Would you DIE for the GOSPEL?

This weekend, a segment of my sermon will focus on the phrase “I am not ashamed of the gospel.”  Over and over in my mind, I keep asking myself, what does it look like for someone to not be ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ?  After pondering this thought for several days, I believe there are three encounters that will determine whether or not we are ashamed. 
    
Encounter #1: If we face DEATH because of our faith,  will we decide that life with Jesus in heaven is more important than this earthly life?  This encounter with death is foreign to 99.9% of American Christians.  At this point in our nation’s history, we do not have to chose between following Jesus and waking up to see another day.  But many of the early Christians faced the reality of dying for their faith.
 
Those closest to Jesus Christ when He was walking this earth were so convinced that Jesus was the Son of God (a.k.a. God Himself) that they were all willing to die for following Him.  Take for example, the apostles of Jesus.  All, except for John, were killed.  According to church tradition, here is how all twelve of the apostles died (note that Matthais replaced Judas).
 
Peter was considered the leader of the twelve, but during the final hours of Jesus’ life, he denied Jesus three times and finally deserted Jesus so that he would not be killed along with Jesus.  But something happened to this coward.  The resurrection account in Luke shows us that Peter didn’t even believe the women when they told him that Jesus was raised from the dead.  He ran and found out for himself.  Guess what? Peter showed up in Jerusalem preaching boldly, at the threat of death, that Jesus was the Christ and had been resurrected.  Tradition teaches us that Peter was crucified upside down (he requested to be upside down on the cross because he didn’t think he was worthy to be crucified exactly like his Savior).  What transformed him so dramatically into a bold lion?  He saw the resurrected Christ!  Andrew was crucified on an x-shaped cross.  James (son of Zebedee) was killed with the sword.  Interestingly, John faced martyrdom when he was placed in a huge basin of boiling oil during a wave of persecution in Rome. However, he was miraculously delivered from death. John was then sentenced to the mines on the prison island of Patmos. He wrote his prophetic book of Revelation on Patmos. The apostle John was later freed and returned to what is now modern-day Turkey. He died as an old man, the only apostle to die peacefully.  Philip was crucified.  Bartholomew was whipped to death, then placed upon a cross to show everyone he died.  Doubting Thomas said he wouldn’t believe that Jesus was raised from the dead until he had put his finger in the nail prints.  Thomas later died a martyr’s death for Christ by having a spear thrust through him.  Was he deceived?  He bet his life he wasn’t.  What changed Thomas?  He saw the resurrected Christ!  The ex-tax collector Matthew was killed with a sword.  James (son of Alphaeus) was crucified.  Thaddaeus was killed by arrows.  Simon was crucified.  Matthais, the one who replaced Judas, was stoned and then beheaded.
Each of these men were willing to die for the gospel message because they had no doubt that their eternal home was secure in heaven.  They were not “ashamed of the gospel.”  There might come a day when you will be faced with the same question the apostles were faced with: follow Jesus and be killed, or deny Jesus and live your life out here and yet forfeit your eternal life.  I pray and hope that you will have the courage to die for your faith if it comes to that someday.
Encounter #2: If we face RIDICULE because of our faith, will we decide that our reputation with Jesus is more important than what others say about us here on earth?  Many Christians have been mocked and made fun of because they believe in the gospel of Jesus Christ.  I was seventeen years old the first time I was ridiculed for my faith in Jesus Christ.  I was sitting in English class and that day a substitute teacher was leading the class discussion and the topic turned to religion.  He started teaching universalism, the belief that all religions lead to heaven eventually.  I raised my hand and made this statement: “Jesus Christ is the only way to heaven.  If someone doesn’t believe in Jesus Christ they will go to hell.”  The room became totally silent.  One of my friends looked at me (who was not a Christian), and she asked me point blank: “So what you are telling me is that if I don’t believe in your Jesus, then I am going to go to hell when I die?”  At this point, I wanted to remain silent.  But something inside of me influenced me to open up my mouth and answer her: “Yes, I do believe that you will go to hell if you don’t place your trust in Jesus Christ.”  Then the substitute teacher chimed in on the discussion.  He looked at me and asked me how I could be so arrogant as to think that this nice girl sitting next to me was going to hell just because she didn’t believe in the right god.  I admitted that it sounded harsh, but I also stated that it was the truth.  I looked her in the eyes and told her that I don’t want her to go to hell, and that God doesn’t want her to go to hell.  But if she never asks Jesus Christ to be the Leader and Forgiver of her life, then she will eventually end up in hell.  The substitute teacher once again “mocked me.”  He scolded me for thinking that Christianity is the only way to heaven.  He said, “That is the problem with some Christians, they think that everyone else is going to hell.  I just can’t accept that kind of religion.”
Soon after this, the bell rang and we were off to another class.  Two things happened after that class.  First, several of this “unsaved” girl’s friends gave me dirty looks and ignored me for a few days.  Second, other students came up to me when we were in the hallway and thanked me for standing up for our faith.  I said to them, “No problem,” but I was angry inside at them.  They were ashamed of the gospel that day in class.  They remained quiet and so one Christian student was mocked and ridiculed by a self-proclaimed philosophy guru who was disguised as a high school substitute teacher.  Even though I was angry at my Christian classmates for not standing up for the gospel with me, I was glad that I was ridiculed.  There is a joy that can be found in standing up for your Savior that cannot be found in anything else we do in life.  We shouldn’t try to do things to be ridiculed, but when it does happen, we should react like the early apostles did when they were persecuted: “rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name” (Acts 5:41).
It is my prayer that when my daughters get old enough that they will not be ashamed of the gospel.  Instead, when they are ridiculed for their faith, that they will stand firm and will not back down.  I want to instill within them a faith that will never be shaken, no matter how unpopular they might become.
Encounter #3: Do we become UNEASY around others because their actions do not measure up to God’s standards?  You might find yourself in awkward scenarios when you are with unbelievers because of our faith.  Every Christian has encountered this.  This last fall I helped co-coach my daughter’s soccer team.  The other coach on the team got really mad one practice at the players and said a couple curse words in from of them.  This made me really uneasy.  So, I confronted her when the kids were running laps at the end of practice that I really didn’t want her to curse in front of them anymore.  And then I felt led to say this to her: “If you need to curse in front of me, I can handle it.  I don’t like it, but I can handle it.  But I really don’t want my daughter and the other kids learning words like that as part of their vocabulary.”  She agreed and apologized and her husband, who was there said that she shouldn’t be cussing in front of a pastor anyway.  I responded: “Don’t worry about me, worry about God.  I am not the holy one, God is the holy one.”  We all laughed.
It would have been really easy for me to just bite my lip and act like the curse words were no big deal.  But they were a big deal because one of them used the Lord’s name in vain.  I can handle a number of curse words, but not that one.  To not stand up for my God in a situation like that is to be ashamed of the gospel.
I write these things because for every Christian who is obnoxious about their faith and is too “in your face” about his or her faith, there are 1,000 Christians who keep their light hidden for no one to see.  I wonder why that is?  Why are so many Christians so silent about their faith?  It is my prayer that the next time you encounter uneasiness, ridicule, or maybe even death because of the gospel, that you are not ashamed!

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