Sunday, June 28, 2015

Martyrdom: Devotion's ultimate expression.

Martyrdom is overwhelming the Church in places such as Pakistan, Syria, Egypt, parts of Africa and many, many other countries. Especially, though not exclusively by any measure, pastors and missionaries are targeted. The testimony of these faithful people of Christ Jesus reaches around the globe and becomes a challenge with conviction leading to conversions. It has been well said that the growth of the Church flows from the blood it sheds under persecution. Surely, we cannot be unmoved by their willingness to die for the Name of Christ and His glory.

The New Testament Greek language contains interesting ‘pictures’ which gives insights into the hope which empowers believers. To gaze upon these pictures give some wonderful glimpses into the hope disciples have because of Christ. This is far, far different to the so called reason for Islamic martyrdom. It is love's response to Christ Jesus and His love for us expressed in His coming to fulfil Scripture. It is faith in what Jesus as the crucified and risen Saviour promised to those who claim Him as the Son of God, their Saviour and Lord.

The apostle Paul epitomised this when in a Roman prison under sentence of death. His ‘crime’ was that he called Jesus, ‘Lord.’ This was a direct threat to Caesar’s claim to be lord and worthy of worship. Christians would only call Jesus ‘Lord.’ This was considered subversive. As such it was considered a threat to Caesar and the Roman Empire. Today, believers are confronted with a similar challenge. Renounce Jesus as the Son of God, Saviour and Lord and obey Mohammed, or die. In a more subtle manner, Christians are being
seduced to compromise Biblical morality and lifestyle or be ostracised in christianized countries. Once again we will be faced with a test of our faith and love and for Jesus.        

In writing to Timothy, Paul saw his execution as an act of devotion to the Lord Jesus Christ. In 2 Timothy 4:6 he likens what he will undergo as a ‘drink offering.’ In the Jewish sacrificial system this was the finale to the sacrifice of a lamb at the time of First Fruits and the Feast of Weeks. It was for the Lord’s honour alone.
As the apostle contemplated leaving this life he used a word applied to a ship being loosed from its moorings. It’s also used for soldiers breaking up an encampment. Within the framework of Paul’s ministry both have meaning. However the ‘picture’ which best suits the situation would be the military one. This is in the light of his confidence that he had completed the good fight. Christians must always bear in mind that we live in a conflict zone. The World is under the dominion of the Devil and his wickedness. We live in the midst of passive or very active opponents to Christ, His Church and His cross. Those involved in the Christian ministry are in a front line role. This requires us to be constantly on guard against the enemy’s strategies aimed at destroying us.
The Scriptures reveal various conflicts we will face in the service of the Lord. Sure, none of us will face them all or to the same degree. Unfortunately we will have times of ‘hand to hand’ conflict with at least some. Our Commander in Chief has made sure these things are recorded so we will not be taken by surprise or imagine things out of the ordinary have befallen us. The Lord Jesus has listed them to serve as a warning as well as to encourage us that He is with us in the ‘fight of Faith.’
Switching metaphors Paul goes on to liken the ministry to a marathon. He is about to ‘breast the tape’ and appear before the Judge. Being told in advance about certain aspects of the course he had to run, Paul was under no illusions to what was ahead. (Acts 9:15, 16.  26:12–19) Not many of us ‘run’ under such clear guidelines. We are more like ‘running’ under the principles of Proverbs 3:5–6 ‘Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.’
After all of Paul’s experiences, mistakes, opposition and disappointments, he could lift his hand in a winners salute. His cry is ‘I’ve kept the faith!’ He wasn’t boasting of his own prowess. He was acknowledging the grace and goodness of the Son of God who had brought him this victory. What he looked forward to was the garland bestowed by the Judge of the world for running the race. This garland of victory is ‘Righteousness.’ Never will it fade, rust or disappear. It is the righteousness of Jesus without which we could never enjoy His glory. We enjoy it by faith now but then it will be in its fullness. This is what awaits us as we breast the tape and leave this arena. We will see our Lord face to face. All the conflict, all the sacrifice, all the tears, all the frustrations will evaporate when we kneel before the Lord. What a privilege we will then enjoy as we understand more fully about being His servants.

Reflection: Now we know that if our earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. 2 Corinthians 5:1.
Request: Lord, be to my spirit ‘faith drink’ through the dry times; be my ‘bread’ for strength in the lean times; be my joy and hope in the disappointing times. My Lord and Saviour, may I breast the ‘tape’ with praise to you for your faithfulness to me across the years of my ‘race.’ Amen! 

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