Friday, 17 August 2012

A Bold Sacrifice.


 "And the Lord said to Paul  one night in a vision: Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you, and no will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people" Acts 18:9
This is the confidence the Lord puts before us to go out into the world boldly proclaiming the Word of God without fear.

Once again, a question emerged that has the potential to shatter the very foundation of my faith. With a trembling heart I say, answering this question with pure honesty can rip the veil off any Christian's spiritual existence. WOULD YOU TRULY LAY DOWN YOUR LIFE FOR THE SAKE OF CHRIST? 
We say "yes" to this question with words, 
but the early martyrs said “yes” with their lives.

In the book of John, Peter says to Jesus, “Lord, why can’t I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.” He wants to follow Jesus even to the point of giving up his life. Peter's words mimic the statement many Christians proclaim in their faith, with mere words, rather than a true declaration and seal upon the tablet of the heart.  But Jesus replies,  "Very truly, I tell you, before the cock crows, you will have denied me three times.” We can see the reflection of ourselves in this powerful and intimate scene.  Are we like Peter, promising our lives to Christ to the point of death, only to deny Him when the moment of truth is faced?

"If you do not stand firm in faith, you will not be firm at all." Isaiah 7:9

What does the question of laying down our lives for the sake of Christ have to do with boldness? So, the Lord took me to the book of Acts where boldness is fully and passionately exemplified, to the point of death. Acts 3-4 details the church’s earliest efforts in evangelism as the disciples began proclaiming the good news post Pentecost. Peter and John were arrested for their presentation of Christ and the next day the two apostles were called to answer to the religious leaders for their actions. Peter did not dilute his boldness in any way, choosing instead to proclaim the good news again. "...Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with BOLDNESS." Acts 4:29  "...Now when they saw the BOLDNESS of Peter and John...."  Acts 4:13"And they were filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with BOLDNESS" Acts 4:31

Boldness is the Spirit-given conviction that we must speak the power and truth of Christ as our Lord and savior.  Boldness comes from the confidence we have in Christ, for who He is, what He did for us, what He can do, and for what He will do. The Greek term translating bold or boldly or boldness, means “candor in the face of opposition.” Boldness is the biblical manner in which God wants the Gospel given. "...that words may be given to me in opening my mouth BOLDLY to proclaim the mystery of the gospel" Ephesians 6:19 The consequence of boldness in the book of Acts was BOTH life and death. Life IN Christ as Many of those who had heard the word believed, and the number of the men came to be about five thousand” Acts 4:4 The consequence was thousands attaining new life in Christ as saved souls inheriting the kingdom of God! Acts 13:48-9 Also, life to the church, "...So the churches were strengthened in the faith, and they increased in numbers daily" Acts 16:5 The consequence of boldness in the book of Acts was also death, "He killed James the brother of John with the sword...." Acts 12:2 "And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, Lord, do not hold this sin against them. And when he had said this, he fell asleep." Acts 7:59-60

Boldness is not a matter of arrogance, aggressiveness or forced ideals. We are not to develop our own methods based upon personality or passion.  Biblical boldness is a confidence and directness that is not discourteous, and a forthrightness that is not insensitive. "Let not corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear it." Ephesians 4:29 Yes, we are to open our mouths and unapologetically testify to the saving power of Jesus Christ, BUT as Jesus proclaimed, "...Be wise as serpents, and harmless as doves" Matthew 10:16 Biblical boldness is standing firm in faith in Christ upon the foundation of love, for it is "for" the love of Christ that we proclaim the good news. Within His teachings, frustrations, anger, betrayal and even in the moment of death, EVERYTHING Christ did was IN love and in patience. Christ exemplified ultimate boldness, as all who heard Him were astonished at His teachings..."I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well, for I was sent for this purpose," Luke 4:43 We as His ambassadors were also sent for this purpose. Now consider this: If we are to share the Word of God boldly with the world as Jesus commanded us to do, and since WE ARE the living Word of God, in essence, we are commissioned to be bold. Consider Paul and Barnabas at Iconium, preaching the Word of God... "Now at Inconium they entered together into the Jewish synagogue and spoke in such a way that a great number of both Jews and Greeks believed...... so they remained for a long time, speaking boldly FOR the Lord" Acts 14:1 !!

  A great example of Christ's boldness is found in the beginning of His ministry when He was rejected from the synagogue in Nazareth. In Luke 4:18-19, Jesus quotes Isaiah declaring His mission, 

"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor."

Christ quoted this verse from the scroll of Isaiah to show grace by choosing to exclude the last verse from the original passage that included, "...and the day of vengeance of our Lord" Isaiah 61:2. He took the passage from one that was perceived by the Jews to declare God's vengeance against their enemies, to one that was transformed to embody grace. And to top it off, He sat down after reading the passage and said, "Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing." Luke 4:21 Wow, what boldness! When members of the synagogue , "....heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath.... and they rose up and drove Him out of town...." Luke 4:28-9

The dilemma with Christian evangelism today is that we want the fruit without the fallout. The matter of "offending" someone due to social hindrances is of higher concern and regards than truth. We stand accused of shying away from the gospel. "For who ever is ashamed of Me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the Holy Angels.” Mark 8:38 We want to be the aroma of life to those who are being saved without being the aroma of death to those who are perishing 2 Corinthians 2:15 We have lost the Biblical principal of boldness, where fear has no place! 2 Timothy 1:7 tells us that God has not given us a spirit of fear but of power. The pages of Acts speak about Peter (Acts 12:3) and John being imprisoned for their boldness, having power over fear! The pages of Acts speak about Paul and Silas being stoned and beaten for their boldness, firmly resisting fear! (Acts 14:19) (Acts 16:22-3) The pages of Acts speak about James (Acts 12;2) and Stephen dying for their boldness (Acts 7:60), thus trampling over fear!  Christ Himself was crucified for His boldness, conquering over both fear and death! How authentically bold is your Christianity against fear?

Spiritual boldness for Christ bursts forth from a satisfied and courage's soul that rejoices in His sacrifice and promise. Boldness is rooted from a deep inner conviction that gratefully and humbly clings to the promise of eternity. "I send you forth as lambs among wolves", therefore our boldness for the sake of Christ is the willingness to take rejection and to not shy away from the fear of offending an "offensive" generation. "When an attempt was made by both Gentiles and Jews, with their rulers, to mistreat them and to stone them (Peter and Baranbas)........ they continued to preach the gospel." Acts 14:4;7 Each time the apostles were rejected, persecuted, mistreated or ridiculed, they returned and continued to preach the Word of God, with even greater boldness, "offending," but also saving many. Even after being rejected, beaten, stoned and imprisoned, both Paul and Silas "were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners listened to them...." Acts 16:25 I replace my fear of "rejection" and "offending" another with the glorious image of angles watching in amazement and a heavenly father smiling down at His loyal servant. You and I have been placed in this world to boldly proclaim the grace of God.

The martyrism of Stephen especially sat heavy upon my heart. His death for the sake of Christ uniquely pierced me because of his dynamic strength as he was "full of faith" and "of the Holy Spirit." He was willing to face fear with unwavering the point of death.  I connected with him as I desperately pray and seek to have the same strength to exemplify my faithful service.
Apostle John saw in his vision of the millennium those martyred for their faith reigning with Christ for a thousand years Revelations 20:4. The Apostle Peter, who wrote the most about martyrdom and suffering for one’s faith, said, “If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you... However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that namePeter 4:14, 16 God does not call everyone to make the ultimate sacrifice, but the Bible calls all Christians to be "prepared" to give a defense of the hope within us.... IF needed, would we be "WILLING" to suffer and sacrifice our earthly lives? "The wicked flee when no one pursues, but the righteous are BOLD as a lion" Proverbs 28:1

"Fear not them which kill the body,
but are not able to kill the soul."
".....But they could not get to Stephen’s spirit. He continued to be a man of
grace to the very end because he kept Christ at the center. As they were venting
their fury at Stephen’s message, Stephen’s eyes were fixed on the risen Christ.
As the rocks crashed down on him and his life ebbed away, he called on Jesus to
extend the grace that he himself had received to those who were now executing

The Bible does not teach us to seek to be martyrs for the cause of Christ, for man can deceive oneself even in the very act of martyrism by actually being motivated by self glory. Jesus said, When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next” Matthew 10:23 We saw that the early church continually fled from intense persecution for the sake of survival Acts 8:1, 9:25, 30; 14:6 When Jesus says, “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” Matthew 10:39, He is not calling for people to make an attempt to lose their lives. Rather, He is calling us to be willing to lose our lives for His sake.

We often easily attach the word suffer to the Christian life, proclaiming that we will suffer for Christ. Well, lets take it to the next level.... lets take it to the cross! Would you not merely suffer, but also endure cruel tortures that take your mind and body to the very brink of death and beyond? Would you be so bold, with full courage and conviction to the point of death? Conviction without courage, like faith without works, is quite dead.We may preach with boldness, but would we die for His sake with boldness? The world is against Christ and will be against our boldness IN Him. But we are not of this world. We belong to the Kingdom of God.  "If you were of the world, the world would love you as it’s own; but because you are not of the world, but I choose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.” John 15:19

I say again, one must answer this question from their deepest spiritual core, for the answer has the potential to rip "your" version of Christianity apart. All I know is this: "...By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us."  

 Would I do the same for Him? 

Reflecting on my own personal walk with the Lord, I began to see my boldness come to life with great passion and conviction when I changed my mindset from merely "being a Christian" to "living for Christ" You may disagree, but there is a difference. My greatest example of my boldness came when I told my 6"3 Muslim father whom I was always afraid of growing up that I loved God more than I loved him. I stood firm in faith with unbridled confidence that, " In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God..." Ephesians 6:16-17 This verse is an illustration of an equipped soldier ready for battle indeed!   The issue I faced from both believers and non believers, which eventually had me questioning my own boldness was this: Is my boldness for the glory of God or for my own glory? Was it my deceptive attempt to prove and showcase my faith to others? The enemy has the potential to do wonders with this moment of self questioning. After taking this to the Lord and talking to Him about it, I can stand with full peace and conviction of heart that my boldness is for the glory of God.  By nature I have an "activist" heart and God will use that for me to proclaim His Truth without fear. I have confidence that my boldness is for the glory of God and not Man because I am willing without a moment of thought to turn my back on my family, friends and anything else that has the potential to hold me back from truly living for Christ. I am joyfully willing to suffer for His sake, welcoming rejection, abandonment and ridicule, for the glory that awaits me in the kingdom.  Saying, knowing and truly living this truth with full conviction allows me to tearfully answer my question. Yes, I would lay down my life for the sake of Christ. 

 I have a picture in my mind. A heart throbbing, yet hopeful picture of faithful sacrifice by early followers of Christ. So often the brutal realities of genocides, persecutions and martyrisms merely signify statistics to us. There are no faces attached to those numbers, so we can go on living our daily lives uninterrupted. We hold no true emotional burden or anchor to those sacrifices. We are a numb generation to past and present tragedies.  Momentary grief and momentary reflection.  Over. Next.

As a follower of Christ, I must never lose sight of such ultimate sacrifices. I must never lose sight of the cross! "...Strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God" Acts 14:22 No matter the pain, no matter the heartbreaks, no matter the disappointments, and no matter the hardships.... I have not suffered enough. I am reminded that no matter how much I 'think' I am sacrificing and suffering for His sake, I have not had to give up my life for Him.  
But He did for me.
The book of Acts closes with: "He lived there two whole years at his own expense, and welcomed all who came to him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance." Acts 28:30-1 Until the very last verse in Acts and Paul's life, the ministry of Christ was exemplified bravely. My concluding question is: When and why has the boldness in the great commission within our generations fizzled away? 

May God's love and truth be at the heart of our boldness. 

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