None of us really know what to do with the image of 21 men about to be slaughtered because of their faith in Jesus. We’re in awe that they knelt on a beach and accepted death rather than renounce the One who made them alive forever. We’re horrified to see the full perversion of sin and evil in those who would make heroes of the executioners too cowardly to show their faces. We search for ways to honor the sacrifice and memory of the real heroes in orange who now see the face of God.
Even if we can explain what’s happening, we don’t know what to do with it.
Perhaps no one feels this uncertainty more than young, American followers of Jesus. We’re quick to call these men our brothers in Christ, and they are, but our lives look nothing like theirs. People died for Jesus this weekend. And I’m writing about it from a trendy coffeeshop. What do you do with that?
So much of our theology is inadequate when confronted with questions like this. There are those that tell us Jesus’ main goal is to give us an awesome life with plenty of money, great friends, cool music, exotic travel and a hot spouse. Such claims seem so silly and offensive in light of 21 heroes kneeling on a beach. On the other hand, there are those that seem to look with scorn on any Christian not suffering persecution in our world. I sometimes feel badly that I haven’t been beaten for Christ this week, to say nothing of the latte I’m enjoying. This line of thinking always leaves me feeling vaguely inferior, guilty and spoiled.
Yet, the fact remains. 21 people died for Jesus this weekend. And I need to figure what to do with that in my life. As I’ve been thinking through all of this, I’ve had three thoughts. Maybe they’ll be helpful to you:
Life isn’t easy and following Jesus is not a guarantee that everything will always turn out the way we want. No, we may not be martyred but our kids get sick, bills pile up, jobs are unsatisfying, people hurt us, we get tired, despair is easy to find and some days we would just rather stay in bed. None of that is a sign that God doesn’t love us or isn’t keeping up His part of the bargain.
Suffering is an opportunity to demonstrate that our hope as followers of Jesus isn’t in our circumstances but in God Himself. James exhorts us to, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:2-4)
God is using our suffering to make us stronger. He’s using our response to show the world that He’s beautiful. Grumbling and complaining belittle a God who promises to be strong in our weakness. Faithful, courageous endurance shows those around us the hope of Christ.
Odds are good we’ll never need to display the particular form of courage shown by those men on that beach. Our beach may be called cancer, or divorce, or unemployment or loneliness. Whatever the beach is called, it will be the place where we are most able to glorify Christ.
It’s okay to have good days as a Christian.
God gives good gifts to His children. In fact, Jesus is offended by the suggestion that God would do anything less, “What father among you, if his son asks for[ a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:11-13) Granted, Luke is speaking specifically about the gift of the Spirit and not all of the Father’s good gifts are material things, vacations or promotions. But some are and we need to stop apologizing for our Father’s generosity.
What we need to do is cultivate a grateful heart. When we believe that everything we enjoy is grace, our lives overflow with gratitude. And make no mistake about it, God is honored by our thanksgiving, “The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies me.” (Ps. 50:23(a)) Our lack of gratitude belittles God’s grace and magnifies our prideful self reliance.
The biggest indictment against our faith isn’t going to be that we weren’t martyred but it may well be that we weren’t grateful.
Rely On The Spirit’s Power
All of that is well and good: suffer well and be grateful. But what I think a lot of us really want to know is where did those men get that kind of courage? I’m tempted to have a meltdown when the car gets a flat tire. I cringe when people give me a condescending look when they find out I’m a pastor. I get all testy when my needs aren’t met. They knelt there and died.
This past summer, our church walked through 1 Peter. I was stunned by what I read in verse 14 of chapter 4, “ If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.” In the moment when we are tested, the Spirit of God gives us the power to endure. John Piper preached a whole sermon around this passage entitled “The Holy Spirit Will Help You Die.” That sermon title is the answer to my question. What we saw on that beach wasn’t the courage of 21 men but the power of God working in their lives.
That’s where all of this comes together for us. We can’t suffer or be grateful apart from the power of God in our lives. They couldn’t be strong in martyrdom and we can’t honor God in our ordinary lives in our own strength. Both require the power of God. Lean into that power today and watch how God sustains you on your beach.
God uses the lives of martyrs not to produce guilt in us but to inspire fresh faith, fresh belief, fresh gratitude and fresh dependency. Those 21 men died for the fame of Christ. May we live for the same in our day, in our world, in our circle of influence.