“Dying For What You Believe In”

Is there anything that you feel strongly enough about that you would die for it? A cause, a belief? Few of us today in American really know much of anything about sacrificing to the point of death, but there are stories in history that tell us amazing accounts of those who have suffered and died for a cause or belief. One such story took place in 328 A.D. in a city high in the icy mountains of Armenia.

It was a bitterly cold winter, and in the middle of that winter an order came from the Roman emperor that every man, woman, and child under the rule of his empire must bow down to him as a god.

Now there was a powerful force of Roman soldiers in that Armenian city known as the “Thundering Legion”, and their reputation as a powerful military force was well known throughout all the Roman Empire. But the emperor was not satisfied with just their military service – he wanted each soldier to bow down to him.

But, when the time came for each soldier to bow down, 40 could not. They were faithful soldiers, but they were Christians – they could not obey the emperor’s order to make him their god. They said, “We can only worship the one true God.”

Well, when the word of these 40 soldiers refusing to bow down and worship him was received by the emperor, his command back was simple, “Bow down to me, reject your Christian God, or die”. But the 40 soldiers did not bow down – so the decision was made that they would die.

But how should they die? Should they be fed to the hungry lions? Should they be burned at the stake? These were both terrible ways to die, but an even more cruel death was prescribed –

they were to be frozen to death in the bitter cold winter.

So, they took the 40 soldiers to a frozen lake in the middle of a terrible winter storm. They stripped them of all their clothing and left them to freeze to death.

But the general in charge did not want to lose these 40 good soldiers. He said, “Simply bow down to the emperor and save your life?” But they would not.

The other soldiers taunted and laughed at them saying, “soon you will be back; you will bow down”. But the laughing stopped when these 40 Christians bravely walked barefoot across the icy freezing lake.

Well, through the night the soldiers lit a fire and cooked food to tempt the Christians to give up. But the Christians prayed to God to make them brave, and they began to shout,

“Here die 40 men for Christ”!

The freezing bitter cold night went on until finally, the cold was too much for one of the men. He staggered back to the fire and agreed to denounce his God and to bow down to the emperor. But the remaining 39 Christians would not give in, even though they were literally freezing to death.

Then, amazingly, something happened that they could not believe – one of the Roman soldiers sitting by the fire, having watched the bravery and courage and faith of these dying Christians, he stood before the general and uttered these words,

“I will take that man’s place – I will be a Christian.”

As the general watched in amazement, this Roman soldier removed his clothing and walked onto the icy lake to join the other 39.

Well, the Roman soldiers sat by that fire all night long, and the last thing they said they could remember hearing through the howl of that terrible freezing winter storm was the now 40 Christian men shouting,

“Here die 40 men for Christ”.

In the morning, sadly, there were 40 frozen bodies; men who had sacrificed and died for their faith and belief in Christ.

A full 350 years later, in the chapel in the forum of Rome, there was dedicated to these 40 soldiers a plaque, a simple plaque which still hangs there today. It has these powerful words engraved on it,

“Here Die 40 Men for Christ”.

 

What cause would you be willing to die for?

Matthew 25:31-46

 The Parable of The Sheep & The Goats—we will learn about a shepherd who returns to divide his flock into two groups, sheep on one side and goats on the other. As we will see, one of these groups is rewarded by the shepherd, and the other group is sent away from the shepherd and punished.

Many people have used The Sheep & The Goats to argue that “getting into heaven” is merely a matter of doing good works or being a good person. But the Bible tells us “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.”

During the day, sheep and goats would mingle, grazing together and roaming where they pleased. But at night, their needs were different, and they would be separated.

Hold up the coloring sheets. Say: How sheep and goats are different. They might look similar and make noises that are almost the same, but their personalities and behaviors are very, very different!

GOAT:  The goat looks cute and innocent doesn’t he? But anyone who has ever spent time with goats knows that they are trouble. Very independent animals. If the shepherd decided to go on vacation for a week and left the goats to survive on their own, they could probably do it. Goats also have huge appetites and will eat anything and everything to satisfy their hunger. A shepherd has to be careful, because a mama goat will often eat every bit of the food put out for her babies, leaving them to go hungry. She just uses her head to bump them out of the way so she can have their dinner!  Another thing about goats is that they’re motivated by their own desires. For example, let’s say a goat likes the way his shepherd’s hair tastes. He is always sneaking up behind the shepherd and trying to take a bite. The shepherd doesn’t like this of course, and punishes the goat when he does it. But the goat can’t stop thinking about how good that hair tastes! So as soon as the shepherd lies down to take a nap, that goat is right there, chewing on the sleeping shepherd’s hair and hopefully avoiding any punishment. Goats love doing what they want more than they love pleasing the shepherd.

SHEEP:   From a distance, sheep might look like they’ve got it all together, hanging out in their pasture, grazing on yummy grass all day, playing with other sheep in the sunshine. But the truth is, sheep require so much help to stay alive! Did you know that if a sheep falls on its back, it can’t figure out how to get up without help and will eventually die if the shepherd doesn’t show it how to roll over and stand up again? Also, sheep have a strong tendency to panic and run around wildly when they are stressed out about something. If a car drives by and honks its horn, the whole flock of sheep might spend the next two hours running in circles and bumping into the walls and fences surrounding their pasture.  But sheep also feel very calm when their shepherd is around. They will follow him anywhere, because they have learned to trust him. They know that when it rains, the shepherd is the one who gently moves them to shelter. When they are hungry, the shepherd will take them to a pasture with tall, tasty grass or give them other food to fill their rumbling tummies. They know that the shepherd is the one who cares for all their needs.

Here’s something interesting. Did you know that all throughout the Bible, God says that we are His sheep? Psalm 95:7 says, “He is our God. We are the sheep belonging to His flock. We are the people He takes good care of. Listen to His voice today.”

Think about what we just learned about sheep. They are totally helpless without their shepherd to guide them and take care of them. We’re like those sheep, and God is our good shepherd. We belong completely to the Good Shepherd. He cares for us and would never leave us completely alone. Because of that, we can trust Him to give us everything we need.

Who Are The Sheep?

Remember, the shepherd has divided the sheep and goats, with sheep on the right and goats on the left. You’ll notice that from this point on in the parable, Jesus doesn’t talk about the shepherd any more. He talks about a King. Jesus is our Good Shepherd, but He is also the King above all kings, and He is coming back someday to rule over all the earth. And in this parable Jesus tells us that the first thing He’s going to do when He returns is decide who’s a sheep and who’s a goat.

Say: It sounds like the sheep did a good job, doesn’t it? But what Jesus said might seem a little confusing. Jesus said they fed HIM when He was hungry. And they gave HIM a drink when He was thirsty. They made friends with HIM when He was lonely. And they came to see HIM when He was in the hospital or in prison.

What does this mean? How can I possibly be one of the sheep when I’ve never even met Jesus in person, let alone made Him a turkey sandwich for lunch! The people who were in the sheep category were confused too. Here’s what they said:

“The King will reply, ‘What I’m about to tell you is true. Anything you did for one of the least important of these brothers of Mine, you did for Me.’” — Matthew 25:40

The King—Jesus—told the sheep that because they have loved and cared for the people around them, they have loved and cared for Him. The sheep get invited into the kingdom of God.

But here’s something really important to remember. The sheep have not earned their place in the kingdom through the good things they did. There are not enough good deeds in the world to change the fact that we have been separated from God and His kingdom by our sin. Romans 3:23 says, “Everyone has sinned. No one measures up to God’s glory.”

“The free gift of God’s grace makes all of us right with Him. Christ Jesus paid the price to set us free. God gave Him as a sacrifice to pay for sins. So He forgives the sins of those who have faith in His blood.”

That’s pretty exciting stuff! Because God loves us so much and doesn’t want our sin to keep us from having a relationship with Him forever. So He sent Jesus to pay the price for our disobedience. Because He died on the cross, we can be part of the kingdom of God forever if we simply believe in what Jesus and what He did for us.

When we trust in Jesus and believe that He died so that our sins could be forgiven, something happens. We change. We’re not the same as we were before we decided to love and trust Jesus.

The goats were living a selfish life. They saw lots of people in need, but did nothing for them. They were not like the sheep, who had been given a brand new way of seeing other people when they trusted Jesus. The goats had not accepted the love of Christ, so they didn’t have His love to give to other people. Sadly, when the King comes back to sort the sheep and the goats, the goats will not get to be with Him forever.

When you know how much Jesus loves you and how much He did for you on the cross, you are literally overflowing with His love. You can’t help but love other people like He loves you. And when you serve them, you are also serving Jesus. But if you ignore and reject the love that Jesus offers, you will never see other people the way He sees them. You will never be able to serve them unselfishly and completely. And in the parable of The Sheep & The Goats, Jesus tells us that the kingdom belongs only to those who love Him and love others.

Key Verse:  My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. – John 15:12

Main Point: We show our love for Jesus by loving and serving other people.

About Jerry Stewart

I am a story teller. Since 1998, I have been telling the true stories of our nation and those Americans gone before us.  To say the least, these stories have been well received by Americans, both young and old.  So, here’s where the stories have taken me.  In 1998, I was broadcasting my stories on just one radio station in Washington State.  Today, from Texas 15 years later, these programs are now broadcast through a syndicated radio network to over 400 radio stations all across America, with literally millions of listeners.

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