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By Rev Charles Seet

Preached at / Published Life BPC 10:45 am service, 2005-08-21

Text: Acts 6:8-15; 7:54-60

There is a price that we must be willing to pay, to make our Lord's name known. And that price may even include death. This is what we are going to see in our study of the Book of Acts this morning, which takes us to the account of Stephen, who became the very first martyr of the NT church. 

Dearly beloved, there may come a time when, like Stephen, we may have to make the ultimate sacrifice - to die for the sake of our commitment to Christ. The Bible forewarns us that in the end times, there will be widespread persecution, perhaps even in countries where Christians never faced persecution before. Christ foretold this in Matthew 24:7-9 'For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences and earthquakes in divers places. All these are the beginning of sorrows. Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for My name's sake.'

The world may soon be heading toward a new era where all nations will come under one government. There will emerge one person with extraordinary ability, who will win the hearts of all the world's nations. Perhaps he will successfully solve the most difficult global issues like terrorism, rising oil prices, economic survival, inflation, global warming, poverty, the bird flu and AIDS epidemic. He will be given full authority to rule the world but will institute changes that will make it impossible for anyone to buy or sell without receiving a special mark. Christians who refuse to receive the mark of the Beast will then find themselves marginalized and persecuted. How will we cope in such a situation? A clue to this can be found in Revelation 12: 11, 'And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death.' Are you afraid to lose your life for Christ's sake? Are you like Stephen, who loved not his own life unto death?

Besides Stephen, another example of a believer who loved not his life unto death is the apostle Paul. He is mentioned in our text of Scripture as the young man in v.59 who took care of the clothes of those who martyred Stephen. This young man, Saul who was involved in Stephen's martyrdom, was himself to be martyred for the sake of Christ.

Let us turn our Bibles to Acts 20:22-24 where Paul tells the elders of Ephesus: 'And now, behold I go bound in the spirit unto Jerusalem, not knowing the things that shall befall me there: save that the Holy Ghost witnesseth in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions abide me. But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and he ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God.'

After saying this Paul sailed to Israel and came to the coastal city of Caesarea, which is just a few miles from Jerusalem. Here a Christian prophet named Agabus met him. Let us read Acts 21:11-13 to see what happened: 'And when he was come unto us, he took Paul�s girdle (belt), and bound his own hands and feet, and said, Thus saith the Holy Ghost, So shall the Jews at Jerusalem bind the man that owneth this girdle, and shall deliver him into the hand of the Gentiles. And when we heard these things, both we, and they of that place, besought him not to go up to Jerusalem. Then Paul answered, What mean ye to weep and to break mine heart? for I am ready not to be bound only, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.'

Paul then left for Jerusalem, and there was a scheme by a band of Jews to kill him, but it was foiled. Instead he was arrested and later taken to Rome for trial. Later on, after he was sentenced by the Roman Emperor to be executed he wrote these words to Timothy, still expressing the same willingness to sacrifice his own life for the sake of Christ. In 2 Timothy 4:6-8, he wrote: 'For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love His appearing.' Shortly after this, Paul was beheaded by the Roman Emperor Nero.

Dear Friends, one day it may be your turn to face the choice between death and denying your Lord. What will your response be? Will you be willing to die for Christ? Will you be willing to sacrifice all that you have for Him? Now, before you can say that you are prepared to die for Him, there are three things you should first understand about this sacrifice: The first is:

I. The Motivation for sacrifice: Christ

The motivation for sacrifice should not be anything less than Christ Himself. In our text of Scripture we see how Stephen was motivated by nothing else but his fervent devotion to Christ. In v.55 he looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing on the right hand of God, and his heart was filled with love for the one who had given His life for him on the cross. This enabled him to sacrifice his life for Christ. 

Now some people may be willing to sacrifice themselves for other reasons: Because they are motivated by the thought of attaining personal glory, the thought of becoming famous or respected, and having their names memorialized in history as heroic death-defying martyrs. Suicide bombers today will go willingly to their deaths because they believe that it gives them a guaranteed place in heaven with 70 virgins. Brave soldiers sometimes engage in battles because it gives them the chance to become great heroes, for whom future generations will sing praises and build monuments. But this should not be our motivation. 

Some may be willing to go to the very limit of sacrifice for some great human leader they love, and some for a famous movie star or entertainer they idolize. When Elvis Presley and John Lennon died, some of their most fanatic fans took their own lives. There have been cult leaders like Jim Jones and David Koresh whose followers sacrificed their lives. Such willingness and fanatic zeal may amaze us, but we ask: is it really worthwhile to give up one's life just because some famous person or leader who is also a sinner like you and me, has died? Human life is much too valuable to be thrown away like that. It is foolish to lose one's life for something or someone that is not worthy. 

But our Lord Jesus Christ is worthy. He is not just any man. He is the unique only-begotten Son of God, the firstborn of all Creation, He is the eternal Living Word through Whom God created all things. He alone is worthy above all things, of any costly sacrifice, since He is the source of all life itself. 

And if Christ has saved us and has become our Lord, then there are three more things that must motivate us to be willing to die for Him. Firstly, our lives rightfully belong to Him. Our lives are no longer our own, but Christ's. We have been bought with His own precious blood. And therefore, if we are called upon to live, then let us live for Him, and if we are ever called upon to die, then let it also be for Him. 

Secondly, we must remember that Christ has died for us. Jesus sacrificed His own life for our salvation. Dying for Him is not doing something that He Himself would not do for us. If I am willing to die for Christ, I would only be doing what He was willing to do for me. 

Thirdly if we have to die for Him, we obtain the privilege of becoming like Him not only in life, but also in death. In Philippians 3:10, the apostle Paul expressed his desire to know Christ, to know the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His suffering, being made conformable unto His death. Since our Lord was slain by men for the sake of God's Kingdom, it actually becomes the privilege of all who follow Him to be slain for the same cause, if it is required of us to be so. Let us turn our Bibles to I Peter 2:21 'For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow His steps.' If the Lord so chooses us to glorify Him by suffering persecution for His sake, let us therefore regard it as our great privilege to suffer for Him, and to demonstrate our willingness to suffer for Christ's sake by putting up no resistance at all, but allow ourselves to be afflicted or killed like a lamb being brought to the slaughter. 

Having seen what the motivation for sacrifice should be, we can now go on to see how far, or to what extent we should go in our sacrifice:

II. The Extent of Sacrifice: Death

In our Scripture text we observe that Stephen was willing to go to is the very end of life itself. No one can go any further than that. When the Jews dragged him out of the city and stoned him, Stephen surrendered his life. According to v.59 his dying prayer was, 'Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.' Death is the greatest price that anyone can pay, because it means losing the most basic and fundamental thing we need in order to exist in this world and partake of all the experiences that life in this world offers. Life is very precious to us - it must not be given it up easily. You have only one life to live, and therefore it should be protected and preserved.

And yet, as precious as life is, there ARE things that are MORE precious than life itself. Christ is the source of all life. Without Him life would not existence at all. And the Word of Christ provides the purpose of all life. Without it life would have no meaning at all. The glory of Christ is the object of all life. Without it, life would have no direction at all. Life is not an end in itself. It finds total fulfillment only in Jesus Christ, through Whom and for Whom all things exist. 

For this very reason, Stephen prayed in v.59, 'Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.' It is obvious from this that Jesus was worth more to Stephen than keeping his life. Are you able to say the same thing as Stephen? Is Christ more precious to you than life itself? Are you willing to go to the very limit of your existence for His sake? 

And do you know that Jesus wants you to have such willingness to go to this extent? In the book of Revelation 2:10 He says: 'be thou faithful unto death.' What this means is that Christ expects each and every one of us to be faithful to Him even to the extent of dying for His sake. In Matthew 10:38, 39, He says to us: 'He that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of Me. He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that looseth his life for My sake shall find it.'

These are very serious and sobering words to anyone. We cannot take them lightly. Matters involving life and death are always of utmost importance. To most people who live in this world today, the thought of losing one's life brings the greatest fear. What is it like to die? How does it feel to breathe your last breath, and to close your eyes for the last time? Death is one of the greatest causes for fear in this world. The fear of losing one's life is one of the greatest driving forces in life. And for this reason, people will usually do anything to avoid death, or to postpone it as far as they possibly can. Because life is precious, millions of dollars are often spent on medicine, health care and nutritious food to preserve life and prevent death.

And yet as Christians, all of these considerations have to be weighed against what our commitment to Christ demands from us. We must be willing even to lose our life for the sake of the Lord. Now this does not mean that we should purposely seek to have ourselves killed. I could easily get myself killed instantly for Christ's sake if I were to take the next flight to the southernmost part of the Philippines and preach the gospel to the extremist Muslim groups there. But that is not what the Lord wants me to do. What it means is that as I live out my Christian commitment in the place where God has placed me, I must be willing to give anything to do God's will. And if it does comes to the point where I have no other choice but death, in order to do the will of God, then so be it.

Now, our Lord knows that this is not an easy thing at all for us to do. That is why the Scriptures provide so much encouragement to us to help us to cope with situations like that. Let us turn agaon to Revelation 12:9-11 - 'And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil and Satan, which deceived the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him. And I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, Now is come salvation and strength, and the kingdom of God, and the power of our God, and the power of His Christ: for the accuser of our brethren is cast down, which accused them before our God day and night. And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto death.'

What this passage prophesies is that the great conflict of the ages between God and Satan will finally be won. We will have an important part to play in that victory, and that one of the ways that we will overcome Satan is through our willingness to die for Christ. Think about that: The loss of our lives can bring about really wonderful results for all eternity. This thought should encourage us, when the time comes, to be completely willing to make this sacrifice.

This brings us to the third and final point of our message this morning: 

III. The Attitude of sacrifice: Unhesitating Willingness

By this I mean our willingness must not be reluctant, grudging nor half-hearted. It should be a full and decisive willingness from our hearts. This alone will glorify Christ. In the passage from Acts we read, we see how Stephen gave up his life without the least complaint or hesitation. With his last breath, he even prayed that God would forgive those who were responsible for his death. 

There are many other Christian martyrs who have followed Stephen's example by such firm willingness to give their lives for Him. The impact they made was so great, that up till today their last words are still remembered and preserved for us. One such martyr was a pastor named Polycarp. Polycarp was from Smyrna, a city in Asia Minor. In his time the Roman Empire was persecuting Christians for refusing to worship the Roman emperor. When Polycarp refused to worship the emperor he was arrested and taken to the arena to be condemned to death. 

In the arena the Roman governor gave him one last chance to escape death. This was Polycarp's reply: 'For 86 years I have been his servant, and he has never done me wrong: how can I blaspheme my King who saved me?' The governor replied: 'I have wild beasts. I shall throw you to them, if you don't change your mind.' Then Polycarp said, 'Call them, we cannot change our mind if it means a change from better to worse.' The governor said, 'I'll have you destroyed by fire, unless you change your mind.' Polycarp answered, 'Your fire will burn only for a time and will soon be extinguished. There is a fire you know nothing about: the fire of the judgment to come and of eternal punishment, reserved for the ungodly.'

The governor was amazed and immediately gave orders for Polycarp to be burned alive. Just before the fire was lit, Polycarp prayed a prayer like Stephen's, 'O Father of thy beloved and blessed Son, Jesus Christ.... I bless Thee for counting me worthy of this day and hour, that in the number of the martyrs I may partake of Christ's cup, to the resurrection of eternal life of both soul and body in the imperishability that is the gift of the Holy Spirit...' When he finished his prayer, the fire was lit and great flames shot up. What a wonderful testimony!

Now having this kind of willingness is perhaps the hardest part of it all. To be able to make the irrevocable decision of submitting to death without the least hesitation for Christ's sake, is not easy for anyone to do. If you were to ask me right now, whether I would be able to do that, the only thing I can tell you now with all honesty, is that if I faced such a reality right now, I would have to spend time agonizing in prayer and pleading with the Lord earnestly to give me all the strength and courage to say, 'Thy will be done' and then surrender myself to die for Him.

This is because there are some who may hastily and without much thinking, boast today that they are very willing to die for Christ, but when the situation really comes, they quickly back out of it. Let us be careful to think through the whole thing carefully: whether we really are willing to sacrifice our life for Christ. Even Peter and the other disciples at the Last Supper claimed boldly with heroic spirits that they were most willing to give up their lives. You will see this if you turn your Bibles to Matthew 26:33-35 'Peter answered and said unto him, though all men shall be offended because of thee, yet will I never be offended. Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, That this night, before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice. Peter said unto him, though I should die with thee, yet will I not deny thee. Likewise also said all the disciples.'

We know all too well what happened after that: When Christ was really arrested, all the disciples forsook Him and fled. Peter, who had been the most outspoken in his boasting, denied that he even knew Christ at all, three times. Let us be careful lest we make the same mistake as the disciples by hastily boasting that we are most ready to die for our Lord anytime. Let us prayerfully beg the Lord to grant us the strength and courage we need from God to do His will. 

And there is a more important matter that we must settle before the Lord this morning if you want to be willing to die for Christ, you first must be willing to live for Him. If you are not willing to even live for Christ how then can you be willing to suffer and die for Him? So let us first settle the matter of whether we are committed enough to live our lives daily for Christ, before thinking of whether we are committed enough to suffer and die for Him. 

And what will this cost us? For some of us, the cost of living for Jesus will consist of the loss of convenient comfort, the loss of our sense of security, or the loss of our leisure time. For others among us, the cost may involve going the second mile, or stretching ourselves to our limits, whether physically, mentally, emotionally or spiritually.

For instance, every Saturday evening a group of young people from our church spend their time at Orchard Road not to enjoy themselves in worldly amusements as may other young people do at that time, but to witness for Christ. Although some passer-by are willing to listen to the gospel there are many who reject them and give them cold responses. Every first and third Sunday a team of Lifers go to a housing estate for door to door evangelism. They also face their share of cold responses and have doors slammed in their face. Some others sacrifice their Sunday afternoons by going up to Kota Tinggi to teach the little children at the Sunday School there - they sometimes have to endure the long jams at the causeway on their way there and back. Every month there are some who come with either Pastor Wong or me to Batam. Every quarter, some will accompany Elder Sng to Tg Uban just to reach out to a few lost souls there. Every Saturday afternoon there are Lifers who sacrifice their time to help in the Kids Club ministry.

Dearly beloved, let us be willing to serve the Lord in whatever way we can - In making mission trips, in teaching in our Kids Club, Sunday School or Children's ministry, in bringing our friends and loved ones to church to hear the Word of God. Please get yourself involved in some area of service for the Lord, or get yourself equipped to serve. Doing this will involve some kind of sacrifice in time, in effort or in forsaken opportunities for personal advancement, but each of us must be willing to make whatever sacrifices the Lord requires of us. As our Lord and master, Jesus Christ deserves nothing less than our full compliance with His will, and our total willingness to give Him our very best.

Dearly beloved, is Christ truly your Lord and Master? Are you giving Him what He deserves from you as your Lord and Master? What price are you willing to pay to do His will? Let us examine our life today with these questions. 

And if you find that your life has not measured up to His standards of discipleship, please take steps to make sure it does from now onward. The Lord wants each and every one of us to serve Him and follow Him. Listen to His words in John 12:25,26 'He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal. If any man serve Me, let him follow Me; and where I am, there shall also My servant be: if any man serve Me, him will My Father honour.'

Vision & Mission

 

To build a united church family that is committed to making disciples through Salvation, Sanctification and Service, to the glory of God.

Verse for the Week

December 3 & 10 - Holy Living

Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness, 2 Peter 3:11