If a gunman was demanding people to state their religion, and then killing those who professed faith in Christ, would you admit you are a Christian? That is how Chris Harper Mercer chose his victims during his shooting rampage in Oregon. Those who acknowledged Jesus as their Savior were shot in the head.
Would you be willing die for Christ if you were the one standing in front of the gunman? Would you be willing to take a bullet for Jesus?
Jesus was not only willing to die for our sins, but He actually went through with it. And the Oregon believers who acknowledged Christ instantly became martyrs. They stood strong in the face of certain death. And they will enjoy paradise forever because their Savior is faithful, and He was not caught off guard by a gunman's hateful rampage.
In fact, Jesus told His followers to expect this sort of thing. If you are a Christian, it just goes with the territory. It's the cross which many believers in the world have been called to carry.
Christ said, "You will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me." (Matthew 24:9)
This persecution has been going on for 2000 years. In America, Christians have largely been spared from intense persecution. But what took place in Oregon demonstrates that it can happen anywhere. Wherever man's heart is filled with hate and the devil, you will find Christians being persecuted.
The gunman paid homage to Satan in a hate-filled note which he left behind. Mercer thought he would be "welcomed in hell and embraced by the devil." Such delusions quickly disappeared the minute the gunman died. Hell is not at all what he imagined. Rather than being welcomed as a hero, he immediately entered a realm of extreme horror and agony. No one in hell wants to stay there, in spite of the gunman's twisted fantasies prior to his death. (Luke 16:19-31)
Mercer ended up being a pawn of Satan, and he carried out his master's desires. But it didn't prevent God from welcoming His children home to heaven.
"Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints." (Psalm 116:15)
The gunman chose to go to Hell, but he also carried out an execution which ushered Christians home to Heaven. And those who died with faith in Christ will be rewarded for their faithfulness to the Lord.
Acceptance into God's family and entrance into Heaven is a free gift (Romans 5:15; 2 Cor. 9:15). It cannot be earned. Christians are "saved by grace through faith" (Eph. 2:8). In addition, the Lord promises certain rewards to His children who stand strong in faith, especially in the midst of opposition.
Jesus said, "Blessed are you when men hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven." (Luke 6:22,23)
And Jesus told the believers in Smyrna: "Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life." (Rev. 2:10)
Whenever the Bible speaks of heavenly rewards, it is always referring to believers. First you believe, and then you live for Christ. First you receive the free gift of salvation, and then one day you are given a reward for your faithfulness. (1 Cor. 3:10-15)
What greater reward could there be than to rejoice forever in the presence of the Lord? And to know that you helped others meet Christ and then grow in their love for the Savior.
Here is the way the apostle Paul explained it: "Our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who by the power that enables Him to bring everything under His control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like His glorious body. Therefore, my brothers, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, that is how you should stand firm in the Lord, dear friends." (Phil. 3:20,21; 4:1)
Think of it in terms of a family. A child does not earn his way into the family. He or she is born into it, or adopted into it. Birth and adoption are two ways the Bible describes what happens when a person becomes a Christian through faith (John 1:12,13; Eph. 1:5). And in a family, children are often given special rewards for excellent behavior. There is nothing wrong with parents handing out rewards.
God is perfect in justice. He will see that those in Hell receive the correct punishment, while those in Heaven receive the correct reward. And no one in Heaven will be jealous of someone else's reward. Everyone in Heaven will be completely satisfied as a result of our loving relationship with Christ. This includes believers who suffered severe persecution for many years, as well as the thief on the cross who made it into God's family just in the nick of time (Luke 23:32-43).
Jesus bore our punishment on the cross (Isaiah 53:5; 1 Peter 2:24). He suffered and died for our sins, so that we may live for Him and do His will forever. Those who accept Christ will never be punished in Hell for their sins. Instead, we have been granted a pardon on account of Christ's sacrificial death (Romans 3:25). And God has placed His love in our hearts with which to love Him and love others (Romans 5:5).
If only the Oregon gunman had chosen the path of righteousness rather than the path of hatred. But instead, he became like other fanatics around the world who choose to satisfy their blood lust by killing Christians. They are inwardly driven to carry out their ruthless and savage schemes.
If a vicious gunman asked you to state your religion, you would have to decide how to answer. In that situation, you would be wise to speak up for Christ. And it's not that speaking up for Christ would earn you a place in Heaven. Paradise cannot be earned. But a profession of faith such as this would testify to the fact that you are a child of God. And your faithful witness would please the Lord who redeemed you by shedding His blood and giving His life on the cross for your sins (Eph. 1:7).
Jesus said, "Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven" (Matthew 10:32,33).
Some courageous believers in Oregon acknowledged Jesus last week, even in the face of a killer who was prepared to take their lives. Those faithful Christians took a bullet for Jesus, and they have no regrets over their profession of faith. After all, everyone in Heaven is filled with rapturous joy. And once you enter paradise, you have no desire to come back to this world of sin and brokenness.
Those believers spoke up for their Savior in the heat of the moment. Would you do the same if you were in their shoes?