Acts Series #15
Back to the Beginning:
When Church was Church
Laying Down Your Life: The Martyr's Story
About a year ago I preached a message to you entitled, Crown Him with Many Crowns. I told you that there were two kinds of Crowns in the NT. The diadema a royal crown and the stephanos the victors crown.
Wel, the Victors' Crown, the Stephanos is where we get the name Stephen.
The greek word for witness is the word where we get the word "martyr"
Stephen is the first martyr, the first witness to lay down his life as a witness to Christ
Let me highlight and catch us up
We know that Stephen was a man full of wisdom and the Spirit
He was Full of God's grace and power and he did wonders and miraculous sings
They couldn't stand against his wisdom
They secretly persuaded people to say that he was speaking blasphemy against Moses and God
They brought him before the people and used false witnesses
Their greatest complaint was about the Temple and the Law
Now, Pilate by this time had been recalled to Rome, The Emperor had died and places like Judea were left to kinda take care of themselves
Chapter 7 Stephen started them with Abraham, through Joseph, Moses, to the Law to an understanding that God is not limited to the Temple but will live in men through the Holy Spirit and pointed them to Jesus Christ to fulfill the law and the prophets.
Then he said that if they rejected Christ they were compared to the words of Moses and Jeremiah and were stiffnecked people, who's "physical selves were set apart for Christ but not their hearts and not their ears."
Jer 6:10 to whom can I speak and give warning? Who will listen to me? Their ears are closed so they cannot hear. The word of the Lord is offensive to them; they find no pleasure in it
Stephen this "victor's crown" spoke boldly the truth of Jesus Christ.
He stood in the face of lies and false doctrine and preached and gave witnesses to the Gospel of Jesus Christ
And as usual people took it lightly with indifference … LOL RIGHT?
Stephen was the First Martyr of the Church age.
Our word Martyr comes from the Greek word martyreo (reputation / witness)
A Martyr is 1)a person who voluntarily suffers death as a witness to and refusing to renounce a religion 2) a person who sacrifices something of great value and life itself for the sake of principle
A Martyr Lays down their lives
John 15:13 you may know - Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.
But what is LOVE?
1 John 3:16 says This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us
So LOVE is defined as Jesus Laying down his life for us,
well that's great but God doesn't expect that from us right?
Go back to John 15:12 and put it back in context with verse 13, define it with 1 John 3:16, and we have our answer 15:12 - My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.
So, we are being called to LOVE, love how? Laying down our lives as witnesses as martyrs
That the truth about Jesus Christ might be known, that those who would lead a different way might be proved false, that the proud might be broken before a Holy God.
So, If we will follow Stephen in laying down our lives for Christ, for our friends, for a world in need of the Truth
Then we should make some observations and be realistic
* Speaking the truth will Get you In Trouble
* Living the Life of a Follower of Jesus Christ will separate you from the pack
* Speaking the Truth and still loving your Enemy will blow their minds - They saw Stephen in the 6:15 and were amazed that his face was like that of an angel
I'm challenging us to be a church full of Martyrs
We may not all be called to DIE for Christ but we ARE all called to be Living Sacrifices
I urge you brothers in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices …. Spiritual act of worship 2 do not be conformed … world … be transformed …
So if we are to be Martyrs if we are to lay down our lives that we might each Witness to, and Win and see One person Baptized
If we are to live the Martyrs' life in a godless generation what can we learn
What kind of people ought we to be?
1. Live Fearlessly
The Word of God lived and proclaimed is a Divisive thing
Heb 4:12 the Word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.
Taking the Word of God into your life and imparting it WILL be a dividing agent in your life
Some will receive it as a healing scalpel others will reject it as a sword of battle
But we cannot live in fear to live it and proclaim it
Romans 1:16 I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes
Gentleness was the norm for Jesus and for his disciples but there was a time and place for bold proclamation and radical living
We must not be afraid to live, preach, and proclaim Jesus Christ
A. Fear the Lord
1. Fear the Lord and you Will Never Fear Man
2. Peter in Acts 4:19 - judge for yourselves whether it is right in God's sight to obey/fear you rather than God 20 we cannot help speaking (witnessing/testifying) about what we have seen and heard
3. If we fear God we need not worry about man
4. John Chrysostom A Syrian Preacher and Martyr in the 4th Century early 5th Century said "for the Christian, life involves challenge and conflict whether we like it or not. Our enemies are constantly waging war against us, and trying to keep us from claiming our inheritance in Christ
5. We need not fear the Earthly consequences of living and preaching the truth.
6. The Consequences of disobedience to God, silence, or mediocrity are GREATER than the consequences that this world may bring to bear on our living the Truth
B. Know His Promises / Be Certain of His Call
1. We can live fearlessly when we know his promises and know what he has called us to
2. Ro 8:31 … if God is for us, who can be against us?
3. Col 2:14,15 canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away nailing it to the cross 15 and having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross
4. Joshua 6 - God commanded Joshua to go to Jericho verse 2 says "See I have delivered Jericho into your hands along with its king and fighting men."
5. Their 7 days of marching were simply Victory Laps for a battle already decided -
6. We can LIVE Fearlessly because we FIGHT FROM VICTORY not FOR Victory
7. We are MORE than conquerors we are Victors
8. Heb 13:20,21 - may the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep 21 equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen
9. We need not Fear this World
10. The World Pays us no attention because we live a FEARFUL existence
… the church is so much like the world that the world takes little notice of what we do. We imitate the world's methods; we cater to the world's appetites; we solicit the world's approval; and we measure what we do according to the world's standards. Is it any wonder that we don't gain the world's respect?
11. Wiersbe says we can Believe a promise and not Reckon on it and Obey It
12. Believing is Like Accepting a Check
13. Reckoning is Like Endorsing the Check and Cashing It
14. J Hudson Taylor says there are 3 ways to serve God 1) make the best plans hope they succeed; 2) make our own plans and ask God to bless them; 3) or Ask God for HIS plans and do what he tells us to do - The FIRST TWO are fearful, the 3rd enables us to Live Fearlessly
A Faithful Witness who lives a faithful life
Rev 2:10 says Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life.
A Martyr will Live Fearlessly and will …
2. Die Faithfully
In 1948, Auca martyr Jim Elliot wrote in his journal, "I seek not a long life, but a full one, like You, Lord Jesus." Two years later, he wrote: "I must not think it strange if God takes in youth those whom I would have kept on earth till they were older. God is peopling Eternity, and I must not restrict Him to old men and women."
Like Stephen, Jim Elliot and his four comrades were called on January 8, 1956, to "people Eternity" as they were slain by the people they were seeking to reach. What has happened to the Aucas since then is proof that the blood of the martyrs is indeed the seed of the church. Many Aucas are now Christians.
A. Focus on Christ
1. Stephen died with Heaven in his heart, on his mind, in his eyes
2. I see Heaven Open and the Son of Man standing at the Right Hand of God
3. it was as if the only one who could faithfully judge him was instead standing in his honor to declare him innocent and pleasing in God's sight
B. Finish Strong
1. He died with a concern for the lost in his final breaths - "Lord do not hold this sin against them"
2. One who finishes strong who dies faithfully has the heart of Christ for the Salvation of Sinners to the very last breath
2 Tim 4:6-8 I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith 8 now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day - not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing
3. He died in expectation of the promises of Eternity - Lord, Jesus, receive my spirit
a. Lord Jesus - He knew who Jesus was
b. he Knew what Jesus had promised - John 3:16 - John 11:25,26 - I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; 26 and whoever lives and believes in me will never die …
c. 2 Tim 1:12 … I am not ashamed, because I know whom I have believed and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day
One who lays their life down as a martyr a witness for Christ will Live Fearlessly and Die Faithfully
Polycarp, the Bishop of Smyrna a student and Friend of the Apostle John was urged at 86 to renounce Christ and be set free by a Roman Proconsul holding him prisoner; Polycarp's reply "Eighty and six years have I served him and he never did me any injury. How then can I blaspheme my King and my Savior …"
John Huss, the Pastor of Prague who preceded the Reformation was sentenced to death in 1415 by the church. When he was sentenced, he said "Lord Jesus, forgive my enemies" Then when chained to be burned, he said In Thee, O Lord, do I put my trust; let me never be ashamed." He was called the Morning Star of the Reformation
July 1st 1555, John Bradford was burned to death. Though he had been chaplain to King Edward VI and a popular preacher, he was sentenced to death for his preaching. From the wagon on the road to his death, all the way from West London to Newgate, he shouted "Christ, Christ, none but Christ!"
A Martyr will Live Fearlessly, Die Faithfully and their lives and impact will …
3. Endure Passionately
Never is a life laid down in vain
Never is a life laid down as a waste
Those 5 missionaries who were martyred in Ecuador by the Auca Indians weren't a waste.
Their wives returned to the Jungle and those same men who had murdered their husbands, were loved into the Kingdom of God. The young man who had killed Jim Elliot became a "grandfather" to Jim Elliot's son.
Job thought his birth was a waste but generations have been taught, strengthened, and encouraged by his record of suffering and struggle
A. Leave a Legacy of Kingdom Impact
1. The Faithful who followed Stephen and were scattered, we NOT discouraged they were inspired
2. A Life well lived, laid down for others will inspire those who come behind
3. In the days that followed 911 people weren't afraid to serve our country, on the contrary enlistment hit record highs following the tragedy as did enlistment as Police Officers and Fire Fighters
4. Wiersbe - nothing that is given to Christ in Faith and love is ever wasted
5. Mary poured out and "wasted" a bottle of perfume worth a year's wages on the feet of Jesus, yet while the fragrance quickly faded, 2000 years later the sweet aroma of an act of worship has not faded
6. I read of a man who trained for years and was enlisted to be a Missionary in the Belgian Congo. In route to the field, he contracted a jungle fever and died before he reached his assignment. The local natives buried him under a tree along the Congo River. A Waste? No, when word came back to the Seminary, more than 60 men and women volunteered to replace him. When word reached his home church, 13 boys and girls volunteered to prepare for the mission field.
B. Inspire and convict those who come Behind
1. I believe that this situation messed Saul UP!!!
2. He snapped and began to persecute all the harder until finally coming face to face with Jesus for himself
3. When you lay your life down it will impact the Lost for the Kingdom of God
Will you lay your life down?
Will you be a witness a martyr for Christ
Who will be inspired to faith in Christ by your Life lived Fearlessly
With Enduring Impact
You may never see the results or the life path you may change
Mrs. Pendleton our High School Home Ec. Teacher in Rockdale Texas and was the Assistant Director for the Play I was in as a Junior in High School … about 5 years after High School I found out that Mrs Pendleton had given her heart to Christ and was active in the church where my Father had Pastored. I saw her and she said, do you remember refusing to go see a movie that everyone else went to because of content and going to another movie? YES, Do you remember that I went with you? Not Really. Well that affected me and made me reconsider who I was and the choices I made and made me investigate Christ
You don't know the ripple affect your life will have but one ripple can become a tidal wave.
Obedience and the Approval of Father and Son are all that really matter.
Lift Your eyes to the Lord
Lift Your eyes to the hills from whence cometh your help
Raise the place from which your approval comes
You don't know whom you will affect
I must remind you of this story
3342 Forty Wrestlers For Christ
In the days of the Roman Emperor Nero, there lived and served him a band of soldiers known as the "Emperor's Wrestlers." Fine, stalwart men they were, picked from the best and the bravest of the land, recruited from the great athletes of the Roman amphitheater.
In the great amphitheater they upheld the arms of the emperor against all challengers. Before each contest they stood before the emperor's throne. Then through the courts of Rome rang the cry: "We, the wrestlers, wrestling for thee, O Emperor, to win for thee the victory and from thee, the victor's crown."
When the great Roman army was sent to fight in far-away Gaul, no soldiers were braver or more loyal than this band of wrestlers led by their centurion Vespasian. But news reached Nero that many Roman soldiers had accepted the Christian faith. Therefore, this decree was dispatched to the centurion Vespasian: "If there be any among your soldiers who cling to the faith of the Christian, they must die!"
The decree was received in the dead of winter. The soldiers were camped on the shore of a frozen inland lake. It was with sinking heart that Vespasian, the centurion, read the emperor's message.
Vespasian called the soldiers together and asked the question: "Are there any among you who cling to the faith of the Christian? If so, let him step forward!" Forty wrestlers instantly stepped forward two paces, respectfully saluted, and stood at attention. Vespasian paused. He had not expected so many, nor such select ones. "Until sundown I shall await your answer," said Vespasian. Sundown came. Again the question was asked. Again the forty wrestlers stepped forward.
Vespasian pleaded with them long and earnestly without prevailing upon a single man to deny his Lord. Finally he said, "The decree of the emperor must be obeyed, but I am not willing that your comrades should shed your blood. I am going to order that you march out upon the lake of ice, and I shall leave you there to the mercy of the elements."
The forty wrestlers were stripped and then, falling into columns of four, marched toward the center of the lake of ice. As they marched they broke into the chant of the arena: "Forty wrestlers, wrestling for Thee, O Christ, to win for Thee the victory and from Thee, the victor's crown!" Through the long hours of the night Vespasian stood by his campfire and watched. As he waited through the long night, there came to him fainter and fainter the wrestlers' song.
As morning drew near one figure, overcome by exposure, crept quietly toward the fire; in the extremity of his suffering he had renounced his Lord. Faintly but clearly from the darkness came the song: "Thirty-nine wrestlers, wrestling for Thee, O Christ, to win for Thee the victory and from Thee, the victor's crown!"
Vespasian looked at the figure drawing close to the fire. Perhaps he saw eternal light shining there toward the center of the lake. Who can say? But off came his helmet and clothing, and he sprang upon the ice, crying, "Forty wrestlers, wrestling for Thee, O Christ, to win for Thee the victory" and from Thee, the victor's crown!
6286 Soldier Adrian's Decision
A young Roman by the name of Adrian, a Praetorian Guard, under Emperor Galerius Maximian, had been a fanatic persecutor of the Christians. But the calmness and courage of those he put to the torture impressed him. Adrian, brave himself, admired bravery. In these Christians he saw heroism greater than any he had seen in battle.
It was the year 280 and Adrian was twenty-eight years old. His skill and daring had led to one promotion after another. Yet, he could not get over his admiration for these followers of Christ.
One day he asked one of the Christians being tortured:
"What gives you such strength and joy in the midst of your sufferings?"
"Our Lord Jesus Christ, in whom we believe," the martyr replied.
In a flash Adrian made an important decision. He stepped to the heathen judge and declared: "Put down my name among those to be tortured. I also shall become a Christian."
For twenty-three years after his conversion Adrian suffered much, but he never flinched from his loyalty to Christ. In 303 he was killed at Nicomedia. For seventeen centuries since he was the patron-saint of soldiers.
"Put down my name," was said with true Christian courage.
Are there any wrestlers here today?
Are there Soldiers who will say "PUT ME DOWN"?
Are there any who are willing to lay their lives down
Are there any who will express love to the fullest and lay down their lives?
Live Life Fearlessly …
Die Faithfully …