OceanSide church of Christ

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Victor M. Eskew


            Memorial Day is tomorrow.  It is a day of remembrance.  So many men and women have given their lives for this country.  If you have never lost a family member in war, perhaps you are not as emotional about Memorial Day.  If you are more left-leaning in your politics, Memorial Day may not be as appreciated because the principles our great warriors died for are not the principles you desire for our country today.  If you are young, you may not value Memorial Day as much as the older generation.  Youth have not been taught to appreciate the history of the past.  They have not been taught the purpose of our wars, that is, to preserve the many freedoms provided by this great nation.

            Spiritually, members of the body of Christ are citizens of a heavenly kingdom (Phil. 3:20).  Jesus Christ reigns over this kingdom as the King of kings (I Tim. 6:15).  The kingdom is governed by a spiritual law, the law of Christ (I Cor. 9:21).  There have been many people in the past who have died for this cause of which we are a part.  In this article, we want to remember some of the “greats” of the past who gave their lives for the cause of Christ.

            The first Christian martyr about which we read in the Bible was a man named Stephen.  We are introduced to him in Acts 6.  He was selected by the church in Jerusalem to be one of seven men who would assist the widows in their daily ministration (Acts 6:1-6).  In these verses, he is described as “a man full of faith and of the Holy Ghost” (Acts 6:5).

            Stephen was also a man who taught the Word of God.  To confirm the words which he spake, he had the ability to work miracles.  “And Stephen, full of faith and power, did great wonders and miracles among the people” (Acts 6:8).  When certain Jews heard him speak, “they were not able to resist the wisdom and the spirit by which he spake” (Acts 6:11).  Instead of accepting his teachings, the Jews caught him and brought him before the Sanhedrin (Acts 6:12-14).  Stephen took the opportunity to teach God’s Word to these Jewish leaders.  He ended his speech convicting the Jews of stubbornness, resisting the Holy Ghost, and being murderers of the Son of God (Acts 7:51-53).  Being cut to the heart, the Jews led him out of the city and stoned him with stones (Acts 7:58).  Two things are notable about Stephen’s death.  First, even in death, Stephen had a forgiving disposition.  “And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge.  And when he had said this, he fell asleep” (Acts 7:60).  Second, Jesus was deeply concerned about Stephens’ death.  As Stephen was being assaulted, he saw “Jesus standing on the right hand of God” (Acts 7:55-56).  It was Stephen’s faithfulness that led to his execution.  His example shows us the importance of the cause of Christ and fills us with courage to follow his example.

            A second example of a fallen spiritual warrior is James the brother of John.  He was the first apostle to experience death.  We read of his death in Acts 12:1-2.  “Now about that time Herod the king stretched forth his hands to vex certain of the church.  And he killed James the brother of John with the sword.”  This James was the son of Zebedee (Matt. 4:21-22).  He was either pierced through or beheaded by Herod Agrippa, the grandson of Herod the Great.  It seems as though Herod viewed the church as a rebellious part of Judaism.  In an effort to put down the rebellion, he vexed, that is, sought “to destroy its chief ornaments and supports” (e-sword, Clarke).  James happened to be his first victim.  In his death, James fulfilled the prophetic words of his Master, Jesus Christ.  Jesus had told him and his brother:  “Ye shall drink indeed of my cup, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with” (Matt. 20:23).  It was the cup of suffering and the baptism of affliction to which Jesus referred.  Herod immersed this noble apostle in persecution by means of the sword.  His death reveals to us that great leaders of the church are not immune from the deadly hand of evil men.

            A third example of a fallen warrior in the Bible is the apostle Paul.  His is a unique case because there was a time in his life that he was a persecutor of the church (Acts 9:1-2).  His conversion radically altered the course of his life.  The persecutor became the persecuted.  This noble apostle became one of the most hated and mistreated leaders within the first century church.  Paul gives us a list of his difficulties and mistreatments in II Corinthians 11:23-27.


                        “Are they ministers of Christ?  (I speak as a fool) I am more; in labours more

                        abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more often, in death oft.  Of                                                       the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one.  Thrice was I beaten with                                                     rods, once I was stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have                                                      been in the deep; in journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers,                                                   in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the                                                           city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false breth-                                                 ren; in weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in                                                        fastings often, in cold and nakedness.”


Notice Paul said he was “in deaths oft.”  Paul found himself in many situations that brought him face-to-face with death.  His life did end in martyrdom in the city of Rome.  His last words before experiencing execution are recorded in II Timothy 4:6-8.  “For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand.  I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith.  Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day:  and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.”

            This noble apostle blazed a trail for all of us.  He shows us what it means to let Christ live within us.  He modelled a spirit of true evangelism.  He displayed commitment, courage, and endurance.  This man used his talents wisely.  He proved that all men can run the Christian race, fight the good fight, and keep the faith in such a way as to come to the end of life with the hope of a crown of righteousness.

            Dear readers, great Christian soldiers have gone before us and have paid the ultimate sacrifice.  Surely, we can be faithful as we serve the Lord in comfort and with ease in the twenty-first century.  My prayer is that we will not drop the torch for future generations.  And, if called upon, I pray that each of us will be willing to sacrifice our lives for the cause of our precious Savior Jesus Christ.