Yes, we’re talking about King Jesus, the eternal One, focus of OT and NT, the God-Man, incarnate for a lost world, Head of the Church and King of the Kingdom. [of course, we can only stand up for the King if we stand up in the King…]
Recently I have been reminded of many who, over the centuries, have stood up for God (even though he can look after himself perfectly well), the Gospel, the truth, freedom and justice and all good things in the face of great difficulties.
A few weeks ago the world was reminded of the Tiananmen Massacre in Beijing, China, which took place exactly 25 years ago. Who will ever forget the picture of the lone figure who stood resolute, shopping bag in hand, before 4 massive Chinese tanks rolling forward en route to Tiananmen Square, ordered to suppress the students’ and commoner’s protests against the violation of human rights and barbarous suppression of the people. Nobody knows the fate of that lone protester on the road to Tiananmen, nor the number of protesters later killed on the square – some say a few hundred, some thousands. TIME ran the story of 3 brave students who were there, almost killed and somehow escaped the authorities to tell the world. As Jonathan Chan arrived at Beijing airport eager to escape China with a film roll in his pocket (rescued from his smashed camera), he walked to the front of the line and waited for the inevitable question from the airport official: ‘Were you on the square?’ ‘I was,’ Chan said, expecting to be detained. Frowning the official leaned in,‘Then go and tell the world’ the official said softly, before waving him through. That’s exactly what Chan and his two colleagues have been trying to do, despite much opposition, for the past 25 years. Wow!
Until recently few know the story of Gino Bartali, the Italian champion cyclist who saved many Jews from torture and death in Second World War Italy. A multiple winner of the Giro d’Italia and the Tour de France, he was invited to dedicate his victories to Il Duce Benito Mussolini, but refused, a very dangerous thing to do. Bartali, a devout Catholic, went on to act as a secret courier (concealing secret messages in his bicycle frame and handle bars) during the German occupation of Italy, helping to direct Jews and other endangered people to safety. If found out, he would immediately have been killed by the Fascist Secret Police. To the very end of his life he kept the story secret, telling his son, ‘You must do good, but you must not talk about it.’ (cf. Matt. chap. 6). Last September Bartali was posthumously awarded the honour of Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial and education centre in Jerusalem.
Further back in history, Johann Gerhard Oncken (1800-1884), determined to be baptised as a believer, and destined to become a great pioneer of the Baptist movement in Germany, suffered much in his youth for the sake of the truth and his faith, and was often fined and thrown into jail. Once the mayor of Hamburg held up his finger and said, ‘Do you see this finger? As long as I can move it, I will keep you down!’ Oncken answered, ‘Sir, I see your finger, but I also see an Arm that you don’t see, and as long as the Arm is stretched out over me, you cannot keep me down!’ Throughout his life Oncken refused to give way to fear and despair and completed the work God had entrusted to him.
Of course there is the great gallery of saints portrayed in the pages of the Bible (Heb. 11, etc). Think of Abel, Noah, Abraham, Joseph, Moses, Rahab, Gideon, David, Daniel, etc. How could we forget Queen Esther and Mordecai’s solemn challenge to bravely act before a pagan king on behalf of God’s captive people: ‘Do not think because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows that you have come to royal posititon (KJV, ‘to the kingdom’) for such a time as this?’ Esther failed neither Mordecai, nor God, nor his people nor herself.
Think of all those many thousands of ‘ordinary believers’ in the Early Church who confessed Christ publicly in baptism and served him openly as King, despite every coin reminding them that Caesar was God and Lord over all. Heb. 11:37ff, ‘They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and ill-treated – the world was not worthy of them…’
I’m about half-way through Eric Metaxas’ brilliant biography of my favourite theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, entitled Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy. What a feast! Following his academic achievements (PhD at 21, etc), studies in the USA, pastorates in Spain and England, warnings concerning the demise of the State Church in Germany, and then his appointment to head up the Confessing Church’s secret seminary at Finkenwalde in 1936, the Nazis with their evil anti-Jew ‘gospel’ (accepted by the ‘German Church’) upped their campaign against this brave young man. Quoting Metaxas, “Bonhoeffer strove to see what God wanted to show and then to do what God asked in response. That was the obedient Christian life, the call of the disciple. And it came with a cost, which explained why so many were afraid to open their eyes in the first place. It was the antithesis of the ‘cheap grace’ that required nothing more than an easy mental assent, which he wrote about in ‘Discipleship.’ Bonhoeffer ‘was a person about whom one had the feeling that he was completely whole,’ said one Finkenwalde ordinand, ‘a man who believes in what he thinks and does what he believes in.'” What followed was Hitler’s devilish Nuremberg Laws against Jews, the arrest of Confessing Church leader Pr. Martin Niemoller among many others, and the Nazis’ eventual arrest of Bonhoeffer himself. He was executed by Heinrich Himmler (chicken farmer-cum-head of the SS) in Flossenburg Prison at the age of 39 in 1945, a few weeks before the end of World War 2. He left us some very inspiring writings, some unfinished (Ethics), his little gem,‘The Life Together’ and probably his best known,‘The Cost of Discipleship’ (an exposition of the Sermon on the Mount). Of the latter one reviewer said, ‘it reveals a fine mind and a noble character; it gives some inkling of that vision of Jesus and his Church for which Bonhoeffer was ready to suffer torture and death.’
And what of us?? i.e. 21st Century followers of King Jesus here in South Africa? What about believers in the rest of Africa? What about believers in Europe and the West? What about believers in the Middle East and Far East?
We hope to humbly share some thoughts in PART 2…