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Saturday, February 25, 2012

Weekend Snippet: Bought Without Money or Cost

Earlier today, I read another news report about the impending death penalty for Iranian Christian pastor Youcef Nadarkhani and contemplated the response this brave man gave his captors, "Repent means to return. What should I return to? To the blasphemy that I had before my faith in Christ?"  According to the wording of the constitution of Iran, he has been labeled a "national apostate" because he was conceived by Iranian Muslims, but converted to Christianity later.  This makes him eligible for death by hanging if he does not "repent" or recant his faith.  His sentence could be carried out at any time.

I bring this up to call attention to those who suffer for the cause of Christ, especially in Eastern countries.  I won't deny that some of us Westerners do face mortal threats and other extremes of persecution for our faith, but generally, we enjoy relative security from our governments, and even a small measure of protection from our neighbors.  We should use this freedom wisely, and pray for those who do not have what we've been given.

I was thinking about this in light of a passage I recently re-read in my personal Bible study.  Chapter 55 in Isaiah talks about the extension of the new covenant to include Gentiles, such as myself and Mr. Nadarkhani.  It begins with an invitation to "buy wine and milk without money and without cost" (v. 1), extended to all who are thirsty, and even those who have no money.

Obviously, this marketplace is a symbol for a spiritual gift extended to all people, a foreshadowing of Christ's salvation "to all who believe" (Romans 3: 22 NIV).  There is another interesting element in this invitation, which I wanted to point out today.  There is no payment being required, because nothing could pay for this, yet those who are invited, are invited to buy.

I looked this up in Matthew Henry's commentary, and his take on it was that the recipients were called "buyers" because there is a cost for following God, and the thing we are seeking has a value.  What God offers is not to be taken lightly, like we sometimes do with free things.

This is an often misunderstood aspect of Christianity.  The sacrifice of Christ is free to us, and we cannot purchase our salvation through any of our own efforts, but when we choose to follow Him, there will be moments when we have to fight to keep our faith, and resist challenges to our faith and life.  There is a cost for following Christ.  Mr. Nadarkhani is currently facing it.

Some people might wonder why Christians hang on like they do in the heat of persecution.  The next verse in Isaiah answers that question: "Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and you will delight in the richest of fare" (Isaiah 55: 2 NIV).  What Christians have found is too good to give up again, and it is too good to ever want the old fare again.  Since it is so valuable, to the extent that it is not equaled by anything else, and satisfaction for our deepest needs can be found nowhere else, it is worth any sacrifice in order to keep it.

This is why the Iranian Christian's profession of faith while he was on trial is so blunt, to the extent that his words likely troubled those he was talking to.  Frankly, when you realize that something is rubbish, you lose patience with efforts to "make nice" and call it something good, and that is what I see here.  He has found something more valuable and satisfying than Islam, and it even outweighs concerns for his family and his own life.  He is trying to challenge his captors, so they will see his certainty, and thirst for what he has found.

I don't know how this is going to end, but right now, there are still things that Christians should pray for in this situation.  I pray that every word Mr. Nadarkhani speaks to his jailers will come from God, so there will be a good return on what is said (see Isaiah 55: 9-11), and I am praying for a miracle, not unlike when Peter walked out of prison aided by an angel (Acts 12: 1-19).  If it comes to his execution, I pray for peace and comfort in the hearts of this whole family, so that no one falters or loses faith over this.

I know that God is real, and His power is not checked by any human challenge, so whatever comes, this battle has already been won.  It is not occasion for despair, but it should be sobering for other Christians.  It should cause us to examine our own hearts and lives, and ask the question, "What is my faith costing me?"  If the answer isn't clear, then maybe our faith is too weak, and we should be taking a stronger stand.  After all, we have found the Living Water, and it is too good to give up easily.
Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4: 13, 14 NIV)