Friday, April 5, 2013

Martyred for Their Faith

Martyred for Their Faith 

John 15:20
Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also.

Easter is over, but, the reality of the Crucifixion is not. The cruelty of mankind against another human being is overwhelming to me. After completing a short study on the means of death used to kill many Christians, including our Savior, it brought me to write about a few brave men martyred for their faith in Christ.

Crucifixion was probably started first with the Persians (modern day Iran). Initially, the victim was suspended to keep their feet from touching holy ground. The Phoenicians, traders to many lands, seem to have also acquired the practice and probably spread it to other cultures, including the Greeks. Alexander the Great (a Greek) introduced the practice to Carthage, where it was picked up by the Romans. The Romans started using it around the time Jesus was born. The Romans perfected crucifixion as a punishment designed to maximize pain and suffering. It wasn’t about killing somebody—–it was about killing somebody in a really horrible way. Someone who was crucified suffered the maximum amount of pain. Crucifixion was also the most disgraceful form of execution. It was usually reserved for slaves, foreigners, revolutionaries, and vile criminals. The only time a Roman citizen was ever crucified was for desertion from the army.

Many people have been killed for their faith through the ages. The word martyr, is the basic Greek word used in the New Testament which is translated “witness.” Therefore, when Jesus said, “ye shall be witnesses unto me” in Acts 1:8 it had great significance to them. This does not mean that every follower of Christ will be killed for their faith, but because the witness of the early church followers resulted in their martyrdom, we use the word today to mean someone who dies for their faith.

Acts chapters 6 and 7 give us the account of Stephen’s martyrdom. Stephen is considered one of the first Christian martyrs after Christ himself. Stephen was speaking and preaching the truth of Jesus Christ to a stiffnecked (obstinate) and uncircumcised people. His words offended the listeners and they put together a council that brought false-witness to the things Stephen was saying. Acts 6:11-13 ~ Then they suborned men, which said, We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses, and against God.  And they stirred up the people, and the elders, and the scribes, and came upon him, and caught him, and brought him to the council,  And set up false witnesses, which said, This man ceaseth not to speak blasphemous words against this holy place, and the law.

Stephen proclaimed that God’s own people were at fault for restraining the prophets’ call to righteousness. They even killed Jesus, the Christ. Matthew 26:59-60 ~ Now the chief priests, and elders, and all the council, sought false witness against Jesus, to put him to death; But found none: yea, though many false witnesses came, yet found they none. At the last came two false witnesses, The reaction of the people towards Stephen was to gnash on him with their teeth. They ran Stephen out of the city and stoned him. Stephen patiently accepted the persecution that was given to him and asked the Lord not to hold them guilty who had stoned him repeating Christ’s words on the cross. Acts 7:60 ~ And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep. 

Andrew was one of the first disciples of Christ and previously a disciple of John. John 1:40 says, One of the two which heard John speak, and followed him, was Andrew, Simon Peter's brother.. Andrew was the brother of the impetuous Simon Peter. After the biblical record of Andrew’s life, he went on to preach around the Black Sea and was influential in starting several churches. He was the founder of the church in Byzantium or Constantinople. Tradition says that Andrew was crucified on an X shaped cross refusing to be crucified in the same manner as Christ because he was not worthy.

Paul’s execution has been difficult to place the date but some have said it was in late A.D. 67; others in the spring of A.D. 68. Some writers say Roman citizenship exempted Paul from the lingering torture of death, such as crucifixion or being thrown to wild beast to be eaten alive, which was inflicted on so many of his Christian brothers and sisters. Paul was lead through the city by a number of Roman soldiers whose responsibility was to carry out the orders of the court. So that they would not attract too much notice inside the city, the condemned were escorted out of the city gates or walls to die on the Ostian Road which led to Rome’s river port.

You can be sure the soldiers guarding Paul had heard from his lips the story of Jesus and His love for them making his last few moments count for the Lord. If ever these soldiers had a vision of Christ, it was on the face of this man, as he was being lead to his own execution. Roman citizens were decapitated by the executioner’s axe or sword. According to the Roman historian, Titus Livius, the criminal was tied to a stake, cruelly scourged with rods and then beheaded. Of all the writings of the church leaders, none mention Paul as being scourged, assuming he escaped this torture. During the time of Paul’s execution, the sword, especially under the rule of Nero, was the mode of execution used. The sword was more cruel than the axe in that it took several strikes to complete the job and bring death to the accused.

Thought: Do you wonder what exacting was going through the mind of each of these men as they suffered? They knowingly were to experience excruciating pain and finally, death because of their faith and love for Christ. Could it be that Paul was looking upward towards Heaven remembering how Christ met him on the Road to Damascus? Did he recall how Christ Himself suffered outside the city for his sin repeating to himself, “I am the chief of all sinner?” Did he think with anticipation and joy he would soon be in the presence of God, face to face, with His Redeemer? Was Stephen rehearsing his words spoken to the high priest and the great council in the synagogue as he rebuked their unbelief and was accused of blasphemy? Or, was his heart filled with love and forgiveness for those who would stone him to death seeing the Heavens open and Jesus standing on the right hand of God?

Of course, we will never know what the answers are to these questions this side of Heaven, but we can be assured that God makes no mistakes and all that He does or allows is for the purpose of glorifying the One who gave His all on the cross for us.

2 Timothy 1:12 ~ For the which cause I also suffer these things: nevertheless I am not ashamed: for I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day.

2 Timothy 2:12 ~ If we suffer, (endure) we shall also reign with him: if we deny him, he also will deny us:

2 Timothy 3:12 ~ Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.

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