My desire here is to briefly reflect on the accounts of the New Testament authors and the deaths they died for the name of Christ. In particular, I want to draw attention to the lives and professions of these men before meeting their Lord, Jesus Christ and what could possibly be an implication for the way we think today. In the West, we would call this kind of living “radical.” Scripture calls this “normal.” Normal people, amazing transformation, normal faith in Christ, normal endurance, powerful God, normal truth, unashamed outcome.
Once a tax collector; martyred with a halberd.
Convert of Peter; martyred by being dragged to pieces because the people of Alexandria loved this guy, Serapis.
Luke (Luke, Acts)
Once a doctor; hanged on an olive tree by priests in Greece.
John (John; 1, 2, & 3 John; Revelation)
Once a fisherman; though not martyred, was placed into a kettle of boiling oil and came out unharmed.
Paul (Romans; 1 & 2 Corinthians; Galatians; Ephesians; Philippians; Colossians; 1 & 2 Thessalonians; 1 & 2 Timothy; Titus; Philemon)
Once a Jewish leader (Pharisee); the log of his persecution includes imprisonments, beatings near death, whipped, beaten with rods, stoned three times, shipwrecked, etc. This was mostly at the hand of the people who’s belief he once held so near to him. Paul ended up, as Foxe said, “giving his neck to the sword.”
Brother of Jesus’; Thrown from the top of the Temple, beaten and stoned and finally smashed in the head with a fuller’s club.
Peter (1 & 2 Peter)
Once a fisherman; crucified upside down.
Another brother of Jesus’; there is debate whether Jude was crucified or killed with the axe.
These men still had tax-collecting in their blood, fisherman-callouses in their hearts, and a physicians eye for precision. Christ not only met these men where they were at, He called them, He transformed them, and He used them in the way in which God made them.
The laypeople of our churches are not just numbers. They are not just sinners. They are useful to the Master of the church. They have purpose, life, and the power of the Holy Spirit within them. Christ has changed them, but let us help our brothers and sisters see that they have been transformed by the Gospel and are being transformed by the Gospel.
Typically, the images of each of these men come at us in two ways: as names at the top of pages in our bibles or Classical paintings. Think about it, how often is that the case for our exposure to these individuals? Scripture provides further color and church history provides more flesh.
These are real, people; ordinary people. Flesh and blood. Prior to meeting Jesus, most of these men didn’t go to seminary, attend conferences, or grow up with parents who went to church. They encountered Christ and walked with Him. After they were filled with the Spirit, they kept on walking with Him. They wrote about Him, they proclaimed Him, started churches, they made friends with people, debated, and had meals with people. Though they still smelled of fish, they traveled the world to make His Name known.
They embraced death because they already embraced death and life when they embraced Christ their Lord. Normal guys, filled with the Spirit, appointed by God as apostles, embraced their identity in Christ all the way to the sword.
What about the normal, ordinary pew sitters in your church this Sunday morning?
*Accounts of martyrdom come largely from Foxe’s Book of Martyrs.