By David Witt
CEO Spirit of Martyrdom
During the Soviet Union era, for three years for her faith in Christ. Mistreated and malnourished from the torment of guards for her faith, she nearly died in these camps. She was separated for fourteen years from her husband Richard, a pastor and author of Tortured for Christ. Sabina once told me, “Martyrs do not make truth, but the truth makes martyrs.” Profound. Yet what did she mean by these words?
Witnesses and Christian Martyrs
Our ministry, Spirit of Martyrdom International (SOM), was named to honor those who have risked and still risk much for Jesus. I knew Richard and Sabina. They had a profound influence on my life and consequently on the name and DNA of our organization. SOM International’s theme biblical text is Acts 1:8, which reads, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (ESV). The word in Greek for witness is directly translated as “martyr” and is a rich term, working on many levels.
Today, the word martyrdom in English is rarely spoken and is difficult for most to spell. Yet history confirms that this act of sacrifice holds the highest honor. Every society and religion holds its martyrs in the highest esteem. Martyrdom is generally defined as death and suffering for a firm belief. Merriam-Webster defines it as “a person who voluntarily suffers death as the penalty of witnessing to and refusing to renounce a religion” or “a person who sacrifices something of great value and especially life itself for the sake of principle.”
In Eternity, Christian Martyrs are Honored Forever
The United States calendar is full of holidays dedicated to martyrs. We have memorials for Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr., and St. Valentine, and holidays such as Easter and Memorial Day, to name a few. In the book of Revelation 6:9–11, the martyrs cry out as a group declaring, “How long, O Lord . . . will You refrain from judging and avenging our blood . . . ?” (NASB). Thus, Christian martyrs, even in eternity, have a strong presence.
The adding of “dom” to martyr brings another depth. Dom’s etymology is from house or state. Therefore, martyrdom becomes a person’s house (a metaphor for ownership and value) and state (order of mental and spiritual health) of sacrifice and even suffering unto death for personal faith. Thus, martyrdom is the collection or community of those who have died or suffered for their faith.
A Heritage of Christian Martyrs
Hebrews 13 in the Scriptures is often called the “hall of faith.” Hall infers house or place, so another title for this chapter could be “House of Martyrs.”
Scripture and history venerate their martyrs. It’s a common tradition that all the apostles were martyrs who suffered before dying. Eleven of the twelve apostles suffered a violent death for not denying Christ. Foxe’s Book of Martyrs was one of the most-read books during the 1600s, which gave the history of Christian martyrs from Christ to that time. The other best-selling book of those times in English was The Pilgrim’s Progress, which affirmed the faithfulness of martyrdom. A badge of honor during those days was displaying both books on the coffee table and reading them for family devotions. Many estimated Christians were put to death, over 60 million in the twentieth century, with the lion’s share coming from the ex-Soviet Union, China, and North Korea.
Today, the global estimate of Christians living in a state of persecution for their faith is over 340 million, making Christians the most persecuted minority globally. This is something most westerners have a hard time understanding or even wanting to believe.
Christian Martyrs are as Old as Time
With all this in mind, what does Scripture teach on martyrdom? Right from the beginning, we learn that God made humankind in His likeness. In Genesis 4, we discover the first martyr, Abel, who Cain kills. God declares that Abel’s blood cries out from the ground. The life of a person is in the blood. Abel’s history shows the image of God is sacred, and the defamation of His image even cries out in the impact from the grave. This pattern continues throughout Scripture, and the Lord declares that the only cure for the outcry of murder is the blood (life) of the person who commits the murder.
The Greek word in the New Testament is translated to “witness” most of the time. Occasionally it is translated “martyr,” depending on the English translation. Martus is used thirty-four times, and the word corresponds to the legal term. A martyr is an uncontaminated, and thereby credible, witness. For example, they will not change their story even when threatened with suffering and death. Note that the list of martyrs includes: God (Romans 1:9), Jesus (Revelation 1:5), Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8), living Christians/disciples (Acts 1:8), Christians/disciples killed for their faith (Hebrews 12:1).
Now that we have this context, consider Sabina’s quote: “Martyrs do not make truth, but truth makes martyrs.” Every religion has its martyrs. The sincerity of a martyr does not make something right, as most would agree that the fundamental Islamic World Trade Center “martyrs” were not men of virtue. Martyrs witness to something or someone else. Christian martyrs witness to Jesus Christ. Jesus said, “I AM the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes unto the Father, but by me” (John 14:6 JUB).
Spiritually, Jesus is the first martyr and demonstrates the credible witness of His love for His children by dying for them on the cross and then resurrecting them. Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to indwell every Christian so they might also be a credible witness (martyrs) of his love. Therefore, every Christian with the Holy Spirit has a spirit of martyrdom.
In a nutshell, biblical martyrdom is a mark of devotion and love, as this seeks to glorify Christ and serve others. Martyrdom in the Scriptures is the ultimate expression of Christ-like love. Consider these verses of Scripture: “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his soul for his friends” (John 14:13 JUB). In addition, “This is how we have discovered love’s reality: Jesus sacrificed his life for us. Because of this great love, we should be willing to lay down our lives for one another” (1 John 3:16 TPT). Therefore, at SOM International, we affirm Sabina’s quote with the conviction that Jesus Christ’s martyrdom inspires his followers to love God and others with the same conviction.
The Call to Witnesses
Today, Christians are being persecuted in over fifty restricted nations. All these Christians qualify as living martyrs. Yet spiritually, the Lord Jesus calls everyone who knows Him to witness in life and speech of His faithful love and redeeming forgiveness by the cross and resurrection. One thing everyone knew about Sabina was that she loved Jesus, and she understood that Jesus called for us to sacrifice our lives for the wicked and sinners of the world so that others might be saved. As martyrs, we’re also called to serve the global body of Christ. We have a special call to honor those who are vulnerable, widows, orphans, persecuted, oppressed, and poor.
SOM’s Commitment to Christian Martyrs
Spirit of Martyrdom International is committed to serving the living witnesses/martyrs today in restricted nations. We invite you to join us in prayer, service, advocacy, and giving. To sign up for our newsletter:
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