I've preached this message many times in Asia, the Middle East and Africa, but I've never shared it in the West--until recently! Here is part 2 of my message titled "Passing Through The Fire"...
In Luke 21:12-19, Jesus gives us an extended speech about what disciples living in these end times of ours can expect:
“But before all this, they will seize you and persecute you. They will hand you over to synagogues and put you in prison, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name. And so you will bear testimony to me. But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers and sisters, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death. Everyone will hate you because of me. But not a hair of your head will perish. Stand firm, and you will win life.”
What outstanding words from our Master, friends! Who here is willing to stand firm to the end? Who here is ready to endure all--even death--for the sake of the Master? I remember as a young Pastor, many years ago, I was preparing to go on my first evangelistic trip to a foreign country. I was leaving my wife and my young children for some time to go far away for only one reason—to tell the lost and perishing about Jesus, that they may be saved for eternity! Before I left on this great trip, I knew there would be possible danger awaiting me. And the Lord asked me if I would be willing to die for the sake of the Gospel if it came to that. I had never been forced to make a decision like that before, but I had to at that time. And I remember confidently saying “Yes! Yes, Jesus, I have been ready to live for you for years, and now I am also ready to die for you!” Oh friends, a person who counts his life as nothing--who is ready even to perish for the sake of Christ--he is a mighty tool in the hand of the Holy Spirit! The Devil shudders and quakes when this man walks by; the gates of Hell tremble as he opens his mouth to speak; the demons flee in fear as he approaches, because they know—they all know—that he is not afraid; that he is not afraid of even the very worst that they can do to him: Take his life! Friends, when we are prepared to die for Christ if need be; when by a free choice of our will we give ownership of even our earthly lives up to the Lord, we pass over to a state of spiritual invincibility! When we are prepared to be martyrs if need be, then nothing the Devil can try to harm us with can touch us, because even his greatest threat—death—is no longer an enemy that we fear!
Perhaps the greatest work that the Holy Spirit did in the Apostles at Pentecost was in giving them the ability to say “yes” to God when asked if they were willing to lay down their lives for Jesus. Before Pentecost, the Apostles were cowards: Denying Christ; living behind locked doors out of fear. But after Pentecost, the Holy Spirit enabled them to become powerful, public witnesses who changed the world! Oh friends, He will do the same through us when we say that same “yes” to God! Look how the Apostles reacted to their persecutions in Acts 5:40-41:
“His speech persuaded them. They called the apostles in and had them flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go.
The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.”
What a powerful testimony! Look what Jesus says in Luke 9:24:
“For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.”
Friends, when we are willing even to lose our life for the Master, that is when the Holy Spirit is really able to begin using us to change our world; that is when we truly find out what Jesus means by finding life: Real, abundant life! All the 12 Apostles—save John—lost their lives for the sake of the Gospel. James, the son of Zebedee, was beheaded by King Herod in 44 A.D. in Jerusalem. Philip was tied to a pillar and stoned to death in Phrygia--modern day Turkey--in 51. In Jerusalem in 63, James, the son of Alphaeus, was pushed off the Temple and then clubbed to death, while Matthias was crucified, stoned and beheaded. In 65, Paul was beheaded in Rome, along with Peter, who was crucified upside down. Matthew was nailed to the ground with spears and beheaded in 66 in Ethiopia. That same year, Andrew was crucified in Greece. Two years later, Thaddeus was beaten to death in Iran with sticks and clubs. Three of the Apostles were martyred in 70. Simon the Zealot was crucified in Great Britain. Bartholomew was beaten, then crucified, then beheaded in Armenia. And in India, Thomas was thrown into a furnace and pierced with spears (I credit "Foxe's Book of Martyrs" and the Voice of the Martyrs' "Jesus Freaks" books with much of this incredible information.).
Now, we must be careful to keep a godly balance here. Some Christians are unwilling to lose their lives for the sake of the Gospel and this is wrong. But some Christians, in their zeal without knowledge, have an ungodly desire to lose their lives; I call this the “martyr complex”. These people, in their misguided zeal, intentionally put themselves in dangerous situations, almost hoping it will bring persecution--even death--upon them. This attitude too is wrong. This is because God desires ownership of our lives, not necessarily possession. God wants to know that if need be, we would give our lives as a last resort, but it may not come to that, and we should never try to hasten its approach. When God asked Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, of course He didn’t want Abraham to actually kill his son! That is why God provided an alternate sacrifice--the ram in the thicket—in Isaac’s place. It was enough for God to simply know that Abraham loved him so much, and was so devoted to Him, that he would hold nothing back from his Lord. It is the same way with us today. What God wants from us is to know that we would do anything He asks of us--everything He asks of us—even to the laying down of our physical life. Yet this doesn’t mean that we should seek opportunities to be persecuted. Many people have been persecuted and even martyred before their time because of this zeal without knowledge, and they have not bore as much fruit for the Kingdom because their lives have been cut short. What God does call us to do, however, is to live boldly and passionately for Jesus. As we do, persecutions will come, and as they come, we should not be surprised.
The Apostles did not seek death, rather they sought opportunities to preach Christ! Paul could have been set free from prison long before his death in Rome—King Agrippa said so in Acts 26—if he hadn’t made an appeal to preach to Caesar. But Paul would rather endure persecution to preach Christ than live as a free man outside the perfect will of God! Friends, I exhort you today to do everything you can to preach Christ clearly and boldly to as many people as possible. I also encourage you to do everything you can to prolong your life as long as possible, as long as this does not mean compromising your commitment to Jesus, or limit your chances to preach Christ. Look at Peter’s example in Acts. Imprisoned several times, he was not content to remain in prison to be executed as a young man. No--when the angel flung open the iron bars, he fled the prison, in his desire to live to be an old man—which he did—preaching Christ all the way to Rome itself! We must follow his example. It should be our desire to live as long as we can, preaching Christ boldly for as many years as we can, all the while being content to know that our lives have been given to Jesus a long time ago! Look what Paul says in Romans 6:3-4:
“Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.”
Friends, we died with Jesus when we were baptized! I ask you, then, what is the worst the Devil can do to dead men like us? What can he hope to do to us that could cause us to fear? Nothing! Armed with this boldness, then, let us move forward…