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Gathering Up Courage

There is nothing that touches me more than to witness what I call “spiritual courage.”

My definition of “spiritual courage” is “to do what we know is right to do spiritually even when faced with dire consequences.”

Jesus walked into Jerusalem knowing fully well that he would walk out beaten, tortured, tormented, abandoned and carrying his own instrument of death – the Cross.

He listened to those singing praises to him, laying palm leaves and their cloaks on the ground for Him to ride over knowing that some of these very same people would be crying out “Crucify Him!”

He KNEW what was going to happen. In an earthly sense it was absurd for Jesus to not turn and leave certain death. He did it anyway, because in the spiritual sense, it was the right thing to do.

“Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:1-2)

He knew what He was about to experience physically AND spiritually was going to be horrific. He looked beyond that…. displayed immense spiritual courage….and determined to do the hard thing because it would be worth it. That’s what this passage means:

“who for the joy set before Him endured the cross”

Stephen, as reported in the latter part of Acts 6, is dragged to the Sanhedrin and was accused of speaking blasphemous things. This, in context, happened soon after the torture and death of Jesus.

Stephen KNEW these Jewish leaders were murderous people.

In Acts 7 we see that when given the chance to tuck his tail between his legs he gathers up courage instead and does the hard thing. He never blasphemes.

What he DOES do is speak the truth the Holy Spirit is giving him. He presents to the Jewish leaders an opportunity to repent and receive the Lord Jesus Christ. He does so at the risk of his own life.

Stephen displays immense spiritual courage.

I’ve always been touched by witnessing spiritual courage. I’ve seen it displayed in jail cells as a jail chaplain when prisoners chose to plead their case in ways that caused them to trust the Lord for their future lives.

I’ve seen spiritual courage in courtrooms when people took a stand because it was the right thing to do, even though something precious was being risked, be it money or access to a beloved relative or reputation.

I’ve seen spiritual courage many, many times in my counseling and discipleship rooms when people confessed their sins or shared what horrible and shameful things had been done to them. I have witnessed hundreds of people displaying great spiritual courage in surrendering people and things to the Lord or through practicing deep and cleansing forgiveness.

I have seen spiritual courage in a Christian who trusted Jesus, fought a disease and never gave up….never blamed God….never stopped praying to and honoring Jesus – even right up to his death.

These things bring me to tears. They represent such beautiful examples of faith in the Lord Jesus.

Sadly, I have also witnessed the opposite of spiritual courage, spiritual cowardice, far more often than I have been witness to acts of spiritual courage.

Shallow faith results in spiritual cowardice.

I’ve been blessed to be in a vantage point in Christianity for many years in which I have seen relatively few acts of spiritual courage, lots of spiritual passivity and, often, spiritual cowardice.

It is on my heart to write about this now because in my study I recently came across this verse and a term jumped out at me:

“Joseph of Arimathea came, a prominent member of the Council, who himself was waiting for the kingdom of God; and he gathered up courage and went in before Pilate, and asked for the body of Jesus.” (Mark 15:43 NASB)

Joseph of Arimathea “gathered up courage”.

You know, most of us…including me…do not sit around thinking, “Boy! Am I spiritually courageous!”

Most of us never even consider courage until we are faced with a situation in which we can be passive, cowardly or courageous.

At these times we have a decision to make.

In the case of Jesus we know that He grappled in Gethsemane with the dread of what was about to happen to Him. We know His choice: spiritual courage. We know He was full of DEEP faith.

In the case of Stephen, when accused of blaspheme (punishable by death) “the high priest said, ‘Are these things so?’” (Acts 7:1) and the Word doesn’t show us anything about Stephen making a decision to be spiritually courageous. He just immediately goes into a speech he knows will most likely result in his death.

I believe he DID make an immediate choice to be spiritually courageous.

Why was it so easy for him to do that?

“And Stephen, full of faith and power, did great wonders and signs among the people.” (Acts 6:8)

He was FULL OF FAITH and, therefore, was FULL OF (Holy Spirit) POWER.

“Then there arose some from what is called the Synagogue of the Freedmen (Cyrenians, Alexandrians, and those from Cilicia and Asia), disputing with Stephen. And they were not able to resist the wisdom and the Spirit by which he spoke.” (Acts 6:9-10)

We see something else happening in Joseph of Arimathea’s case.

“Joseph of Arimathea came, a prominent member of the Council, who himself was waiting for the kingdom of God; and he gathered up courage and went in before Pilate, and asked for the body of Jesus.” (Mark 15:43 NASB)

Joseph was “a prominent member of the Council”…the Sanhedrin which had murdered Jesus and would later kill Stephen.

This man had a LOT to risk by publicly asking for the body of Jesus. He was risking EVERYTHING. In the words of The Preacher’s Commentary:

“He risks everything with his petition. Members of the Sanhedrin will probably expel him. Pilate might well reject him or find reason to take out his spite on the Sanhedrin by including Joseph in the charge of treason. Certainly, the crowds will mix a special potion of scorn at the sight of a wealthy and powerful Jew taking down the body of Jesus and carrying it to burial. But his greatest risk will be spiritual uncleanness on the Sabbath after touching the dead body.”

How does Joseph prepare himself for this risky act?

Joseph of Arimathea “gathered up courage”.

I write this today to encourage us to meditate on this idea of “spiritual courage” now.

It is my hope that we will pursue, as the Body of Christ, a radical and DEEP faith in the Lord.

This kind of faith acknowledges we truly belong to HIM and NOT to ourselves.

This kind of faith dictates that whenever we realize that we are considering spiritual passivity and/or spiritual cowardice in the face of great risk that the Lord is revealing something in our life that we treasure and consider to be our own...and that idea is a LIE.

We own NOTHING if Jesus owns US.

In these times should we repent and turn whatever it is over to the Rightful Owner, Jesus the result WILL be a deeper faith.

As the shackles of fear fall away…we will be better positioned to make a choice that displays spiritual courage.

When Stephen did this, the Word tells us what he experienced:

“But he, being full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God, and said, ‘Look! I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!’” (Acts 7:55-56)

I would hope for us all to have peaceful, stress-free lives. May the Lord protect us from ever being in dire situations in which we HAVE to choose spiritual courage

However, should the need ever arise, may we join Jesus, Joseph of Arimathea, Stephen, and countless Christians in choosing take a spiritually courageous stand!

“But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me.” (Philippians 3:7-12)

May we all be encouraged by this humble word.

May we ALL come to know Jesus in a deeper way than we already do know Him.

May we receive whatever Jesus has laid hold of for us to receive.

Pastor Mike McInerney

Mike McInerney Ministries, Inc.

Decatur, Texas

© May 3, 2018

(For use with permission)

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