Are closed countries really closed? Was Jerusalem closed to the ministry of Jesus in the last year of his life. No. Oh, yes he would get arrested and killed for his ministry there, but it was not closed. There was a way for him to get in and to go about his work until they cut him down. What then is closed? A place where you can minister without sure reprisal? Odd definition for those bidden to "go forth with him outside the camp, bearing abuse for him" (Hebrews 13:13).
How about using Christian retirement as a time for entering closed countries to proclaim Christ!
In 1807, after 25 years of ministry at Trinity Church in Cambridge, the health of Charles Simeon broke. He became very weak and had to take an extended leave from his labor.
the broken condition lasted with variations for thirteen years, till he was just sixty, and then it passed away quite suddenly and without any evident physical cause. He was on his last visit to Scotland, with Marsh, in 1819, and found himself to his great surprise, just as he crossed the Border, `almost as perceptibly renewed in strength as the woman was after she had touched the hem of our Lord's garment.' He saw in this revival no miracle, in the common sense of the word, yet as a distinct providence. He says that he had been promising himself, before he began to break down, a very active life up to sixty, and then a Sabbath evening; and that now he seemed to hear his Master saying: "I laid you aside, because you entertained with satisfaction the thought of resting from your labour; but now you have arrived at the very period when you had promised yourself that satisfaction, and have determined instead to spend your strength for me to the latest hour of your life, I have doubled, trebled, quadrupled your strength, that you may execute your desire on a more extended plan." (Charles Simeon, by Handley C. G. Moule, London: The Inter-Varsity Fellowship, 1948, orig. 1892, p. 125)
How many Christians set their sights on a Sabbath evening of life— resting, playing, travelling, etc.—the world's suggested substitute for heaven since they do not believe that there will be one beyond the grave. We must reward ourselves in this life for the long years of labor, for who knows what the life beyond may hold, if there is one at all. What a strange thing for a Christian to set his sights on—20 years of play and putzing. What a tragic way to finish the last lap before entering the presence of the king who finished his so differently!
Why not be like Raymond Lull?
He was born of an illustrious family at Palma in the island of Majorca of the Balearic group, Spain in 1235. At 79 he enjoyed the fruit of some of his labors in that the universities of Europe finally began to teach Oriental languages for which he had labored.
His pupils and friends naturally desired that he should end his days in the peaceful pursuit of learning and the comfort of companionship.
Such however was not Lull's wish. His ambition was to die as a missionary and not as a teacher of philosophy. Ever his favorite "Ars Major" had to give way to that ars maxima expressed in Lull's own motto, "He that lives by the life can not die." . . .
In Lull's contemplations we read . . . "Men are wont to die, O Lord, from old age, the failure of natural warmth and excess of cold; but thus, if it be Thy will, Thy servant would not wish to die; he would prefer to die in the glow of love, even as Thou wast willing to die for him."
The dangers and difficulties that made Lull shrink back from his journey at Genoa in 1291 only urged him forward to North Africa once more in 1314. His love had not grown cold, but burned the brighter "with the failure of natural warmth and the weakness of old age." He longed not only for the martyr's crown, but also once more to see his little band of believers. Animated by these sentiments he crossed over to Bugia on August 14, and for nearly a whole year labored secretly among a little circle of converts, whom on his previous visits he had won over to the Christian faith.
At length, weary of seclusion, and longing for martyrdom, he came forth into the open market and presented himself to the people as the same man whom they had once expelled from their town. It was Elijah showing himself to a mob of Ahabs! Lull stood before them and threatened them with divine wrath if they still persisted in their errors. He pleaded with love, but spoke plainly the whole truth. The consequences can be easily anticipated. Filled with fanatic fury at his boldness, and unable to reply to his arguments, the populace seized him, and dragged him out of the town; there by the command, or at least the connivance, of the king, he was stoned on the 30th of June 1315. (Raymund Lull: First Missionary to the Moslems, by Samuel Zwemer, New York: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1902, pp. 132-45)
We need not assume or follow all the bad theology surrounding the atoning effects of martyrdom taught in the middle ages. As a heart longs for the flowing streams, and longs the more as the brook approaches and the smell sweetens and the thirst deepens, so longs the soul of the saint to see Christ and to glorify him in his dying (John 21:19) and in his final years of service in this earth of testing and preparation. It is beyond comprehension that soldiers of the cross would be satisfied in retiring from the battle just before the trumpet blast of victory—or just before admission to the coronation ceremony.