Ok. Confession Time. Are you ready?
If you throw a stone at my head and I get a chance, I might throw a stone back at your head. That is how the world has taught me to live. Plus, you might make me angry.
Now about Jesus. Our Lord and Rabbi teaches us, as his disciples, to love and pray for our enemies (Matt 5:44; Lk 6:27-28). This is an instruction to reject the option of violence when it comes to our enemies, and instead love them as Jesus loved even his enemies and prayed for them (Lk 23:34). Admittedly, this is a difficult teaching and one that could mean the loss of our life just as it did cost Jesus his life.
But… We are all going to physically die one day any ways. The question is: what sort of story will we tell in our life and in our death? Will it be the story of God’s reign in Jesus, who though crucified by his enemies, was raised by God and exalted in victory as the Lord and Messiah? Or will it be a story that says death has not been defeated in Christ and therefore must still be resisted at all cost, even by violence if necessary?
Stephen was the first Christian martyr. He was a Christian whom scripture describes as “a man full of God’s grace and power (Acts 6:8). But Stephen had one problem. When he began witnessing for Jesus Christ, he angered some of his fellow Israelites. That angry group of Jews became a mob who seized Stephen and eventually began to stone him. But rather than trying to defend himself, Stephen did just as Jesus had taught him by instruction and example. Stephen loved his enemies by praying for his attackers (Acts 7:60).
And then Stephen died.
What if God is calling us to be another martyr? What if God’s desire is for us to bear witness to the kingdom of God as a martyr like Stephen?* That may sound crazy because being a martyr never gets talked about or considered in American Christianity but we must realize, that God has used plenty of martyrs in the past and present to further his mission and bring him glory.
So I ask, what if God is calling us to be a martyr? Would we have the courage to not resist a violent attack from an enemy even if it meant our death? We seem to have no problems championing the idea of sacrificing life for the sake of the country, so could we sacrifice our life for the mission and glory of God if called to do so?
Well, it is easy to answer “yes!” from the comfort of our cozy homes, air-conditioned offices, trendy coffee and pastry shops, or wherever it is that we hang out. But know this, we will never have the courage to be a martyr for Christ unless we have the conviction of a Christian martyr now. That is why we must not let fear and “common sense” expediencies cause us to set aside Jesus’ teaching to love and pray for our enemies, even as difficult as such a teaching might be to uphold in a culture that doesn’t seem to know any option besides violence.
So why all the talk about martyrdom any ways? Well, I am hearing more and more chatter that about persecution. That is, some Christians are beginning to discern that some form of persecution is coming to Christians in America. Whether that is true or not and whether it happens to us, our children, or our children’s children, we need to be prepared to live as martyrs/witnesses for Jesus. Yet the only way to prepare ourselves for martyrdom is to begin cultivating the conviction of a Christian martyr in us now so that if or when that calling comes, we will have the courage to be a martyr for Jesus.
* For those who are unaware, the Greek noun μάρτυς/martus means “witness” or “martyr” while its verb cognate μαρτυρέω/martureō means “to witness” or “to testify”.