Five days ago Pastor Daniel confronted us with what the witness of the Christ and the telling of the Good News can mean, in the account of Stephen's last encounter with the orthodox religionists of his day. He died rather than swerve from the Truth.
Pastor Daniel read to us extensively from Acts to acquaint us with the whole story:
Acts 6:8-15 “Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, performed great wonders and signs among the people. Opposition arose, however, from members of the Synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called)—Jews of Cyrene and Alexandria as well as the provinces of Cilicia and Asia—who began to argue with Stephen. But they could not stand up against the wisdom the Spirit gave him as he spoke. Then they secretly persuaded some men to say, “We have heard Stephen speak blasphemous words against Moses and against God.” So they stirred up the people and the elders and the teachers of the law. They seized Stephen and brought him before the Sanhedrin. They produced false witnesses, who testified, 'This fellow never stops speaking against this holy place and against the law. For we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs Moses handed down to us.' All who were sitting in the Sanhedrin looked intently at Stephen, and they saw that his face was like the face of an angel.”
Acts 7: 54-60 “When the members of the Sanhedrin heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him. But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 'Look,' he said, 'I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.' At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, 'Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.' Then he fell on his knees and cried out, 'Lord, do not hold this sin against them.' When he had said this, he fell asleep.”
In his last breath Stephen forgave those who were stoning him, so that not only by his words but also by his attitude of forgiveness he set an example for all of us in imitating the Christ.
So then Pastor Daniel put it to himself, and to us: “Would I be able to die like Stephen?” All who live a proper Christian life will be hated by the world. In Scripture we are warned of this repeatedly:
2 Timothy 3:12 In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted
John 15:18 “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first.”
1 John 3:13 Do not be surprised, my brothers and sisters, if the world hates you.
Pastor Daniel put it to us very directly: if we are not running into opposition we must be loving the world. He bid us to consider all of the martyrs written about in the Old Testament and in the New. Remember what those who would not listen to the Truth did to the prophet Isaiah – they put him inside a hollowed-out tree trunk and then sawed it in two. We must consider many places around the world today where the profession of our faith is downright dangerous.
Matthew 10:32-33 “Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven.”
Matthew 10:28 “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”
Finally, Pastor Daniel commended to us the example of the Forty Martyrs of Sebaste. The Roman co-emperor Licinius by the year 320 saw Christians as people committed to his rival co-emperor Constantine, and so he ordered that they be persecuted. One of his loyal officers rounded up 40 Christians from among the soldiers in Licinius's army and ordered that they be exposed naked on a frozen pond near the town of Sebaste (in what is now Armenia) that they might freeze to death. One of the Christians fell from faith and sought the comfort of a nearby warm bath. On the other hand, one of the guards enforcing the persecution observed the supernatural light around the faithful naked Christians. This guard then threw off his clothes to join the naked, freezing Christians in their death for faith.
Pastor Daniel closed by urging that we pray for faith, that we pray for courage and boldness in our faith in the face of all kinds of adversity, even unto death.
I have here further a story of Korean people today in the witness of true faith. The story is entitled “Live like your mother!” It is told by a pastor who does much work in China's north-east, very near the border with north Korea, to minister to north Koreans. He helps train north Korean refugees in China who have accepted Christ to return to north Korea (secretly, of course) to minister the Word to faithful people in north Korea:
“In April of (2019), one of our trained evangelists in north Korea was martyred in north Korea's JS Prison. This prison camp has been known to be notoriously harsh on Christians. It is known that camp inmates die there every day; many attempt to escape but most are caught and returned. Many of those who are caught are thrown to hungry hounds. Many are beaten or lose flesh to dogs; many recaptured prisoners die. Prison officers want camp inmates to see what happens when they try to escape. Younghee came to our training facility in China and trained with us for five months in 2008. When she returned she planted an underground church. In three years, the number of secret believers increased to twelve. As her church grew her risk of exposure grew also. Finally she was exposed and sent to a political prison camp for an indefinite term. We had lost contact.
"None of her family knew what happened to Younghee. Some children thought her mother was in China. Through one of our workers, we were able to locate Younghee's prison camp. With her two children, our worker went to try to see Younghee on July 21, 2019. Upon their arrival at the prison, officers there told the children that Younghee had died in April 2019 and her body had been cremated. Upon hearing the news of their mother's death, her children began to weep inconsolably. One prison officer walked into the room and saw the older daughter of Younghee and said, 'you must be a daughter of Younghee. You just look like your mother.' He began to tell of his experience with Younghee. He continued, 'I have never seen such a strong and honest woman as your mother. When I told your mother, ‘I don’t understand why a person like you who is smart and lacks nothing believes in a God that we cannot see. If only you had denied your God, you would not have all this suffering. Don’t you regret being a Christian?’ Then your mother answered me back, ‘I have never regretted my faith and I do not regret it even now’. Eventually I assigned light work to her because she had become physically so weak. But she was strong in her faith. She was always helping other prisoners and she showed to all of us the essential dignity of being a God-believing person. The whole prison knew that she was a Christian as she shared her food and other basic necessities with other prisoners. She had the face of someone who lives in a different world. She was always comforting those who were lonely and in distress.'
"As the prison officer finished his testimony, he stood up and said, 'Even though it is hard to live in this world, you must live like your mother!.' As he was closing the door, he murmured, 'Younghee was a genuine believer.' As her children and our worker came out of JS Prison, they were wondering whether that prison officer became a believer in Jesus after knowing Younghee.”
What about each of us? Will we be like Younghee?