By Jim Denison, Crosswalk.com
“Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints” (Psalm 116:15).
The Haitian gang that kidnapped seventeen missionaries on Saturday is demanding a ransom of $1 million for each person they are holding, for a total of $17 million. A top Haitian official reported the demand and disclosed that among the missionaries are five children—one an eight-month-old baby, and the others three, six, fourteen, and fifteen years old.
He added that negotiations could take weeks, explaining, “We are trying to get them released without paying any ransom. This is the first course of action. Let’s be honest: when we give them that money, that money is going to be used for more guns and more munitions.”
In other news, a plane carrying twenty-one people crashed near Houston yesterday. However, the New York Post reports that “miraculously, only one person was reported injured.” Looking at pictures of the plane’s wreckage, it indeed seems a miracle that any of the passengers survived.
So, here’s the question: If God “miraculously” protected these passengers in Houston, why did he not protect his missionaries in Haiti?
Hypersonic weapons and submarine missiles
Examples of our need for such protection abound, from record homicides in Portland, Oregon, to North Korea’s submarine ballistic missile test described as “possibly the most significant demonstration of the North’s military might since US President Joe Biden took office,” to China’s testing of a nuclear-capable hypersonic weapon that “surprised and alarmed US officials,” to an asteroid that “just zipped past Earth closer than the moon’s orbit.”
We know that God is “the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords” (1 Timothy 6:15). He “works all things according to the counsel of his will” (Ephesians 1:11) and “does all that he pleases” (Psalm 115:3). This is because “the Lᴏʀᴅ has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all” (Psalm 103:19).
Why, then, does he not intervene when danger threatens his people?
In Acts 12, we read that “Herod the king laid violent hands on some who belonged to the church. He killed James the brother of John with the sword, and when he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also” (vv. 1–3). If God did not spare James, it would seem that Peter’s life would soon be over as well.
But not so. God sent “an angel of the Lord” to free Peter from his prison cell and thus rescue him “from the hand of Herod and from all that the Jewish people were expecting” (vv. 7–11).
If Peter, why not James?
How Peter died
The question becomes more complex when we learn how Peter eventually died. Jesus had warned his lead apostle: “When you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go. (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God)” (John 21:18-19).
The First Epistle of Clement, written from Rome to Christians in Corinth around AD 96, stated: “Peter, who because of unrighteous jealousy suffered not one or two but many trials, and having thus given his testimony went to the glorious place which was his due” (1 Clement 5:4).
His execution most likely occurred after the fire of Rome, when Nero sought to transfer blame to Christians and persecuted them mercilessly (Tacitus, Annals 15:44).
According to the early church historian Eusebius, Peter was made to watch his wife’s execution first: “When the blessed Peter saw his own wife led out to die, he rejoiced because of her summons and her return home, and called to her very encouragingly and comfortingly, addressing her by name, and saying, ‘O thou, remember the Lord'” (Ecclesiastical History 3:30:2).
The apostle’s own execution followed: “He was crucified head-downwards; for he had requested that he might suffer in this way” (Ecclesiastical History 3:1:2). An early source describes his death this way: “Peter, having come to the cross, said: ‘Since my Lord Jesus Christ, who came down from the heaven upon the earth, was raised upon the cross upright, and he has deigned to call to heaven me, who am of the earth, my cross ought to be fixed downmost, so as to direct my feet towards heaven; for I am not worthy to be crucified like my Lord.’ Then, having reversed the cross, they nailed his feet up” (Acts of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul, Ante-Nicene Fathers 8:484).
Not a wall but a door
Why did God allow Peter to die in this way? Why does he allow missionaries to risk their lives and their children by serving him in dangerous places such as Haiti? Why does he allow you and me to face the suffering and pain of life on this broken planet?
This is obviously a very large conversation, but here’s one fact we often overlook: For Christians, death is not a wall but a door. It is not the end of life but the beginning of life we cannot imagine on this fallen planet (1 Corinthians 2:9).
Peter knew this to be true: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you” (1 Peter 1:3-4).
When we die, we simply step out of the car and go into the house. There we find God’s “inheritance” waiting for us in reward for our faithfulness. And there we will understand what we do not understand today (1 Corinthians 13:12).
I am not suggesting that we should not grieve for those who are in heaven today. If Jesus wept at the grave of Lazarus, we can weep at their graves (John 11:35). But I am suggesting that we do not “grieve as others do who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13). We have not lost them—we know precisely where they are and we know that we will join them. In fact, we are one day closer to that great reunion than ever before.
A lesson from a podcast host
I recorded a podcast last week with a host who made this profound statement: This world is the closest to hell a Christian will ever be. However, it is also the closest to heaven a lost person will ever be.
It is our job to help every person we know choose heaven now, knowing that the time is coming when it is too late to choose. C. S. Lewis noted, “When the author walks on the stage the play is over.” I cannot promise you that the Lord will return tomorrow, but I cannot promise that he will not.
In the meantime, believers can experience in this life something of what we will experience in the next. St. Augustine observed, “To fall in love with God is the greatest romance; to seek him the greatest adventure; to find him, the greatest human achievement.”
What romance, adventure, and achievement will you seek today?
Publication date: October 20, 2021
Photo courtesy: Thinkstock
For more from the Denison Forum, please visit www.denisonforum.org.
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