I’m meditating on history today. It’s October 23rd, and many interesting things occurred on this date. On Oct. 23, 42 B.C. conspirator-assassin Brutus was soundly defeated at Philippi by Octavian and Mark Antony. On Oct. 23, 1707, the first Parliament of Great Britain met. On October 23, 1915, more than 25,000 women descended on Fifth Avenue in NYC to march for suffrage. On Oct. 23rd, 1917, Vladimir Lenin would call for the infamous October Revolution. Conspirators fell, governments changed, women united, and workers revolted on this day. These are moments that changed the course of human history.
October 23rd is also remembered for another reason: it is the feast day for St. James, the leader of the Jerusalem Church and the brother of Christ. I remember well his words: “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete – lacking in nothing” (James 1:2-4). According to the Jewish historian Josephus, St. James met his death by stoning on account of the gospel. He faced his trial, and he endured to the end. Was that an event that changed human history? Most certainly – the death of a martyr is always significant. Even the church father Tertullian reminded, “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” Throughout history, there have been many who have laid down their lives for our Lord; in fact, we have brothers and sisters all over the world who still face persecution, and sometimes death, for their testimony of Jesus Christ. For those in present crisis, we pray that they may face their trial, that they may endure to the end, and that their persecutors might one day come to see the beauty of Christ – as the apostle Paul did.
When we face mockery and persecution here in the U.S., we are often quick to complain that we have been woefully wronged. We are sometimes too eager to attack in kind or to retreat inward and escape those who mistreat us. Somehow we lose sight of the fact that if we are truly going to be ambassadors for Christ, persecution and ridicule is part and parcel of our calling. James’ brother, our Lord, did remind his apostles that in this world they would have tribulation. But then he gave them some of the greatest words ever spoken, and those words still ring true for His people today: “Take courage, for I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
On this day that I meditate on history and trials, death and perseverance – I can’t help but ruminate on the One for whom James laid down his life. In his “Meditation on Christ’s Passion,” Martin Luther sums it up beautifully. He writes:
"It is more beneficial to ponder Christ’s passion just once than to fast a whole year or to pray a psalm daily …They contemplate Christ’s passion aright who view it with a terror-stricken heart and a despairing conscience. This terror must be felt as you witness the stern wrath and the unchanging earnestness with which God looks upon sin and sinners, so much that he was willing to release sinners even only for his only and dearest … You must get this through your head and not doubt that you are the one who is torturing Christ thus, for your sins have surely wrought [his death] …. Therefore, when you see the nails piercing Christ’s hands, you can be certain that it is your work. When you behold his crown of thorns, you may rest assured that those are your evil thoughts. For every nail that pierces Christ, more than one hundred in justice should pierce you, yes, they should prick you forever and more painfully.
But you cast your sins from yourself and onto Christ when you firmly believe that this wounds and sufferings are your sins, to be borne and paid for by Him, as we read in Is. 53:6, ‘The Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.’ … You must stake everything on these and similar verses. …
[So] if pain or sickness afflicts you, consider how paltry this is in comparison with the thorny crown and the nails of Christ. If you are obliged to do or to refrain from doing things against your wishes, ponder how Christ was bound and captured and led hither and yon. If you are beset with pride, se how your Lord was mocked and ridiculed along with the criminals. If unchastity and lust assail you, remember how ruthlessly Christ’s tender flesh was scourged, pierced, and beaten. If hatred, envy, and vindictiveness beset you, recall that Christ, who indeed had more reason to avenge himself, interceded with tears and cries for you and for all his enemies. If sadness or any adversity, physical or spiritual, distresses you, strengthen your heart and say, ‘Well, why should I not be willing to bear a little grief, when agonies and fears caused my Lord to sweat blood in Gethsemane? He who lies abed while his master struggles in the throes of death is indeed a slothful and disgraceful servant.’"
As we meditate on that, how can we not proclaim, as the good song does, “Hallelujah! What a savior!” Trials will come, my sisters, and when they do, remember that you have been bought with a price. So let us face our struggles, keep our eyes on the prize, and endure to the end. We are daughters of the Most High, we are slaves to Jesus Christ, and we are recipients of the greatest down-payment in the world – the Holy Spirit. And when the darkness comes (as it inevitably will) take heart like James, for our Christ will see you through your worst tribulation; indeed, He has overcome the world.