Friday, April 16, 2010

Challenging the Witness

A witness of the gospel lays his life down because of the gospel—this is inherent by the very word from which we derive our word for “witness” (“martyr”). A martyr is a witness and this requires faithfulness to the very end, whatever that may be. When we witness for Christ, we are taking a stand against all that is not for Christ; contrariwise, a witness for all that is not Christ is setting himself against all that is Christ. There is no middle ground.

Flesh and blood is not our enemy. The Lord Jesus Christ spent His flesh and blood to redeem flesh and blood that will repent. Our witness of what Christ accomplished is to flesh and blood, so this is not our enemy. Our adversary is the devil, who is always opposed to Christ and His glory. John’s revelatory vision communicates several vital principles in this regard that we would do well to attend.

Revelation 12 describes the vision of a great red dragon with seven heads, seven crowns, and ten horns. This dragon is standing before a woman (clothed with the sun, crowned with twelve stars and the moon is under her feet) about to give birth. Revelation 12:13 places the dragon not in the heavens (where he once was) but on the earth and it is on the earth that the dragon persecutes the woman who gave birth to the male child. We actually have many records of this event as it actually occurred in the past. The first is found in the heavenly realm; that is, in the sky, the stars themselves. The second is found on the earth, in the record of history. This record confirms the biblical record of what happened at Jesus’ birth. These are significant to review, for the work of Satan against Christ has not ceased.

The experience of the Magi provide an example of the work of Satan against the glory of Christ. Also, their experience is also directly connected with the imagery of the vision. Remember how the Magi came worship Jesus after His birth and they were prompted to do this by knowledge of biblical prophecies as well as the physical signs that took place in the skies—they watched both scripture and space. Computer programs (even free downloads, such as Skyglobe) can help us understand what the Magi saw, which is also exactly what John saw in his vision. If you use Skyglobe, set the location at “Baghdad” and the clock for 8:53 a.m., Sept. 4, 5 B.C. (we use a different calendar) and look eastward. The constellation “Virgo” (The Virgin) rises in the daytime (“clothed in the sun”) with the Moon at her “feet.” Above her “head” is a “crowning” galaxy cluster we refer to as M87 in the Virgo Cluster.

John’s vision also includes the fact that the dragon attempts to eat up the child. Looking down below “Virgo” we see rising another constellation: The Serpent. This constellation is divided into two parts in the sky: Serpens Caput (The Serpent’s Head) rises from under the “feet” of Virgo, and Serpens Cauda (The Serpent’s Tail) rises just after Ophiuchus, the Serpent Bearer. One might make the case that, since the dragon is said to be on the earth that Herod’s attempt to kill all the male children is a fulfillment of what is pictured in the vision. Add to the fact that the woman and child are led into hiding in Egypt until the treat is passed. The Magi learned first-hand about being a witness, for when the discovered Herod’s plot against the child, they left secretly. The persecution could easily have rolled back on them.

One wonders how the devil continues his work, as a dragon tries to swallow up the male child. The answer is easily given in any situation where Christ is introduced into a setting that is without Him. The level of persecution in the western world is minimal to the level experienced in other countries. Here, we may open-air preach to a crowd that turns it’s back to the speaker (it’s happened right in downtown Columbia). For the most part, we get a simple, “No thanks” when we try to share a gospel tract. Our brothers and sisters in other countries shed blood over the printing press so they can have gospel tracts. Publications like “Voice of the Martyrs” provides a more in-depth description of how people give their lives out of love for their Lord.

When we take a stand in the world for Christ, we should expect diabolical resistance, and this should not be a deterrent to sharing our faith. Anyone who has spent any amount of time in a gym knows that resistance increases stamina and strength. The lines are being drawn in the public arena about where one can and cannot carry on an evangelistic conversation. Our city has a policy in place that “protects” sponsored events. This can be both a positive and a negative. One example of a negative is that if someone is attending a sponsored event in a public park, I cannot stop or hinder that individual (regardless of their geography in relation to the sponsored event) even by conversation. If I also attended the event and had a spontaneous conversation with someone that in some manner makes the person uncomfortable, and they report this to the police, then I could be arrested—whether the conversation was evangelistic or if I dropped the term “republican” to a democrat. The positive side is that such ordinances protect individuals and there are plenty of times I have been grateful. They key in this specific case is to follow the prompting of the Holy Spirit and use tact.

Other kinds of resistance may be seen in neighborhood codes that prohibit the assembly of persons for religious reasons. Recent news has reported action based on a complaint of a neighbor that had “too many” visitors in a house at one time. Neighborhood officials have a responsibility to monitor traffic for safety, but they tried to take action when they discovered a Bible study was the reason for the draw. Shopping malls, too, have strict codes that prohibit “cold” conversation that may be construed as “soliciting.” The only way to enjoy unhindered ministry is to jump through some hoops and fill out an application to have the mall provide a table or kiosk.

Concerning worldview, however, the issues can be more complicated. World religions such as Buddhism are so nebulous, who can say which god is the right one to worship? Islam has long taught that one’s sin and righteousness are private matters between God and individuals, and such things are not a matter of discussion. Wiccans prize personal subjectivity except during practice (what one does is more important than what one believes—do what you like as long as you don’t hurt anyone). Wiccan Marion Weinstein says concerning morality, “This goal is different for everyone, so no one else can tell you what is right for you. And yet it is the same for everyone in this regard: anything which truly fulfills the self is the goal of magic.”

Followers of Christ still wrestle over the best response to these seemingly unanswerable issues, yet one fact remains: each person must stand before God on Judgment Day and each person must give an account for breaking God’s moral law and how he or she has responded to God’s remedy for sin in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. The gospel of the witness is not swallowed up in a flood of worldly ideology. Satan knows he is fighting a losing battle, the problem is that the men caught in between are not aware.

We can confront the issues of the world by living according to God’s Word and telling the truth. The world responds to amorality the same way God does, for the most part and I’ve tested this in our own downtown party-central. One night I approached some young ladies walking down the sidewalk and asked for their opinion regarding guys to tell lies, steal and/or cheat. Each girl got up on her soap box and shared some personal experiences. Then I turned the question around: have you ever done these things? Silence (their consciences got up on her own soapboxes, respectively). Then they understood how God saw their heart and, regardless of what one thinks, will stand before Him to give account—then what?

If I cared about what people thought of me, I would not share the gospel. Truth be told, there are many times over the years when I thought I cared what people thought of me, and I did shut up. Only then did I cease to be a martyr, I had misplaced values and had to repent and return. Faithfully serving Christ in the context of opposing worldviews and downright persecution is not something I can do out of myself. Christ is our message and it is under His authority we go into all the world, letting His Holy Spirit guide, teach, convict and regenerate those who receive the message.

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