The year is 1985. A boxing exhibition is taking place in Las Vegas at the MGM Grand Hotel. In one corner, stands Apollo Creed, a heavyweight world champion. In the other corner, stands Ivan Drago, a boxer from the Soviet Union. The match starts and the two begin boxing one another. After a round of fighting, in the favor of Drago, Creed’s trainer, Rocky Balboa, tries to explain to Creed why the match should be stopped. However, Creed tells Rocky to promise him not to stop the fight. The second round begins. As Creed is getting pummeled by Drago, Rocky hesitates to throw in the towel due to the promise he made to Creed. Drago ends up beating Creed to death, literally. After the fight and as the medics swarm around Apollo Creed, Drago announces on national television the following statement: “If he dies, he dies.”
The scene I just described is from the 1985 blockbuster film, Rocky IV. To any studier of God’s Word, Drago’s statement he makes should sound familiar. Esther, in Esther 4, says something similar. Esther 4: 15-16 reads, “Then Esther told them to reply to Mordecai, ‘Go, gather all the Jews to be found in Susa, and hold fast on my behalf, and do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my young women will also fast as you do. Then I will go to the king, though it is against the law, and if I perish, I perish‘” (ESV). Why did Esther say this?
Well, Esther takes place 100 years after the Jewish exile to Babylon. So, this book takes place in Susa, the Persian capital, where a Jewish community is residing. The king of Persia, disposes of his queen, Queen Vashti. He holds a beauty pageant to find a new queen. Esther, a young Jew, hides her Jewish identity, enters the pageant, and wins. She then becomes the new queen of Persia. Haman, the king’s chief executive, is granted with power and demands everyone to bow before him. Mordecai, Esther’s uncle, refuses to bow before him. So, Haman persuades the king of Persia to release a decree ordering the extermination of the Jewish people. Mordecai reaches out to Esther for help. So, Esther agrees to reveal her Jewish identity to the king and to urge him to renounce the decree. Esther’s act is against the law so she famously says, “If I perish, I perish.”
Readers, you are probably wondering why I am sharing this with you. I am sharing the story of Esther with you in order to express my feelings towards religious liberty. The American people have just gone through an election. More than that, the American people, with the rest of the world, is going through the COVID-19 pandemic. In America, we have seen troubling signs regarding religious liberty. For example, in California and other liberal-majority states, church services have been expressed as “non-essential.” This is scary for Christians who live in the United States because it is the first sign of threat against our religious liberty or freedom. But reader, allow me to show you three things concerning religious liberty.
- Religious liberty is a gift from God.
- We are blessed to live in an age (and country) where we experience freedom of religion. We are allowed to go to church, pray publicly, evangelize on the streets, etc. It is a blessing and as we have it, we should use it in order to reach people with the gospel. God has blessed us with religious liberty so every single time you walk into church on Sunday morning, praise God and give Him thanks, because Christians in other parts of the world are being persecuted for their faith unlike us.
- It is a gift foreign to the Apostles.
- The Apostles did not experience the goodness of religious liberty. Each of the 12 disciples were killed (or exiled) due to their faith.
- Paul says in II Timothy 3:12, “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”
- Paul recounts his personal experiences of persecution with the following: “Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches” (II Cor. 11:24-28).
- So, biblically, this idea of “religious liberty” was foreign to the Apostles. What does this mean?
- We must be prepared.
- Jesus explains that we shall be hated by the world because the world hated him first (see John 15:18).
- We, like Esther, must be prepared to say the words “If I perish, I perish.”
- Christian, are you prepared to give your life (literally and physically) for the sake of Christ? Are you willing to lay down your life because you are a Christian? Are you prepared to die, as the Apostles did and as many are doing now around the rest of the world, because of your faith? I pray you are and if you’re not, I pray you use this religious liberty we have now to prepare for a possible day where religious liberty may be foreign to us also.
- I Peter 4:16 reads, “Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name.”
- I Peter 3:17 reads, “For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.”
I am not saying we will experience, in these states, persecution for our faith in this lifetime. Maybe we won’t. But, there is a chance that one day you and I will be asked if we are a Christian in a life-threatening way. I pray this does not scare you. Rather, I pray you receive a hope like no other… a hope to enter into the Kingdom of Heaven to be in fellowship with God for eternity as we praise His holy name. Let us be like Esther, knowing that if “we perish, we perish,” knowing that it is for God’s glory and knowing we have an eternal resting place in His presence. Also, let’s be like Apollo Creed. He died a boxer doing what he loved to do. Let us too die a Christian, with a love to share the gospel and to proclaim God’s glorious name!
Soli Deo Gloria
-Cameron R. Knowles