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REMEMBER THE MARTYRS!

by Dr. Christopher L. Cagan

A sermon preached at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles
Saturday Evening, June 29, 2019

“Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life”
(Revelation 2:10).


Today is June 29. Traditionally this was the day the Apostle Paul was beheaded under the persecution of the Emperor Nero. The Voice of the Martyrs has called this day the “Day of the Christian Martyr.”

The Greek word translated “martyr” means “witness” or “testimony.” When a Christian is killed for trusting Jesus, that death is his testimony and witness.

In Communist lands like China and Vietnam, Christians are put in prison and even killed for trusting Jesus. In Muslim countries like Iran and Pakistan, Christians can be thrown into jail and tortured. Many of them die in prison. Christians are killed in their own homes or on the street. There persecution, prison and martyrdom are a part of the Christian life. People trust Jesus knowing that it may cost them their lives. Persecution, even death, is common for them, almost normal.

Here in the United States, martyrdom seems far away. No one is imprisoned or killed for being a Christian. Here it is easy to call yourself a Christian. Most people do. But in many parts of the world, persecution hangs over the head of every believer. It was that way in the first three centuries. Suffering and dying for Christ was common in the early churches. Every Christian thought about it. Every new disciple thought about it. Even the lost pagans thought about it. The early Christians didn’t play with their religion. They were serious. They might have to die for Christ – and many did. They felt sorrow for those who were suffering. They prayed for them. The early Christians remembered what the Bible says,

“Remember them that are in bonds, as bound with them; and them which suffer adversity, as being yourselves also in the body” (Hebrews 13:3).

A modern translation says, “Remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering” (NIV).

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Those Christians remembered that Jesus warned His disciples to prepare for persecution when He said,

“The brother shall deliver up the brother to death, and the father the child: and the children shall rise up against their parents, and cause them to be put to death” (Matthew 10:21).

Again, Jesus said,

“Fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28).

and again, Christ said,

“Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name’s sake” (Matthew 24:9).

Soon after Christ rose from the dead, the believers were persecuted. Stephen was stoned for preaching Christ. The Bible says,

“They cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran upon him with one accord, And cast him out of the city, and stoned him” (Acts 7:57-58).

In the early churches, suffering and death were common. They were to be expected. The Apostle Paul was ready when his time came. When he was in prison, soon to die, he said,

“I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing” (II Timothy 4:6-8).

All the Apostles except one died as martyrs for Christ:

Peter – was severely scourged and then crucified upside down.
  Andrew – was crucified on an X-shaped cross.
     James, son of Zebedee – was beheaded.
        John – was put in a cauldron of boiling oil, and then
         banished to the island of Patmos.
                 Philip – was scourged and then crucified.
                       Bartholomew – was flayed [skinned] alive and then crucified.
                          Matthew – was beheaded.
                             James, the Lord’s brother – was thrown from the top of the
                             Temple, and then beaten to death.
                                   Thaddaeus – was shot to death with arrows.
                                      Mark – was dragged to death.
                                         Paul – was beheaded.
                                            Luke – was hanged on an olive tree.
                                              Thomas – was run through with spears, and thrown
                                               into the flames of an oven.
(The New Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, Bridge-Logos Publishers,
   1997, pp. 5-10; Greg Laurie, Why the Resurrection?
   Tyndale House Publishers, 2004, pp. 19-20).

In the first three centuries there were ten great persecutions under ten Roman Emperors. Some of them tried to kill every Christian in the empire and destroy the faith. But God’s grace was stronger than their evil. More and more people trusted Jesus. The churches grew and grew. Instead of vanishing from the earth, the Christians took over the Roman Empire! That’s why Europe, America, and many other lands are called “Christian” (in name) today. Tertullian (160-220) wrote, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” We could say, “The more you mow us down, the more we grow.”

“Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life” (Revelation 2:10).

The honor roll of martyrs rings throughout the centuries. In the fourteenth century, Raymond Lull (1232-1316) went to preach the Gospel to the Muslims in North Africa. There he was stoned by an angry crowd for preaching Jesus. He was faithful to the Lord Jesus, who will reward him with a martyr’s crown.

In the fifteenth century, John Huss (1369-1415) was arrested and then burned at the stake. What was his crime? He said people are saved by Christ, not by works. He laid the foundation for the Protestant Reformation. A century later Martin Luther preached salvation by grace through faith at the risk of his life – and changed the world!

In the sixteenth century, William Tyndale (1494-1536) was strangled and then burned at the stake. What was his crime? He translated the Bible into English! Was it worth it? Eighty percent of the King James Bible we’ve used for four hundred years drew from Tyndale’s work. It was worth his pain a million times over.

Through the centuries, men and women have died as martyrs for Christ. For every one whose name we know there are a thousand, and ten thousand more, who are known only to God. In China in the Boxer Rebellion of 1900, 180 missionaries and tens of thousands of Chinese Christians were killed. Those martyrs will rule in Christ’s Kingdom for a thousand years.

In 1934 missionaries John and Betty Stam arrived at Tsingteh, an isolated place deep inside China. There they were beheaded by the Communists for preaching the Gospel. Both of them were under thirty years old. When Jesus comes to reward His servants, John and Betty Stam will stand high.

Jim Elliot was a missionary to the Auca Indians of Ecuador. In 1956 that savage tribe killed him before he could preach to them. He was 28 years old. Jim Elliot said, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” Was he right? Absolutely! Jesus said,

“Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life” (Revelation 2:10).

I have read Pastor Richard Wurmbrand’s book, Tortured for Christ. So have many of you. I have seen “The Cross: Jesus in China,” a set of videos about the persecuted Christians in China. So have you. For every martyr killed, for every suffering Christian in prison, whose name we know, there are ten thousand more to be rewarded in eternity. Justin D. Long emphasized the startling fact that more people died for their faith in the twentieth century than in all the previous centuries combined. He said, “During this century [the 20th], we have documented cases in excess of 26 million martyrs. From AD 33 to 1900, we have documented 14 million martyrs” (see “Modern Persecution” on Christianity.com, https://www.christianity.com/church/church-history/timeline/1901-2000/modern-persecution-11630665.html).

“Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life” (Revelation 2:10).

We don’t see this in the United States. But it happens all over the world. We have it easy here. We live in an island of comfort in a troubled world. But we are only a small part of the Christians on earth. There are far more Christians in the Third World than in America.

In an editorial in Christianity Today, David Neff [pointed out] that American Christians do not lead typical Christian lives. “The typical Christian lives in a developing country, speaks a non-European language, and exists under the constant threat of persecution -- of murder, imprisonment, torture, or rape...The persecutor’s sword dangles by a hair over Christians in the still-communist countries and in lands where the rising tide of Islamism overwhelms political efforts at fairness, tolerance, and due process” (Christianity Today, “Our Extended Persecuted Family,” April 29, 1996; see also Christianity.com, ibid.).

We should expect suffering in the Christian life, even if we’re not put in prison. When people talk bad about you because you’re a real Christian, don’t pull back. It happens to everyone sooner or later. Suffering for Christ should be no surprise to flinch from. It is something to expect.

I remember when Pastor Wurmbrand spoke in our church several times. It was an honor to meet him and hear him tell about the suffering Christians in Communist lands. Less than a year ago, a Chinese woman gave her testimony in our church. She had been in prison in Communist China six times for being a Christian. She said it was normal for a house church there to have some of its members in prison. It was no exception – it was what happened! Today we remember the Groenewald family, Christians from South Africa, murdered in Afghanistan by Muslims because they believed in Jesus! And it will go on until Christ comes back and says, “No more!”

Let us remember those who have died for Christ. Think of them often. Remember those who suffer for Christ now, and pray for them. Just as prayer is a part of the Christian life, just as reading the Bible is part of the Christian life, so let us remember those who suffered and died, as a part of our Christian lives. Remember the martyrs!

May the example of the martyrs help us to cope with the little pain and persecution we have now. It is nothing compared to the prison and death Christians suffered in the past, are suffering now, and will suffer as the age draws to its close. Let us handle the little pain we have now, for it is but little.

Take heart from their example. Jesus said,

“Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life” (Revelation 2:10).

Jesus will keep His promise. He will give every martyr a crown! The Bible says,

“If we suffer, we shall also reign with him” (II Timothy 2:12).

The martyrs will reign with Christ when He comes to set up His Kingdom. The rewards Christ will give are incredible. They are beyond imagination. The Apostle Paul said,

“For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18).

Again, the Bible says,

“Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him” (I Corinthians 2:9).

Any suffering that Christians go through now is nothing compared to the glory they will receive from Christ. The Bible says,

“Our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory” (II Corinthians 4:17).

As Jesus said,

“Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life” (Revelation 2:10).

Think of those who have suffered. Draw strength from their example. Remember the martyrs! Amen.