My best friend turned me on to the stories of the martyrs of Christendom. Martyrs are people who suffered persecution, and often death, for their faith in Jesus Christ. The first martyr was a man named Stephen, We’ll learn more about him on Monday. He died with the gospel on His lips and his eyes on Jesus (Acts 7:56). The history of the church is replete with men and women that “did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death” (Rev. 12:11). People like Perpetua and Felicity, John Wycliffe, William Tyndale, Bishop Ridley and Bishop Latimer, Martin Luther, and on and on and on even to the present day. Tertullian wrote, “The blood of martyrs is the seed of the church.”
But what enabled them to stand under such extreme abuse and the threat of death? And why did some give in to the demands and recant their testimony? What made the difference? We get a clue in the verse from Revelation above. And we find more in the book of James – who by the way was Jesus’ half-brother and was only converted after the resurrection (Acts 1:14). James wrote, “Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love Him” (Ja 1:12). What makes someone die for their faith? They loved God.
Consider Jesus’ words in John, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (15:13). The Lord was talking about the love of one Christian for another, but could it not also apply to the Christian’s love for God? If we count God as even a friend, but more than a friend, as our Creator and Father and Redeemer, should we not also be willing to lay down our life for Him? Did He not do the same for us? How, then, should we love God? “. . . with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30). With your thoughts, desires, actions, emotions, intentions, affections, obedience, and yes, your physical body – which may even mean death rather than denying your Beloved.
God has already expressed His love for you and me at the cross. Men and women throughout history have returned His love with their own lives. I’ll leave you today with the question all believers must answer: Do you love God?