This month, our meditation has been excerpted from the book entitled Extreme Devotion, compiled by the Voice Of the Martyrs. In the following passage, a Russian Christian provides us with fodder for reflection and perhaps application:
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? (Romans 8:35)
It was getting late, and the Russian Officer had beaten and tortured Paulus for many hours. "We are not going to torture you anymore," he said, smiling brutally when the Christian looked up. "We will send you instead to Siberia, where the snow never melts. It is a place of great suffering. You and your family will fit in well."
Paulus, instead of being depressed, smiled. "The whole earth belongs to my Father, Captain. Wherever you send me I will be on my Father's earth."
The captain looked at him sharply. "We will take away all you own."
"You will need a high ladder, Captain, for my treasures are stored up in heaven." Paulus still wore a beautiful smile.
"We will put a bullet between your eyes," shouted the captain, now angry.
"If you take away my life in this world, my real life of joy and beauty will begin," answered Paulus. "I am not afraid of being killed."
The captain grabbed Paulus by his tattered prison shirt and screamed into his face, "We will not kill you! We will keep you locked alone in a cell and allow no one to come see you!"
"You cannot do that, Captain," said Paulus, still smiling. "I have a Friend who can pass through locked doors and iron bars. No one can separate me from the love of Christ."
A moment of consideration: Many times we've heard of attorneys "practicing" testimony with their clients, due to concern that the clients will falter during testifying, concern that opposing legal counsels will be able to coerce damaging admissions from their clients, concern that the clients will contradict themselves under cross-examination, etc. Paulus, incarcerated in a Russian prison, had his own "legal" professional--the Lord's Holy Spirit. How was Paulus groomed or prepared for the grilling by the prison captain? We don't know the particulars, but his responses to the Captain's threats lead one to believe that he had committed Scripture to memory and could bring forth riposte to the menacing of the officer, based on secreted verses. What Scriptures came to Paulus' mind as the Holy Spirit led him through the questioning? Let's take a look:
- Lay up treasures in heaven. (Matthew 6:19-21)
- For the earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof. (1 Corinthians 10:26)
- For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain... My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. (Philippians 1:21,23b)
- Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, fear Him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. (Matthew 10:28)
- Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, sword? (Romans 8:35; Acts 12:6-8)
The Holy Spirit brought these to mind from Paulus' store of hidden memory verses, to make application to the situation at hand. He took God's Word very seriously, when it instructed him (and us) to: "Be on guard. For they will deliver you over to councils, and you will be beaten in synagogues [churches] and you will stand before governors and kings [rulers] for My sake, to bear witness before them...And when they bring you to trial and deliver you over, do not be anxious beforehand what you are to say, but say whatever is given you in that hour, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit." (Mark 13:9,11) Paulus' smile bespoke confidence, presence of mind, and trust in the Holy Spirit and God's written Word. These passages in Mark 13 warn us, as signs of the end of the age, to be on guard--to seriously take God's Word and His Spirit as we enter a very tenuous period of time.
Where is our treasure located--that which we seek and store up? During the arguments from the prison captain, worldly possessions meant nothing. To those imprisoned for having attended an election rally on January 6th, worldly possession meant nothing. To Christians around the world, abused and attacked by those in authority positions, and in positions within majority groups, worldly possessions mean nothing. Yet in each situation, God's Word, the presence and activity of the Holy Spirit means everything. In our lives, what has it meant to us that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ? How important is Christ in our lives? In times of duress, such as the times we now live in, a practiced faith--one that has stood the test of time and of opposition, becomes crucially important. Have we been amassing treasure here on earth, or richly storing up treasures in heaven? Is there anything in our lives that serves to separate us from Christ and His love? Do we dread the future and fear death, or see the future that lies beyond the veil, and yearn to see our Lord face to face, in heaven? Do we protect our “patch” of earth or see our Father’s world as our fields of opportunity?
When persons stand against us, as followers of Christ, how shall we respond? Shall we respond with equanimity, with peace in our hearts and minds? Jesus, in John 16:33, told His followers about the looming tribulation/tumult--that they might have peace during trials and great troubles and suffering. Christ has overcome the world's vehemence. His Spirit, the Comforter, will accompany us through the conflagration approaching us. His peace reigns within us as we focus on the Lord and His Spirit. The apostle Paul exhorted the congregation in Colossae to "Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful." (Colossians 3:12-15)
Consider, for a moment, the comportment of Paulus, prisoner in Russia. What demeanor did he evince? The responses he made to the acerbic Captain suggested that he had peace, confidence and trust in the Heavenly Father, Paulus' Savior, and the Holy Spirit. This permitted him to speak calmly to the prison official, to respond kindly to angry people. If Paulus were transferred to Siberia with his family, could he convey his learned confidence and trusting peace to them, as they and he struggled through their lives there? It would be hoped that he might be able to do so. When our own time of testing comes, if it does, let us not fear, but may we know our Savior through our personal relationship with Him, remember the verses hidden within, and trust in the Holy Spirit speaking through us, to friend or foe. May God’s rich and amazing grace be upon, remain with, and enable us to weather the gathering storm--for we serve Our Lord who commanded the winds and the waves to cease, during a squall on the Sea of Galilee. May Lord Immanuel abide with us now, and may we in turn abide with Him.