This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.
1 John 3:16
It’s not suicide. It is not the taking of our life. It is the willingness to lay down our life to enable someone else to live. It is an act of love.
Most Americans give little thought to the possibility. Those who wear the uniform of the U.S. Armed Forces must.
Sometimes, the prestigious Medal of Honor has been won by someone who held off enemy firepower all alone so others could escape the killing zone. Some of them threw themselves on live grenades to save the lives of others. It was always a willingness to lay down one’s life for the sake of another that made the difference.
One does not need to be in the military to do this. It also happens in civilian lives. The apostle John reminds us, it especially can happen in Christian lives.
American Christians have been called pampered Christians because of the freedom of religion clause built into the founding documents of our nation. This has been a buffer against persecution. Not all Christians around the world enjoy that blessing. The very early Christians certainly did not.
Looking past the illegal execution of Jesus, we see Stephen stoned to death because of his testimony about Jesus. We hear of Christians being scattered by persecution shortly afterward (Acts 11:19). Next, we are shown Saul of Tarsus hunting down Christians and delivering them to authorities for imprisonment—and worse. Saint Luke continues by reporting that King Herod had James, the brother of John, “put to death with the sword.” It disturbs us to further hear, “When he saw that this pleased the Jews, he proceeded to seize Peter also” (Acts 12:3). Angelic rescue squads were dispatched to save Peter’s life.
One might have thought the powerful Roman government would have intervened to protect Christians. Instead, Christianity was declared by Rome to be an illegal religion. This fueled the fires of persecution. The city of Rome became the record holder for the number of Christian martyrs.
Modern tour guides at the remains of the famous Roman Coliseum deny it was the staging ground for Christians to be executed by soldiers and wild animals in front of cheering crowds. But ancient records seem to tell a different story. A Roman historian, Tacitus, tells of the time that Emperor Nero blamed the outbreak of a deadly fire in Rome upon Christians. Blood flowed in the streets and in the coliseum as a result. There is a report of Christians being covered with tar, tied to posts, and set afire to serve as streetlights as Nero drove his chariot by them.
Historians may debate the authenticity of some records, but it is certain that to be a Christian for some 300 years after the death of Christ was to live under the threat of death. The words of John were remembered and repeated. “And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.” Some would die so others might live.
Should we remember and repeat those words today? Persecution against Christians is happening in many places of our world. Even American Christians have noticed the increase in resentment and opposition to the Bible and those who stand by it. The tide seems to be turning against those who follow Christ as Lord and Savior. Only God knows what this will lead to.
It is that same God who bids us look beyond this life to see where the path leads. It is the Good Shepherd who invites us to follow him even through the valley of the shadow of death. He has set the prime example for us. We are not only to be concerned about ourselves. We are here to serve and support others.
“This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.”
That mental picture should always be in our rearview mirror. We shudder to think what would happen to us if that had not happened. We smile at the thought of the sun rising over the empty Easter grave. We peer through the fog of this life to catch glimpses of the rays of glory showing through from the future life.
We weigh everything in life on the counterbalance of the gift Jesus gave us with his death. Our pain and hardship? Doesn’t move the scale at all with Gethsemane and Golgotha on the other side. Earthly wealth and honor? Not worth comparing to eternal glory. Loss of life? It will never happen for soldiers of the cross. When the earthly battle is over, those in service to Jesus are immediately transferred home. They never really die.
So, how will we use the short span of time before we are called home?
Serving God. Serving others.
Even if it costs our lives.
Lord Jesus, we want to be like you. We want to follow your example. We want to reflect your love as we live below. We wait to share your glory when we will live above. Give us the faith, the courage, the hope, and the joy to do that. Amen.
Points to ponder:
- Should we feel guilty if we have not been persecuted as much as other Christians?
- Why do earthly things seem to weigh more in importance than heavenly things?
- What are the signs that point to increased animosity against Christ and Christians?
Written and recorded by Rev. Paul Horn, WELS National Civilian Chaplain to the Military, San Diego, California.
All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. Note: Scripture reading footnotes are clickable only in the web version.