I woke up this morning with the subject of martyrdom heavy on my heart. Then, as it often happens in my life, our Pastor touch on it in this morning’s sermon. I am guessing that I am not the only one who has been seriously thinking about what it might be like to lay down one’s own life. Unless you live under a rock, you know that heinous acts are being committed against Christians at an alarming rate within certain regions of the world.
Let’s take a look at Stephen in the book of Acts.
Acts 6:8-15The Message (MSG)
8-10 Stephen, brimming with God’s grace and energy, was doing wonderful things among the people, unmistakable signs that God was among them. But then some men from the meeting place whose membership was made up of freed slaves, Cyrenians, Alexandrians, and some others from Cilicia and Asia, went up against him trying to argue him down. But they were no match for his wisdom and spirit when he spoke.
11 So in secret they bribed men to lie: “We heard him cursing Moses and God.”
12-14 That stirred up the people, the religious leaders, and religion scholars. They grabbed Stephen and took him before the High Council. They put forward their bribed witnesses to testify: “This man talks nonstop against this Holy Place and God’s Law. We even heard him say that Jesus of Nazareth would tear this place down and throw out all the customs Moses gave us.”
15 As all those who sat on the High Council looked at Stephen, they found they couldn’t take their eyes off him—his face was like the face of an angel!
Why was his face like that of an angel? Because as he replied to them, he had all of the backing of the kingdom of heaven! After Stephen spoke the words the Holy Spirit gave him we read about what happened next:
Acts 7:54-60The Message (MSG)
54-56 At that point they went wild, a rioting mob of catcalls and whistles and invective. But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, hardly noticed—he only had eyes for God, whom he saw in all his glory with Jesus standing at his side. He said, “Oh! I see heaven wide open and the Son of Man standing at God’s side!”
57-58 Yelling and hissing, the mob drowned him out. Now in full stampede, they dragged him out of town and pelted him with rocks. The ringleaders took off their coats and asked a young man named Saul to watch them.
59-60 As the rocks rained down, Stephen prayed, “Master Jesus, take my life.” Then he knelt down, praying loud enough for everyone to hear, “Master, don’t blame them for this sin”—his last words. Then he died.
Can you see how great the grace of God was on this man? It says that Stephen hardly noticed because he only had eyes for the Lord. Do you think that his natural body was feeling those massive rocks raining down on him or do you think the Holy Spirit was in control? My opinion is that there is no way this man could have been able to pray loud enough for everyone to hear him if he had been in the earthly agony that he should have felt. Remember that he also was drug by a stampeding crowd all the way out of town. Do you think they were gentle in their rage? I personally believe if you are called to be a martyr, then the grace and mercy of Jesus is backing you up all the way to your last breath!
In current weeks, we have those amazing Coptic Christians as an example of that grace. That picture of those believers on the beach right before their death will forever be etched in my mind. They were calm and at peace with Jesus.
If today you are uneasy about what may happen in your own country in the future, please don’t allow fear to paralyze you. Remember that what you are seeing on the news is very twisted and you are only hearing a portion of what is really happening. Turn it off if it’s causing you fear. I know some of you believe that it’s your duty to stay informed. Well, are you informed if you are only being fed a bunch of half-truths anyway? If you spend that time with God instead, He will tell you the real deal and what you need to do to stay under the shadow of His wing.
I believe that our God knows each one of us so intimately that He will not put you in a position that you can not handle. There is nothing the enemy wants more than to see God’s people paralyzed with fear. Come out of agreement with fear of martyrdom today and walk in the joy of the Lord. Remember that is your strength!