With several posts, I have been considering the question of martyrdom. Why does God intervene in some cases (the recent Said Musa case, for example) and not for others? Did He love them less? Did fewer people pray? The human mind can be filled with questions.
In order to understand the Christian perspective of martyrdom, we have examined the example of Paul (Philippians 1:19-23) as he faced this same fate. Paul did not fear death because he knew the ultimate delight of Christ. “Christ Magnified.” In either life or death, he sought Christ’s glory.
Paul was confident because he had answered the ultimate demand of the Cross. He “died daily”. He had “presented his body a living sacrifice” It mattered not to him whether Christ was honored “By Life or By Death.”
In this third and final post, we will see that Paul’s courage in the face of impending martyrdom came from expecting the ultimate destiny of the Christian.
“For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”
Paul first addresses the “dread of death”. For the Christian, the “sting of death” has been plucked. With the Shepherd by our side we only face the valley of the “shadow” of death.
“O death, where is your sting? O grave, where is your victory?”
Paul next speaks of the “dilemma of death”. If we genuinely believe that the moment we leave this world, we step into the next, then we understand the dilemma facing Paul. “I am in a strait”. The believer feels the pull of this world and of heaven.
The believer can even speak of the “delight of death.”
“To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.”
If heaven is not a reality, Paul is wrong and dying is NOT gain. But Christ assured us it IS a reality! That is why Paul could say dying is gain, and it is far better to be with Christ (v. 23). Throughout the centuries Christians have faced martyrdom and even natural death with a peace that passed understanding. Take the time to read John Foxe’s “Christian Martyrs of the World”, and you will come away impressed by the grace our spiritual ancestors faced the scaffold and the sword.
Every time I read this passage, I am convicted of how “earthly-minded” I become. The pull of heaven is still there, but I heed it less. Paul and the other believers through history were not hesitant to leave this world because they so fervently longed for the next.
Consider the death-bed words of D. L. Moody.
“Earth recedes; Heaven opens before me. This is no dream. It is beautiful…if this is death, it is sweet. There is no valley here. God is calling me, and I must go. This is my triumph: this is my coronation day! I have been looking forward to this for years.”
Father, may my desire for you, your glory, and your presence overwhelm the pull of this world, and may I say with Paul, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”