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Acts 7:59-60 And they stoned Stephen as he was calling on God and saying, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not charge them with this sin.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep. (NKJV)

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The Death of Stephen, the First Martyr

Acts 7:54-60 When they heard these things they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed at him with their teeth. But he, being full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God, and said, “Look! I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” Then they cried out with a loud voice, stopped their ears, and ran at him with one accord; and they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul. And they stoned Stephen as he was calling on God and saying, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not charge them with this sin.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep. (NKJV; emphasis mine)

For many years I have routinely read about Christian martyrs…. Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, biographies, the Encyclopedia of Martyrs to name a few sources. It is my opinion that Foxe’s should be required reading for all Christians, second only to the Bible. Why? Several reasons.

First, that we may honor and remember those who paid the ultimate price for Christ. We honor many people for many things… often times for that which is fleeting and trivial. And other times for things which are indeed honorable: patriotic sacrifice, humanitarian service or selfless courage.

Our Christian ancestry is enriched with the blood of those who would not deny their Savior regardless of the cost. But few Christians have any knowledge of it. Can you name one or two Christian martyrs that are not in the Bible? Ask some other Christians you know. It would be surprising if they could name a Christian martyr, much less relate any details of their life or martyrdom.

Or try this informal survey…. ask your Christian friends, “how many Christians are martyred every year in the 21st century?” The answer is currently over 150,000 and growing. Does that shock you? See if it shocks them.

Tens of thousands of our Brothers and Sisters are being killed, tortured and imprisoned for their faith. How does that touch you? What does it mean to you? Reading about Christian martyrs whose courage and suffering are recorded for our benefit helps us to understand, pray for and weep with those who suffer the same fate today.

We should read about our martyred brethren because it helps us to put our daily problems in perspective. I am an American Christian. I have no clue what it is truly like to suffer real persecution. Oh sure, I get insulted. I get ridiculed and even mistreated at times. But in comparison to torture, confiscation, beatings, and death… my “suffering” is trivial. It’s not trivial to God when it is done in honor of Christ; any innocent suffering for Jesus, no matter how “little” it may be, is a pleasing sacrifice worthy of reward. It is not my intent to belittle anyone’s sacrifice, no matter how small. I realize that it is relative to our experience. What may be “insignificant” in reality, is still a sweet aroma to God if suffered and endured with a pure heart for God’s glory.

But the fact is, western Christians arguably suffer little persecution compared to our brethren in third world countries. We may suffer emotional persecution, or perhaps discrimination. But few of us wonder if our houses will be burned down, or if our family will be tortured. Not so for thousands upon thousands upon thousands of Christians around the world in Islamic, Communist and civil-war-racked African countries.

Sometimes when I read about the martyrs and the often unfathomable suffering they endured, I wonder if I would be able to make the same sacrifice. The answer is: only if God empowers me to do so.

Then an awful reality hits me… why am I even thinking
about my response to martyrdom when I can hardly even
suffer a little criticism or injustice without being greatly
offended and tossed into spiritual turmoil?

How pitiful that we fall apart because someone said something mean or rude to us. How embarrassing that we get consumed with some relatively painless mistreatment or unfairness. How pathetic that we start hunting for a new church the moment a Pastor or fellow church member “offends” us in any way.

Personal rights have become a religion

As an Westerner, I’m afraid that we have become embarrassingly spoiled with “personal rights”. It has just about become a religion. How dare anyone do anything against “my rights”! Unfairness has become the greatest of all sins. Discrimination is the ultimate offense. We have been conditioned to filter everything through our “rights” and we are a people who crumble in the face of the smallest denial of them. I doubt that persecutors capable of murdering Christians really care much about our personal rights.

If having your “rights” violated really upsets you, how upset will you be when you are persecuted simply for being a Christian. If someone’s criticism gets you all tied up in knots, how do you think you will feel while taking a beating for confessing Christ?

If someone cheating you out of money angers you terribly, how will you respond to someone burning down your house because you are a Christian? If someone insulting you makes you bitter, what do you think your response will be when they torture you? If someone robbing you produces hate in your heart, what will spring from your heart when your family is killed in front of your eyes?

Given your response to minor emotional
persecution today, what will your
response be to the severe physical
persecution of tomorrow?

“Lord, forgive them for they don’t know what they are doing”
or “I hope you rot in hell for all eternity”?

Finally, the reason we should read about our martyred brethren is to contemplate our commitment to Jesus. If we fold, waffle and waiver in our relatively free and non-threatening conditions today, what does that say about our commitment to Jesus when the real fire begins?

If you shrink in timidity at work when the unsaved gang up on you in an lunch conversation, how do you think you will respond when you are told to be silent about Christ or lose your job? If you avoid boldly proclaiming your Christianity now because it’s “embarrassing”, how do you think you will respond tomorrow when you are told to deny Christ or go to prison? If you cower in fear now when insulted and belittled by the politically correct bullies, how will you respond when told to bow to the Devil or die?

How we respond NOW in our relatively safe and free environment, says alot about how we may respond when the real persecution begins.

Luke 16:10 He who is faithful in what is least is faithful also in much; and he who is unjust in what is least is unjust also in much. (NKJV)

Let me close with this thought which many readers may dismiss, some may not understand, and still others may find hard to believe: real persecution for all Christians is just around the corner. It might be 5, 10, 20 or 50 years (if the Lord delays His return), but make no mistake:

A cursory examination of history declares with
certainty that the storm clouds of Christian persecution
are gathering like a spring storm on the horizon.

There are religions today that believe killing Christians is a path to heaven. There are governments that believe persecuting Christians is in the best interest of the country. Laws are being passed every day in “civilized” countries that make preaching many parts of the Bible a “hate crime”. The “religion of tolerance” is tolerant of every single idea on this earth EXCEPT Christianity (despite the hypocrisy).

Already, Christians are fair game for ridicule and misrepresentation in all forms of media. Christians are up for grabs in large parts of the world to be tortured and killed… and you hear no cries of outrage from the “civil rights” groups. Name other groups of people (minorities, women, homosexuals, other religions, etc.) that could suffer TENS OF THOUSANDS of murders and imprisonments every year, and the world would remain silent. Christians and Jews seem to hold that place of honor all alone.

Brothers and sisters, do not be naive. The world is becoming increasingly aggressive about the “intolerant and hate-filled claims of Christian exclusivity”… in other words, the Christian truth that there is only one way to heaven, one truth, one God, one Holy Word, one Savior. We are not far from today’s insults and discrimination turning into tomorrow’s imprisonment, torture and death.

I do not tell you that to be sensational or to make you fearful… only to rid you of any naiveté you may have concerning this. It is time to begin preparing ourselves and our children for the inevitable. In our lifetime, and almost certainly in our children’s lifetime, it appears that martyrdom will not be limited to third world Islamic, Communist and African countries. A study of Christian history and an evaluation of current world politics seem to lead to only one conclusion: the western Church should prepare for the refiners fire.

Lord God, Help us in this age of growing hostility towards You. There may come a day when we will have to pay a dear price to serve You. We ask You to give us the strength, courage and faith we need should this time arrive. In Jesus Name, Amen.

Contemplation: Do you think about the thousands and thousands of Christians that will die this year for their faith? Do you pray for them? Have you ever thought that one day you may be called to pay a price for your faith? Will you pay it? Do you pay the price now with the “little” persecution (insults, mocking) you receive? Are you preparing yourself, or your family for the possibility of persecution? Do you think it is a possibility ?

Application: Persecution has always been a real part of Christianity. We have lived in an unprecedented time of prolonged peace. Those times appear to be winding down. I’m afraid of the thought… but I also know that God will grant us the strength and courage we need, when we need it.

James 1:22 – But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. (NKJV)

  1. What is the most obvious Bible truth you have learned today?
  2. What change in your life needs to be made concerning this truth?
  3. What specific thing will you do today to begin that change?