This month, our meditation has been excerpted from the book entitled, Bound to Be Free compiled by Jan Pit. In the following short quotation from Sister Chen (a pillar of God's house in the vast land of China), there is fodder for reflection and perhaps application:
They overcame him by the blood of the lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death. (Revelation 12:11)
Are we willing to die for the Lord? That is a difficult question. A question that can be answered, however, is, are we willing to live for Him?
Sister Suk Wan was such a believer. She lived for the Lord, faithfully and courageously. She was arrested for her faith and thrown into prison where she was beaten and tortured. She became seriously ill and requested to be brought to the town square to speak to the people. (People were often brought there to be shown to the public in order to deny the faith or to undergo self-criticism trials.) The organizers were convinced she wanted to deny her faith before she would die. Two policemen helped her onto the stage. She could hardly stand. She had bruises all over her face. She gathered her last strength and cried: 'To God be the glory. Jesus is my Lord.' Then she collapsed and died. She could die for the Lord because she had lived for Him.
'I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race. I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing' (2 Timothy 4:7-8).
A moment of introspection: In one sense, Sister Chen poses two paradoxes: martyrdom being the culmination of a life lived for the Lord ('are we willing to die for the Lord?'), and spiritual birth being the inception of a martyred life ″she had lived for Him″. Let's go to God's Word for an explanation of each.
No one knows when or how we may die. Rather, the question might be whether we might have a purposeful death--a death that reflects on the life choices we as followers of Christ made during our existence on earth. Sister Suk Wan "...could die for the Lord because she had lived faithfully and courageously for Him." When we face life's end, can we say "I have lived for Christ"? When we come to life's end, will we echo Oskar Schindler's words, when he said he wished he could have done more? A life fully surrendered to God would always ask "what more can I do?" for Christ? I would recommend Foxe's Book of Martyrs or The Martyrs' Mirror as examples of Christian martyrs who stood the test and died for their faith in Jesus Christ. Sister Suk Wan's name did not appear in either of these books. But, thanks to Sister Chen, Suk Wan's dying testimony rings out, and Suk Wan's death served a divine purpose--just as her life did. Though we might not finish life as a martyr, we are called to live a coherent life in which both our life and death serve God. Does Christ hold such a place of honor in our lives that serving Him in life or death makes coherent sense? Let's consider what it means to live a coherent life.
Jesus Christ, being our model in life and the source of our Christian belief, began to "be about my Father's business" (Luke 2:49) at age 12. From age 12 up to age 30, Jesus "increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man." (Luke 2:52). The silent years between 12 and 30 were not inactive and fruitless, as Luke has shared, above. Jesus was living the life he needed to live, to make his ministry an effective prelude to the work of the cross. We are not told of the "valleys" and "peaks" of his early development. Yet our model grew in both wisdom and stature in order to prepare for the work that God had in store for him. Jesus started preparing by age 12 to live as God desired. In years to come, Jesus could die for the sins of the world because he had lived for God and the divine purpose of Christ's earthly life--just as we may have the privilege of dying for the Lord, as we live for him. Jesus did not love his life so much as to shun death, though on the Mount of Olives, he momentarily faltered in his resolve. (Matt 26:39 "My Father, if it is possible, don't make me suffer by having me drink from this cup. But do what you want, and not what I want.") To do God's will throughout life does not necessarily lead to martyrdom. We do not need to seek or long for death as a martyr. But the question may be put to us: "Would we be willing so to die for Christ?" The apostle Paul reflected, "For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. 22 If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. 23 I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. 24 But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account." (Phil 1:21-25) Tradition tells of the martyrdom of the 12 apostles; they lived and died, serving Christ. Yet Jesus says to us, (John 14:12a) "I tell you for certain that if you have faith in me, you will do the same things that I am doing." Jesus lived and died, serving God. The apostles lived and died, serving Christ. We may do the same as we absolutely surrender to God’s will. May His will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Admittedly, very often we hear of Christian martyrs where the daily struggle may be providing food for a hungry family in times of want, attending church each week, living in the wrong part of a city or town, intolerance of the community against a Christian (family), a mis-statement in a conversation, an unguarded text message, having the wrong name or the wrong papers, etc. In these cases, the ultimate price of being a follower of Jesus Christ is paid with one’s life. Often times, the killing of Christians because they are Christians is preceded by the angry demand to deny Christ. In any of these situations, suffering comes whether or not, like Sister Suk Wan, one has lived one’s whole life for the Lord and is privileged to die for His sake, or is unexpectedly thrust into the path of peril—often without much notice.
We who have the gift of time, of the dearth of outright persecution for our faith, may choose to live and possibly die, serving Christ. A coherent life is not to be despised or relegated to the pile of triviality. We have the model of Jesus Himself, of the apostles, and of the great cloud of witnesses who encourage each Christian to live a life committed to Christ, come what may. Whether precipitously or over time, we can choose to let God exert complete control in our lives—toward the end that His will is indeed done on earth, through us, by Him.