My Dear Friends,
The martyr deaths of three Christians in Turkey (two of them Turks, the other a German) is a powerful reminder to us that, while we have breath, we are called to fill up in our bodies “what is still lacking in Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church” (Col.1:24). However we understand these deep words of the apostle Paul, they inform us that suffering is inevitable, even native, to the life of faith.
When our Lord Jesus called men and women to follow him, he summoned them to die: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23). Jesus determined never to hide from would-be converts the cost of belonging to him. There are even occasions where Jesus appears to be deterring people from following him cf. Luke 9:57-62. The last thing our Lord wanted was to hide from sinners what it would mean for them to put their trust in him and follow him. He wanted, passionately, people to commit themselves to him and the work of his kingdom. But he wanted them, and us, to be absolutely clear about “the cost.”
The question I want to reflect on with you is this: Why should there have to be a cost? The answer may be obvious and elementary, but it will do us no harm to be freshly acquainted with the obvious and the elementary. In the aftermath of the wreckage of Adam’s sin in the Garden, God announced that he would establish “enmity between you (Satan) and the woman, and between your offspring and hers” (Gen.3:15a). Since the dawn of time, the seed of the woman, the lineage of faith, has been engaged in an elemental conflict with the Adversary, the Accuser of the brothers, that ancient serpent the Devil. The moment you are born of God, you are the object of Satan’s relentless and wicked hostility. The new birth enlists us into the ranks of the army of the living God and brings us under the banner of the Captain of our salvation, Jesus Christ. This is the “good fight of faith” that every Christian is called to and that cannot be avoided, except by cowardice or desertion. Paul exhorted Timothy, “Endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus” (2 Tim.2:3). This “hardship” meant the executioner’s axe for Paul, deadly stoning for Stephen, burning for John Hullier, a bloody death for three believers in Turkey, But it is a “hardship” that is worth our all, for it is nothing less than the cause of the living God, the cause of our blessed Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
The cost is inevitable, however, not only because we belong to Christ’s people, but more fundamentally because we belong to Christ himself. Union with Christ initiates us into the life of Christ, and the life of Christ was a pattern of death and resurrection. Nowhere does Paul more explain this than in 2 Cor.4:7-12. He writes there of “always carry(ing) around in our body the death of Jesus.” Just as Jesus was “despised and rejected by men,” so those who by faith are united to him will share the same experience. Indeed, according to Paul, this “always being given over to death for Jesus‘ sake,” is the necessary pre-condition for life and blessing to come to those we minister to (see v11-12): “death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.” Just as our Saviour’s death won life for a world of lost sinners, so our “deaths” (not saving, of course, as his was) bring that life to sinners. The principle that shaped Jesus’ mission shapes the mission of every Christian - “unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds” (John 12:24). As we die, by God’s grace, to ourselves, our pride, our wilfulness, our ambitions, our comforts, for the sake of the gospel, God blesses our lives and witness with fruitfulness.
There is no denying that the cost may be great, perhaps even yet in our lifetime in this land. But, “since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus.” (Hebs.12:1-2). For us he endured great opposition from sinful men. The salvation of his church was worth to him his precious blood. May its good be worth our sacrificial labours, even unto death.
Yours in the fellowship of the risen King.