The Christian faith, like anything else of exquisite value, is only pursued with great sacrifice. The freedom we enjoy as Americans comes to us as a legacy of a great price paid by each generation before us. The large and small privileges that have accrued to today's young people comes with the price having been paid by the preceding generation's resources. Even the wide array of choices today for countless African-Americans came, in no small measure, due to a Christian lady, Rosa Parks, who refused to sit in the back of the bus. There simply are NO free lunches in this world or the next!
The problem for most of us is that we want the benefits without all the sacrifice and hard work! True enough, for Christians, that we cannot save ourselves nor merit God's love and forgiveness. However, the grace which we receive so quickly comes with the legacy of Calvary: pain, separation, and death! The appropriate response in life for us must be obedience and discipleship. We MUST pay any price, go any distance, and bear any burden in order to do God's will and live a life for Christ! We're too much like children who want someone else to pay the ticket.
A mother was preparing pancakes for her 2 sons, the older 5 and the younger 3. The boys began to argue over who would get the first pancake. Their mother saw the opportunity for a moral lesson. "If Jesus were sitting here," she said, "he would say 'Let my brother have the first pancake, I can wait.'" Kevin turned to his younger brother and said, "Ryan, YOU be Jesus!"
The apostles were not men who shunned sacrifice. Though they did have moral failures of their own (like Simon Peter for instance), they lived in the wonder and power of the risen Christ carrying the Gospel to the far-flung reaches of the world. As heralds of the Good News, they suffered for their faith and most often met violent deaths because of their bold witness and lives.
Consider their fates.........
Peter and Paul - both were martyred in Rome about 66 A.D. during persecution under Emperor Nero. Paul was beheaded. Peter was crucified, and legend has it that his crucifixion was upside down at his request because he did not believe he was worthy of dying in the same manner as his Lord.
Andrew - preached in Asia Minor, modern-day Turkey, and in the "land of the man-eaters" or what is now Russia. Christians there claim him as the first to bring the Gospel to their land. Legend has him being crucified in Greece.
Thomas - the "doubter" was probably most active in the area east of Syria. Tradition has him preaching in India, where the ancient Marthoma Christians claim him as their founder. They believe he died there when pierced through with the spears of four soldiers.
Philip - possibly had a powerful ministry in Carthage North Africa and then in Asia Minor. There he supposedly converted the wife of a Roman proconsul, who in retaliation had him arrested and cruelly put to death.
Matthew - the tax collector and writer of the gospel book bearing his name went to Persia and Ethiopia. Some legends say he was not martyred while others say he was stabbed to death in Ethiopia.
Bartholomew - had widespread missionary activity, according to tradition, ranging from India with Thomas, to Armenia, and also to Ethiopia and Southern Arabia. Several versions exist of his demise.......all as a martyr for the Gospel.
James, son of Alphaeus - is one of at least three of the name James in the New Testament. This James is believed to have ministered in Syria. The Jewish historian, Josephus, reported that James was stoned and then clubbed to death.
Simon the Zealot - according to legend, ministered in Persia and was martyred after refusing to sacrifice to the sun god.
Matthias - was the apostle chosen to replace Judas. Tradition has him in Syria with Andrew and to death by burning.
John - is the only one of the apostles who seems to have died a natural death from old age. He was the leader of the Church in Ephesus and is said to have taken care of Mary the mother of Jesus in his home, as was assigned to him by Christ. He was exiled to the island of Patmos during the persecution of Domitian in the middle A.D. 90's, and there he received the Revelation from God which resulted in the last book of the New Testament. One legend has it that in old age his disciple, Polycarp, would bring him to the Church assembly and John could only speak over and over, "Brethren, love one another!" An early Latin legend has him escaping unhurt after being cast into boiling oil in Rome.
Few of us this week will be called upon to attain that level of sacrifice. However, ALL of us will be called upon to selflessly follow the Savior wherever He leads. What will we do? What we MUST do is to present ourselves as a sacrifice to God and let Him use us in His Kingdom's work right where we are. May God Himself empower you by His Spirit to do just that!
"I urge you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect." --- Romans 12:1-2 (NAS)