived for two days and preached about Jesus the whole time.
>         Thomas was stabbed with a spear in India.
>         Jude, Jesus’ brother, was killed with arrows.
>         Matthias was stoned and beheaded.
>         Barnabas was stoned to death in Salonica.
>         Paul was tortured and beheaded by Nero in Rome after he had spent a long time in prison

These men didn’t become rich or powerful by saying they were followers of Christ and that they knew He was alive.  They gained nothing for sticking to their story.  In fact, they died because they refused to give up what they knew was the truth.

Is there anything that you believe in so strongly that you would die rather than give it up?  I believe we’re all going to have to answer that question for ourselves before Jesus comes to take us to Heaven.  If we’ve been living with compromise, will we be able to take that stand when the time comes? 

What would you be willing to die for?

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