John 1:7 “This man came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all through Him might believe.”
Most of us probably don’t understand what Jesus means in this verse. It doesn’t mean to simply testify or declare something. The Greek word used here for witness is ‘marturia’. It’s our English word ‘martyr’. What’s a ‘martyr’? Webster’s Dictionary defines a martyr as “a person who chooses to suffer death rather than renounce their religion; a person who endures great suffering for a principle or cause”.
In John’s gospel, which most scholars date as written sometime between 80AD ű 120AD, ‘martyr’ is used forty-seven times, so it is a major theme in describing the ministry of Jesus Christ and those who claim to follow Him because John has an evangelistic and apologetic focus in declaring that Jesus is God and Lord.
During the time John wrote his gospel, a man named Plinius Secundus wrote a letter to the Roman Caesar Trajan to make sure he, as the Governor of Bithynia, was adequately dealing with the growing problem of those Christians who were witnessing that Jesus Christ, not Caesar, is the true God. Here’s a section of his 112AD letter: “I interrogated them whether they were in fact Christians; if they confessed it, I repeated the question twice, adding the threat of capital punishment; if they still persevered, I ordered them to be executed. Those who denied they were Christians and who repeated after me an invocation to the gods, and who offered formal worship before your statue, together with those of other gods, and who finally cursed Christ ű none of which, it is said, those who are really Christians can be forced into performing ű these I thought it proper to discharge this contagious superstition is not confined to the cities only, but has spread its infection among the neighboring villages and country. Nevertheless, it still seems possible to restrain its progress.”
I guess in hindsight Pliny was wrong ű it wasn’t, and still isn’t, possible to restrain the progress of Christianity. That’s because Jesus Himself explains where the power to be ready to give your life for Him comes from: “you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My WITNESSES in Jerusalem, and in Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8).
Jesus calls Christians to be willing to give their lives for Him. But that was back then, right? Certainly times have changed. Nowadays I just need to be faithful in my church attendance and serving. The evidence of Christian persecution, especially in the Middle East and Africa, for the name of Jesus Christ would suggest times really haven’t changed that much. Here are three modern day examples of Christians martyred for their refusal to renounce their love for Jesus Christ, when doing so would have saved their lives. Are we in America ready to stand for our love for Christ? The time is coming when we will have to decide.
On April 2nd this year, the Islamic terrorist group al-Shabaab murdered 147 Christians at Garissa College in Kenya, shouting the now often-heard phrase ‘Allahu Akbar’ (God is great) as they targeted Christians in their dormitories. The terrorists went from room to room, asking each student a simple question: do they follow Jesus Christ or Allah? Anyone who witnessed to following Jesus was murdered on the spot.
On February 15th this year, less than 2 months earlier, Islamic terrorists murdered 21 Coptic Christians for committing what in Islam is the unforgiveable sin of ‘shirk’, to believe that Jesus Christ is God in human form. It was their steadfast witness of Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior that got them martyred.
In November of 2014, Shahzad and Shama Masih, enslaved for being Christians, were incinerated for the charge of blasphemy against Allah. Tim Keesee, founder and executive director of Frontline Missions International and the author of ‘Dispatches from the Front: Stories of Gospel Advance in the World’s Difficult Places’, shares their story: “Debt peonage has long existed in Pakistan, keeping generations of Christians in slavery working in the brick kilns. Once I walked through such a slave colony near Lahore when the master was away in order to hear the workers’ stories. Little children stacked bricks, men tended the massive furnace firing the bricks, and women washed clothes in a stream that doubled as the sewer. It was in this same area last November that two brick workers, Shahzad Masih and his wife Shama, were killed. They were in a debt dispute with their owner, and in order to settle the score, he accused them of blasphemy, of burning pages of the Koran. The legs of the husband and wife were broken so they couldn’t escape, and then they were thrown into the furnace. Shahzad and his wife, who was five months pregnant, were burned to ash. This didn’t happen centuries ago in barbaric times -it happened in November.”
Ed Croteau is a resident of Lee’s Summit and hosts a weekly study in Lees Summit called “Faith: Substance and Evidence.” He can be reached with your questions through the Lee’s Summit Tribune at Editor@lstribune.net.