We were driving home from church Saturday night, and Jenny and I were trying to explain to David what “Big Church” was about that night—it had been about prayer for the “Persecuted Church,” and less a sermon than a prayer meeting, with the prayers guided by Paul and several of the church elders. It was pretty cool.
We explained to David that there were places in the world where it was dangerous to believe, because the people there did not like Christians, in some cases to the point of imprisoning them for their beliefs, in some cases killing them for their faith in Jesus. We told him how our church has missionaries in some of those places.
He didn’t know what a missionary was, and when we tried to explain it to him, he asked if they were “like the disciples.”
We thought about it for a minute, and while that wasn’t exactly what we were getting at, the kid did have a point. It seems to me the disciples were the very first missionaries, the first people sent out to show the world the love of Jesus.
And with the exception of John (the beloved), they paid the price for their unflinching faith.
I remember hearing my pastor in San Diego talk about that very thing on more than one occasion. He explained that except for John, they were all martyred.
Though it’s difficult to determine exactly the events of their lives (and deaths) which are not depicted in Scripture, there is a wealth of information available. A brief look on the web turned up the following details:
“The Deaths of the Apostles
Matthew suffered martyrdom in Ethopia, killed by a sword wound.
Mark died in Alexandria, Egypt, dragged by horses through the streets until he was dead.
Luke was hanged in Greece as a result of his tremendous preaching to the lost.
John was boiled in a huge basin of boiling oil during a wave of persecution in Rome. However, he was miraculously delivered from death. John was then sentenced to the mines on the prison island of Patmos where he wrote his prophetic Book of Revelation. The Apostle John was later freed and returned to serve as a bishop in modern Turkey. He died an old man, the only Apostle to die peacefully.
Peter,was crucified upside down on an x-shaped cross, according to Church tradition, because he told his tormentors that he felt unworthy to die the same way that Jesus Christ had died (mention is also made of Peter’s wife suffering the same fate).
James the Just, the leader of the Church in Jerusalem and brother of Jesus, was thrown down more than a hundred feet from the southeast pinnacle of the Temple when he refused to deny his faith in Christ. When they discovered that he survived the fall, his enemies beat James to death with a fuller’s club. This was the same pinnacle where Satan had taken Jesus during the Temptation.
James the Greater, a son of Zebedee, was a fisherman by trade when Jesus called him to a lifetime of ministry. As a strong leader of the Church, James was ultimately beheaded at Jerusalem. The Roman soldier who guarded James watched amazed as James defended his faith at his trial. Later, the officer walked beside James to the place of execution. Overcome by conviction, he declared his new faith to the judge and knelt beside James to accept beheading as a Christian.
Bartholomew, also known as Nathanael, was a missionary to Asia. He witnessed about our Lord in present day Turkey. He was whipped to death for his preaching in Armenia.
Thomas was speared and died on one of his missionary trips to establish the Church in India.
Jude, another brother of Jesus, was killed with arrows after refusing to deny his faith in Christ.
Matthias, the Apostle chosen to replace the traitor Judas Iscariot, was stoned and beheaded.
Barnabas, one of the group of seventy disciples, was stoned to death at Salonica.
Paul was tortured and then beheaded by the evil Emperor Nero at Rome in A.D. 67. Paul endured a lengthy imprisonment which allowed him to write his many epistles to the Churches he had formed throughout the Roman Empire. These letters, which taught many of the foundational doctrines of Christianity, from a large portion of the New Testament.”
It got me wondering. How far would I go to defend my faith? Would I take a sword to the belly rather than deny Jesus? Would I allow myself to be dragged along behind horses until I was battered and scraped to death? Would I suffer any of those fates for my faith?
The answer, of course, is “I don’t know.” Because I don’t. I’d like to say I would, but the truth is, there’s no way to tell unless something like that actually happens to me. I think of people like Cassie Bernall, hiding out in the library at Columbine, and when confronted by the killers, answered “Yes” to the killers when they asked if she believed in God. They shot her in the face at point blank range.
People say they probably would have killed her anyway, and that may even be true. But she didn’t know that.
My old pastor at Calvary Baptist once told me words to the effect that he hoped for the chance to be a martyr someday. So he would go on mission trips to places that gave him the best chance for that to happen. That seemed like some kind of crazy at the time, but now I wonder. Is it a bad thing to want the chance to pay the ultimate price for your faith?
Jesus did it for us.
No answers today, but the little gears in my head are turning. Just coming off a very long weekend with not a lot of sleep, so profound thinking is not something I’m capable of at the moment.
Just take a moment to think about what your faith means to you, and what you would do for Jesus.
How far would you go?