This article is part 5 of a 5 part series on the resurrection.
Minute attention to details in John`s text has not been something that has preoccupied our thinking during these last few weeks, at least not the kind that was exhibited by a young man by the name of Stephen Wiltshire. He had the ability to look at most anything no matter how complex and comprehensive it may seem and sketch it in full-detail. He had drawn the entire landscape of New York after only one single citywide aerial trip in a helicopter. Yet, far from possessing such a phenomenal talent, we have sought an overview of John 20-21 and have seen from John’s Post-Resurrected account several features beginning with the resurrection right on through to Christ prediction about Peter’s martyrdom, with the goal to learn the pivotal points within the passage. Even so John’s remarks are well taken “that there are so many other things which Jesus did, which if they were written in detail, I suppose that even the world itself would not contain the books that would be written.” 21:25.
Beginning with the resurrection as the launching pad, it is central in God’s redemptive program where it supersedes every supernatural act in Christ lifetime —– given the fact our faith would have grounded to a halt without it —— followed by the bodily appearance of Jesus to His disciples which was quite needful to present living proof that He is indeed God’s Son, the Messiah. Subsequently, belief in the resurrection would give rise to the church and became central to apostolic preaching later. What followed next in John chapter twenty-one was an exchange between Jesus and Peter wherein love and commitment to Christ and His church were the chief capstones. Peter’s denials only days earlier underscores the importance of this event. Jesus the Shepherd had given His life for His sheep and now Peter is told that he too is expected to do the same and suffer martyrdom.
But successfully handling suffering was not always the case with Peter. It has been noted that fear of association led to Peter’s earlier denial of Christ. His own well-being was more important than his faith. But for Christ it was completely contrary. He was put to death for us and maintained His identity to the Father as His Son no matter the consequences. Divine love triumphed over fear. Now in a matter of a few days the situation has gone full circle. Jesus is alive and well and has called Peter to face his fears. Peter is told that He too will suffer martyrdom, the same fate as His Master but what is different now is that Peter has no objection. Probably not so shocking either since Jesus had earlier portrayed the Shepherd as giving His life for His Sheep (10:11). The picture of a Shepherd holding a lamb in his arms in a tranquil green valley is what most of us might envisioned about a shepherds life. It is hard to imagine Peter thinking in those terms when he learns of his death. For anyone to think that to become a Christian does not involve cost is sheer ambivalence. To become a servant of Christ is synonymous with suffering. Peter will later write about the difficulties of being a Christian in his first epistle. The term for suffering is found fifteen times and for shepherd three times in Peter’s first epistle. Tradition teaches us that Peter was killed for his faith by being hung upside down. ANYONE who follows Christ can pay with his life! By twenty-first century standards that is not a mere exaggeration. Just follow the trail of blood left behind by Christian martyrs to our present day. Discipleship in Peter’s time meant more than a show of hands from the audience to further one’s devotion to Christ. Belonging to Christ meant suffering of one kind or another, with martyrdom being the worst. Testimonies of men and women crucified to a cross in mock demonstration of their faithfulness to their Lord were infamous during the Roman Empire. And today we see great suffering taken place across the Middle East. Many thousands of Christians are suffering at the hands of Islam. A map of the world shows that persecution of the Saints is on-going in major countries throughout North Africa and the Middle East. There have been reports of torture, killings, rape, mass kidnappings and churches burned to the ground. Christians are suffering and dying at an unprecedented rate, so much so that no other period in history has seen more carnage then these last two centuries. A pastor was asked how he can prepare his sheep for the growing Islamic threat. He was told to prepare them for martyrdom! Peter would be killed by 1st century Rome, and today Christian’s greatest physical threat is Islam.
Our faith is being attacked from other sources as well. It seems that atheist object to anything Christian in schools. A plan has been adopted to indoctrinate children with sexual perverse curriculum. A recent judicial Supreme Court ruling now paves the way to murder the vulnerable under the baneful cloak of reliving the sick and aged. We have been murdering our babies for decades to the degree that live birth rates cannot keep up with the number of abortions performed in our society. Any who wish to speak out against such evils must do so at his own peril for fear of infringing on laws supposedly in place to protect against hatred and bigotry. To voice any criticism in the Western world about sin may mean to risk reprisals, humiliation, and even jail time for speaking out against immorality, corruption, and falsehoods. What then are Christians expected to do when supposed cultural sensitive issues run contrary to the teaching of God’s Word? Do we remain silent and say nothing about it? Do we stay indoors in the shadows along with the rest who do not wish to be seen as intolerant? To take the path of least resistance often means compromise and bringing shame to Christ’s name. Whatever the consequences the truth should never be hid. It may be argued that what has gripped some in the West is more about fear then it is respect. Much of what we see being passed off as tolerance and political correctness is little less than a pretext for immoral and destructive activity. How much of this precisely is owing to the Westerner’s experience is hard to tell. On the other hand, the Christian is convinced that a self-imposed censorship is simply wrong. Just ask Peter when he became unsettled and fell silent over the possibility of having his identity as a follower of Christ revealed. Self-preservation became more important to him than Christ.
Yet shame and fear has a way of driving a wedge between us and our love for Christ. We have a rich legacy of godly men, women, and children who remained faithful through the ages. Daniel refused to follow the edict of Nebuchadnezzar the king and bow down to him, but instead prayed, even though he would have to face severe consequences. The apostles preached the gospel in public though threatened with death. Actually, an entire list of Saints who suffered as a result of their faith is given in Hebrews eleven for our encouragement. Suffering and martyrdom is never about choice but is a consequence of faithfulness. Suffering is not optional, it is not seen in how we feel about it either, but is what we can expect when we devote our lives to our Savior in a culture that has no room for God. How we respond should be no different than the pattern already set by faithful Saints in every century.