The Martyrdom of St. Mark, by Fra Angelico
Why on earth would anyone voluntarily go to a tribe or people who have the show violence? Especially lethal violence towards Christians! These are people who have no interest in the Gospel, haven’t searched the Internet for missionaries, and feel quite good about their religion.
Better to show humility in other ways—going where we are invited, where people may be responsive, and those who serve will not be in danger.
Besides, if the church really wants to have a go at hostile crowds, are there not other ways to make an impact? And from a safe distance? Or maybe this just isn’t the time for them. They have made their bed, and we can let them lie in it—until a glimmer of interest emerges.
Well-reasoned and not without merit. That is one way of looking at dangerous unharvested fields. There is another way, one that looks the danger in the eye and keeps going.
First, a sobering word about martyrs. We lern of them in the Middle East and North Africa. We hear stories and read the grim and sad reports. Sadly, the reality is worse than what the news tells us. The best records for martyrs over long periods comes from the research of The Center for the Study of Global Christianity. You can visit their website at www.globalchristianity.org. But let me warn you—the information there is so amazing and startling, you will want to linger.
Their research for the years 2005 until 2015 shows a stunning total of 900,000 martyrs. That means an average of 90,000 martyrs per year over those ten years. Yes, the reality of the suffering church is far worse that what gets reported.
Danger, yes, increasingly so.
In the face of this expectation, there must be a different way of assessing Christ’s call to dangerous lands. Let me mention three: suffering, the power of God’s love, and the resurrection,
1. Of all the suffering recorded in the Bible, certainly the most opprobrious was Christ’s. His was physical, emotional, and spiritual and in measurements only the Son of God could experience. But before He met His betrayal and death, He faced His followers and told them what to expect. “If they have done this to the Son of Man, they will do this to you.” The point is that suffering is part of what Christians should expect.
2. The love of God the Father through the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit is the most powerful force in the world. This is unmatched power for inner healing, for hope, for taking hold of new life, for leaving the regrettable past behind, for rising from abuse or handicap. As we fold in the grace of the Father’s love, we find all that is summoned in the phrase of being born again. And, of course, from that love comes the forgiveness and acceptance of our Creator and His Son.
Christians know that. Christians can quote Romans 5:7: “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”
But if we only apply that to ourselves, we have turned that great truth into a selfie. Is there a person, a sinner, a tribe, a people group that could not be included in Romans 5:7? We have the high calling and precious opportunity to go to violent and hostile people and tell them where they can find love, joy, and peace.
3. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is called the “first fruits.” That means that His resurrection presages ours. As He rose bodily, ate food, carried on conversations with friends, and then ascended to heaven, all that awaits Christians.
Yes, there is a powerful and unbroken link joining this future hope with this-world decisions of Christians to go into danger. After all, they take with them the Gospel truth for those sinners who haven’t dreamed there could be love like that found in the heart of God.
The stories of martyrs are stirring tales, but don’t miss what lies beneath the grim endings. Within the heart of these martyrs there stirs a love for Jesus Christ that surpasses love for their own lives. Their hearts carry love for His people, those whose violence makes the news. They were not made to live that way, and God’s power can reverse their destiny and give them a new birth.
Last week I read a report from Christians in Syria. I do not know the people who sent this message, but I know the organization that reported it. I believe it is trustworthy. The report was three prayer requests from Syrian Christians who will soon be baptized soon. They know the dangers and send these three requests:
That they will die quickly if captured
That they will not deny Jesus under torture
That they will have boldness to speak the truth and to forgive.
One other martyrdom has stayed with me. The scene was Japan in the 1600s when numerous Christians were crucified. One day the executioners passed over a young woman, in deference to her gender and age.
When she realized this, she told them that she would not shun from death for her Savior. He had stayed by her with a love that was unfailing, giving her hope in all circumstances and courage in death. Turning to the executioners, she asked, “Which cross is mine?”