Acts 7:59-60 “And they stoned Stephen as he was calling on God and saying, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not charge them with this sin.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep.”
John Bradford 1510-July 1, 1555
On the 31st of January, 1555 John Bradford was tried and condemned to death with all the other prisoners, and on the 1st of July he was taken to Newgate Prison to be burned at the stake. A large crowd delayed the execution, which had been scheduled for 4 o’clock in the morning as many who admired Bradford came to witness. He was chained to the stake at Smithfield with a young man, John Leaf. Before the fire was lit, he begged forgiveness of any he had wronged, and offered forgiveness to those who had wronged him. He then turned to Leaf and said, “Be of good comfort brother; for we shall have a merry supper with the Lord this night!”
A century later, in his Worthies of England, Thomas Fuller wrote that he endured the flame “as a fresh gale of wind in a hot summer’s day, confirming by his death the truth of that doctrine he had so diligently and powerfully preached during his life.
The pious Martyr Bradford, when he saw a poor criminal led to execution, exclaimed, “there, but for the grace of God, goes John Bradford.” He knew that the same evil principles were in his own heart which had brought the criminal to that shameful end. Bradford was one included in Foxe’s book of Martyrs.
This phrase made famous by Bradford is one that is applicable today in reminding us of our position in Christ, made possible by Christ alone. We have done nothing on our own of lasting value but only that which was made possible through the sanctifying work of Jesus in us.
Matthew 16:25 “For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.”
The world loves to look for heros, but do they really know what a true hero looks like?
When I think of a hero, my first thoughts go to medal of honor recipients. People who selflessly risked their lives in the heat of battle with only the thought of doing their duty, protecting their fellow soldiers, or holding their ground in the midst of impossible odds.
When I consider a hero from a biblical narrative, they don’t look a whole lot different from the people in history who stood out from among the crowd. The battle is different, the war is for the souls of man, the soldiers are carrying bibles, not guns, the cause is for the gospel, not democracy, and the leader of these hero’s of the faith is Jesus not a military figure.
The mark of a true hero is embodied in the life of a martyr.
Matthew 16:26 “What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?”
We have had many people in history give everything for Jesus…even today we see people losing their lives in the world because they chose to be identified with Christ.
Why does the Lord allow His faithful to be murdered for their faith? The entire prosperity gospel message has a hard time reconciling with martyrdom. Matter of fact, there are several popular movements that have trouble with these hero’s of the faith.
Bruce Wilkinson wrote a book a few years ago on “The prayer of Jabez”.
1 Chronicles 4:10 “Jabez cried out to the God of Israel, “Oh, that you would bless me and enlarge my territory! Let your hand be with me, and keep me from harm so that I will be free from pain.” And God granted his request.”
The premise sounded so good that thousands bought the book, little devotionals sprung up, and follow-up studies contributed to the rage. The idea that if I learn how to pray just like Jabez did, if I have the same heart and just enough faith, I too would receive this promise.
What we can see in retrospect is that Jabez didn’t discover some magical incantation that conjured up God’s blessing. Many people who have sincerely loved the Lord have endured trials and difficulties. While poverty and persecution has followed these faithful few, the trials never diminished their joy.
James 1:2-3 “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, when you encounter trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance”
You see, we don’t need an extra blessing or a wider border, we simply need to be found faithful to where God has called us. The more we walk with Him, the more He takes us through, the stronger we become, the wiser we grow, and the Lord then expands your borders and blessings follow.
The path of faithfulness will always lead to Jesus. The ways we follow are not always anticipated but they all turn out for good when the focus is on the eternal purposes and not on temporary pleasure.
“It is not the pain but the purpose that makes a martyr.”Augustine
What is the purpose of a believer? Is it not to simply love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength—while we love our neighbor as we love ourselves?
Matthew 6:10 “Your kingdom come. Your will be done On earth as it is in heaven.”
As Jesus showed the disciples how to pray, the importance of not only acknowledging God’s will but seeking it out is critical. The Lord is our leader, He is the One dictating the plans for this world and so it is imperative that we take our lead from Him.
If the Lord didn’t want us to endure trial or affliction, He would not have left us to navigate through this world of sin. He didn’t say He was going to remove us from the world but that He would be with us through it.
As we move forward into this new year, in a world that is ever changing, we can assume that there will be more challenges which lay ahead of us. We aren’t called to survive these ever increasing challenges, we are called to be conquerors of them.
Romans 8:36-37 “As it is written; For Your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.”
Whether we live out our days in full or we die as a martyr, we will find that the path of victory lies in the measure of our faithfulness. We have one life to live, we can fill it up with ways to please ourselves or we can live it with an eternal purpose in mind.
When we grow weary, the Lord always brings times of refreshing, He knows our limitations and He doesn’t expect more of us than we can handle.
One of the most beloved scriptures of all time reminds us of who it is that guides us through the trials and why we must not fear:
Psalm 23:1-3 “The Lord is my shepherd;
I shall not want.
He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters.
He restores my soul;
He leads me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil;
For You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
My cup runs over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life;
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord
To those who endure hardship for the gospel, my greatest admiration goes to you. The Kingdom of God is one that is worth serving in. The trials of life are nothing compared to the glory that will follow.
Be bold, be courageous, and know that it is the Lord your God who goes before you wherever you may go.