In his second letter to the young pastor, Paul says to Timothy in so many words, “Do not be ashamed of Jesus’ name. Or of his people. Especially those who are persecuted because of their boldness to proclaim the very truth that you are also to proclaim!” There has always been a temptation to avoid association with Christ if it means we may be persecuted. How many of the disciples scattered when Jesus was arrested? All of them. How many believers stood with Paul in Rome when he was put on trial for his life? Not one. We may have a hard time understanding the context of severe persecution because people in the U.S. are not arrested for preaching the gospel and talking about Jesus. Not yet.
We all rejoiced over the release of Pastor Brunson in Turkey a few months ago. He was imprisoned for two years on charges of terrorism. Brunson had been in Turkey since the mid-1990s to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ. I praise God that there was an international outcry over his imprisonment. We also rejoiced over the release of Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani in Iran several years ago. He was imprisoned for three years, labeled an “apostate,” waiting to die for preaching the name of Jesus. Again, there was an international outcry. Iran released him in 2012, and Christians everywhere gave thanks that his trial was ended. But not for long. Iranian police arrested Pastor Youcef again last year, and brutally beat him in his own home and in front of his terrified family. As before, Youcef was arrested for preaching the name of Jesus, and he remains in prison today.
There are Christians all over the world who understand what it means when Paul says, “do not be ashamed of me, His prisoner.” Michael Ramsden, who works with Ravi Zacharias, speaks about Christ in closed countries every year. Ramsden often says, “There is no such thing as a closed country if you are willing to die for the gospel.” Several years ago Ramsden was invited to speak on Christianity in a country hostile to the gospel. The Christian organizers of the event prayed that there would be an opportunity to present the gospel, not just an academic lecture on the tenets of Christianity. While Ramsden was speaking, a young religious leader was standing in the back with his arms crossed, searing a hole into Michael with his eyes. At the end of the lecture this young man raised his hand and said, “There is something that no teacher or scholar in my religion has been able to answer for me. I want to know why you Christians think that Jesus had to die on the cross.”
Michael was ecstatic about the question. It was an answer to the prayer of the organizers. But he was nervous, too. Because he knew that to answer that question, he would have to say that their entire religion is wrong on a fundamental level about who Jesus is and what He did on the cross. As Michael Ramsden was about to answer, his host grabbed his arm and said, “Michael, answer very carefully. It is one thing to die for sharing the gospel. It is another thing to die for sharing it poorly.”
Perhaps some raw honesty is needed here. The vast majority of Christians in this country tend to be embarrassed when they see someone preaching on the sidewalk. Sometimes we are embarrassed, I know, because the person is misrepresenting the good news; they are sharing it poorly. Sometimes we are embarrassed to see someone witnessing to strangers or handing out tracts in the park. Or even bowing their heads at a restaurant to pray before a meal. We are tempted to flee persecution of any kind, even if it means we compromise the truth of the gospel through our shame.
Do not be ashamed of speaking in the name of Jesus, and proclaiming the truth and life that only he can give. Without the gospel, there are no answers.