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  • Writer's pictureShannon Makujina

Preach the Gospel, die, and be forgotten

Last year, I subjected my roommate to watching the extended cut of all three Lord of the Rings movies. At 81 years old, Joan said she had never seen anything so depressing. So many battles. So many people died. Right?


For all my die hard LOTR fans, you know the books are even more depressing than the movie, with Tolkien’s medieval style writing carrying a heaviness that no movie can convey (can I get an Amen?). But even the movies bring a little of the shadow of Mordor to our living room, and we still feel the darkness spreading over the whole world. 

Why do we love it? Why do we love movies like Gladiator, where Maximus (Russell Crowe) dies after avenging the death of his family? Why do we love Les Miserables, when only two out of many main characters survive? 

There are many words in the English language but I have yet to find one that comes close to describing the feeling we all get when Eowyn dons a helmet and rides over the battle plains of Minas Tirith, her heart in her throat. 

Why is there not a word for that feeling? Something to describe our love of adventure and our fear of death and our longing for glory, all at once? 

We all have an unexplainable longing to be part of something bigger than ourselves in our lives and to sacrifice something for that. Some of us have more of that than others. I was born with a longing for it that makes everything else in my life pale in comparison. Regardless of what is going on in my life, there will always be something I am passionately advocating for, fighting for, and speaking out about. But sometimes the social causes (as wonderful and needed as they are) feel empty and I want something more.

Watching LOTR again got me thinking: as Christians, we are living in a conflict far greater than any fictional saga dreamed of. We are in a battle, we are on a desperate quest, and we are part of a bigger story which our lives–or deaths–can bring to fulfillment.

Count Zinzendorf, a great social reformer and missionary of the 18th century said this: “Preach the Gospel, die, and be forgotten.”

When I read this, I feel chills down my spine–not because I want to be forgotten–but because I want to risk my life and be totally lost in a cause bigger than me. Zinzendorf’s words are dripping with passion for something and Someone big enough that he was willing to be a small part of the big picture, because the big picture was that worth seeing. 

What would happen if we read the stories of church martyrs the same way we watched LOTR? Do we only get a rush from stories that are fake, things that never happened? What if we told our children the true, “scary” stories of believers all over the world who are confessing their faith where faith is forbidden? Can we confidently tell our children, “It’s a scary story, but it has a good ending?” Because at the end, Jesus conquers. He gets the victory. He wins the war. 

Do we really believe that?

The Apostle Paul did. He said, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is going to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18, CSB). 

Paul knew that regardless of the risk, the cause he was a part of was worth the risk he was taking. He knew regardless of how his life ended, he knew how the story ended–and his future was safe. That’s why he says, “To live is Christ, to die is gain” (CSB, Phil. 1:20). 

The first part of that phrase always puzzled me. What does it mean “to live is Christ”? I think to understand that, we have to look at the general idea behind Paul’s statement. He was declaring that whether he was completely absorbed in union with Christ here on earth, or a more perfect union in heaven (gain), he was IN Christ. Everything about him was Jesus. He (Paul) was fading out, and Jesus was filling and overshadowing him. Maybe Paul would say with St. Patrick, the great missionary to Ireland:

Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,

Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,

Christ on my right, Christ on my left,

Christ where I lie, Christ where I sit, Christ where I arise,

Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me,

Christ in the mouth of every one who speaks to me,

Christ in every eye that sees me,

Christ in every ear that hears me.

When it was all said and done, Paul wanted people to look at his earthly life and think “Christ”. 

Will those who preach the gospel and die, really be forgotten? No, not for a moment. They will be held in high honor in the future kingdom. But the sentiment of Paul and St. Patrick and Count Zinzendorf is all the same: that Christ’s glory is so great, that they would be forgotten in comparison. 

When we realize the enormity of what God has done for us in Christ, that should inspire us to lose ourselves in building a kingdom worthy of the kind of King we have. The Gospel should give us shameless boldness to live a life that is Christ, and die knowing that it is our great gain. 

Rather than being engaged in a hopeless quest, or an adventure that hangs on a slim thread, we know the ending–that Jesus will ride to victory on a white horse, leading us into a white city that will make any idyllic earthly castle pale in comparison. 

Are you getting that feeling yet?

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