Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Gift of Martyrdom

One Year Bible
New Testament passage for Saturday, December 15, 2012: Revelation 6:1-17

When He opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the testimony which they held. 10 And they cried with a loud voice, saying, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, until You judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” 11 Then a white robe was given to each of them; and it was said to them that they should rest a little while longer, until both the number of their fellow servants and their brethren, who would be killed as they were, was completed.  Revelation 6:9-11 (NKJV)

There is the mistaken notion that Christian martyrdom ended when the Romans stopped feeding them to lions in the 4th Century. By this view martyrdom is an early church phenomenon. This is far from the truth. By all statistics available today, the 20th Century saw more Christians killed for their faith than all the previous 19 centuries COMBINED.  Worldwide, some estimate that as many as 200 million Christians live in daily threat upon their lives simply because they follow Jesus.  David Barrett, the compiler of the World Christian Encyclopaedia, gives an amazing statistic. He says that consistently throughout church history, one in every two hundred believers, on average, is called to martyrdom!

The level and ferocity of opposition to Christianity has increased and intensified as time goes forward. Later in Revelation, we see the dragon (Satan) wreaking havoc, spewing out a flood of persecution because "he knows that his time is short" (Rev. 12:12). As history proceeds toward its climax, we may expect that martyrdom will increase rather than lessen. 

This may seem like an unnecessarily dramatic question, but are you willing to die for your faith rather than deny Jesus?  This is not an improper question. It strikes to the depth of our unflinching, faithful love for Jesus. Martyrdom is never something we should SEEK, but rather it is a reflection of the our commitment to never deny Him. 

The Greek word for "witness" is the word martureos.  We get our word "martyr" from this same word. The ultimate Christian witness is martyrdom. Verse 11 gives an interesting insight. According to this verse, the time will come when the number of martyrs IS COMPLETE. God already knows how many martyrs will give their lives for the faith. This implies that martyrdom is a holy calling. It is a gift from God. 

The great Chinese Christian leader Brother Yun gives us an incredible perspective on persecution and martyrdom. In his book The Heavenly Man, he tells us that the church in China today asks us NOT to pray for the persecution to end. Rather that we pray for the Chinese believers to remain faithful IN the persecution. It is in the context of such great challenge that the Chinese church is so strong today. 

The song that fills heaven today is a declaration of the glory of God - the beauty of Jesus. No matter what price we might pay in this life, "Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and riches and wisdom, and strength and honor and glory and blessing" (Rev. 5:12)!

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