Many Christians proclaiming the Gospel have paid the ultimate price. If I am called to this costly discipleship, I pray I will love my enemy as they did.
The first martyr
The enemies of God will always try to silence those proclaiming the gospel. For the early church, they were the Sanhedrin and they thought they were doing God a favor by stoning Stephen. This passage is significant because it began the conversion of Paul the Apostle who at first was intent on killing Christians.
While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep. Acts 7:59-60
The crown of life
The Book of Revelation provides several accounts of future reward for martyrs. Everyone is urged to be patient and wait a little longer.
When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained. They called out in a loud voice, “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?” Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer, until the full number of their fellow servants, their brothers and sisters, were killed just as they had been. Revelation 6:9-11
To these Christians, martyrdom was not something to be avoided. They found grace to face the ultimate challenge to their faith and received their eternal reward as expressed in Revelation 2:10. Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you life as your victor’s crown.
Read the account of Perpetua and her group who were martyred in the Roman Arena in Carthage in 203 AD. From personal diaries, these stories of faith and courage are presented as undisputed facts.
Bearing Witness Stories of Martyrdom From the back cover is this comment from J. Nelson Kraybill, president, Mennonite World Conference: Christian martyrdom and costly discipleship are not confined to some legendary past. With vivid storytelling and reliable sources, this book teaches us about nonviolent love in the face of opposition and challenges us to take risks for the gospel today.
Not everyone is called to martyrdom. If I am called, I will pray for grace to not shrink back from it. Each of us must face that decision alone and we will receive grace if we ask for it.
Lord Jesus, Grant me grace to withstand persecution and to continue to love my enemy even if he does me harm. May your love and compassion fill me with joy as I continue to serve you.