Kingdom Principle: Maturity begins with Martyrdom.
The Path of Life is marked with maturity, but martyrs don’t get mansions in heaven.
|Acts 7:55-60||Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16||1 Peter 2:2-10||John 14:1-14|
The church begins as a rock garden which is a call to be “Living Stones in Abiding Places”… Peter calls living stones being filled with the power and presence of the Holy Spirit, and it is our privilege to have an abiding place in Jesus which unites us with the Father. Therefore might we grow up in our salvation that we may declare the praises of Him who called us out of darkness into his wonderful light. Martyrdom is associated with death in the English language, however the root of the word in Greek is far more aligned with witnessing and confession than dying… Stephen is called a martyr in Acts 22:20, and this week we see the final act of his earthly life, but his confession fills the chapters prior to this week’s text.
Since the Path of Life is not a destination nor does it have an arrival point at the end, the best you can say is that you are on the WAY, discovering the TRUTH, and living LIFE as modeled by Jesus. This path is not a road by which you find your way to the Father, Heaven, or even LIFE abundantly. Jesus is the path, the Father and Jesus are one, and therefore the path does not lead to the Father or to Heaven and not even that Jesus is on the path with you, these are all false promises which lead us on rabbit trails to find Jesus, rather than enjoying life with Jesus. To be on the Path is to already have the Father, Heaven & Life! The path is the abiding movement or place, while John 14 translates this concept as mansions or rooms, the root of the word is an abiding place. (2 Greek references in one blog… I apologize for this is not my style but clearly important this week) From this abiding place we give our witness to the fact that we are the people of God doing the work of God. Jesus is going to the cross to prepare a place for us, and now he has already returned to give to us the power of the Holy Spirit that we might go where he is going… Therefore whether we are new born babies, or martyrs nearing the end of this life, we have faith in the refuge, the strong fortress and deliverance that we shall not be put to shame.
Movement is not measured in chronological time required between the movement from a new born baby and a martyr at the end of life. However, we must admit that it is most often that public martyrs have journeyed along the path of life long enough to come to grips and understanding with suffering and salvation. It is this articulation that demonstrates to us that they have released the wants and desires of this world, so that they can freely and fully surrender their spirit unto the Holy Spirit in whom Life is found. But the point of this post, is to remind us that the path of life does not have an arrival point, rather an abiding posture. To martyrdom we have all been called – let us share our confession and witness on the way.
I used to say, “You will never be asked to die for Christ until you truly live for Christ.” In this statement, I was attempting to capture the journey on the Path of Life as if it accumulated along the way, to earn or achieve the right to die for the Gospel. I will no longer use this statement or hold this view, for we do not earn the right to die for the gospel, it is given to us the moment we enter the path of life. We enter the path of life based on identity (which is Jesus’ identity, not our own). It is with this understanding that I suggest that Stephen was certainly not the first Christian martyr; (nor was it John the Baptist) rather it was the baby boys under the age of 2 that were killed because of their “identity” in connection with Jesus. We remember Stephen because of the isolation and intensity of his story, and this is for good reason. Yet, of the most unlikely places this concept of martyrdom is proclaimed by Joseph Stalin – in 1947 with regards the famine in the Ukraine that was killing millions he stated: “If only one man dies of hunger, that is a tragedy. If millions die, that’s only statistics.” We remember Stephen as a one, not the many… this makes me think also of Malala Yousafzai who as a young girl, defied the Taliban in Pakistan and demanded that girls be allowed to receive an education. She was shot in the head by a Taliban gunman in 2012, but survived. As one, she has spread her voice across the globe to be named one of Time Magazine’s top 100 influential people of 2014. I fear that the nearly 300 girls abducted from Nigeria last week may just as easily become a statistic if new events don’t emerge soon (praise God as I give a final edit to this post new information is arising…. Let us not seek to be news worthy, rather may we find our worth in the Good News as part of the chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, that knows mercy beyond this life.
When suffering no longer strikes us as punishment, but as privilege, then martyrdom will no longer be reserved for the elite, but rather for the elected. To this Life you were called and chosen; live this life unto the full for it is for the sake of His Name that we are being lead and guided. When we find ourselves being tripped up and ensnared in a trap, it is either for His Glory or we have detoured from the Path of Life. You know you are paving your own way, when suffering is not sweet and you seek to remove it rather than see it redeemed. (see last week) When unto His Glory we live, we fear not; When to our own glitz or glory we run, folly and fruitlessness will consume us.
So the call this week is to be at peace in the face of death, (to be living stones in abiding places) for that is what those on the path of life face each and every day… It is clear that Stephen was at peace in his death, I wonder if the apostles had such peace? Did they respond differently to Stephen than they did to Jesus’ trial and death? What did they learn as they progressed on the path of Life? Why did God not rescue Stephen; may it be that he was working on Saul’s heart? When we ask the question “Why did I have to suffer “?” it may be that God was working on another’s salvation… this is the privilege to which we all must strive…. Further, asking “why” questions rarely produces answers that bring peace… May we simply trust that our lives are in God’s hands.
Finally, the call to release our spirit…. This confession is rooted in both the Old & New Testament of our lectionary. This understanding is not a compartmentalization or segmentation of our lives; rather it is a culmination of our journey on the path of life. This is the abiding peace and presence of the GREAT IAM in our lives. God is Spirit and we are called to abide with him. (John 4:24, 15:1-15) It is our spirit which can and does abide with God. Therefore the call to give up our spirit is a confession that there shall be no break in our abiding with God even in our death. As Paul rightly says, to be absence from the body is to be present with the Lord (2 Cor. 5:1-10)… thus this confession speaks to this reality.
1. How certain are you that you are on the Path of Life? By that same degree will you have confidence to witness to the power of God in your life.
2. How clear are you on your identity in Christ? By the same degree will you have clarity on the reason for the suffering which you suffer.
3. How certain are you that you can release your spirit unto Christ? By that same degree will you see the Glory of God as you near death.