I woke in the night and turned to look at the clock. One in the morning. My heart sank. I didnít think I could endure five more hours in bed. Many nights I get up at this point, go lie on my inversion table for a bit, take a hot shower, take a pain reliever, sit in the recliner with the heating pad, and when the pain eases off, I go back to bed. But this night, for some reason, the pain shooting down my spine, firing my ribs and burning between my shoulder blades brought to mind a picture of persecution. Not mine, but that of many of my brothers and sisters in Christ. Christians in various dark corners of the world are deliberately subjected to this level of pain and much, much more. I burst into tears. How could they endure it? Why did they endure it?
Unlike me with my garden-variety back pain, experienced in the comfort of my own home with many tools for relief at hand, my persecuted fellow Christians suffer cruelties at the hands of hostile torturers, in extreme cold or debilitating heat, in filth and hunger, with no prospect of relief unless they deny Christ, betray others, or commit some other unconscionable act. I thank my sweet and mighty Jesus, who ministers to these saints with his presence and his strong love, helps them endure to the end, and sometimes turns the hearts of their tormentors to repentance and salvation.
My sweet and mighty Jesus. Who has ever suffered greater and less deserved persecution than the One who created us? Think of what it meant for him to know what would happen when he came to earth to save us, and choose to do it anyway.
The Creator of our nerve endings, invented so that we could feel a babyís skin, a warm breeze, a soft kiss, knew that His would be wracked with excruciating pain. When he was designing our miraculous skin, He knew we would tear his to shreds. While modeling our muscles, he knew that sharp bits of lead and bone would rip through his. Before he formulated the complex components of our blood, he already knew that his blood would spill along the courtyards and streets of Jerusalem, and drain away on a criminalís cross. As he precisely arranged all the delicate bones of our hands and feet, surely he was thinking of the spikes that we would drive through his limbs, to stick him to a beam of splintery wood and hang him up for the world to spit on. How could he endure it? Why would he endure it?
It was for love.
It always comes back to love. Jesus was not caught and taken against his will, his plans suddenly gone awry and everything falling to pieces. Rather, he was working out his plan to fill his kingdom with people who could love. Love requires free will, and free will contains the possibility of choosing betrayal and hate instead of love. Knowing this from before time, he decided he would take care of the consequences of that truth, and made us anyway. At the right time, he laid aside his scepter and joined us planetside. He exemplified perfect love for us, perfect sinless living, and perfect divine wisdom. Then he let us hate him, betray him, and execute him as an outlaw.
God died for us. But death isnít that strong. It isnít strong enough to keep Love in the grave. By submitting himself, the only possible perfect sacrifice, to pay the penalty for every manís sin, Jesus conquered death for all of us, for always. John 11:25-26 records Jesusí words: ďI am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die.Ē
This is how and why our brothers and sisters endure their persecution. And this is why I can endure the oh so slight affliction I am asked to bear. It is the very, very least I can do, for Love.
Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:16-18