This weekend, Christians around the world will celebrate the resurrection of our Saviour, Jesus Christ, who paid for our freedom (from eternal condemnation) not with gold or silver but with His precious blood.
Our freedom cost Jesus everything and it (our freedom as believers to serve Jesus) will cost us as well.
In Luke 9:23-26, Jesus said: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.”
Increasing pressure on Christians to be ashamed of the Gospel
In South Africa, as in many other countries in the West today, there is increasing pressure on Christians to be ashamed of the Gospel. Increasingly, churches and Christian ministries have to defend their biblical beliefs and doctrines before commissions of state and courts of law. Likewise, Christian businesses and schools are coming under fire for what they believe and how they choose to conduct their operations in the public sphere. Even within the context of the family, parents are being taken to task for bringing up their children in the ways of the Lord. No Christian is exempt.
These challenges to, and restrictions on, our freedom as Christians to believe, preach and live our lives according to the Word of God, should not surprise us. Did not Jesus say, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me.” (John 15:18-25)
Will we stand?
The question for us, is what will we do when we are harassed, oppressed or persecuted on account of our Christian conscience, religion and belief? Will we conform and compromise in the hope to “save our lives”, or will we stand by what we believe and follow Jesus even if in so doing, we “lose our lives” (including reputation, business, job, home, family relationships or treasured friendships).
A lady who has courageously chosen to stand by what she believes, is Barronelle Stutzman, a 70-year old grandmother who works as a florist in Washington, USA. Barronelle recently made headlines when she refused on grounds of her Christian conviction, religion and belief, to provide flowers for the same-sex ceremony of a long-time customer and referred the couple to three other florists instead. As a result, the Attorney-General sued not only Barronelle’s shop, but her personally, for violating the Consumer Protection Act.
Faced with the prospect of losing everything, Barronnelle said: “I certainly don’t relish the idea of losing my business, my home and everything else that your lawsuit threatens to take from my family, but my freedom to honour God in doing what I do best, is most important.”
The Attorney-General’s office has since offered Barronelle a deal to settle the matter outside of court: pay a meager penalty of USD2,000, a payment of USD1 for costs and fees, and agree not to discriminate in future. Barronelle’s response? “No. It’s not about money. It’s about freedom … There’s not a price on freedom. You can’t buy my freedom.”
In a letter to the Attorney General however, Barronelle wrote: “You are asking me to walk in the way of a well-known betrayer, one who sold something of infinite worth for 30 pieces of silver … That is something I will not do.”
This Easter, may Baronelle’s words and example serve as a reminder to us of the price that Jesus paid for our freedom when He, who never sinned, died on a cross and bore the punishment for our sins so that we who believe in Him, do not have to die but can have life eternal with Him, the resurrected Christ who is preparing a place for us in heaven.
May this Good News of Jesus cause us to boldly proclaim, with our lips as with our lives, that we are not ashamed of the Gospel, for it is the power of God who brings salvation to everyone who believes (Romans 1:16) – even if to do so, i.e. to be bold and uncompromising witnesses of Jesus, would put a target on our back and chains around our feet. Doesn’t the Bible tell us that it is better to have chained feet and a free soul, than free feet and a chained soul?! (Matthew 10:28 – “Don’t be afraid of those who want to kill your body [in our Western context today: destroy you, fine you, imprison you]; they cannot touch your soul. Fear only God …”!)
Let the Good News of Jesus encourage us this Easter to, amidst an escalating threat to our religious freedom, live lives worthy of our calling as sons and daughters of the King, ambassadors representing His Kingdom on earth. Let THIS be our worship, our expression of love and thanksgiving, to our Saviour King who paid the ultimate price for our freedom, this Easter and every day until He comes for us again.