3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,
4 to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you,
5 who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.
6 In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials,
7 that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ,
8 whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory,
9 receiving the end of your faith–the salvation of your souls. 1 Peter 1:3-9 (NKJV)
Many times a Christian is ridiculed for using their faith as a crutch, or putting our hope blindly in a two thousand year old myth. Well to those who accuse us of using faith as a crutch, I would respond with a resounding “NO!”. Faith in Christ is no crutch to support the weakest in society, it is far more akin to a life support machine, without which we believers would be destined to an eternity in hell as a result of our sins, with the righteous wrath of our Creator heaped upon us. To the second accusation however, I would point out that by the grace of God, a Christian has all the evidence they need to find assurance that what they believe is the truth.
The opening text is written by the apostle Peter to the early church that was in a time of great persecution where the church was scattered throughout Asia Minor, and multitudes of Christian believers lost their lives in horrific circumstances. An accurate account of Christian suffering can be found in “Foxes Book of Martyrs”, but read through the following quote from the book which highlights the reality of Christian hope even when facing death, compared to the Pagan despair when faced with the same.
It has been said that the lives of the early Christians consisted of “persecution above ground and prayer below ground.” Their lives are expressed by the Coliseum and the catacombs. Beneath Rome are the excavations which we call the catacombs, which were at once temples and tombs. The early Church of Rome might well be called the Church of the Catacombs. There are some sixty catacombs near Rome, in which some six hundred miles of galleries have been traced, and these are not all. These galleries are about eight feet high and from three to five feet wide, containing on either side several rows of long, low, horizontal recesses, one above another like berths in a ship. In these the dead bodies were placed and the front closed, either by a single marble slab or several great tiles laid in mortar. On these slabs or tiles, epitaphs or symbols are graved or painted.
Both pagans and Christians buried their dead in these catacombs. When the Christian graves have been opened, the skeletons tell their own terrible tale. Heads are found severed from the body, ribs and shoulder blades are broken, bones are often calcined from fire. But despite the awful story of persecution that we may read here, the inscriptions breathe forth peace and joy and triumph.
Here are a few:
“Here lies Marcia, put to rest in a dream of peace.”
“Lawrence to his sweetest son, borne away of angels.”
“Victorious in peace and in Christ.”
“Being called away, he went in peace.”
Remember when reading these inscriptions the story the skeletons tell of persecution, of torture, and of fire. But the full force of these epitaphs is seen when we contrast them with the pagan epitaphs, such as:
“Live for the present hour, since we are sure of nothing else.”
“I lift my hands against the gods who took me away at the age of twenty though I had done no harm.”
“Once I was not. Now I am not. I know nothing about it, and it is no concern of mine.”
“Traveler, curse me not as you pass, for I am in darkness and cannot answer.”
The most frequent Christian symbols on the walls of the catacombs, are, the good shepherd with the lamb on his shoulder, a ship under full sail, harps, anchors, crowns, vines, and above all the fish. Foxe’s Book of Martyrs.
The untold thousands upon thousands of believers who have died in the past two thousand years have not revealed themselves to have nothing more than blind hope, but have believed the only true message of hope for all sinners; namely the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the ONLY true God made flesh, giving Himself freely for those who will believe and trust in Him alone for their salvation. It is a message once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3), that does not change, and is based upon the eye witness evidence of those who witnessed the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ during His earthly ministry. Speaking of the Gospel message, the apostle Paul writes:
1 Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand,
2 by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you–unless you believed in vain.
3 For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures,
4 and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures,
5 and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve.
6 After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep.
7 After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles.
8 Then last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time.
9 For I am the least of the apostles, who am not worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.
10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.
11 Therefore, whether it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed. 1 Corinthians 15:1-11 (NKJV)
The message we Christians believe is historical fact, passed from person to person faithfully and unchanging throughout the the last two millennia. This message, throughout history even to the present day, has led to men, women and children refusing to reject its truth, even when facing certain death or horrendous suffering at the hands of those who seek to destroy their faith. Are we really so foolish to believe every such person is either brave beyond imagination, or a stark raving lunatic? Is it not more likely that the hope they have is actually real? And the strength they find to hold onto such hope in the face of such unbearable horror, is graciously given them by a loving, unseen God and Father?
Reader be honest with yourself and decide where you stand before God Almighty, who has sworn to pour out His wrath at the promised return of Christ as Judge (1 Thess 1:10). Most will accept that death is a certainty we all have to face, but do you do so plagued by all manner of uncertainty, or do you do so with confidence of faith; knowing that your hope is based upon believing a message that has been faithfully passed on from generation to generation? I leave you with the often “not fully quoted” words from the apostle John showing there are only really two conditions of man, either justified and saved from the wrath of God to come, or already condemned as a prisoner on death row waiting for the dreaded call to come:
16 For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.
17 For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.
18 He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. John 3:16-18 (NKJV)