* presented to our 125-plus campers and adults at Youth Camp, 2015
One day a young man was writing a letter to his girl friend who lived just a few miles away in a nearby town. Among other things, he was telling her how much he loved her and how wonderful he thought she was.
The more he wrote, the more poetic he became. Finally, he said that in order to be with her he would suffer the greatest difficulties, he would face the greatest dangers that anyone could imagine. In fact, to spend only one minute with her, he would climb the highest mountain in the world. He would swim across the widest river. He would enter the deepest forest and with his bare hands fight against the fiercest animals.
He finished the letter, signed his name, and then suddenly remembered that he had forgotten to mention something quite important. So he added: P.S. I will be over to see you Wednesday night as long as it doesn’t rain.
Well, I am not so sure that this man was as dedicated to the relationship as he thought he was.
Allegiance (dictionary.com); 1. the Allegiance of a citizen to his or her government or of a subject to his or her sovereign. 2. Allegiance or devotion to some person, group, cause, or the like.
Many adults in our congregations do not provide the proper influence: Every congregation has a problem with allegiance. Fifteen percent of the membership give 85 percent of the contributions; 15 percent of the membership do 85 percent of the work. We need to do better, don’t we? Many are choosing too often sporting events, entertainment activities, or family events ahead of church meetings that are weekly a part of our congregational schedules.
Just curious, as we begin: will you be part of this effort to make a change?
“Many a man proclaims his own loyalty, but who can find a trustworthy man?” (Prov. 20:6).
Millions of people will profess allegiance to Christ. But who is truly loyal to him? The proverb says that most who claim to be good and loyal are not. Are you truly loyal to Christ? Am I?
Even the apostle Peter wavered in his loyalty to the Lord after His arrest. Peter beforehand told the Lord, “Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny You” (Matt. 26:35). Yet we read further on in the chapter and see that Peter denied the Lord three times (Mt. 26:69-75). It is far easier to claim allegiance to Christ than to actually show it in the face of trials and conflicts.
Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other” (Mt. 6:24). We cannot be loyal to Christ and loyal to another master.
Luke 5:1-11 (NIV)
1 One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret, with the people crowding around him and listening to the word of God,
2 he saw at the water’s edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets.
3 He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat.
4 When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.”
5 Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.”
6 When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break.
7 So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink.
8 When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!”
9 For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken,
10 and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will catch men.”
11 So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.
The Gospels are filled with a variety of responses to Jesus. Some people were curious about Him; others were impressed by His teachings; still others were astonished by His deeds.
Some people came to see or receive a miracle. Others came to hear His wisdom in hopes that they would live wiser as a result.
But all of these responses fell short of Jesus’ radical request to follow Him. That’s what a Christian is: A “Christ-follower.” We forsake our allegiance to this world, we follow Jesus, and we win others to Him. According to the Gospel of Luke, that’s what the first disciples did when they encountered Jesus: “They left everything and followed Him.”
Reading Mark 8:34-37 in Eugene Peterson’s The Message (published by NavPress), offers some additional color: Calling the crowd to join his disciples, he said, “Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat; I am. Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to saving yourself, your true self. What good would it do to get everything you want and lose you, the real you? What could you ever trade your soul for?”
You just read the price tag of discipleship. How much does it cost? Everything.
Matthew 20:20-28 (ESV)
20 Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came up to him with her sons, and kneeling before him she asked him for something.
21 And he said to her, “What do you want?” She said to him, “Say that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.”
22 Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?” They said to him, “We are able.”
23 He said to them, “You will drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.”
24 And when the ten heard it, they were indignant at the two brothers.
25 But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them.
26 It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant,
27 and whoever would be first among you must be your slave,
28 even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
I present these verses different than most. Yes, they did not understand the nature of the kingdom, and yes, it was not their’s to ask for…BUT this mother wanted her sons to work for the Lord of Lord and King of Kings…and Jesus acknowledged that they would “drink my cup,” which is not small thing!
Acts is a book of change. It records a time of decision-making, a time to “obey now” or to reject the call of Jesus. It reveals the apostles’ continual quests for answers and their urgent pleas for men and women to respond to the drawing power of the grace of God.
The reader is struck with the truth that the story of Jesus called for drastic and immediate changes. This book tenders no middle ground—no safe haven for the one who delays a decision, no comfort for the doubter, no sympathy for the one who wants to try some middle-of-the-road solution.
Each story tells of either firm commitment or rejection, sometimes even angry rejection that turned into persecution for the preacher. This is reminiscent of Jesus’ strong statement “He who is not with Me is against Me; and he who does not gather with Me scatters” (Matthew 12:30).
Acts is a book about courage and commitment, not compromise and convenience! It is a book of crusading for Christ; it is a stirring account of commitment to a cause. Though costly, sometimes even to the giving of one’s life, faithful following of Jesus is demonstrated fully in this book.
No sacrifice was too great for the disciples when they considered the sacrifices already made by the Father and His Son. Each case of conversion in Acts was a costly commitment. Jesus had said that commitment to Him would first take self-denial (Matthew 16:24).
Jesus accepts no less than our best. Half-and-half Christianity is insufficient. Friendship with the world is “hostility toward God” (James 4:4). The only way to follow Jesus is to do so wholeheartedly, 100 percent, being absolutely and totally given to His service. The great and first commandment is still to love God with one’s whole heart, soul, mind, and strength (Matthew 22:37, 38).
Matthew 10:16-39 (NIV)
16 I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.
17 “Be on your guard against men; they will hand you over to the local councils and flog you in their synagogues.
18 On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles.
19 But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say,
20 for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.
21 “Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death.
22 All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.
23 When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another. I tell you the truth, you will not finish going through the cities of Israel before the Son of Man comes.
24 “A student is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master.
25 It is enough for the student to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If the head of the house has been called Beelzebub, how much more the members of his household!
26 “So do not be afraid of them. There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known.
27 What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs.
28 Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.
29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father.
30 And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.
32 “Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. 33 But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven.
34 “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to turn “‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law–
36 a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’
37 “Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; 38 and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.
What Happened to the Apostles?
We talk today about the ‘doubt’ of John the Baptist and Thomas. Lest we speak too harshly, it would be good for us to realize their life was everything we’d want ours to be: faithful to the end! The apostles were promised they would be persecuted, and some would have to drink the cup of death (Matthew 10:25; 20:23; Mark 14:31, 36; John 13:37; 15:20, 17:1); history and tradition also tell us that the apostles gave their lives for Christ:
- James the son of Zebedee (James the Great) felt Herod’s sword in 44 A.D., the first apostle to die (Acts 12).
- Philip, after preaching in upper Asia, was scourged, thrown in prison, and then crucified in 54 A.D. at Heliopolis in Phrygia.
- Matthew, after preaching in Parthia and in Ethiopia, was slain in A.D. 60 by a halberd at Nadabah, Ethiopia.
- James the Less, at 94 years, after being beaten and stoned by the Jews, “finally had his brains dashed out with a fuller’s club.”
- As to Peter, “Jerome saith that he was crucified, his head being down and his feet upward, himself so requiring, because he was [he said] unworthy to be crucified after the same form and manner as the Lord was.”
- Jude (Thaddeus), brother of James the Less, was crucified at Edessa, 72 A.D.
- Bartholomew, after preaching in India, was “cruelly beaten and then crucified by the impatient idolaters.”
- Thomas’ ministry in Parthia and India was ended with a spear thrust.
- Simon Zelotes evangelized in Mauritania, Africa, and Britain before his crucifixion in 74 A.D.
- Matthias was stoned at Jerusalem and then beheaded.
- Andrew’s service was in Asia; at Edessa he was baptized in suffering, being “crucified on a cross, the two ends of which were fixed transversely in the ground.”
- The beloved John, at the command of anti-christ Domitian, was exiled “in the isle that is called Patmos, for the word of God, and for the testimony of Jesus Christ” (Revelation 1:9). After being recalled from Patmos by Domitian’s successor, Nerva, John died peacefully (cf. John 21 :22-23).
- After Paul had been stoned, left for dead, beaten with rods, jailed for years, he still aspired to “fill up . . . that which is lacking of the afflictions of Christ” in his flesh (Colossians 1 :24). He is said to have been beheaded by Nero in Rome. (by Hugo McCord, The Beatitudes)
Romans 8:18 (ESV)
18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.
Romans 8:38-39 (ESV)
38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers,
39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
The young man said nothing else as he stood before the Roman governor, his life hanging in the balance. His accusers pressed him again, hoping to trip him up or force him to recant. But once more he answered with the same short phrase. “I am a Christian.”
It was the middle of the second century, during the reign of emperor Marcus Aurelius.1 Christianity was illegal, and believers throughout the Roman Empire faced the threat of imprisonment, torture, or death. Persecution was especially intense in southern Europe, where Sanctus, a deacon from Vienna, had been arrested and brought to trial. The young man was repeatedly told to renounce the faith he professed. But his resolve was undeterred. “I am a Christian.”
No matter what question he was asked, he always gave the same unchanging answer. According to the ancient church historian Eusebius, Sanctus “girded himself against [his accusers] with such firmness that he would not even tell his name, or the nation or city to which he belonged, or whether he was bond or free, but answered in the Roman tongue to all their questions, ‘I am a Christian.’ ”
…When at last it became obvious that he would say nothing else, he was condemned to severe torture and a public death in the amphitheater. On the day of his execution, he was forced to run the gauntlet, subjected to wild beasts, and fastened to a chair of burning iron. Throughout all of it, his accusers kept trying to break him, convinced that his resistance would crack under the pain of torment. But as Eusebius recounted, “Even thus they did not hear a word from Sanctus except the confession which he had uttered from the beginning.”3 His dying words told of an undying commitment. His rallying cry remained constant throughout his entire trial. “I am a Christian.”
For Sanctus, his whole identity—including his name, citizenship, and social status—was found in Jesus Christ. Hence, no better answer could have been given to the questions he was asked. He was a Christian, and that designation defined everything about him.
This same perspective was shared by countless others in the early church. It fueled their witness, strengthened their resolve, and confounded their opponents. When arrested, these courageous believers would confidently respond as Sanctus had, with a succinct assertion of their loyalty to Christ. MacArthur, John. “Slave.” Thomas Nelson, 2010-12-28
Allegiance is a great thought! The most precious commodity is Allegiance. It thrills us. A beautiful story comes out of World War II. It was in the heat of battle; it was terrible. Anybody out on the battlefield was going to die. The word came that a certain boy had been shot and was dying. This boy had a friend back behind the lines whom he had saved at one time. He came and said, Sir, I am going out because my friend is shot and will die. The commanding officer said, You are crazy. You are nuts.
The boy said, I have to go. He said, I will not stand in your way. If you feel you need to go out, then go. He left and the battle raged on and many were shot and killed. But, finally, the boy came back. The commanding officer said, You are stupid. You could have died. That boy was shot and he was going to die. Why jeopardize your life? But the friend had an answer. He said, Sir, I went out and it was bad. I came upon my friend in his dying moments. He looked up at me and said, I knew that you would come.
In that one statement is all that life is worth. I knew that you would come. That is Allegiance. When a man looks at you and makes that statement, it is the greatest tribute he can pay you.
The First Persecution, Under Nero, AD 67
The first persecution of the Church took place in the year 67, under Nero, the sixth emperor of Rome. This monarch reigned for the space of five years, with tolerable credit to himself, but then gave way to the greatest extravagancy of temper, and to the most atrocious barbarities.
Among other diabolical whims, he ordered that the city of Rome should be set on fire, which order was executed by his officers, guards, and servants. While the imperial city was in flames, he went up to the tower of Macaenas, played upon his harp, sung the song of the burning of Troy, and openly declared that ‘he wished the ruin of all things before his death.’ Besides the noble pile, called the Circus, many other palaces and houses were consumed; several thousands perished in the flames, were smothered in the smoke, or buried beneath the ruins.
This dreadful conflagration continued nine days. When Nero, finding that his conduct was greatly blamed, and a severe odium cast upon him, determined to lay the whole upon the Christians, at once to excuse himself and have an opportunity of glutting his sight with new cruelties.
This was the occasion of the first persecution; and the barbarities exercised on the Christians were such as even excited the commiseration of the Romans themselves. Nero even refined upon cruelty, and contrived all manner of punishments for the Christians that the most infernal imagination could design.
In particular he had some sewed up in skins of wild beasts, and then worried by dogs until they expired; and others dressed in shirts made stiff with wax, fixed to axletrees, and set on fire in his gardens, in order to illuminate them. This persecution was general throughout the whole Roman Empire, but it rather increased than diminished the spirit of Christianity. In the course of it, St. Paul and St. Peter were martyred.
The Second Persecution, Under Domitian, AD 81
The emperor Domitian, who was naturally inclined to cruelty, first slew his brother, and then raised the second persecution against the Christians. In his rage he put to death some of the Roman senators some through malice, and others to confiscate their estates. He then commanded all the lineage of David to be put to death.
A law was made, “That no Christian, once brought before the tribunal, should be exempted from punishment: without renouncing his religion.” A variety of fabricated tales were, during this reign, composed in order to injure the Christians. Such was the infatuation of the pagans, that, if famine, pestilence, or earthquakes afflicted any of the Roman provinces, it was laid upon the Christians.
Another hardship was, that, when any Christians were brought before the magistrates, a test oath was proposed, when, if they refused to take it, death was pronounced against them; and if they confessed themselves Christians, the sentence was the same.
The Third Persecution, Under Trajan, AD 108
In the third persecution Pliny the Second, a man learned and famous, seeing the lamentable slaughter of Christians, and moved therewith to pity, wrote to Trajan, certifying him that there were many thousands of them daily put to death, of which none did anything contrary to the Roman laws worthy persecution.
“The whole account they gave of their crime or error (whichever it is to be called) amounted only to this –viz.. that they were accustomed on a stated day to meet before daylight, and to repeat together a form of prayer to Christ as a God, and to bind themselves by an obligation — not indeed to commit wickedness; but, on the contrary — never to commit theft, robbery, or adultery, never to falsify their word, never to defraud any man: after which it was their custom to separate, and reassemble to partake in common of a harmless meal.”
The Fourth Persecution, Under Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, AD 162
Polycarp, hearing that persons were seeking for him, escaped, but was discovered by a child. After feasting the guards who apprehended him, he desired an hour in prayer, which being allowed, he prayed with such fervency, that his guards repented that they had been instrumental in taking him. He was, however, carried before the proconsul, condemned, and burnt in the market place.
The proconsul then urged him, saying, “Swear, and I will release thee; — reproach Christ.”
Polycarp answered, “Eighty and six years have I served him, and he never once wronged me; how then shall I blaspheme my King, Who hath saved me?”