Blog Post

21st May 2023 – Minister’s Letter – Why martyrdom?

Minister’s Letter – Why martyrdom?

Two weeks ago, we read Jesus’ prophecy of Peter suffering a martyr’s death (John 21:18-19). It prompted a question we didn’t fully explore in the sermon. Isn’t martyrdom something we associate with religious fanaticism, making this an embarrassing thing to hear from Jesus? 

Much of our discomfort with martyrdom comes from its association with acts of terrorism; fanatics destroying themselves while destroying others, all in the name of God’s ‘glory’. To this vicious purpose is added a self-focussed goal of an assured entry into heaven, where a bevy of virgins are provided.

How different is the Biblical concept! While it’s true that glory awaits martyrs (Rev 6.11), and it’s a blessing to share Christ’s sufferings (Matt 5:11), the essence of Biblical martyrdom is that of bearing testimony (Matt 10:16-20). It’s not an opportunity for destruction, because judgment upon unbelievers is reserved for God (Rom 12:19). In Acts, the Apostles often flee violence and are nowhere told to seek after it. Our assurance of heaven comes through faith in the promises of God, not from any special action we might undertake. And no virgins are reserved for anybody.

In the end, Christian martyrs are special ministers of the life-giving word, not agents of death. In this way they are imitating their master in more ways than one, as Jesus came to “give life to the full” (John 10:10). Christian martyrs are not an embarrassment!

Martin Kemp