Thursday, September 4, 2014
We Need Courage
If there is one thing that we can glean from the words of Jesus in Matthew 16 it is that it will take courage to be both Christ and Christian. For Jesus to do what He has come to do will take a tremendous amount of fortitude. Being a Christian will require a kind of bravery the world does not know.
This has always been the case. Christians have always faced difficulty in the world because they hold to an allegiance to a God who is greater than the world and the world does not like it. So from the very first days of the Church until now there has been persecution and martyrdom.
Men like James the Apostle and Stephen the Deacon stood bravely before the authorities, confessed Jesus Christ as Lord, and died with their eyes fixed on Him. Even those who were not killed for trusting in Jesus certainly suffered for it.
John the Evangelist and Apostle was exiled to the island of Patmos. Athanasius, the faithful confessor who gave us the Nicene Creed, and after whom is named the Athanasian Creed, was also exiled from his homeland on more than one occasion for holding fast to the truth that Jesus is God.
And there are more, countless others, unnamed others, who courageously confessed Christ, who held fast to His name, and suffered for it. Some of them are famous, honored in the Church to this day. Some of them are buried in unmarked graves and forgotten. Yet God remembers their courage.
The enemy of courage is the love of self, the valuing of your own reputation or happiness or life above all else. People will go to great lengths to protect these things. They will lie, embellish, or gossip to protect their reputation. They will cheat and steal, or work long hours neglecting their families, to secure the material blessings they believe they need to be happy. People will do anything to protect the life they think they deserve.
We look only to ourselves, refuse the cross, and attempt to gain the whole world, or at least our own little corner of it. We just want our own little "free" space where I am the master, where no one tells me what to do. At least there, in my own personal kingdom, I am allowed to be myself, to be completely comfortable.
Yet that is not the life to which we are called. That is the way of the coward. The way of courage is denial of self, taking up the cross, following Jesus. Courage is losing your life and giving up the whole world.
Of course Jesus Himself exemplifies courage for Christians. It certainly took tremendous courage to face death by crucifixion. To pray in the garden, "Thy will be done," took a force of bravery that is unmatched in the world. Crucifixion is the most painful manner of execution ever devised. And Jesus went there--willingly.
Yet that is not the most courageous of Jesus' acts. It took even more bravery for Him to accept the sins of the world upon His shoulders, and then to accept the wrath of God.
Jesus is the one man who could have stood confidently before the judgment of God and received nothing but blessing. He is God's perfect, flawless, righteous Son. He earned honor and glory with every deed of His life.
Christ, however, lays that aside and takes on the sins of the whole world. He takes up the transgressions of the Smiths and the Joneses, every Tom, Dick, and Harry, the Hitlers, the Stalins, the murderers, rapists, thieves, and liars, the gossips, busybodies, swindlers, and drug addicts. He lays them on His back and then He stands before the judgment of God.
Jesus hung courageously on the cross as God poured out every ounce of anger, wrath, and punishment that He had over our cowardice. He bravely endured my death, your death, the death the world deserves. That is the courage of Jesus Christ.
The courage of Jesus enables our own. His bravery looses us from the cares and worries that entangle us, that would prevent us from taking up our cross and following Him.
By faith in Jesus, trusting that He has done the courageous thing of denying Himself, taking up His cross and ours, and suffering the brunt of God's wrath, we are given fortitude to follow Jesus. By faith in the death of Jesus we can forget about saving our own reputation because we already know how God sees us. He has exhausted His anger and wrath on Christ, and now sees us with the eyes of love and mercy. If God is for us, who cares what anyone else thinks?
By faith in the resurrection of Jesus we can stop worrying about saving our own life and gaining the world. We shall rise from the dead and God will give us the earth as a gift. In Christ we find everlasting life. In Christ we gain a never-ending world. By faith we are set free from the cowardice of worrying about ourselves.
By this faith we follow Jesus with courage. We have the courage to live for others, not ourselves. Courage to work for peaceful resolutions to conflict. Courage to forgive, even if it will cost us something. Courage to miss out on the fleeting pleasures of this world, for the hope of the world that is till coming down the road.
I do not know if we will be called upon to confess Jesus Christ in the face of death. There are certainly Christians around the world, particularly those in Iraq and Syria at this very moment, who are doing just that. I pray that their faith in Jesus will give them great courage.
Yet even here, in the relative comfort of the United States, we are called to take up the cross and follow Jesus, to deny ourselves, lose our lives, and find them again in the resurrection of Christ. We do this daily. Faith in Jesus enables the courage we need to leave our comfort zones and confess Jesus in word and deed, even before those who don't want to hear it or see it.
Jesus is coming again. And when He appears on the Day of Judgment He iwll cast the cowardly, those who cared only for their own present life, into eternal death. Yet the brave shall receive life without end, full repayment and more for every loss they have suffered.
Thanks be to God for the courage of Jesus, to bear God's wrath on the cowardly, and give us courage. His death sets us free from punishment. His resurrection sets us free for courage. He will continue to make us brave to bear the cross and follow Him.