Following His Steps… to Caesarea Maritime
Caesarea stood as the pride of Rome. A symbol of strength on the Mediterranian Sea raising its’ fist against the Jewish population they ruled through brutal oppression. Here Herod the Great sought to show the world his might and prove that the Jews would forever be under his thumb.
From stadium seats surrounding the amphitheater, Rome made sport of slaughtering Christians. If a Jew refused to bow the knee to Ceasar, his punishment was sure. Lions would be released into the arena and would feast on their flesh, serving as entertainment to the foreigners of Israel.
While the beauty of this sea port is still evident today, the ground still cries out with the blood of the saints, persecuted and killed for refusing to deny the name of Jesus. Through their witness, faith in Christ lives on. The faith I now possess is testament of their dying love for the preservation of God’s truth.
Traveling with us is a persecuted pastor, imprisoned in the countries of Bhutan and Nepal for preaching the Gospel. In spite of regular beating and torture, he refused to deny his Lord to secure his freedom. As the book of Hebrews so aptly described him and those persecuted before him… “the world was not worthy of them”. How poignant to see John Monger stand on the same soil where other heroes of the faith gave their lives for their unwavering devotion to Christ.
I sat with John at lunch and asked about his 15 month imprisonment in Nepal. He was promised instant freedom in exchange for denying Christ. Was this a temptation hard to resist? I will never forget his answer… “There was no temptation,” he said. “It is impossible to deny Christ as Lord when He is truly Lord!”
When asked how he withstood the constant torture and beatings, he responded with a quiet smile. “It is a great joy- a privilege- to receive a beating for the Lord Jesus! Let me be beat… let me be spit upon… but never let me deny Jesus!”
Later last night we sat together again and chatted about his walk with Christ since his release from prison almost 20 years ago. He told story after story of the ways God reveals Himself to him daily. I walked away marveling at the blessed intimacy he shares with the Lord. I long for that too. But I am also keenly aware that such intimacy comes most often through persecution and trial. I do not wish for these things. I pray that God would change my heart to embrace those things most uncomfortable to me, that I would know some measure of such intimacy with my Savior.
I am reminded how little my faith costs me. Never have I sacrificed anything of great value for my Lord Jesus. Not once have I been placed in a position to choose life or death in His name. I once heard a statement I will not soon forget… "How can one expect to die for Christ, when he fails to live for Him?”
I am given daily opportunities to live for Christ; to take step after step in obedience to his quiet promptings. Each time I step out in faith I open the door for another opportunity to hear God’s voice and once again obey. And so goes a life of faith… step by step – obey once – obey again.
I have not yet been asked to suffer physically for Christ. But I have been nudged continually to step out in faith to do things I would rather leave to someone else. I have heard God’s call to tasks I know I cannot do in my own strength. He has drawn me in recent years far outside my comfort zone, and I have learned that comfort is over-rated when compared to the joy found in obedience. And with each “Yes Lord”, I am discovering a deeper intimacy I have not known before.
I likely have a long way to go to know even a measure of the intimacy with Christ John has come to know through his faithful witness. But God invites me nearer still through every quiet call to obedience and the opportunity to say “yes” with my choices that honor Him. As I do, I too can discover the sweet intimacy and overflowing joy John knows. I rest tonight knowing that God has a specific purpose for my life that might look vastly different than John’s, but through simple, daily obedience can both know a sweeter and sweeter intimacy with the God who created us for that very purpose. What a sense of joy I already feel for the promises of God guaranteeing a hope filled future for all of us who are called as His children! While I still have breath, there is much work to be done in His name. May I glorify Him with each step of my journey...