Faithful Unto Death

Revelation 2:10 Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life.

You are fleeing persecution in your home country and trying to find safety for your family in a new land. The boat trip across the Mediterranean Sea is dangerous enough. But on this trip there are fifteen Muslim men who are bent on murdering Christians. This group of thugs approaches you. They ask you one simple question, “Are you a Christian?”

How do you respond?

Do you blaspheme your Savior and announce that you are not a Christian? Do you even say a Muslim prayer that you memorized for just such an occasion?

One answer means life. Another answer means death.

You’ve heard rumors that the Muslim men have already thrown half a dozen Christians overboard into the sea during the night. If you admit you are a Christian, it will mean certain death … not only for you, but also for your family.

What do you do?

This week in confirmation class, I showed the confirmands pictures of Christians being persecuted around the world. They saw Christians in orange jumpsuits lined up in front of an ISIS firing squad and Coptic Christians standing in the middle of their bombed out churches in Egypt and a Christian hanging dead on a cross.

They were especially horrified with the image of a gun being pointed at the face of a Christian infant.

I begged the confirmands; I pleaded with them not to be confirmed. I told them that they would be standing before God’s altar and making the solemn promise to suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from the faith in which they were going to be confirmed. I assured them that no one would think any less of them if they weren’t ready to make that promise. I told them that they would be just fine if they didn’t have a party or receive any presents. 

I told them that I didn’t want them to be like other confirmands who made promises to remain faithful to God and then were released a year later from membership because they and their families did not worship or commune once within that year. I didn’t want them to be like other confirmands who rejected everything they learned in class by living together with their boyfriend or girlfriend, getting pregnant out of marriage, or even denying their baptismal and confirmation faith.

I wanted the confirmands to know that as much fun as today will be for them, they are taking a serious vow today. A vow of life and death.

I wanted them to know all this because I want them to be different from the rest of us. We have become a nation of wimps when it comes to our Christianity.

Christians are being persecuted and slaughtered across the Middle East, Africa, and Asia. 100 million face persecution. Thousands are murdered every year. It is a holocaust happening right now.

In the first few centuries, Christians were crucified, burned, stoned, and fed to lions under Roman rule. Today, believers are being blown up, incinerated, shot, crucified, and beheaded.

Christians across the globe practice their faith knowing they might die because of it! Meanwhile, here in America, Christians don’t go to church; we don’t stand up for our beliefs; and we don’t accept God’s Word in its entirety. Not because we fear violence … but because we simply cannot be bothered.

Iraqi Christians are in danger of having their heads removed from their bodies. We can’t bother to remove our heads from our pillows.

Coptic Christians are in danger every time they enter their churches. We only come to church when it is convenient for us.

African Christians will walk miles in order to attend a worship service because there is nothing more important to them. We can’t attend a worship service because our weekend is filled with soccer tournaments and hunting trips and anything else that is more important to us than God at that moment.

We are lazy. We are lukewarm. We are selfish. We are apathetic. … We are cowards.

In dozens of countries around the planet, Christians go to church, read their Bibles, and profess their faith fully aware that these decisions might get them killed. In many cases, they convert to the faith knowing their conversion may well cost them their lives. These men and women ready to give up everything — their very existence, if necessary — for what they believe.

And what about us? Many of us can’t be bothered to drive a few minutes to an air conditioned building to worship with our brothers and sisters for an hour or two on a Sunday. And why? Because it means sacrificing a relaxing morning. It means having to get up and get dressed before noon. It means maybe missing the first quarter of Packer games in the fall. We are afraid of standing up for our faith, not because we are in danger of being dragged out of our home, beaten, burned alive, and hung from a bridge. But because we might have to deal with some angry internet comments or frowny face emojis or losing some friends or getting a poor grade from an atheist professor or being called a bigot by the LGBT crowd.

We flee from church, and we’ve never even had one blown up with people inside. Our churches aren’t being burned to the ground. We just can’t be bothered to turn off the TV and leave the house.

And if we can’t be hassled to praise the Lord at church once a week, we certainly won’t worry about standing by the more difficult and challenging aspects of our faith. Here, many Christians frantically skim through the Bible discarding every piece and part that doesn’t suit the modern lifestyle. We sit up on a perch like gods and construct a new religion for ourselves; one that permits abortion, premarital sex, adultery, gay marriage, and whatever other sin we feel like indulging in.

While our fellow believers many miles away are marched out into the desert and massacred for believing in the Word, we abandon the Word entirely if it threatens to put a damper on our sex lives.

We are pathetic.

If it were left up to us – left up to these confirmands – there isn’t a chance that we would remain faithful unto death. We wouldn’t even remain faithful until we left this building.

But there is One who can make us faithful. One who was faithful to us.

Jesus knows what it is like to truly be humiliated, persecuted and willing to die for what He believed in – us. Jesus was born into a world that didn’t want Him – where the king of the country tried to murder Him as an infant. Members of His boyhood home tried to throw Him off a cliff. Religious leaders continuously plotted against Him. One of His best friends betrayed Him. Another denied Him. The rest deserted Him. None of them truly believed in Him.

He was unfairly arrested, lied about by perjured witnesses, declared “guilty” for declaring that He really was the Son of God. He was beaten, laughed at, spat upon, scourged, and condemned to die by a man who knew He was innocent. When He was crucified, one criminal challenged Him and the passersby mocked Him. It can honestly be said – with only the rarest of exceptions – from the beginning of His life, until the moment He breathed His last, Jesus Christ was misunderstood, misinterpreted and maligned. He was seldom respected and often rejected.

Still, it is for the very people who didn’t want Him, who hated Him, who detested and despised Him that Jesus was born. Search the annals of history and you will not stumble upon anyone like the Savior. In Jesus, the Innocent is traded for the guilty, the Perfect for the flawed, and the Eternal for the temporal.

For every cowardly act on our part, Jesus stood strong against the temptations of Satan.

Every time we put Him last on the weekend, He made us and our salvation His singular thought on the cross.

Every time we are afraid to be forsaken by our friends or family because of our faith in Jesus, He endured being forsaken by His heavenly Father.

He suffered for our laziness. He surrendered Himself for our selfishness. He was resolute for our cowardice. He remained righteous for our apathy.

He was crowned with thorns so that we might receive a crown of glory.

He walked the streets of sorrow so that we might walk streets paved with gold.

He endured an eternity of hell on the cross so that we might spend an eternity in heaven with Him.

He was covered with blood so that we might be covered with His robes of righteousness.

Confirmands of all ages, look at who your Jesus is. Cherish how much He loves you. Believe in the constant forgiveness He offers you. Worship Him who adores you.

Remain connected to Jesus. He is the vine. You are the branches. He is your life. Apart from Him you can do nothing. You will fall. You will fail. You will remain an apathetic, lazy, coward. But connected to Jesus you have forgiveness of sins. Through Jesus’ baptismal waters you have the divine authority to overcome Satan. Through Jesus’ almighty Word you have the power to live the life He desires. Through Jesus’ Holy Supper you have the confidence of eternal life in heaven. Through Jesus’ absolution you are forgiven for every apathetic, lazy, cowardly act so that on the Day of Judgment you will stand as a bold confessor of the faith, wearing your crown of glory. A crown, not because you were faithful, but because Jesus was faithful to you.

Confirmands of all ages, you stand before the altar of God and make vows to suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from your Christian faith. Today you are being sent out into the killing fields. When your enemies are gathered to humiliate you, degrade you, unfriend you, imprison, crucify or behead you, how will you respond?

Here is how you will respond. You will be faithful unto death. Not because of the vow you make before God’s altar in church, but because of the vow Christ made to you on the altar of His cross. He is the One who is speaking in Revelation 2:10. He is the One who gives you the assurance. He is the One who makes His promise to you: “Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life.” Amen.