A friend sent me an e-mail yesterday that moved me deeply and challenged my faith. In it, she shared how the 12 apostles died. It was not information for the faint of heart. To share just a few of their fates:
- Matthew was killed by the sword in Ethiopia.
- Mark was dragged by horses through the streets of Alexandria, Egypt, until he died.
- Luke was hanged in Greece.
- John, the beloved apostle, was boiled in huge basin of oil during a wave of persecution in Rome. He survived and was sentenced to the mines on the prison island of Patmos, where he wrote the Book of Revelation. He was the only apostle to die peacefully.
This is not feel-good Christianity.
These guys are the antithesis of wimpy Christians. It seems like the worst punishment was reserved for those who were closest to Christ. And some of the other apostles endured far worse agonies for their faith before they entered glory.
The thought of what their faith cost them stuck with me all day and night and raised a multitude of questions.
Would I be willing to pay such a price? Would you?
These men were truly a peculiar people. They counted it all joy to leave everything behind, including their lives, for Christ. They “loved not their lives unto death.” They took to heart Jesus’s question: what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his own soul?
Was it because they knew Jesus personally, as in, in flesh and blood?
Is it that our idea of a genuinely personal relationship with Jesus is warped?
Or is it that we really don’t know Jesus?
Those guys thought they were blessed because they were chosen to die publicly and painfully, as Jesus did. Some Western Christians think they are blessed if they get new houses and cars, if all their prayers are answered on demand, and they live long, prosperous lives and die peacefully in their sleep.
Yet, the persecution that leads to martyrdom continues today in places like North Korea, China, Nigeria, India, Indonesia, Egypt, Iran … and these United States. It’s more subtle here in the USA, for now, but it’s here. And I do believe that it will increase. Sites like International Christian Concern and Voice of the Martyrs document the troubling rise of severe persecution in many the countries just mentioned, and others.
When we truly understand the enemy’s desire to relentlessly eliminate those who take a stand for Christ, right up until the end of time, then we will look at persecution and martyrdom from the perspective of Jesus, “who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame.”