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Holy Week Devotional: Willingness to Die

Holy Week Devotional: Willingness to Die

Dan Shields

The year was 1973. After a landslide victory, the closest advisors to the commander-in-chief felt confident in their position of ultimate power, the will of the people voted the administration and their beloved president in for 4 more years. They had plans for the country. Security, prosperity, change. To a man, they were not just faithful to Richard Nixon. They were almost fanatically committed. Chuck Colson, one of the president’s closest advisors said,

“We had sacrificed very lucrative private law practices, we had invested our whole lives in the work, 24 hours a day if necessary.”

He later claimed that he and his fellow advisors would have laid down their lives for their president. In return, they had gained enormous power, prestige, and privilege. This small group was arguably a collection of the most powerful men on earth.

But something was wrong. Terribly wrong. There were ominous forebodings that a storm was rising, one that could mean disaster for all of them.

An investigation had begun into charges of obstruction of justice in a case involving campaign spying, the theft of documents, and a subsequent cover-up. The Watergate scandal had erupted and would soon engulf them all.

Within weeks, these men who were fiercely dedicated to their leader began to drop one by one, turning State’s evidence, turning on each other, and ultimately turning on their beloved leader.

So, what does this have to do with holy week, the death and resurrection of Jesus?

Questioning the Resurrection

Modern critics of the claims of Christianity have a number of different angles they take to discredit the faith. But one of the most common and central critiques is to question the resurrection of Christ. Because they know if they can knock down this central pillar of the faith, the whole house comes tumbling down.

One of their main arguments was that the apostles fabricated the story of the resurrection for personal gain. For power, prestige and privilege.

The first question that we should have, of course, is what power, prestige or privilege were they aiming for? They knew they would be ostracized, hunted, persecuted and possibly killed. And all but one were. And he, the apostle John, was imprisoned in isolation till his death, all the while holding to the story that he witnessed the resurrected Christ. He knew that recanting and denying that audacious claim would mean freedom. Comfort. Peace. Seeing his beloved Israel again and his loved ones.

But all of the apostles of Christ went to their deaths holding to this claim.

And they weren’t the only ones. Countless early disciples saw their possessions taken, their families imprisoned or killed, and had to run for their lives until they too were hunted down and killed in the most gruesome of ways. The disciples of Richard Nixon, when pressure mounted, dropped one by one, admitting to their lies. They too faced loss; loss of power, loss of reputation, for some, the loss of freedom.

But their lives were not in jeopardy. Their families were not in danger. Even their financial situation, though less stable, was not totally at risk. At worst these men would face ridicule, and possibly a short time in a white-collar prison. But then they would write their memoirs in books into books, do interviews on TV, justify or rationalize their actions, and life would go on. They would probably come out wealthier than they were before. Yet, all of them to a man jumped ship. Those men who said they were devoted to death turned tail and ran. Every man for himself. When the cost outweighed the benefits, they abandoned their leader.

Abandon the Leader

And the disciples of Jesus at first did the same. Their leader was dead. So were their hopes for the future. They all ran for their lives. Every man for himself.

But a few short days later everything changed. The disciples facing the loss of everything dear to them would not deny that the saw Jesus raised from the dead, regardless of the cost to them.

We must ask why. Why would they be willing to give up their very lives? And there, I believe, is only one logical reason for this.

It was that the benefit far outweighed the cost. It was that they actually saw the risen Christ, knew He truly was God Himself and knew one day very soon, if faithful, they would spend their eternity with Him. There was no earthly thing they stood to gain. Only loss. But if what they witnessed was true, they had only gain from obeying, even if it meant losing everything. As Jim Elliot once famously said,

“He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”

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