It is somewhat difficult to read about the martyred church from my recliner. As I have been blogging for the last couple of weeks on Revelation, I sit in my easy chair with a hot cup of coffee, breaking every now and then to get a snack. When it gets a bit warm, I turn on the AC. I sometimes walk out on my deck to get some fresh air, wondering, “What’s for lunch?” I can’t really say that I have ever suffered for my faith. In fact, I get a tax break for giving money to my church.
In today’s passage, we find two authoritative witnesses who prophesy to the world with signs, wonders, and powers. When their job is done, a monster from the Abyss kills them. Their bodies lay in the street while the inhabitants of the earth jubilate their demise. After three and a half days, God vindicates them by raising them from the dead. As they ascend into heaven, the earth’s inhabitances are struck with great fear and an earthquake kills a tenth of them. Those remaining are “very much afraid, and glorified the God of heaven” (v. 13). NT Wright points out that these two witnesses represent the Christian Church. Faithful witnesses to Jesus Christ will suffer and possibly die a shameful death. Judgment and calamity do not convert the world. What changes lives is the martyr-witness of the Church, i.e., the death of the saints. If that is true, what does that say about all-too-comfortable Christians and churches in the USA? What witness do we have to offer the world?
A few years ago, I heard an old Romanian Orthodox monk, Fr. Roman, at the Dormition of the Mother of God Orthodox Monastery in Rives Junction, Michigan. Fr. Roman has an inner glow about him. He literally shines. He gave his testimony about living in Communist Romania. He was arrested in 1948 and spent 5 years in prison for being an outspoken Christian. After he was released, he was under close surveillance. In 1959, he was arrested again and charged with being subversive to the State. He was sentenced to 18 years in prison of forced labor. Fr. Roman told us that he spent 4 years of those years in solitary confinement. No pencil. No paper. No TV. Nothing. He thought he would go crazy. Instead, it was there in that 6 by 8 foot cell that Fr. Roman experienced God. Fr. Roman found God with himself as his “mind descended into his heart.” The presence of God sustained Fr. Roman through all those years of imprisonment, forced labor, and solitary confinement. He ended his talk with this remark, “It is much easier to be a Christian in a Romanian prison than it is to be a Christian in America. In prison, Jesus was all I had. He was enough. In America, Jesus is only one of many things that battle for my attention and affections.” That last remark hit me on the head like a brick.
Could that really be true? Is it easier to be a Christian under communism, in prison, and solitary confinement than in America? As I reflect upon it now, it does make sense. Friendship with the world is more dangerous to faith than hostility from the world. It is easier to detect angry opposition than it is seduction. We only realize seduction after we have been seduced. Then it is too late! Have American Christians been seduced by the things of this world, especially money, sex, and power? It is one thing to be confined to a dingy Romanian prison cell with nothing in it and it is quite another to live in the land of abundance, pleasure, and opportunity. What if our witness today as American Christians is to die to all that? What if we said “No” to all the glitz, glitter, and gold? What if we nailed all our selfish desire, ambition, and status to the Cross? What if Jesus was all we had and He was found to be enough? Well, perhaps the world would take notice and glorify the God of heaven.