On Friday, March 23, 2018 a French police officer heroically offered himself up in a swap for hostages after an armed Islamic militant, identifying himself as a “soldier of the Islamic State” and yelling “Allahu akbar,” went on a murderous rampage in France that left at last four people dead and 15 injured. Lt. Col. Arnaud Beltrame, 44, died sacrificially as a hero in a response to the diabolical attack.
French President Emmanuel Macron said in a statement that Beltrame “showed exceptional courage” and “In giving his life to end the deadly plan of a jihadi terrorist, he fell as a hero.”
The world is filled with heroes and cowards. Contrast Beltrame’s breathtaking heroism with the spineless cowardice of Islamacists and school shooters who massacre innocent and unarmed civilians to perpetuate godless agendas.
Or note the incredible contrast between the cowardice of the Florida shooter, Nikolas Cruz, who murdered 17 innocent and unarmed people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, with 15-year-old Anthony Borges, whose classmates testified that he had used his body as a human shield to protect his fellow students and was shot five times.
Note the heroism shown by the school’s assistant Football Coach, Aaron Feis, who died as a result of throwing himself in front of students to shield them from a hail of Cruz’s bullets.
We can see a further contrast with the sacrifices made by Beltrame Borges and Feis with the actions (or lack of action) of Parkland school resource officer, sheriff deputy, Scot Peterson. President Trump slammed the Florida deputy and said he acted like a coward for refusing to intervene while 17 people, mostly children, were being murdered:
“He trained his whole life. When it came time to get in there and do something, he didn’t have the courage or something happened, but he certainly did a poor job — there’s no question about that … He was there for five minutes, for five minutes that was during the entire shooting. He heard it right at the beginning, so he certainly did a poor job … But that’s a case where somebody was outside. They’re trained. They didn’t react properly under pressure or they were a coward.” (Source)
Earlier this month, the movie Tortured for Christ, was seen in theaters across the country, which is based on the sufferings of Pastor Richard Wurmbrand. I had the privilege of seeing Richard Wurmbrand give his testimony when I was a young Christian. He was unable to stand for long periods because the communists had repeatedly beaten his feet with a stick.
In 1945, after the Soviet Union had occupied Romania with one million troops, they sought to consolidate allegiance of religious groups to the new atheistic state by holding a “Congress of Cults”. This assembly featured a live broadcast of speeches given by various “Christian” leaders, extolling the virtues of atheistic communism to the whole nation.
Richard Wurmbrand and his wife Sabina, who were Jewish converts to Christ, were among the 4000 delegates in attendance. They sat horrified as they watched one professing Christian leader after another deny Christ by swearing allegiance to the murderous Communist regime.
Sabina, heart broken over the blasphemous betrayal of so many professing Christian leaders, looked at her husband and said, “Will you not wipe the spit from the face of Christ?” Richard responded by saying, “If I do, you’ll lose your husband.” Sabina, replied, “I would rather be married to a dead man than to a coward.” Such convicting words by the pastor’s wife inspired Richard Wurmbrand to risk his life. He stood up and gave a stirring speech, declaring that the duty of Christians is to glorify the Lord Jesus Christ alone and not the state.
After sharing the gospel with countless communists in publications disguised as communist propaganda and leading communist soldiers to Christ, Richard Wurmbrand was kidnapped by the secret police in 1948 as he walked to church. He would spend the next 14 years in prison, including solitary confinement as “Prisoner Number 1”. He was repeatedly tortured for praying and sharing the gospel with others. He would later write:
“It was strictly forbidden to preach to other prisoners. It was understood that whoever was caught doing this received a severe beating. A number of us decided to pay the price for the privilege of preaching, so we accepted their terms. It was a deal; we preached and they beat us. We were happy preaching. They were happy beating us, so everyone was happy.” (Richard Wurmbrand, Tortured for Christ, Living Sacrifice Book Company, 1998)
His beloved wife, Sabina, was imprisoned a couple years later in 1950 and forced to undergo hard labor on the Danube Canal project.
How often do we examine our hearts and resolve to refuse to be a coward and act heroically when the situation presents itself? As Christians, we would be wise to continually cry out to God to give us hearts to not just act heroically when duty calls, but to live heroically for Jesus every day. Each and every day presents its own challenges whereby we are called to live for the Lord and refuse to give into temptation or peer pressure. Each and every day we are setting a good or bad example for those around us, whether they be our children, spouses, friends or brothers and sisters in Christ. If we are unwilling to live heroically for Jesus every day, how will we be able to stand in the most evil day?
I say we need to pray because it is not enough to say we will stand during times of crisis. Think of the apostle Peter, who resolved to refuse to deny Jesus, even exclaiming, “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death” (Luke 22:33). A short time later Peter denied the Lord three times. Peter had great intentions, but he relied on his own strength and placed his confidence in the flesh rather than the Lord. As a result he failed to heed Jesus’ warning, “Watch and pray so that you will not enter into temptation. For the spirit is willing, but the body is weak” (Matthew 26:41).
The church is about to enter into a time of great darkness on the earth, with greater and greater testing and danger on the horizon. Tragically, Jesus warned that many would not be prepared to endure such a time and will fall away:
“Then they will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations because of My name. At that time many will fall away and will betray one another and hate one another. Many false prophets will arise and will mislead many. Because lawlessness is increased, most people’s love will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end, he will be saved” (Matthew 24:9).
In the Book of Revelation, which Jesus addressed to the churches (Revelation 22:16), Jesus contrasted heroes and cowards. We read in Revelation chapter 21 verses one through seven about the new heaven and new earth that will be prepared for the overcomers. In verse eight, just after the overcomers are highlighted, we read the list of the damned who will go to he lake of fire. Note that the list of the damned are headed up by the cowards:
“He who overcomes will inherit these things, and I will be his God and he will be My son. But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death” (Revelation 21:7-8).
The overcomers are defined in the Book of Revelation as those who maintain their faith and confession in Christ and His shed blood, even to the point of death:
“And they overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony, and they did not love their life even when faced with death” (Revelation 12:11).
A.T. Robertson, perhaps the greatest Greek scholar the U.S. has ever produced, points out in his book, Word Pictures of the New Testament, that the Greek word translated “cowardly” in Revelation 21:8 is an “Old word, and refers to those, who recanted under persecution.”
In Ceslas Spicq’s, Theological Lexicon of the New Testament, he states of the Greek word “cowardly” in Revelation 21:8:
“When Rev. 21:8 places the fainthearted [cowardly] and the unbelieving in the lake of fire, it has in view Christians during times of persecution who, out of a fear of suffering, renounce their faith. It is a commonplace that human courage and cowardice are revealed in the face of death” (Ceslas Spicq, Theological Lexicon of the New Testament, Hendrickson 1994, I:301).
When facing suffering for the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, we must rely on the Lord’s grace and the power of the Holy Spirit to empower us to stand for Christ. We must not succumb to the spirit of fear, but be faithful until death, so that we will not be hurt by the second death, but receive the crown of life. Jesus warned the church of Smyrna:
“Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to cast some of you into prison, so that you will be tested, and you will have tribulation for ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes will not be hurt by the second death” (Revelation 2:10-11).
Polycarp, the early church father and disciple of the apostle John, was the bishop of Smyrna. He was brought before the Roman authorities because he refused to curse Christ and burn incense in worship of the Roman’s Emperor. When brought to the stake where he was to be burned to death, he declared:
“Eighty and six years I have served Him, and He has done me no wrong: how then can I blaspheme my King who saved me? You threaten me with a fire that burns for a season, and after a little while is quenched; but you are ignorant of the fire of everlasting punishment that is prepared for the wicked.” (Phil Leary, Kings & Priests, P.S. Publishing, p. 369)
Polycarp’s last words were, “I bless you Father for judging me worthy of this hour, so that in the company of the martyrs I may share the cup of Christ.”
What a contrast we see between believers who suffered for Christ in the past, with many professing believers today in the West, who wrongly believe that the Lord would not dare allow us to suffer persecution and tribulation. Polycarp, as well as Richard and Sabina Wurmbrand, considered it an honor to suffer for Christ’s glory. In fact, we read after the apostles were severely beaten for preaching the gospel, that they rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer for Christ:
“Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus” (Acts 5:41-42).
When we think of all that Jesus went through to save us from hell, and the heavenly kingdom He is preparing for us in His eternal kingdom, the temporary sufferings that we may have to face, it is a little thing by way of comparison.
Cedric Beltame said of his brother, Lt. Col. Arnaud Beltrame, after he gave his life to free a hostage, “He gave his life for strangers. He must have known that he didn’t really have a chance. If that doesn’t make him a hero, I don’t know what would.” (Source)
Arnaud Beltame’s sacrifice should remind us of the ultimate hero, the Lord Jesus Christ, who not only died for strangers, but “while we were God’s enemies” gave His life to save us and reconcile us to Himself. The apostle Paul further wrote:
“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:6-8).
May God give us such love and gratitude for Jesus’ sacrifice on our behalf, that suffering persecution for His name will be considered a great joy. May the Lord help us to understand that He will empower us, and has promised not to allow us to endure more than we are able to withstand (1 Corinthians 10:12-13). May He strengthen us to live and die as heroes of the faith and not die as cowards with the damned!