The September magazine from The Voice of the Martyrs begins with a letter from their president, Cole Richards. The title caught my attention: "When We Deny Christ." The magazine contains stories of two individuals who denied Christ, primarily because of fear of persecution. A difficult question is posed to the reader: "What about when (not if) we deny Him?" Cole reminds us, "Even if we do not verbalize our denial as the Apostle Peter did, do we not deny Christ with our passivity and inaction when we fail to take opportunities to bear witness to His glory, truth and love? Our failure to speak up is exactly the same failure as Peter's denial if we join him in dissociating ourselves from the King of Kings. Peter twice insisted, 'I don't know the man!' (Matthew 26:72, 74) Like Peter, we fail. And, like Peter, the Lord desires to restore us." (John 21:15-17)
Stories of tortured Christians that appear in The Voice of the Martyrs are not for the faint of heart. The goal of the torturers is to make their prisoners deny God by putting them through horrific physical and mental torture. Can anyone blame these Christians when they buckle under the pressure of pain and deprivation? Have you ever asked yourself, "Would I be able to endure torture and not deny my God?" We may not have to face imprisonment and torture, but how many opportunities have we missed to witness to the glory and love of Jesus?
Matthew, Mark and Luke all wrote about the words of Jesus to His disciples, "Then He said to them all: 'If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it...If anyone is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in His glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.'" (Luke 9:23-26) Jesus warned that following Him would mean taking up our crosses daily. It seems that some people have a heavier cross to carry than others.
The Lord knows we are made of dust. Despite our failures, He has made provision for us on The Cross. "But He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all." (Isaiah 53:5-6) The Psalmist tells us this: "As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us." (Psalm 103:12)
I want to be ready to pick up my cross daily and have thought of a couple of ways to be prepared. First, we must follow the advice of 1 Peter 3:15. "But in your heart set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect." Second, we must ask God to empower us so that we will step out boldly for Him. Acts 4:23-31 tells about the threats that came to the disciples and what happened after they prayed. "After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly." Jesus sits at the right hand of God the Father and intercedes for us. (Hebrews 7:25) He wants us to succeed.
We should be praying for ourselves to have the strength and grace we need to speak about the love of Jesus. Our prayers should also be for our brothers and sisters who are being persecuted. Let us pray for them as Cole Richards suggests--that they "endure torture and hardship for the name of Christ," and will be "strengthened when they face temptations to deny Him." May the lives of the persecuted Christians challenge us to stand firmly for Christ.
Joan E. Mathias