Grace to you and Peace, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus.
“Whoever confesses Me before men, him the Son of Man also will confess before the angels of God. But he who denies Me before men will be denied before the angels of God.”
This is Your Word heavenly Father. Sanctify us by the Truth. Your Word is Truth. Amen.
Fellow redeemed: Today we are marking two feasts— Reformation Day, and All Saints’ Day. With both it is easy to celebrate the heroes of the Faith and go away feeling satisfied, but not quite connecting their history to our every-day reality. So we are going to focus on Christian martyrdom and learn how this is a part of our daily life in Christ and is rolled up with the doctrine of vocation.
“Do you believe in God?” Cassie Bernall answered “Yes.” For this confession she was struck down and murdered. You may not remember the name of this teen who was often seen with her Bible, and was known for her Christian Faith. This happened years ago, at Columbine High School, in Colorado.
Assembled with the kings and princes of Europe, Emperor Charles V, through his spokesman asked:
“Do you wish to revoke or defend the doctrine you have taught?”
Martin Luther’s answer concluded:
“Since your most serene majesty and your high mightinesses require of me a simple, clear and direct answer, I will give one, and it is this: Unless I am convicted by Scripture or by right reason (for I trust neither in popes nor in councils, for they have often erred and contradicted themselves)— unless I am thus convinced, I am bound by the texts of the Bible, my conscience is captive to the Word of God, I neither can nor will recant anything, since it is neither right nor safe to act against conscience is neither. Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise. God help me. Amen."
More recently we all have heard what happened in a classroom just north of Roseburg. The students were asked if they were Christians. Those who affirmed that they were, were shot in the head. Others, not giving this answer, were shot in the leg or elsewhere.
To these examples we could easily offer many more. Your brothers in Christ from Egypt, beheaded on a Libyan beach some months ago. Stories of boys and girls in Syria affirming their faith in Jesus, their parents watching them struck down, and then joining their children in confessing the Faith. Employment, and academic opportunities forfeited right here in Oregon, because Christians would not compromise their faith and practice. Businesses being subjected to the full force of state authorities and the vicious expressions of hatred from their neighbors because their owners would not lend their services to practices which would demand they turn their backs on God’s Word.
When we consider martyrdom, we are not only telling stories of long ago and far away, dear Christian, but we are telling stories which demand a stand and action from you, here and now, and in the days ahead.
The word ‘martyr’ is Greek. Although we now think of those who have been murdered for their stand, it actually means ‘witness,’ and was a term employed in law. When you would give testimony in court, you were a ‘martyr’, or ‘witness.’ The consequence of such testimony as proclaimed and stuck with one’s faith in Jesus has so often resulted in death, the word took on the connotation we usually associate with it. Christian martyrs so often, having been brutally punished for their good and true testimony in this unbelieving world, where many hate Jesus, and so also despise those who dare to affirm their faith in Him.
This good answer, regardless of the price that you may pay, is the work of the Christian martyr.
Jesus says “Whoever confesses Me before men, him the Son of Man also will confess before the angels of God. But he who denies Me before men will be denied before the angels of God.” So the matter is not optional, is it.
In your daily life in Christ, you are incorporated into the ongoing work of God, whereby He provides the needs of your neighbor. He accomplishes His work of providence by the things you are given to do. As you care for other members of your household who cannot care for themselves because they are too young, or have grown weak by age or disease, I want you to understand that the humble, difficult tasks you undertake are holy. Your heavenly Father is working through your feet and hands, even through your tongue, as you deal with that one.
As you go out into the community and go about your job, again, the providence of your heavenly Father is being accomplished. Your daily vocation and work is most certainly thereby sacred, though you may be called to do lowly things which may even be despised in the eyes of the world, which do not understand or see what our Lord is doing for them through your labors.
In your vocation you are not to be making up reasons to talk about your faith in Jesus. As Luther wrote concerning this, the shoemaker doesn’t cut little crosses into the shoes he makes. Rather, for love of neighbor and in gratitude to our Lord, he makes the best pair of shoes he is able, and charges a fair price for them. God Himself is thus using his labor to provide for his fellow man the things he needs.
But there are times when you will have an opportunity to speak about the Faith. When, through your daily vocation, your unbelieving neighbor asks the reason for the hope that is in you, which impels you to work at your tasks as you do, then you must be prepared to given an answer, and not shrug it off, but point to the Source and Reason for that hope— the grace of Jesus which so transforms your life that they see it in what you do— that you swept clean that corner nobody would see, that you cared so tenderly for that one who needs your attention, though the world largely goes by unheeding. That you did not cut corners on that assignment, but did your work rightly. You see, in these things, through your daily vocation, you become to the world a curious person, and when you then are asked and answer to the hope of Jesus in your life, your neighbor will be all the likelier to hear what you have to say, for God has already been at work in their lives through the humble tasks you have been doing. You see, here is your work as martyr, for you here have given an answer to the good news of Jesus! And would that we all recognized this workaday form of the Christian martyr’s vocation! Surely this is the form it takes in nearly all our lives, nearly all the time. When I remember those in my life who are now among the saints in heaven, it most commonly is the kind word, the encouragement, yes, even the delicious food they made as they lived in Christ, and I was made the better for it.
Sometimes a Christian is put to it, for satan and the demons infesting this sin-sick planet would murder Jesus Himself, if they could— they tried, and thought they’d succeeded, seeing Him brutally tortured and hung till dead on the Cross. But He defeated death itself, and rising, descended right into that gloomy prison He prepared for them, undoing their stronghold in hell and declared His triumph forever. But if not Jesus, then— make no mistake!— they have set their sights on those who are in Christ, and would make you deny the Faith, or at least to be silenced. And if they cannot silence you, then they would do you harm, and even murder you if they might do so.
Luther was put to it. He was not to speak and teach the true doctrine of God’s Word. The Gospel was not to be spoken! But his vocation was literally to speak and teach that very thing, for he was a doctor of theology and a professor of God’s Word, lecturing and writing daily on many books of the Bible.
Because he would not recant and shut up, the emperor declared Luther an outlaw. For the rest of his life, Luther lived without any protection from the laws of the Holy Roman Empire. He could have been hurt or murdered, and the one doing so would not have broken the law. That’s what it meant to be ‘outlaw.’ But his prince, Frederick the Wise protected the great Doctor, so long as he remained within his principality of Electoral Saxony. He preached and taught and wrote and published for years to come! But yes, Luther was a martyr for he was a faithful witness to Jesus.
When you are told to shut up, and threatened if you speak about Jesus, then as a Christian you must stand and be counted. For many of our fellow Christians, the result has been their harm— financially, in their career or schooling, through physical beatings, scorn and mockery, and yes, even being murdered. Because of His great mercies, such things have been rare for us, here in Oregon. But they are no longer unheard of, are they?
So I must remind you of your work in this world. Normally you are to go about your daily labor and recognize that here God makes your vocational activities a holy thing. Sometimes you are privileged to give answer to the hope that is in you for Jesus’ sake! What a wonderful opportunity! And yes, this is the common, daily work of being a martyr, that is, a witness to Jesus. And you must be prepared, dear friend, if needs be, to give all, rather than deny Him who saved you and in Whom you have already the promise of eternal life.
Fear not those who can only kill the body, who can only take what you have from your property, who can merely destroy your place in society. They can harm you none. Rather, fear and love Him Who has given you this life, and life eternal for the sake of Jesus! Would you turn from Him? Never!
In complacency, many have turned from Jesus without any threat from the world at all. Some run at the least hint of threat. I therefore charge you to heed Jesus’ words: “Whoever confesses Me before men, him the Son of Man also will confess before the angels of God. But he who denies Me before men will be denied before the angels of God.”
Confess Jesus in your daily life and labor. Confess Jesus when you are asked to give an answer to the hope that He gives you. Confess Jesus if a gun or blade are held against you. Better to lose everything in this world, than to lose eternal life in the world to come.
You are not left on your own in this, dear Christian. You have one another. The mutual conversation and consolation of the brethren is for you. Do not be a lone ranger in your religion and life. You are woven together into the Body of Christ, the Church. And here receive what your Good Lord has prepared for you— His means of grace freely given to sustain and heal you through Word and Sacrament.
Follow Jesus. Even when death loomed before Him, He would not deny you, but from the Cross has given you His Gifts of eternal life, forgiveness, and salvation. Follow Jesus, for even now He bears you up and sustains you. And soon you will behold Him, and He will wipe every tear from your eyes. And with all the saints, you will receive an eternal home in Him. Lift up your heads, your Redeemer is nigh! Fear not. Though devils should overrun the world entire, you are in Jesus. Give the good confession, fight the good fight, and in Him, you shall stand, dear fellow Christian martyr and saint, come the dawning of that unending New Day.
The peace of God which passes all understanding, stand guard over your heart and mind through Christ Jesus. Amen.
- The Feasts of the Reformation & All Saints’ Day