December 21

Today's Bible Reading
     II Chronicles 25
     Revelation 12
     Zachariah 8
     John 11
''Then Thomas, who is called Didymus, said to his fellow disciples, Let us also go, that we may die with Him."  ''Jesus said to her, I am the resurrection and the life.  He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live." (John 11:16,25)
            Thomas has long taken a bum rap over the years in my opinion. If I understand this verse correctly, he has become one of my great heroes. He was most likely to say, ''I am willing to die with Jesus. Wherever He goes, I will follow. Whatever He says, I will do.  If it costs me my life, I am ready." Tradition tells us that Thomas was the apostle that came to India and served in south India. His kind of commitment still lives in many Indian believers.
            It may interestyou to know that all of the 12 gave their lives for Jesus as a martyr except for John who was exiled on the Isle of Patmos, where he wrote the apocalyptic vision that God gave him. The sands of history have turned crimson red with the blood of martyrs. Christians may live for Jesus today because Christians of yesterday have died for Jesus. The seed of the church is the blood of its martyrs.
            It began with Stephen, that loyal, faithful deacon filled with the Holy Spirit - daring to take the Gospel out to Samaria where others had feared to tread. This loyal deacon obeyed the Lord of his life, courageously shared his faith, dared to be obedient, and has honored himself by being the first martyr of the Christian church. Scripture tells us that Jesus Christ stood in his honor in Heaven.
            As he lay dying, bruised, bloodied, battered, and beaten, Stephen had enough strength to say, ''Father , lay not this to their charge, for they do not understand what they are doing." Stephen's bloody death was but the beginning.
           Andrew was in Greece when he was beaten, stoned, tied to an X-shaped cross and slowly died for two days, but preached the Gospel from that Cross and over 150 were saved; Paul was beheaded after months in the Momertine Prison; Philip and Bartholomew, who were co-laborers, and beloved friends, were crucified, facing each other, so that not only would they die, but would watch their best friend and brother die as well; James was cast down from the pinnacle of the Temple from the southeast comer, 300 feet to the jagged rocks below ; John Mark was dragged to death in the streets of Alexandria; Matthew was stoned like Stephen; Luke was hanged on an olive tree; Peter was crucified upside down because he said he was not worthy to be crucified in the same manner as his Lord.
            Our blood runs cold as we read Fox's Book of Martyrs of 1100 men and women who paid the supreme price. These believers were used as human torches in Rome to light Nero's courts; they were thrown to wild animals, andthey were stretched and pulled in half. All of history, and even the current world, reveal many noble martyrs for Christ.
          Christmas reminds us of the sacrifice of God the Father, and Good Friday calls to mind the willingness of God the Son to die for us.
            It is said that the greatest honor would be to die for Christ. If that is true, the greatest dishonor would be to refuse to do it. 
Pray for the little known and yet strategic city of Obninsk in Russia. This is where the first nuclear reactor was built by the former Soviet Union. It is a city of approximately 200,000 people and because of its intellectual status, has a tremendous opportunity to impact the entire nation. This city was once very open to the Christian Gospel with the mayor and other members of the city council having received Christ following the time the Iron Curtain came down. The subsequent election of a Communist mayor has thwarted the movement of the Evangelical church in Obninsk. The Orthodox Church is very harsh and successful in this intellectual and nuclear center of Russia. Pray for the Holy Spirit to tum the spiritual climate of this city around that they may once again hear the Gospel and respond.
''Death is the golden key that opens the palace of eternity."