It is a balmy day. A gentle breeze blows through the trees, as the shadows cast by the fluttering palm branches dance on the soft grass below. The fragrance of exotic blossoms from the hanging gardens of the palace is wafted abroad, filling the city with delight. The brightly colored enameled bricks which adorn the palace walls gleam in the light of the midday sun.
In the distance stands the gate of Ishtar, embellished with rows of bulls and dragons, an impressive entry to such a powerful city. Not too far from the palace, the limbs of the willow trees hang gracefully over the banks of the Euphrates River. Birds of paradise sing cheerfully in their branches.
The beauty of the city is only exceeded by the pageantry that is taking place just now on the plain of Dura. The king has made a 90-foot golden image of himself, and has invited all the governing officials and rulers of his empire to be his special guests for the dedication ceremonies. The king has set up his throne temporarily beside the golden image.
Canopies of beautifully dyed materials and woven work are draped over the throne to provide shade from the sun. Magnificent oriental cloth covers the ground beneath the throne and around it. The people of the city are assembled to view the festivities. The king’s orchestra has just finished playing the national anthem. As they strike the first note, everyone assembled falls down and worships the golden image. The scene is quite impressive.
A small problem has occurred, however, that has upset the ceremonies. Three handsome young Hebrew men are seen being escorted from among the ranks of the governing officials to appear before the most powerful emperor of the world.
The year is around 550 B.C. The city is Babylon. These young Hebrew men were merely slaves a few years before, having been taken captive when Babylon had overthrown Judah. However, because of the excellent spirit that was in them, they were chosen to help administrate the king’s government and are now among his ruling officials. The three young men now stand respectfully before King Nebuchadnezzar, who appears to be in a rage.
“Is it true that you did not fall down and worship the golden image that I set up?” the king demands.
Not giving them time to answer, he continues. “Well, I have decided to give you one last chance. The orchestra will strike up the anthem again, and as soon as you hear the first note of the music, fall down and worship the golden image and all will be well. But, if you will not worship, you will immediately be cast into the midst of a furnace of blazing fire … and what god is there who can deliver you out of my hands?”
Then the three young men answer, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we don’t need to give you an answer concerning this. If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But even if he doesn’t, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the image that you have set up!”
Would You Pass the Test?
The issue of being willing to suffer for Christ is the supreme test of a Christian’s heart. “God will deliver us,” the young Hebrew men proclaimed, “but even if he doesn’t, we will not bow down.” In one proclamation they revealed their faith in a Living God who cares about His servants, and who intervenes supernaturally in the affairs of men. They expect Him to do so. Yet, they revealed at the same time their understanding that God does not always choose to deliver men from suffering. Refusing to disobey God’s commandments, they totally abandoned themselves to the purposes of God regardless of the cost. They were willing to face the fire, not knowing what the outcome would be.
It is this type of obedience and willingness to suffer that marks the true soldiers of Christ Jesus who have sanctified their hearts unto God and His purposes. Yet, some Christians have forgotten that we are in a war. Many wilt if called to suffer a little hardship in the work of God. Looking for a smooth, trouble-free ride, they shrink back from the cross and suppose that God exists to make life comfortable and convenient.
The apostle Peter exhorted the early Christians that since Christ had suffered in the flesh, they were to arm themselves with the same purpose. “He who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for the lusts of men, but for the will of God” (I Peter 4:1-2). As good soldiers, Peter exhorts us to arm ourselves with the will to suffer. He explains that the purpose of our life should not be to fulfill our own desire, but rather to fulfill the will of God.
A life of obedience will inevitably lead to “fire.” The mother of James and John once came to Jesus with her sons and made a request: “Command that in Your kingdom these two sons of mine may sit, one on Your right and one on Your left” (Matthew 20:21).
It is interesting to notice that Jesus did not rebuke these men for selfish ambition. He simply said, “You don’t know what you are asking for. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?” (Matthew 20:22).
What was that cup? Jesus speaks of it again in the garden of Gethsemane. Matthew tells us that Jesus, when overwhelmed with sorrow and deeply grieved to the point of death, went a little beyond three of his dearest disciples to pray. He fell on his face and cried out, “My Father, if it is possible let this cup pass from me; yet not My will, but Thine be done.” Three times he prayed the same thing. Luke records that He was praying so fervently that His sweat became as great drops of blood, falling down upon the ground.
A few moments later, Jesus was faced with his betrayer. In self-defense, Peter drew a sword and cut off the ear of the high priest’s slave. Jesus said to Peter, “Put the sword away, the cup which the Father has given me to drink, shall I not drink it?”
Jesus’ obedience to his Father led him ultimately to “the cup.” And he told his most beloved disciples there was a cup for them to drink also, if they would reign with Him.
We are not speaking here of salvation, but rather a place of power and authority with God. The drinking of the cup and the embracing of the cross will inevitably lead to the release of God’s power. The cup that Jesus drank, He alone could drink; and the cross that He bore, He alone could bear because He was the Savior of the world. But the cup that God asks His own beloved followers to drink, if they would come to the place of authority in His kingdom, is a cup that means total death to self, to personal desire, personal life and interests. It is, in essence, a total abandonment of one’s own life to the purposes of God.
It is also important to realize that this cup is not a call to forsake sin and serve the living God. That is salvation and an acknowledgment of His Lordship. The cup is for all those who are pursuing the will of God and living in obedience to God’s commandments, who have been redeemed and have separated themselves from a life of wanton pleasure.
To drink the cup does not necessarily mean that you are slated for martyrdom. It could mean that for some, but that is not necessarily the meaning. It is ultimately a total death to self-interest and a total abandonment to the purposes and plans of God.
Becoming His Bondslaves
John Wesley, evangelist and leader during the First Great Awakening, understood this when he proclaimed, “Leisure and I have departed company.” This attitude did not mean that he never rested. What it did mean was that he had forsaken all desire to find entertainment, all pursuit of anything that was the result of self interest – the right to choose his own mate, the right to choose his own career, the right to choose the way he spent his time, the right to choose to take a vacation and when and where to take it. In short, Wesley had surrendered the right to do anything that was the result of independent choice or self-seeking, rather than the result of the direction of the Holy Spirit in his life.
Paul understood this also, as he constantly referred to himself as a “bondslave” of the Lord Jesus Christ. This at first may appear a contradiction because the New Testament teaches that Jesus wants us to be sons, not slaves. However, when we examine the biblical practice of the “bondslave” in the Old Testament, we find a beautiful allegory that will explain this further.
A Hebrew man who had sold himself into slavery was to be set free at the end of seven years of servitude. However, if the man decided that he loved his master’s house and did not want to leave, then the master would take him to the doorpost and drive an awl through his ear. This signified that the man had become a servant forever.
To be a “bondslave” meant that the man had voluntarily laid down all rights to personal interest and had given the remainder of his life to his master. The way he spent his subsequent time and energy would be under his master’s complete direction.
We can observe the attitude of a “bondslave” in Moses. God, being angry with Israel’s disobedience and unbelief, told Moses that He would send His angel with them into the promised land but would not go with them personally anymore. Moses prayer was, “Lord if Thy presence does not go with us, do not lead us up from here” (Exodus 33:15). Moses was a man who desired the companionship of God more than he desired the blessings of the land of promise. Without the fellowship of God, the promised land had no appeal.
Isaiah refers to the practice of becoming a bondslave when he proclaimed: “He awakens My ear to listen as a disciple. The Lord God has opened My ear; and I was not disobedient, nor did I turn back” (Isaiah 50: 4b-5). Referring to this practice of piercing the ear of the bondslave, Isaiah declares, “My ear He has opened.” This wholehearted embracing of the will of God is the place of really knowing and understanding what is the will of the Lord. It is a place where the spiritual “ear” is opened to the voice of God, and where the ear is awakened to listen. Isaiah’s response to that voice was total obedience.
The events that led to Isaiah’s total abandonment to God’s purposes are recorded in Isaiah 6. In the year that King Uzziah died, Isaiah explains, he saw the Lord sitting on a throne. Angelic creatures stood above Him, covering their faces and their feet with their wings in the presence of this Holy Lord God Almighty. As one of the creatures proclaimed His holiness, the door sockets of the temple trembled, and the temple began filling up with smoke from the presence of His glory.
It was in the midst of this scene that Isaiah cried out, “Woe is me, I am a man of unclean lips.” God responded to this heartfelt repentance by delivering him from his iniquity. It was then, after Isaiah repented, that he heard God’s voice call,“Whom shall I send and who will go for Us?” Isaiah responded immediately, “Here am I, Send me!” Isaiah’s total abandonment to God’s purposes was revealed in his immediate response to the voice of Him who was calling from the throne.
It is only those who have committed themselves to total obedience to God who have an ear that is opened to heaven. Jesus said, “If any man is willing to do my will, he shall know of the teaching, whether it is from God or not.” Many want to know God’s will so they can decide whether they will do it or not. But Jesus says, “No! You have to be willing to do My will before you will ever discover what it is!”
It is interesting to note that the dedication of the bondslave took place at the “door.” The door in the Bible symbolizes a place of communion with God. In Revelation, Jesus said, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If any one hears My voice and opens the door, I will come into him and will fellowship with him and he with Me.” It was also at the “door” of the temple that Isaiah saw the vision of the thrice Holy God and heard His call.
Jesus exhorted his disciples, “Be dressed and in readiness, and keep your lamps alight. And be like men who are waiting for their master when he returns from the wedding feast, so that they may immediately open the door to him when he comes and knocks. Blessed are those slaves whom the master shall find on the alert when he comes; truly I say to you, that he will gird himself to serve and have them recline at table, and will come up and wait on them. Whether he comes in the second watch, or even in the third, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves” (Luke 12: 34-38).
It is only those “bondslaves” of the Lord Jesus Christ who will be waiting for the knock, and on the alert to open the door of fellowship to the master. How many times has God come to knock on the door of our hearts to give us a word of instruction, direction, or a special assignment, but He has found us sleeping, or so absorbed in self-interest or entertainment as to not perceive His approach or hear the voice of His Spirit.
In this passage, Jesus likens his bondslaves to nightwatchmen. In biblical times the night was divided into segments of time known as watches. During these watches, men were placed upon the towers of the wall of the city to watch for any who would approach – be they friend or foe. They had to pay very close attention. Only if the moon was bright could anything be visible. Consequently, the watchmen had to be very quiet in order to hear the snap of a twig, the rustle of leaves, or anything that might signal the approach of the enemy. God likens this attitude to the attitude of a true bondslave – who waits before the Lord for fellowship, a command, and direction.
The Romans divided the night into four watch periods, while the Hebrews divided it into three. Jesus specifically pointed out that the second and the third watches of the night would be the time when he would come to the door and knock, seeking admittance and fellowship with His bondslaves.
The second watch of the night, according to the Romans, was 9 p.m. to midnight. According to the Hebrews it was 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. The third watch according to the Romans was midnight to 3 a.m.; according to the Hebrews it was 2 a.m. to 6 a.m. Not knowing exactly which watch Jesus was referring to, it would probably be safe to say that anyone watching and waiting for the Lord between the hours of 9 p.m. and 6 a.m. could expect a blessing and a time of intimate fellowship with the Lord.
Livingstone: A Man Who Embraced the Cross
In the following account by missionary David Livingstone, we see the display of the attitude of a bondslave of the Lord Jesus Christ. David Livingstone dedicated his life to explore the unknown parts of Africa in order to open it up for the gospel. Livingstone had to choose between concentrated missionary endeavor among the individuals of a small tribe, or the opening up of the entire continent – which included surveying, exploring unknown areas, locating healthy sites for mission stations, and paving the way for a civilization which would break the horrors of the slave trade and introduce a new social economy.
Livingstone decided to follow the broader policy, not because he was unconcerned about the individual’s need for salvation (he preached to more blacks than perhaps any other missionary) but because he believed that God had called him to lay foundations for the future.
After four years of African life as a bachelor, Livingstone married Mary Moffat, the daughter of a missionary. His deep feelings in regard to their marriage were expressed in a letter to her, in which he said: “And now my dearest – let your affection be towards God, much more than towards me. Kept by His mighty power and grace, I hope I shall never give you cause to regret that you have given me a part. Whatever friendship we feel towards each other, let us always look at Jesus as our common friend and guide, and may He shield you with His everlasting arms from every evil.”
On his many explorations, David took along his wife and children. Their fourth child died soon after birth from a sickness raging among the Bakwains. Mary, then pregnant with her fifth child, accompanied David into the interior of Africa with the remaining three children. Livingstone continued to seek for a passage from the Sambesi River to the sea, in hopes to open up the interior for greater access to missionaries – who would in the future come to preach the gospel. In a letter to a friend, Livingstone wrote:
“It is a venture to take wife and children into a country where fever – African fever – prevails. But who that believes in Jesus would refuse to make a venture for such a Captain? A parent’s heart alone can feel as I do when I look at my little ones and ask, shall I return with this one or that one alive? However, we are His and wish to have no interests apart from those of His kingdom and glory. May He bless us and make us blessings even unto death.”
Through heavy sand and thick bush, Mary and the children pressed on with him. Sometimes the course was so winding they could scarcely see the front oxen. Livingstone wrote:
“The supply of water in the wagons had been wasted by one of our servants, and by the afternoon only a small portion remained for the children. The idea of their perishing before our eyes was terrible. It would almost have been a relief to me to have been reproached with being the entire cause of the catastrophe, but not one syllable of upbraiding was uttered by their mother, though the tearful eye told of the agony within. In the afternoon, to our inexpressible relief, some of our men returned with a supply of that fluid of which we had never before felt the true value.”
After the birth of their fifth child Mary was afflicted with a temporary paralysis. He was forced to take her and the children to the Cape – a journey of about six months, and then sent them to England while he remained to continue his exploratory work. Unknowingly, this was a separation that lasted four years.
He wrote to his directors in the British Isles: “Nothing but a strong conviction that the step will tend to the glory of Christ would make me orphanize my children. Even now, my bowels yearn over them – they will forget me. But, I hope when the day of trial comes, I shall not be found a more sorry soldier than those who served an earthly sovereign … I am so sure that it is the will of our Lord I should go – I will go – no matter who opposes.”
Later he asserted to a companion, “I shall open a path into the interior, or perish. I will place no value on anything I have or may possess, except in relation to the kingdom of Christ … I view the end of this geographical feat as the beginning of missionary enterprise here in Africa.”
Livingstone embraced the admonition of Christ: “He who loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” During this four year exploration period, Livingstone made such important discoveries that the map of Central Africa had to be redrawn. His discoveries indeed opened up the continent and brought the Spirit of Christ to pagan regions. His discoveries made contributions to zoology, palentology, geography, climatology, and astronomy.
Charles Dickens, reading of Livingstone’s accomplishments, dedication, and sacrifice, eulogized him:
“I used to think I possessed the moral virtues of courage, patience, resolution, and self-control … I find that these turn out to be nothing but ‘plated goods’ (a thin silver covering over a harder substance or metal) … my self-esteem oozed out of me.”
Livingstone and his family were later reunited. After a brief stay in England, they all set sail for Africa. Other periods of sickness and separation followed as Mary stayed behind with her parents to recover. Of these times he wrote”:
“It was a bitter parting with my wife – like tearing out the heart of one!” Mary later died with a sickness she contracted in Africa. Of their twenty years of married life, they lived together in a home for only four years.
Too big a price, you say? Surely God would not require something so heart-rending! After all, it doesn’t fit into our idea of an ideal Christian family.
It is true that God loves families. Families were His idea. However, we must ask ourselves, what about the families of the martyrs? What about the loved ones of those imprisoned for the gospel? Was the price any less for them? Who can deny the sacrifice of David Livingstone and his family for the Lamb of Calvary and for the people of Africa ? Who can but doubt it was a sacrifice of sweet savor unto the Lord of the harvest? Not everyone is called to this degree of physical hardship or suffering. But all are called to be willing to sacrifice everything and to follow the Lamb wherever He leads them.
Of this you can be sure – out of such dedication and sacrifice comes all that you and I hold dear. It has been the price of the advancement of freedom, liberty, Christianity, and truth in the world.
During his lifetime, Livingstone traveled 29,000 miles, much of it on foot. His vision of the future permeated all his endeavors. He believed that one day the whole earth would be filled with converts to Christianity. Livingstone wrote in his journal:
“A good and attentive audience, but immediately after the service I found the Chief had retired into a hut to drink beer … A minister who had not seen so much pioneer service as I have done would have been shocked to see so little effect produced by an earnest discourse concerning the future judgment, but time must be given to allow the truth to sink into the dark mind and produce its effect. The earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord – that is enough. We can afford to work in faith for Omnipotence is pledged to fulfill the promise …
“A quiet audience today. The seed being sown, the least of all seeds now, but it will grow a mighty tree. It is as it were a small stone cut out of a mountain, but it will fill the whole earth …
“Future missionaries will see conversions follow every sermon. We prepare the way for them. May they not forget the pioneers who worked in the thick gloom with few rays to cheer, except such as flow from faith in God’s promises!
“We work for a glorious future which we are not destined to see. We are only morning stars shining in the dark, but the glorious morn will break …”
Livingstone was found at the end of his life by natives, dead upon his knees, no doubt praying for his poor downtrodden Africa. He died in undiminished confidence in the hope which was the anchor of his soul: “Missionaries do not live before their time. Their great idea of converting the world to Christ is no chimera: it is Divine. Christianity will triumph. It is equal to all it has to perform.”
For the three young Hebrews who faced King Nebuchadnezzar and refused to bow, being the Lord’s bondslave and embracing the cup of suffering meant the fiery furnace. They escaped the furnace unharmed, and the most powerful emperor of the world sent out a decree that if anyone spoke anything against the God of these Hebrews they would be destroyed. Then, the three young Hebrews prospered in Babylon.
When Livingstone, a bondslave of the Lord Jesus Christ, died in the heart of Africa, darkness and ignorance of God were universal. Today millions of Africans are being swept into the kingdom of God as they are seeing unprecedented revival. Livingstone was willing to drink the “cup,” and out of his sacrifice and suffering the power of God was unleashed upon a dark and lost continent.
The eyes of the Lord race to and fro across the earth looking for this type of dedication, this type of bondslave, this type of disciple that is willing to “drink the cup.” To them God desires to commit His power … to the end that His kingdom may come and that His will may be done on earth as it is in heaven.
(Excerpts from the life of David Livingstone were taken from Iain H. Murray’s Puritan Hope, Banner of Truth, P.O. Box 652, Carlisle, PA, and Great Women of the Christian Faith.)
Copyright © Bob and Rose Weiner 2007, All Rights Reserved