The Crown… or the Cross?
The murder of one of the last prominent and courageous Christian voices in Pakistan challenges us to contemplate the role of the Cross in believers’ lives.
The assassination this week of Shahbaz Bhatti, the Minister of Minorities in Pakistan, is a story that garnered some attention in the news, but for the most part was subsumed by other reports on related issues from the Islamic world.
Shahbaz was the only Christian in the national cabinet, a brave advocate of religious freedom before world forums and in his own land. The news that crowded his murder from the headlines included other assassinations; street protests; Christians being arrested; Muslim factional hatred; Christians fleeing their homelands; government crackdowns; Christian churches being invaded; piracy, kidnappings and murder; and Christian martyrdom, from lowly believers and pastors to prominent officials in several countries.
According to the BBC, “Mr Bhatti, 42, a leader of the ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), had just left his mother’s home in a suburb of the capital when several gunmen surrounded his vehicle and riddled it with bullets, say witnesses.” He routinely had been receiving death threats for urging reform of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws. “Pamphlets by al-Qaeda and Tehrik-i-Taliban Punjab, a branch of the Taliban in Pakistan’s most populous province, were found at the scene.” Tehrik-i-Taliban told BBC Urdu they carried out the attack.
Four months ago, Shahbaz said in a video, “I want to share that I believe in Jesus Christ who has given His own life for us. I know what is the meaning of [the] cross. And I am following… the cross,” he said. “I am ready to die for the cross.” He spoke these words calmly and with confidence. He knew he was reciting his own epitaph. Shahbaz was not a supernatural prophet – he surely knew the dangers to his life – rather he was a humble servant, an obedient follower.
Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will follow me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross (Matthew 16:24).
Shahbaz correctly pinpointed the center of our world’s coming crisis – not economies nor resources nor pollution; not even religion – but the cross of Jesus Christ. And the persecuted church, in so many of the world’s fiery corners, understands this. Despite the horrible treatment of uncountable Christian martyrs, now approaching one a minute, every day, around the world, that persecuted church is being purified, like gold in a fire.
While some Christians in the west concern themselves with the “Prosperity Gospel,” and debate universalist theories that everyone is going to Heaven, “if there is a Heaven,” Christ-followers and missionaries and martyrs elsewhere in the world work to “know Christ and make Him known.”
The “crown” is the exclusive focus of too many Christians. Christ promised an abundant life, certainly; but He offered, and warned, and promised, the burden (mysteriously, a glorious burden!) of the “cross.” Plausible Christianity is that the Crown awaits us in Heaven; and the Cross is our lot here.
“It is one thing to kneel at the foot of the cross for forgiveness; it is quite another thing to get on that cross to follow Jesus in His death. But it is the only way to live the resurrected life. This is what it means to be His disciple. When we live the crucified life, nothing can truly harm us. You can’t hurt a dead person.” So wrote a friend, singer/songwriter Becky Spencer, this week. “Our churches are filled with bored, dissatisfied Christians. Not because our God isn’t enough, but because most of them have only visited the cross once for salvation. It is meant to be embraced every day.”
I did not know Shahbaz Bhatti, but three of my close friends did, and I cannot say that I would speak his mind here, but his murder this week has me thinking more than ever about the persecution of Christians, and our proper response as believers ourselves – response not alone to the situation of martyrs, but response to Christ’s commission. And it all has to do with the Cross, the Cross.
Jesus came to save us from our sins, but not from the effects of our sins; nor the world’s persecution; nor evil, punishment, or sickness; because there is sin in the world. And, as He offers forgiveness from sin, it might be said that He did not come to grab us from hell or push us into Heaven. His ministry was to keep hell out of people, and put Heaven into us, so to speak. We are to do His work while we are here.
Christians often think we have to “close the deal” and assure that people have eternal life. But all we can do is quote the Promise. To presume that we can do any more might be to blaspheme the Holy Spirit, whose work this really is. Believers, by responding to the invitation to believe on Jesus, have a say in that; and God, of course, is the Judge.
So what is left? To servants like Shabaz Bhatti, and to missionaries in heathen areas (including -– think about it -– you and me, right in our neighborhoods), our work is to do Christ’s work. Here. And now. Working to keep hell out of people and planting a little Heaven -– by sharing belief in Jesus Christ who has given His own life for us, as Shahbaz testified; that He is not just one way, but the way to God – this must be our mission. And our privilege. And our Cross.
Jesus did not warn, but He promised, that the world will hate that message. It hated that message when He spoke it, and He was crucified on the cross. It hates that message when we speak it, and the world will likewise and therefore hate us. To take up the Cross and follow Him is not an option. It is as much a part of being a Christian as confessing Jesus as Savior.
The Book of Revelation tells us that to add or subtract a word from scripture is anathema, yet I would venture to say that in Heaven another verse has been added this week to Hebrews, Chapter 11. That book is “the Hall of Fame of Faith,” listing great heroes and martyrs of the faith -– many of whom did not live to see the fruits of their service and sacrifice. “By faith, Shahbaz…”
God bless you, brother. None of your countrymen will come closer to the Truth through the motives of a dozen cowardly murderers. But I pray that millions will see the Truth through your martyrdom, your purity of faith, your service to the cross of Christ. And He will be glorified. Amen.
In honor of Shabaz Bhatti and persecuted Christians worldwide: Click:
Anthem of the Persecuted
I want to acknowledge the words and wisdom of three friends who were privileged to know Shahbaz — Hope Flinchbaugh, Marlene Bagnull, and Dan Wooding, for whom this week has been trying; Becky Spencer (“sure you can quote me – the Holy Spirit doesn’t copyright inspiration!”); and insights I gained this week while researching a book of messages by Lyman Abbott.
|Rick Marschall is the author of more than 60 books and hundreds of magazine articles in many fields, from popular culture (Bostonia Magazine called him “perhaps America’s foremost authority on popular culture”) to history and criticism; country music, television history, biography and children’s books. He is a former political cartoonist, editor of Marvel Comics, and writer for Disney comics. For 10 years he has been active in the Christian field, writing devotionals; co-authoring The Secret Revealed with Dr Jim Garlow; and writing a biography of Johann Sebastian Bach for the “Christian Encounters” series to be published by Thomas Nelson (2011). Rick is a former Director of Product Development for Youth Specialties. He is recipient of the 2008 “Christian Writer of the Year” award from the Greater Philadelphia Writer’s Conference, and produces a weekly e-mail devotional, “Monday Morning Music Ministry.” His e-mail address is: AmericaCiv@aol.com.|