“The Blood of the Martyrs Is the Seed of the Church”

(Tertullian of Carthage – d. 225AD)

A martyr (Greek: μάρτυς, mártys, "witness"; stem μάρτυρ-, mártyr-)

       A “martyr” is somebody who suffers persecution or death because of what they believe, and because they refuse to renounce or compromise what they believe. The first Christian martyr was Stephen, one of the elders of the early church in Jerusalem. You can read about him in the book of Acts. He died confessing Christ.

       The most recent martyrs, you could say, were the 21 Christians who were publically executed just a short time ago in Northern Africa, not far coincidentally, from where the church father, Tertullian lived. The world was shocked – or at least they should be – over such godlessness. We are humbled by the brutal reality of it and pray God to help those being persecuted and us to be alert and aware. But not afraid.

       On Ash Wednesday I read an editorial piece written by Rev. Matthew Harrison. He is the president of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. He brought up a couple of worthy points that we do well to contemplate.

       First of all, we mourn with the suffering believers in Egypt and everywhere who bear the brunt of such persecution. Pray for them. And pray for us, for we too stand with all martyrs and confessors of the Lord Jesus. Those men died with the words, “Jesus, help us!” on their lips. That is the fundamental confession of a genuine faith. God give us such a faith as this.

       But we should not be surprised. As Bible reading Christians, we know Tertullian’s words are true. We know that suffering and cross of Christ go with faithfully following the Savior. But we also know that the victory belongs to Christ. “I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne. They cried out with a loud voice, ‘O Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” (Rev. 6:9–10). Read the two little letters of Peter near the end of your Bible. He wrote to suffering believers of his day and to us. He speaks of the reality of persecution, but also how to live with it and through it to the glory that God gives, both in life and in the life to come. Do it! Peter’s readers needed it then, and so do we now.

       You probably don’t fear for your life because of your faith. But maybe we can’t be so sure anymore. Granted, the persecution we suffer may be more subtle – but it’s just as real. There’s the loss of our Christian freedom when laws are passed and government policies are implemented that not only do not allow us to follow our conscience and the clear teachings of the Word of God, but you can be penalized for it. There are the usual criticisms and ridicule, and intellectual snobbery that comes our way because we believe things like All Scripture is God-breathed and is profitable for … “(2 Timothy 3) or that Jesus is the “way, the truth, and the life – not just a way, but the way. There are even shaking heads and wagging tongues from other churches who don’t appreciate insisting on teaching “everything he has commanded (Matthew 28).

       Finally, can there be a concern that we are not being persecuted enough? Is our faith so benign and walk of faith and confession of faith so silent and even invisible that no one notices. We don’t have to go looking for martyrdom certainly, but can we ask, “Is our witness clear? Is our confession bold? Is our walk with Christ and life for Christ faithful and true?” Those are not always easy questions, but ask them we must. The right answers can be a struggle. But God help us to answer. God bless our witness.

       President Harrison’s concluding words are worth noting. During this Lenten season may the horrible events in Libya and beyond “remind us of what a precious treasure the Gospel is and the freedom to believe and act upon it as we see fit. Lord, have mercy upon us, and grant us ever thankful hearts.”