Summary: A brief look at the history of our Christian heritage reveals how serious the call of Christ has been taken in the past. Will we carry the torch of faith with the same courage today?
A large percentage of the Bible is dedicated to stories of faith, testimonies of those who have known God and followed his will (or not). The spectrum is complete in scripture: some were completely unfaithful while some were faithful even at the cost of their lives. By the way, some were also disobedient at the cost of their lives! Everyone had their ups and downs, but God’s word obviously applauds those who demonstrated faithful obedience and paid the ultimate price for it. The book of Revelation tells us this powerful message about God’s people: Rev. 12: 11 "And they overcame Satan because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony, and they did not love their life even to death.
One true test of faith is this: will we continue to confess and follow Jesus Christ when is becomes inconvenient… and difficult… and even dangerous? Everywhere scripture attests to this.
Jesus said in John 16:1 "These things I have spoken to you, that you may be kept from stumbling.
2 "They will make you outcasts from the synagogue, but an hour is coming for everyone who kills you to think that he is offering service to God.
3 "And these things they will do, because they have not known the Father, or Me.
4 "But these things I have spoken to you, that when their hour comes, you may remember that I told you of them.
Jesus said in Matthew 10: (in the context of sending out his disciples to preach the gospel throughout Israel but foreshadowing the global evangelization call; things will be very very challenging!) Verse 39 Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.
Jesus is telling us: “I am worth giving your life for! And this cause will cost some of you your lives. Prepare, be courageous, I will lead the way and be with you all the way!”
In the sixteenth century Protestant Reformation two of the most important books besides the Bible to attract converts to Christianity were Foxes Book of Martyrs and The Bloody Theatre, (actually the titles are a bit longer). The Bloody Theatre is a history of martyrs that ran to 1290 pages in its Dutch publication in 1660. Both books were testimonials, descriptions of trials, torture, and excruciating deaths of faithful Christians.
You might not think that such stories would ENCOURAGE people to become Christians, but they did and they do. This is partly because they force the questions: “Were these who gave their lives being foolish or wise?” And, “Was this cause one that I should reject or embrace?”
Perhaps that’s part of why the Holy Spirit included three New Testament martyr stories: First is Jesus Christ, whose story is told over and over throughout the New Testament, second is Stephen in Acts 7 and third, the apostle James in Acts 12. Another martyr, Antipas, is mentioned in the book of Revelation, and many unnamed martyrs are also depicted there, but without a story as background.
Let me read you this little piece from my Historical Theology text book: Miles, p. 39.
Origin of Alexandria, d. 254. “Most of the details of Origin’s life come from the fourth century historian, Eusebius. After several generations in which there were no persecutions in Alexandria, and churches had become large and secure, the Severan persecution broke out in 202. Origin’s father was martyred, along with many other Christians. According to Eusebius, the young Origin’s zeal to share his father’s martyrdom was so great that his mother hid all his clothes so that he could not leave the house. At this time Clement was head of the catechetical school in Alexandria. When Clement died in 215, Origin became the head at the age of eighteen. At least seven of his pupils were martyred. He visited them in prison; he was in court when they were tired; he embraced them when they were about to be executed; and he accompanied their bodies to the cemetery, and then returned to resume his teaching.
Later, Origin expressed nostalgia for those “good old days.” It used to be easier, he said, to tell who was a real Christian and who was not. Those were the days when Christians really were faithful, when the noble martyrdoms were taking place, when after conducting the martyrs’ bodies to the cemetery we returned to meet together, and the entire church was present without being afraid, and the catechumens were being catechized during the very time of the martyrdom and while people were dying who had confessed the truth unto death… Then were the true believers, few in number but faithful… But now when we have become many, out of the multitude that profess piety there are extremely few who are attaining to the election of God and to blessedness.