“Would you tell him about the lions?”
I heard that question asked once in an interview with Bill Hybels and Dallas Willard. They were talking about one of Willard’s books entitled The Great Omission and in the midst of that interview the above question was asked by Hybels of Willard.
“Would you tell him about the lions?”
As listeners we were asked to let our imaginations travel back to the first three centuries of the church’s history. We are part of a local church probably meeting in a house in one of the cities of the Roman Empire. One of the Caesars is in control in Rome and as they were wont to do every so often, this Caesar has called for a persecution of Christian wherever they might be found.
You take Jesus’ call to evangelism seriously and so even though you know that it could cost you your life, you are witnessing to one of your friends at work. You are telling him about Jesus Christ and the fact that he died to pay the penalty for his sin. You are inviting your friend to put his faith in Jesus so that he can experience forgiveness and eternal life.
The Romans have an interesting way of disposing of people like you. When you get caught sharing your faith, you are arrested. You are put into prison until such time as they can use you as the main attraction in the arena. The show is called the Christians and the lions. You and a bunch of other Christians are sent out onto the arena floor and then a bunch of hungry lions are turned loose. The idea is to see how long you can survive before the lions have you for lunch.
With the possibility being that you could become supper for the lions, you still have the courage and commitment to share your faith with your friend. In challenging your friend to become a Christian, do you tell him about the lions? Do you tell him that becoming a Christian could cost him his life.
What does it mean to imitate Jesus?
Despised – rejected – sorrows – suffering – not esteemed – stricken – smitten – afflicted – pierced – crushed – punishment – wounds – iniquity – oppressed – slaughter – oppression – judgment – cut off – crushed – suffer – poured out his life – numbered with transgressors.
We are called to imitate Jesus. Our lives are to reflect his. As people look at us, they should see Jesus in our actions.
The above list of words are all taken from Isaiah 53, the most descriptive Old Testament passage prophesying about the life and death of Jesus.
In describing the relationship between Jesus as the master and his disciples as the students Jesus said this in Matthew 10:24:
A student in not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master.
Jesus suffered and eventually died to bring us salvation. Thousands of Christians have died over the centuries because they believed that they were called to imitate Jesus.
So today in our nice safe Canadian setting, do we still need to tell people about the lions?
The early followers of Jesus
The most feared opponent of Christianity in the very early church was a rabbi named Saul of Tarsus. A fanatical Pharisee he lived his live with one purpose in mind, wiping out this new faith called Christianity. He arrested the followers of Jesus, threw them into prison and would gladly have killed them all if that had been possible.
Then something miraculous happened. This radical opponent of the Christian faith met Jesus and became just as radical a follower of Jesus as he had been an opponent.
You know the story how he was blinded by the light, how he went to Damascus, how he stayed there until God sent a man named Ananias to restore his sight and to tell him what God had planned for him. The commission that Ananias brought to Paul was not your every day commission.
This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel.
So far so good. It sounds like a pretty good deal to me. Paul is going to be a special instrument, chosen by God himself, to take the gospel to the whole world but it isn’t going to be just the ordinary people to whom he will preach. He is going to talk to royalty.
But then comes the lions. Ananias goes on and shares the final part of God’s message:
I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.
It certainly was an accurate prophecy. Paul didn’t face actual lions but he did face almost everything else.
Do we tell them about the lions?
So do we tell people about the lions?
In sharing our faith do we tell people that becoming a Christian involves commitment to Jesus as Lord? Do we tell them that it could involve sacrifice and suffering?
I listened to a preacher some time ago who finished his sermon with an alter call. He told people that becoming a Christian was as simple as praying a prayer. Once you prayed that prayer you were forgiven and on your way to heaven. He obviously didn’t believe in saying anything about the lions.
Moving beyond sharing our faith with unbelievers, how often do we talk about the lions in our preaching or even in our conversation as Christians? Do we talk about Christianity in terms of sacrifice or just in terms of the blessings that God gives.
There has been a lot of discussion over the years as to whether or not one has to accept Jesus as Lord in order to become a Christian. Some would suggest that lordship is an essential element of the gospel while others would suggest that it adds an element of works. This entry isn’t about trying to solve that issue but I do know that whether one can become a Christian apart from accepting Jesus as Lord, one cannot become a disciple unless he acknowledges his lordship.
Do we tell our people about the lions? If we are serious about seeing people become true disciples of Jesus Christ with all that means, the answer has to be a resounding “yes.”
It is interesting that with all that early Christians faced including the lions at various points in the first three centuries in the history of the church, by the end of that time Christianity had defeated the Roman Empire and become the dominant religion of the Mediterranean world.