Luke 12:4 And I say unto you my friends, Be not afraid of them that kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. (KJV)
Martyrdom. The definition of a martyr: a person who is killed because of their religious or other beliefs; a witness of the faith. Lions in the colosseum. Boiled in oil. Crucifixion. Beheadings. Stonings. Gas chambers. Starvation. Firing squads. Hanging. Burning at the stake. Death by a violent method that may or may not be quick and “painless.” Jesus is saying, not to fear this because, after death, you can be hurt no more. Do you find this comforting in light of today’s hostile environment to followers of Judeo-Christian faiths? Is this the attitude Jesus expects if we call Him “friend?”
This chapter of Scripture, written by Luke the physician, is all about the suffering we can endure as human beings on planet earth and the cost of discipleship. This is a tough directive. Bodies created out of dust that feel pain from 20 weeks gestation. We instinctively guard and protect our minds, bodies, emotions. Who wants to hurt? Suffer? Die? As a nurse I can tell you the human body FIGHTS to live and often does so despite significant disease, injury, and abuse.
Jesus replied, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:62) NIV
Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. (Matthew 16:24) NIV
“Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? (Luke 14:28) NIV
“Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. (Matthew 10:21) NIV
29 “Truly I tell you,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel 30 will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. (Mark 10:29-30) NIV
Stark admonitions to understand this is not a prosperity gospel, not a name it and claim it theology, not a life of ease and peace but of following Christ even unto death on a cross. However, Jesus also promises to take note of our sacrifices.
“And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life.” (Matthew 19:29) NIV
“Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:12) NIV
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28) NIV
Matthew Henry’s Commentary puts it like this:
“The power of your enemies is a limited power (v. 4): I say unto you, my friends’’ (Christ’s disciples are his friends, he calls them friends, and gives them this friendly advice), “be not afraid, do not disquiet yourselves with tormenting fears of the power and rage of men.’’ Note, Those whom Christ owns for his friends need not be afraid of any enemies. “Be not afraid, no, not of them that kill the body, let it not be in the power of scoffers, not even of murderers, to drive you off from your work, for you that have learned to triumph over death may say, even of them, Let them do their worst, after that there is no more that they can do; the immortal soul lives, and is happy, and enjoys itself and its God, and sets them all at defiance.’’ Note, Those can do Christ’s disciples no real harm, and therefore ought not to be dreaded, who can but kill the body; for they only send that to its rest, and the soul to its joy, the sooner.
Stephen the first martyr of the early church understood this as we read in Acts 7:54-60:
“54 When the members of the Sanhedrin (the established “church” leadership) heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him. 55 But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56 “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” (May 5, 2016, What Did Stephen See, by Freda)
57 At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, 58 dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul.
59 While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep.”
These are the same two statements made by the Lord Jesus as He hung on the cross. (Luke 23: 34,46)
Thomas Paine said, “THESE are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as FREEDOM should not be highly rated.” This description of being an American patriot could be used to describe being a follower of Christ in the Kingdom of God.
May we be found faithful “to live a life worthy of the calling we have received.” (Ephesians 4:1) NIV
This is a fear not for the days ahead as we draw ever closer to the return of the LORD for he said:
“Watch out that no one deceives you. 5 For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah,’ and will deceive many. 6 You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. 7 Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. 8 All these are the beginning of birth pains.
9 “Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. 10 At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, 11 and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. 12 Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, 13 but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. 14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come. (Matthew 24:4-14) NIV
Father, thank you for the lives lived before us who stand as a testimony of Your faithfulness even in persecution and death. May we be willing to take up our “cross” whatever it may be and follow you all the way, never looking back, having counted the cost and deeming our eternal life in Your presence worth whatever the cost. No looking back! For our brothers and sisters in Christ who suffer even in this very moment we ask in Jesus name for their courage, peace, and strength to endure. May the imperishable crowns of righteousness, glory, life, and rejoicing we will offer to You be all the reward we seek. Use any persecution we face to further Your kingdom here on earth. Shine your light through the broken, bruised, and battered to reveal the risen Savior. In the holy and matchless name of Jesus we pray.