October 3, 2011

The subject of Christianity and martyrdom seems more and more intertwined these days, as violence against Christians worldwide increases.

Jesus the Christ, predicted this would happen:
20Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours.
John 15:20 ESV
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake,
For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. 12 Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Matthew 5:10-12 NKJV
Persecution, martyrdom, expulsion, criticism; these are all supporting evidence of the validity of Christ’s Resurrection and saving power.

Who would die in support of something that did not transform their life?  Well, there have been many who died in the cause of a cult group (think Jonestown, David Koresh, FLDS, etc.).  People do give their lives for a lie.  But many more give their lives, for the sake of the Gospel of Peace and it’s king – Jesus Christ.

Beginning with St. Stephen, the Proto-Martyr, or first martyr.  He gave his life shortly after Jesus’ Ascension, during the rampage carried out by Saul (later the Apostle Paul), which caused the Christians to be dispersed from Jerusalem (see Acts 8:1-4).

As I have been reading through the Gospel of John, I have been discovering the Person of Christ more in-depth.  Today I finished the book, reading chapters 20-21.  In the end of chapter 21, we read Christ’s prediction of Peter’s martyrdom.
18 Most assuredly, I say to you, when you were younger, you girded yourself and walked where you wished; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish.” 19 This He spoke, signifying by what death he would glorify God. And when He had spoken this, He said to him, “Follow Me.”
John 21:18-19a NKJV
According to church tradition, Peter was crucified upside down, because he considered himself unworthy to be crucified in the same manner as his Risen Lord and Christ – Jesus.

From Foxe’s Book of Christian Heroes and Martyrs of the World, we read the following account of his death:
This great apostle and martyr was born at Bethsaida, in Galilee.  He was the son of Jona, a fisherman, which employment St. Peter himself followed…. He was called at the same time as his brother, Andrew, to be an apostle.  Though ever eager and zealous in the service of Christ, St. Peter yet had the weakness to deny his Master after his seizure in the garden, though he at first defended him with his sword; but the sincerity of his repentance atoned for his denial.
… After performing various miracles, St. Peter went to Rome; St. Paul being there also at this time.  In the year 64, the emperor Nero (as it was believed) caused the great city to be set on fire, and looked on with enjoyment at the destruction of which he was himself the cause.  Yet the wicked emperor accused the Christians of having kindled the fire which had laid in ashes the greater portion of Rome, and he ordered hundreds of them to be killed in various cruel ways.
…  Having been nine months in prison, Peter was brought out for execution, and after being scourged, he was crucified with his head downwards.   It is related that he himself chose this painful posture because he did not think he was worthy to suffer in the same manner as the Lord.”
Foxe’s, p. 31-33
Next time, I want to take a closer look at the life of “doubting Thomas” who was used in a mighty way in the country of India.

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