Blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in me.
Mat. 11, 6
The offence of the cross of Christ is so strong that it does not cease to influence the mortal man until his last hour on the earth. Do you think by chance the spirits of evil under heaven through malicious high priests and Pharisees suggested the Lord already on the cross, “If Thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross” (Mat. 27, 40)? However, glory be to the Lord, He was obedient to the will of His Heavenly Father unto death, even the death of the cross! He left an example for us for we follow His steps.
There is a witness about an event in the White Sea at the times when the Solovetsky monastery was turned into a prison, after which only a few were left alive.
Ten brethren-Christians for their faithfulness to the Lord were sentenced to death: they, half-naked, should have been put on ice and left there. The steamboat came to the edge of the ice wilderness spread in tens kilometers. Undressed brethren stood already on the deck. In the last minutes of life they carefully listened to the death sentence where only one condition was heard that could give them life: to renounce the faith in Christ Jesus. The captain of the vessel, hitherto unbelieving but sympathizing with the condemned, noticed that over the head of each sufferer for the sake of the name of the Lord a golden crown hung. Nobody but the captain noticed it. Suddenly one of the brothers began to hesitate asking to be left on the ship. The prisoner was “pardoned”.
Watching it the captain at once took off his overcoat, came up to the chief of the convoy and said, “Instead of him who renounced Christ I shall go on ice for I am a Christian!” They let him do it.
So, a surprising change happened: a free man voluntarily took the crown of martyr for Christ, and he who had this crown, denounced, lost the crown, lost salvation.
“…Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life” – the Lord commanded us (Rev. 2, 10). This strongest temptation: to avoid sufferings and to keep one’s life for oneself by the price of unfaithfulness to God and denying Him, should be opposed by our strong faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, by our faithfulness to Him and steadfastness even unto death.
John the Baptist, waiting in prison for execution, sent his disciples to specify from Jesus, “Art Thou He that should come, or do we look for another?” Jesus Christ by His answer strengthened his faith that He is really Who should come for saving the world and Who, by the witness of John himself, will baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire (Mat. 3, 11).
Out of nine blessings told by the Lord in the Sermon on the Mount great are the last two ones: “Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceedingly glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you” (Mat. 5, 10-12).
Later the Lord specified that reaching the last blessing goes together with more serious trial – even unto the death of martyr (many prophets were not just persecuted but also killed – Mat. 10, 21-22; 34-35; 24, 9-13).
In hard trials, the Lord encourages not only John the Baptist, but us too: “Blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in Me” (Mat. 11, 6). Childish trustfulness in the Lord is very simple.
Let us remember the clear answer of three young men to Nebuchadnezzar the king: “our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king”. It is one variant of outcome. If there is a deliverance before the mouth of the furnace, it will be done by God. Nevertheless, there is a possibility of another outcome, when He will let the trial with the very fiery furnace for us (that is, as if there will be no visible “deliverance”, and an inevitable death will follow it). “But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up” (Dan. 3, 17-18)
Thus, the core of temptation is to shake our faith in the omnipotence, strength and authority of the Lord and to bring our faithfulness to Him to nothing. No doubt, blessed is the man who completely trusts in his God. Even if the Lord let a fiery trial or even death – may His will be done! He Himself did lead us out of fire and of death into the eternal life. (Compare Is. 43, 1-3 with 2 Cor. 1, 8-11).
He, who has taken his cross and is following Him, has already sentenced himself to death for Christ’s sake. He solved this question once and forever. That is why no threats and no temptations can stop such a Christian following the Lord.
Nevertheless out of all baptisms stated in the New Testament, the baptism in fire including the hardest trials, that sometimes lead to death, are given to not many people. However, if there is the will of the Lord, all believers in Christ must be ready for them (1 Peter 1, 3-9).
Isn’t it that very gold of precious faith tried by fire suggested by the Lord to Laodicean church? She either must come through the fiery trial, or will be rejected by the Lord.
The Lord answered Zebedee’s sons who wanted to sit on the throne together with Christ in His glory that they were to be baptized with the baptism that He had on Calvary, but even in this case He didn’t promise to put them on His throne: he would sit with Christ, for whom it is prepared by His Father (Mat. 20, 21-23). However, to us, living in the Laodicean period, the Savior promises for certain: “To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in My throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with My Father in His throne” (Rev. 3, 21).
It is really the highest bliss: to be with Christ in His eternal Kingdom!
May the Lord help us to obtain this bliss by the power of the Holy Spirit for His glory!