News outlets around the world heralded the good news that the missionaries held captive in Haiti since October 16 were free. Five had been released a few days ago; the other twelve made what Christianity Today calls “a daring overnight escape.”
On the night of December 15, they made their way through a closed door and walked for miles over difficult, moonlit terrain with an infant and other children in tow. Navigating by the stars, they made their way to a house near the highway where they discovered two Christians practicing trumpet music for church on Sunday. One of them loaned the missionaries a cell phone to call for help. The twelve were then flown to Florida on a US Coast Guard flight and later reunited with the hostages who had been released earlier.
The missionaries and their sponsoring organization later released this statement to the kidnappers: “Jesus taught us by word and by his own example that the power of forgiving love is stronger than the hate of violent force. Therefore, we extend forgiveness to you. The hostages told you plainly how you can also be forgiven by God if you repent. Our desire is that you and all who hear or read this statement may come to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, our Savior, the Son of God, and the Prince of Peace. Jesus died for all so that all can be saved.”
“What the whole earth waits for”
Jesus did indeed choose to come at Christmas to be the Savior of the world. Yesterday we discussed Mary’s response to Gabriel’s announcement that she would become his mother. Let’s consider that event today in a different light.
St. Bernard of Clairvaux (1090–1153) preached a sermon addressing Mary after she heard Gabriel’s words but before agreeing to his invitation: “The angel awaits an answer: it is time for him to return to God who sent him. We too are waiting, O Lady, for your word of compassion; the sentence of condemnation weighs heavily upon us.
“The price of our salvation is offered to you. We shall be set free at once if you consent. . . . Tearful Adam with his sorrowing family begs this of you, O loving Virgin, in their exile from Paradise. Abraham begs it, David begs it. All the other holy patriarchs, your ancestors, ask it of you. . . .
“This is what the whole earth waits for, prostrate at your feet. It is right in doing so, for on your word depends comfort for the wretched, ransom for the captive, freedom for the condemned, indeed, salvation for all the sons of Adam, the whole of your race.”
“No matter what it might cost her”
Gabriel invited Mary to participate in an event that changed humanity forever and rendered her “the most famous woman in history.” However, there was another factor to consider as Mary asked Gabriel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” (Luke 1:34). Billy Graham noted that in response to her pregnancy, “People would talk, shame would be attached to the pregnancy, and Joseph would probably leave her.”
Would anyone believe that she had been faithful to her fiancé and yet became pregnant by a divine miracle? Would you believe such a story if it were told by your fiancée, daughter, or friend?
Joseph could have divorced her or even had her tried, convicted, and possibly executed for adultery. If Joseph refused to marry her, she would be forced to raise this child as a single mother in a day when such women had almost no means of support and would live with cultural antagonism and shame for the rest of her life.
And yet, as Dr. Graham noted, “Mary accepted God’s will for her life, no matter what it might cost her.” How can we make the same decision today—whatever he asks, wherever he leads, whatever the cost? How do we choose to obey God’s call even when it might lead us to Haitian kidnappers?
What a persecuted Cuban pastor told me
Jesus came to earth so all who “believed in his name” could “become children of God” (John 1:12). Consider for a moment “what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God” (1 John 3:1). Claim his promise: “I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty” (2 Corinthians 6:18).
Because your Father is all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-loving, his purpose for you must always be for your best. He must want a truly “abundant life” for you (John 10:10). His will for you must be “good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2). His plan for his people must be “for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11). His character requires it.
This means that even when our broken natural world (Romans 8:22) and its fallen inhabitants persecute his children (2 Timothy 3:12), our Father redeems that persecution for his glory and our good.
When a persecuted Cuban pastor told me that his people’s suffering was purifying their faith and strengthening their witness, I thought of Tertullian’s maxim: “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” From Peter before the Sanhedrin (Acts 5:29–32) to the kidnapped missionaries in Haiti, persecution becomes a platform for forgiving our persecutors and preaching the gospel of God’s grace.
And if we die for the One who died for us, we can claim this proclamation: “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on . . . that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!” (Revelation 14:13).
Billy Graham’s prayer
Mary’s story is in the Bible so it can be our story. If we say yes to God’s call on our lives, he will use our lives in ways we cannot begin to imagine. As I often say, we cannot measure the eternal significance of present faithfulness.
Such obedience will likely come at a cost. But because of who our Father is, in his providence, the benefits of following him must outweigh the costs, perhaps in this world but always in the eternal world to follow.
Where is God waiting for your “yes” today? What next step of faithfulness is he calling you to take? Would you let Mary’s story be your story?
Dr. Graham concluded his meditation on Mary this way: “Following her example, I pray that God would give me grace and courage to be faithful to him, no matter what price I may be called on to pay. May that be your prayer as well.”