The Praise and the Pain of Christmas - Christmas 2014
“Then the angel said to them, 'Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall
be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord ...
Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom He is well pleased …'”LUK 2:10-11, 14
“Then was fulfilled what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, saying: ‘A voice was heard
in Ramah, lamentation, weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children,
refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.'” Matthew 2:17-18
In the wondrous story of the birth of Christ, in the context of the angels’ songs of praise, is the cry of anguish from the mothers of the district of Bethlehem. In this way, the perplexing connection is established between the indescribable Gift of God to man and the heartrending necessity of suffering for His sake (1PE 4:13).
Even as His faithful servants in every land are proclaiming the glad tidings of His coming, so too, around the world, many are suffering for their allegiance to Him. Our recent prayer alert for our friends in Nagaland is but one example.
In a recent report on WorldNet Daily, Andrew White, known as “The Vicar of Baghdad,” told of the slaughter of young children by ISIS terrorists. They were commanded by their captors to swear allegiance to Muhammad. The children—all under fourteen—said, “No, we love Yasua (Jesus). We have always followed Yasua.” When they continued to stand firm in their faith, according to White, “they chopped all their heads off.” A picture that accompanied the story showed the headless body of a small girl, probably ten or eleven, dressed in her best clothes, who had refused to deny her Savior.
In contrast to this example of faithfulness was an exchange between Megyn Kelly and Franklin Graham, on “The Kelly File” last night (December 11, 2014). As they spoke about the growing martyrdom of Christians around the world, Megyn closed with this question. “Wouldn’t it be better for Christians to just say the words?” To which Mr. Graham rightly responded, “No!” citing the example of Christians who have died for Christ through the ages.
The issue becomes even more pressing when we consider that the U.N. is now arranging for 9,000 Syrian refugees to be relocated into the U.S. This is the first contingent of America’s commitment to receive 70,000 displaced refugees per year! These come from places like Iraq, Syria, Somalia, Congo, and other war-ravaged countries. It goes without saying that among many deserving refugees will be many who come to carry the war into our country!
It may seem a contradictory consideration during this Christmas season, but a question needs to be asked: Would you, under threat of beheading, deny your faith? Would you consider it worth “just saying the words,” in order to survive? If your answer is “Yes,” then I have some things for you to consider:
1. To deny Jesus Christ—even under extreme duress—is to dishonor Him and His sacrifice for you. We are told that such denial on earth will result in loss of our potential reward of reigning with Him in eternity (MAT 10:33; 2TI 2:12). What He will deny us is not eternal life, but the honor we would have gained by remaining faithful to His name.
2. We have abundant examples, via the journalists who were recently beheaded, that “just saying the words” will not save you. According to the reports, most—if not all of them—“converted to Islam” before they were beheaded. It did not help them. In a recent article (December 10, 2014) by E. Michael Maloof, the growing trend of terrorists is evident. The following is a quote:
“In a very graphic video, the man’s renunciation of his Christian faith and profession to Islam wasn’t good enough for ISIS fighters, who followed his statement with his summary execution.”
WARNING: graphic video included which can be avoided without taking away from the content of the article]
3. Finally, it is held in Scripture as the highest blessing available in this life "to suffer for His sake.”
“For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to
believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake.”PHI 1:29
In our world today, as in the first century, the joy of His coming is mingled with the tears of the persecuted. While most believers in America choose to look the other way, the same persecutions are coming our way. We will not be able to ignore the cries of the afflicted for long.
Can we continue to proclaim the “good tidings” while arming ourselves for the increasing spiritual conflict in the world around us? Do we truly believe that “the joy of the Lord is your strength” (NEH 8:10b)? Have we come to the conviction of the Lord’s words to Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness” (2CO 12:9).
It is only natural to fear death (HEB 2:14-15). It is supernatural to overcome that fear (PHI 1:21). It is normal to fear pain and afflictions, but it is spiritual to trust in the power of the Spirit to sustain us (REV 2:10-11).
To some it may seem strange to dwell on things of this nature in a Christmas message. However, I would encourage you to consider the two gifts I will place before you, which you alone can give:
The first is an immediate consideration of those around the world who suffer for the sake of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. We may not be able to alleviate their sufferings, but being mindful of them, we can pray on their behalf. I do believe that prayers for the persecuted church are heard, and that eternity will reveal how much they have comforted and sustained fellow-believers in their sufferings.
The second—and greatest—is that of unwavering loyalty to your Lord and Savior. We will never truly live by faith until we are ready to die for it. And for all who wonder, and even doubt, whether they have the faith to stand firm, I close with a story from Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, recited from memory:
“It was the lot of George Tankerfield to be arrested and sentenced to death by burning. This came about because he rested all his faith in the merits of the cross of Christ, and defied all the religious conventions of Rome. Though given many opportunities to “recant” his simple faith, he steadfastly refused.
“Being taken to an Inn, to be held while his captors feasted, he asked for a fire to be lit in his room. When this was done, he removed his shoes and stockings, and placed his foot into the fire. Immediately, on feeling the flame, he pulled it out. Such was his test to see if he could endure the flames of martyrdom.
“Yet, when he was led to the place of execution, he calmly went to the stake, knelt in prayer, and on being encouraged by a Knight to “Be strong in Christ,” he replied, “I am, thank God.” As the flames were lit, he asked fellow believers to pray for him. He then called on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and was quickly beyond all pain. This occurred on August 22, 1555.”
Though He could not hold his foot in the fire, yet when the time came, God’s grace was sufficient. Do not worry that you do not have the strength to bear some affliction at this time. God will not give the sustaining grace until it is needed. But then, it will surely be given to those who trust and wait on the Lord.
My prayer for each one of you is that this Christmas-time will be a season of humble worship and joyful celebration in the presence of family, friends, and loved ones. But let’s not close our eyes to the realities of the world around us—a world that still hates the Son of Man. And let’s not close our ears to the cries of those who stand in need of our prayers. If we should one day find ourselves in their place, what a comfort it is to know that, as we prayed for those who suffer, so God will raise up others to pray for us. “Fear not, only believe” (LUK 8:50).