“Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.” What a marvelous promise God gives us in these words from the book of Revelation. God promises us the crown of life as his gift to us.
But God also calls us to faithfulness and loyalty, even to the point of death. In my mind I think of all the heroes and heroines of the faith down through the ages who gave up their lives because of their Christian convictions. Peter and Paul and all the apostles. James of Jerusalem, Polycarp and Lawrence and countless others who suffered martyrdom because they believed in Christ.
In more recent times I think of Roman Catholic Archbishop Oscar Romero of Central America and Dietrich Bonnhoeffer, a Lutheran pastor and theologian in Germany. Both of these Christians gave up their lives in the face of persecution by the state, because they believed in Christ.
Indeed, I think of all those today who remain faithful to Christ and who are “persecuted for righteousness’ sake.” There are countless Christians in our lifetime who are suffering under persecution, many of them faithful unto death. It has been said that there is more persecution of Christians in the past two centuries than ever before in the history of the church. In the words of the of book of Hebrews, “We are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses.”
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At the same time I think of so many others who — while they do not suffer death — endure severe privation because of their faith. There are the many faithful witnesses who, out of their devotion to Christ, experience isolation and hostility from others. They remain quietly faithful to Christ in spite of personal abuse and scorn. Nevertheless, quietly and faithfully they maintain their faith as part of their daily lives.
I know many Christians like that, and I am sure that you do too. It is our calling, and our challenge, to be faithful in all we do to the One who has redeemed us and given us life.
For that is what Jesus promises to us and to all who follow him. He promises us the “crown of life,” fullness of life and newness of life. “I am the way, the truth and the life,” said Jesus.
It is this life that Jesus has given to us. Not just physical life, but spiritual life, life in the Spirit. He promises to forgive us. He promises to open the future to us. He promises eternal life for us in the future, overcoming even the powers of death for us.
Bu he also crowns our days with life now, in the present. He forgives our sins and crowns us with his grace and mercy. He gives us hope and joy, peace and security in him. In the midst of our daily lives, he promises to be with us as our comfort and support. As we struggle to be his faithful people today, he assures is that he is by our side at all times.
And always before us is the crucified Jesus, whom God raised from the dead. We hear him today as he calls out to us, “Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.”
Paull E. Spring is the pastor at Emmanuel Lutheran Church in State College. He can be reached at Pastorspring2@verizon.net.