Chinese Church VoicesChurch Life

Paratroopers and Motorboats

A sermon

Chinese Church Voices is a weekly column of the ChinaSource Blog providing translations of original writing by Christians in China. The views represented are entirely those of the original author; inclusion in Chinese Church Voices does not imply or equal an endorsement by ChinaSource.


Pastor Wang Yi of Early Rain Covenant Church was secretly tried on December 26, 2019 and sentenced on December 30, 2019 to nine years in prison. Zhang Peihong is one of Wang Yi’s attorneys who was not allowed to represent him at trial. In a post on social media shortly after Wang Yi’s sentencing, Zhang Peihong noted how one pastor described Wang Yi as a “paratrooper” who sacrificed himself for the Chinese church. That pastor is Pastor Guo Muyun and the description came from his sermon titled, “Paratroopers and Motorboats.” In that sermon, Pastor Guo praises Wang Yi for sacrificing himself for Christ’s church. This sermon attracted attention on Chinese social media, but was quickly censored. Below is a translation of the sermon.

This sermon contains several veiled references to Pastor Wang Yi, which we have noted, as well as whole sections that allude to him.

Paratroopers and Motorboats

Sermon Text

Philippians 1:12-20

I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.

Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.

Yes, and I will rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death.

Proclaiming Christ

Paul’s calling is to proclaim the gospel.

He also refers to this calling as “speak the word,” or “proclaiming Christ.”

There is no great difference between these three phrases.

The word gospel in the original Greek can be translated directly as “good news,” but within the background and context of the Roman Empire, this word refers specifically to the good news of a king ascending to the throne, and can only be used in referring to the ascension of Augustus or Vespasian.

But through the apostles, the Holy Spirit chose this particular word to represent the core message of Christianity.

Therefore, the actual meaning of the “good news of the gospel” is: Jesus is king.

This is the original meaning of the word gospel. Things like “gospel for diabetics!” posted on telephone poles or in popup windows, only use the surface meaning of “good news.”

However, saying that Jesus is “king,” or even saying that he is “the crucified king,” will not automatically be understood by people steeped in several thousand years of Eastern culture. Being a “king” does not mean that he was power-hungry, boastful, blood-thirsty, or bent the laws to his own will. This impression of “king” comes from Eastern kings, centralized emperors, and especially the actions of tyrants and despots.

As for the characteristics of a true king, as well as of the nobles and knights under him, is that he bears responsibility. When outsiders invade, to fight, and even to die, is their calling. This is the honor of a king, the spirit of nobility, and the charm of knights.

In the First and Second World Wars, the death rate among children of British nobility was far higher than among commoners. Every year, the poppies of Remembrance Day remind people whose blood it was that dyed the Flanders Fields red. 

The word Christ is actually a translation from the Hebrew word Messiah. And Messiah means “the anointed one,” often referring to, and especially referring to, kings.

But it is also acceptable to translate Christ as “redeemer.” Redemption originally means “to bear,” and to bear signifies to take the place of, to cover over, to redeem.

We can probably use these three phrases to sum up the main points of Jesus’ redemptive work, and this is the core of the spirit of Christianity.

This is the implicit premise of Paul proclaiming Christ.

The Christ that he proclaims is the crucified king. He takes the place of; he covers over; he redeems; he bears responsibility. He takes punishment in place of the chosen people; he covers over the people so they avoid disaster; he redeems the debt of believers; and he bears their sins. The cross is a manifestation of his glory, the resurrection is the climax of his glory, and his return is the completion of his glory.

Paul likewise imitated Christ. After entering deep into the enemy camp, he spread the “good news” of “the heavenly king ascending to his throne by the cross” to souls in both the great prisons and the small prisons.

Like the passage says, he sees his chains as channels of blessings for others, and a mark of his own blessing. He drew the enemies’ attention, so that others could continue spreading Christ, even if some of those people attacked him as they spread the word. He covered over many people, so that they could continue spreading Christ, even though it seemed like for some the motivation for spreading Christ was to keep Paul in jail for a couple more years.

And yet even more people, because of his chains, because of his bearing responsibility, began spreading the gospel without fear.

Because of this, Paul rejoiced. Compared to before, when he was free, Paul rejoiced even more greatly. I have Christ. What can others do with me? Perhaps this was the true emotions expressed by Paul in face of situations that typically caused others to breakdown—calm yet joyful.

 Such a Man as I

However, not all people led by the apostles had the emotions of the apostles. Just as not all who know the Apostle’s Creed also carry the burden of the apostles.

Paul said, I wish you were imitators of me, as I am an imitator of Christ. This means to imitate the king’s bearing responsibility, the redeemer’s suffering. Spreading the gospel this way is not “gospel for diabetics!” It is spreading the word of the heavy cross, not frilly cross-stitching.

Of course, not everyone is a Paul. Not everyone will do prison ministry like Paul. But we should act as Paul said:

And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.

If we are indeed his brothers in the Lord.

Be confident in the Lord, more bold to speak the word, without fear, this is the common calling given to those of us outside physical prisons.

Paul, who shares this common calling, also had a special calling. His ability to live out his special calling was because he knew his own special calling.

Like it says in Nehemiah 6:5-11:

In the same way Sanballat for the fifth time sent his servant to me with an open letter in his hand. In it was written, “It is reported among the nations, and Geshem also says it, that you and the Jews intend to rebel; that is why you are building the wall. And according to these reports you wish to become their king. And you have also set up prophets to proclaim concerning you in Jerusalem, ‘There is a king in Judah.’ And now the king will hear of these reports. So now come and let us take counsel together.” Then I sent to him, saying, “No such things as you say have been done, for you are inventing them out of your own mind.” For they all wanted to frighten us, thinking, “Their hands will drop from the work, and it will not be done.” But now, O God, strengthen my hands.

Now when I went into the house of Shemaiah the son of Delaiah, son of Mehetabel, who was confined to his home, he said, “Let us meet together in the house of God, within the temple. Let us close the doors of the temple, for they are coming to kill you. They are coming to kill you by night.” But I said, “Should such a man as I run away? And what man such as I could go into the temple and live? I will not go in.”

Sanballat’s gist was: If you don’t cooperate with me, I’ll accuse you of inciting subversion of state power! The nervous Shemaiah wanted Nehemiah to hide with him, but Nehemiah replied, “Should such a man as I run away?”

What then, according to the heart of Nehemiah, was “such a man”?

If you have read the book of Nehemiah, you will know that he knew he had a special calling from God, and he understood his special calling—to rebuild the holy city.

Therefore, even though he was heavily surrounded, and often maliciously accused, he still did not run away.

This is not to say that he was naturally not afraid of anything. In reality, Nehemiah was easily frightened. He was “very much afraid” when the king simply asked him, “why are you sad?” (Nehemiah 2:2).

But as the lyrics of A Man Like Me say:

How could a man as cowardly as me, always playing things safe, once think to give my all for someone else?

But Nehemiah did not simply “once think” to give his all. He actually gave his all. For his God, he was no longer cowardly, no longer playing it safe.

And so, he did not run.

We must clarify that running is not necessarily wrong. The Lord said, “When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next.”

As long as after we flee to the next town, we continue to be confident in the Lord, are more bold to speak the word, without fear.

Paul did not run either. Of course, he had the opportunity to run. But like Nehemiah, he understood, “Should such a man as I run away?”

Not only did he not run away, but he entered into the very heart of the empire, and began his ministry that utterly overturned the world.

Paratroopers

This time last year, I preached a sermon called “The Cross of the King.” In that sermon, I said that the “king”[1] who imitates the King also knew his own calling:

The broken jade knows what they are doing. They race along the red path of martyrdom to awaken others. Those clinging to life in fear also know what they are doing. They continue squirming along the path of wretched development, to continue pretending to be asleep.

This “king” surprised me a long time ago with his gorgeous words. But the first time that he truly moved me was when he supported a humble brother in Weibo comments.

In Weibo, a nobody left a message to him saying, “You are such an SB [a Chinese colloquialism meaning “fool” or “idiot”] —does your God know?”

He [Wang Yi] answered, “My faith is to confess the first half of that sentence, and believe the second half.”

Over the past few days, I have suddenly realized that the “SB” in the first half of that sentence, when understood spiritually, is san-bing, meaning “paratrooper.”

It’s not just me saying this. He said so himself.

In last year’s forum, he said on stage, “My calling and our church’s calling is to be paratroopers landing behind enemy lines, surrounded by large forces. Our mission is to attract enemy attention.”

In other words, to do and die.

Yes, over these past few days, I have come to understand. I understand more clearly than before. He was imitating the apostles, imitating Christ, imitating their “bearing responsibility,” covering over, taking the place of, and suffering.

He was a paratrooper, belonging to the 129th[2] Airborne Division.

Like Nehemiah and Paul, he knew his calling, and so he said, “Should such a man as I run away?”

If he had wanted to run, of course he would have had many options. Some people couldn’t wait to ferry him abroad, like they did some of his very talented fellow provincials. And if he had wanted to be bought off it would have been even easier. After all, people within the country had once invited him to meetings.

However, he chose to imitate Christ. The crime he was charged with was basically the same as the crime Jesus was charged with. That sign above Christ’s head, which said “king of the Jews,” was proof back then of inciting subversion of state powers. At his crucifixion, Jesus left an outer garment and a tunic. In spiritual terms, that is fifty thousand[3] RMB.

So, he chose to stay, because he already had Christ. If I have Christ, what can others do with me?

If he had not had Christ, I cannot see any reason for not running away.

Furthermore, he was not bought off, but followed the plan, opened the plane door, and jumped.

The grossly immature would laugh at him for getting killed right after landing. However, do these mockers have enough sense to know that the incarnate Jesus was one of God’s airborne operations? Wrapped in cloth, placed in a manger, and later died on the cross—is this not “getting killed right after landing”?

This first paratrooper of the 129th Airborne Division now wears the same chains as Paul did. And this is what he wanted to imitate, and even what he desired.

Perhaps there are some who truly love the Lord, and truly love this man, who are still confused to this day by the events, just as some were confused by why John the Baptist had to berate Herod. Did he not know that Herod and his family has always been cruel and savage, not allowing any dissension?

And so we come back to the question of “such a man as I.”

He knew who he was. He knew what it meant to be a paratrooper.

Most of us cannot write a landmark piece like On Church-State Relationships. So even if we were to “offend our superiors,” it would most likely be through arguing and provocation.

Yet he was a pastor with a scholarly and legal background. He knew how he was equipped and what he was called to, and what this meant.

To take a step back, I want to ask you, even if you have not researched any political studies or church history, do you understand the absolute validity of the following three statements?

All humans are sinners. Herod is a human. Therefore, Herod is a sinner.

Would you think this logic problematic?

Therefore, the paratrooper pastor’s only “problem,” perhaps, is that he was like that innocent and brave child, who ignored the caution and even threats of people around him, and said simply to that emperor who walked brazenly, haughtily, nakedly in his new clothes, “You are not God. You are, like each of us, a sinner.”

Yet while he was simple like a child, his mind was not like a child’s. Even his enemies had to acknowledge his wisdom.

Of course he knew what he was doing.

He loves movies, and many of his movie reviews are even better than the movies themselves. One of my minor regrets is that I am not able to read his reviews of the final two Star Wars movies. However, I imagine that he would have seen himself as the old Luke Skywalker, who drew his sword not for victory, but to “bear responsibility,” to “cover over,” and to give the Rebel Alliance time to withdraw and regroup.

He loved literature, and was the best poet writing in modern Chinese, second to none. The day before the operation of the 129th Airborne Division, he wrote a couple lines, a prayer:

My Lord, before I pray,
Please grant me the heart of a knight
A miracle like the infinite sea
Like a mustard seed, living beneath attention
As if already dead,
Also giving a heart certain of death
As my weapon against the world.

He knew who he was. He knew his mission and calling as a paratrooper.

In preparing this sermon, I found a poem called The Paratrooper’s Prayer. It was written by André Zirnheld, a lieutenant of Free French Airforce who sacrificed himself during World War Two. He was also a paratrooper.

In a notebook among his belongings, his fellow solders found a poem, The Paratroopers Prayer, which he had written during his service in Tunisia in 1938. The English translation is as follows:

The Paratrooper’s Prayer

Give me, O Lord my God,
what is left Thee, that which no one asks of Thee.
I do not ask Thee for rest or tranquility,
either of soul or body.
I do not ask Thee for riches,
for success, or for health.
So many ask Thee for these, my God,
that none must be left Thee.
Give me, Lord, what is left Thee.
Give me what the others refuse.
I want risk and anguish;
I want fight and pain.
Give me these, my God, once and for all.
Give me the certainty that these
will always be my portion, for I will not
always have the courage to ask them of Thee.
Give me, O Lord, what is left Thee.
Give me what others do not want.
But also give me courage,
strength, and faith.

Amen.

 Motorboats

 Now, the paratrooper and his division have completed this stage of their mission.

I pray that we all can imitate this paratrooper’s prayer, asking for what no one asks for. May his imprisonment encourage us, just as Paul’s imprisonment encouraged the saints of his time:

Be confident in the Lord, more bold to speak the word, without fear.

Even if you are too afraid to be a paratrooper, if you want to run away, that is alright. The paratroopers and messengers that the Lord uses greatly are of course unafraid of heights, unafraid of being surrounded. Of course, they know in their hearts, and their feet are rooted. If you are not so, this is not a sin. Because perhaps this shows that you do not have this calling.

However, even if we do not become paratroopers, I urge us all to not be soldiers who fall apart. When faced with enemies on all sides, even if we do not have the heart or the strength, we can still hamper, delay, and hold on.[4] If being a paratrooper is not your calling, then may you and your brothers and sisters in Christ continue to steer the motorboat, continue to:

Be confident in the Lord, more bold to speak the word, without fear.

In the upcoming trials and trainings, we will definitely be able to more and more withstand pressure, more and more persevere. We can be struck down, but not destroyed. We can be wounded, but not ruined.

As for those who spread the gospel out of envy or strife, by embracing parties, or even to increase the chains worn by the Lord’s servants, I pray for you. May you one day understand who is established by the gospel, and who is the true enemy.

As for the Sanballats and Alexanders the coppersmiths, I urge you to behave yourselves. Perhaps one day the greatly merciful Lord will be willing to save you from the hands of Satan.

Finally, let us close with a hymn, The Lord’s Love in China. May this hymn that he wrote, and the Christ that he leans upon, also encourage us to:

Be confident in the Lord, more bold to speak the word, without fear.

Original Articles: 伞兵与摩托艇by 暮云的半导体

Image Credit: intographics from Pixabay.

Notes

  1. ^ “King” here refers to Wang Yi whose family name means “king”
  2. ^ Referring to 12.9, the arrest of Pastor Wang Yi and many others of Early Rain Covenant Church on December 9, 2018.
  3. ^ The amount of Wang Yi’s property that was confiscated.
  4. ^ The three words together sound like the Chinese for “motorboat.”

ChinaSource Team

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