FORGET NONE OF HIS BENEFITS
volume 16, number 44, November 2, 2017
“. . . and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives.” -Hebrews 2:15
We Are Ready to Die
I met Joseph Tson and his dear wife, Elizabeth, recently in Wittenberg, Germany while meeting with other believers on important theological documents for the evangelical world. I have known about Joseph Tson for many years but was so pleased to meet him and find out more about his amazing life in Communist Romania. While a young man, Joseph came to faith in Christ through the work of the local, small Baptist church. By 1968 he was able to attend theological college at Oxford. When he told friends at Oxford that God wanted him to return to his country, they told him he was crazy, that the authorities would kill him. He said that he must go. God had told him so. Upon his return to Romania he took over a small Baptist church which his friend had pastored. In four years Joseph baptized 850 new converts. A revival was in full swing. People who had been atheists for years were coming in huge numbers to hear the gospel of grace. The authorities began to follow him and harass him. He was told repeatedly that he must stop preaching, but he kept going. He was brought in for interrogation on several occasions by the secret police of Nicholae Caekesku, the communist leader of Romania. Once while being interrogated for several hours by two security men, the leader sent them out of the room (so there would be no witnesses) and beat Joseph with his fists.
A short time afterward the secret police came to his house and turned his house upside down, looking for anything which would bolster their case against him. They confiscated all of his library, which had been smuggled into the country by Bill Bathman and many other Christian workers from Vienna and other parts of Western Europe. These were times of great fear for Joseph and Elizabeth. What would happen to them and their eighteenth month old daughter? In the midst of all this turmoil Joseph and Elizabeth were reading one morning in their devotional time from Hebrews 2 where the writer speaks of Jesus’ death being crowned with glory and honor, so that by the grace of God Jesus might taste death for everyone, that the author of our salvation was perfected through the things which He suffered, that since we share in His flesh and blood He has rendered powerless the devil who had the power of death, so that He might free us who have always lived in the fear of death, being subjected to that slavery all our days (Hebrews 2:10-15). At that very moment the fear of death was removed. They knew that because they belonged to Jesus death no longer held them in slavery. They were ready to die. They both said to God, “We are all yours. Whenever You want us to die, we are ready.” From that time forward they never feared, never lost any sleep, and lived in perfect peace.
A year or so later the head of the secret police came to Joseph and offered him a very lucrative, safe, secular job. The motivation, of course, was to divert him from preaching. By this time Nicolae Ceausescu, the General Secretary of the Communist Party of Romania, knew that to kill Joseph would cause a major uprising in the country. Joseph told the government man, “I know I am going to make either you or God angry, depending on whether I keep preaching or take your secular job. I would rather make you angry than God. So, I refuse the job you are offering me.” He went on to say, “Now I am ready to die. You said you were going to finish me as a preacher. I asked My God and He wants me to continue to be a preacher. But I know you, sir; you cannot stand this kind of opposition and you will kill me in one way or another. But I accepted that and you should know that I have put everything in order and made ready to die. But as long as I am free, I will preach the gospel.” Joseph says that the man’s countenance changed immediately. Instead of anger and hostility, the man very calmly said, “No one will ever harm you again.” And no one bothered him again.
He told the authorities more than once when they threatened to kill him, “Sir, don’t you understand that when you kill me you send me to glory. You cannot threaten me with glory. The more suffering, the more troubles, the greater the glory.” On another occasion Tson told his inquisitors that spilling his blood would serve to water the growth of the gospel of Jesus Christ. He said, “Your supreme weapon is killing. My supreme weapon is dying. You know that my sermons are on tape all over the country. When you shoot me or crush me, whichever way you choose, you only sprinkle my sermons with my blood. Everybody who has a tape of one of my sermons will pick it up and say, ‘I had better listen again. This man died for what he preached.’ Sir, my sermons will speak ten times louder after you kill me and because you kill me. In fact, I will conquer this country for God because you killed me. Go on and do it. Dying for the Lord is not an accident. It’s not a tragedy. It’s part of the job. It’s part of the ministry. And it’s the greatest way of preaching.”
It was not always this way for him, however. Early in the ordeal, when the authorities were turning up the heat, Tson was tempted to back off from his preaching. He wanted to quit. His wife, Elizabeth, whose father had also been a Baptist preacher and been beaten numerous times by the authorities, said to him, “You have always said you wanted to die as a martyr, now go ahead and do it.”
However, Joseph eventually became such a liability to the Communist regime that the Romanian government finally exiled him, demanding that he never again set foot in Romania. Joseph and his family came to the United States. This was during the Presidency of Ronald Reagan who was following closely the unrest in Eastern Europe. Reagan wanted a Romanian Christian program on Radio Free Europe going into the nation of Romania. So shortly after his exile to the United States Joseph began a weekly, fifty minute sermon, aired every Sunday afternoon all over Romania, on Radio Free Europe, sponsored by President Ronald Reagan and American tax dollars. So instead of preaching to two thousand people at his church, he was now preaching to millions each week. His books and other good Christian literature translated into Romanian by Joseph and others were regularly smuggled into the country in the late 1970’s and throughout the 1980’s. With the tearing down of the Berlin wall in late 1989, very shortly the entire Communist system began to unravel throughout the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.
On December 22, 1989 the Romanian army defected and arrested Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife, Elena. They were put on trial for mass murder and executed by a firing squad on Christmas day, 1989.
Joseph and Elizabeth Tson, because of Christ’s great work of conquering death, were set free from the slavery of the fear of death. They were ready to die, and therefore they were ready to live life to the fullest.
Are you ready to die? Are you ready to do whatever it is that God requires of you? Herein is real liberty.