Remember the Martyrs:
In the year 1405 B.C., a great sea of people gathered east of the Jordan River, just outside of Canaan. They had wandered for forty years in the wilderness; now they were waiting to enter the promise land. Moses, their leader, gathered them together to prepare them. He rehearsed their history of wandering. Then he told them to remember.
How often Moses had told them to remember. He had been telling them to remember since the night they had left Egypt. The Passover was given to force them to remember. The last words of Moses were a warning, warning to remember.
I am going to read to a bit of what Moses said. I want you to listen to these words without reading, just as the Children of Israel listened but did not read. I want you to imagine yourself in the field, with the sky bright, the air warm, Moses proclaiming the Word of God. You hear the birds and feel the breeze and your heart is burning with hope and desire.
I want you to imagine your anticipation for a land of your own, a hope for a house and a field and a place where your grandchildren will play before your own door and you will be safe and at rest.
You have been listening to Moses remind you of how you came through the wilderness and remind you of all the things which had happened. Then he begins to explain all of the good things which you will receive when you come into the land, a land which matches all your hopes. And then you hear:
When you have eaten and are satisfied, you shall bless the Lord your God for the good land which He has given you. Beware that you do not forget the Lord your God by not keeping His commandments and His ordinances and His statutes which I am commanding you today; otherwise, when you have eaten and are satisfied, and have built good houses and lived in them, and when your herds and your flocks multiply, and your silver and gold multiply, and all that you have multiplies, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God who brought you out from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. (Deuteronomy 8:10‑14, NASB95)
Here is the warning: In your comfort, you will not remember. In your ease, you will forget. Your heart will become fat. This world will become home. Your pilgrimage will come to an end. You will forget. How that warning would come like a kick in the belly. No, no! You think, I will not forget! B Ah, but when you grow complacent, you will forget. When you become filled with food, when your heart becomes heavy, when you become satisfied, then you will abandon the God who made you, then you will reject the Rock, your Savior. Deut. 32:15. What will be your end?
How easy it is to forget. It is for that reason our Lord gave to us a memorial, the Lord=s Supper, which we are to do in remembrance of Him. And what are we to remember? He tells us that as often as we eat and we drink, AWe proclaim the Lord=s death until he comes.@ We are to remember that our Lord was killed.
We have heard the words so often that we easily forget what a frightening thing is being said and done. We are stating that we follow a man who was killed. Think, if he got killed, we may be killed. We are remembering a murder. And, if he was murdered, then the same end may await us. In fact, Jesus warned of this very thing:
If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, >A slave is not greater than his master.= If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; . . . .(John 15:18‑20, NASB95)
Our Lord, our Master told his friends that the people who will do this to us, will think that they are Aoffering a service to God.@ John 16:2. Yes, the world will hate you; the worldlings will kill you.
Here is an axis upon which your life will turn: At one end there is comfort, ease and forgetfulness. At the other end, there is suffering and remembrance. At one end, there is a long forgetful afternoon asleep in a hammock, in the shade by the sea. The soft breeze will blow and the waves will crash B and you will forget.
At the other end, there is the prison and the mind fixed by faith upon God who is invisible. There will be the knock on the door at midnight, the shouts, the nightstick, the handcuffs, the prison from which you may never return. Ah, but each steel rivet in your jail cell will fasten your soul to Christ. The chain about your wrists will be a golden anchor to hold your hope in heaven. You will be tossed and tried, but you will not forget.
Please turn to Hebrews 13:3. The writer of the book of Hebrews feared that the church to which he was writing would fall asleep and forget. He repeatedly warns the church to stay awake. He repeatedly warns them of the dreadful consequence of forgetting, Ahow will we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? . . .@ (Hebrews 2:3, NASB95) If you forget, how will you be saved?
Here, in chapter 13, at the end of the letter, he is making his final plea for their hearts and lives. He is giving them a series of exhortations and commands. In verse 3, we find this statement:
Remember the prisoners, as though in prison with them, and those who are ill-treated, since you yourselves also are in the body. (Hebrews 13:3, NASB95)
There is it, a single command: Remember. Remember the prisoner; remember the ill-treated. It is the command God gave through Moses as the people prepared to enter the land. It is the command Christ gave to his disciples. It is the command constantly given by God to us: Remember. Here: remember the prisoners.
It would be easy to simply say, Yes, I remember and then to as quickly forget. But that is not the sort of remembering required. Here, you are being called to a kind of remembering which you have not often done.
We will linger with text until we note three things:
First, you must remember until you are affected.
Second, you must remember until you love the martyrs.
Third, you must remember until you no longer love the world.
Point One: You Must Remember Until You are Affected
There is a kind of memory, a kind of remembrance which recognizes a thing and then casts it away. This is the kind of memory you spent years developing as you passed through school. You would learn about the Battle of Hastings, answer a question on a test, and the promptly forget. Your years in school have made you an expert . . . in forgetting. Forgetting names, dates, equations, rules, laws, and whatnot.
Yet, some information must be understood and retained. If you were a surgeon and you opened up someone=s chest, it would be important to remember where to cut. If you were a paramedic and you were presented with a child whose life was soon to end, it would be important to remember how to perform CPR.
If you are a Christian you must remember some-things. You must remember God. You must remember the Lord=s Death. You must remember the Lord will return. You must remember the martyrs.
When God commands a thing to be remembered, you cannot use your school memory. This information is not for some test. You are commanded to remember these things because eternity depends upon it.
The first thing which I wish you to see is the manner in which you are to remember the martyrs. The command here Ato remember@ plainly entails far more than a simple thought. You may not think, Oh yes, there are Christians being persecuted. Now, then, I wonder what=s on television tonight?
No, this is a visceral, intense act of thinking. Look down at the passage of Hebrews 13:3. There is the word, ARemember@.
You continue and think Aremember what?@ The writer tells you, ARemember the prisoners@ How are you to remember the prisoners? Hebrews continues in verse 3, Aas though in prison with them@. I want you to fully see the image here. Some of you may have the old King James Bible, which provides a more literal translation at this portion of the verse, ARemember them that are in bonds, as bound with them@.
How you are supposed to remember those in prison, those in bonds? As if you were there with them. Thus, on July 23, 2008 you were in prison in the Wi=a Military Training Center. With you was Azieb Simon. She had been in prison since December 2006. Like you, she had been tortured for months. Your crime, her crime? Being a Christian. On Wednesday, you found that your friend and sister had finally died from malaria. You had been begging for the past week for the jailers to permit her get some medicine. They refused. You held her head in your lap as she sweated and shook from the disease. You watched her die that morning; her scarred and battered body finally unable to withstand the fever. You are still there, along with the 32 other Christians who have recently been arrested and taken to the Wi=a Military Training Center. You, too, are waiting to die.
Hebrews repeats the command to remember using slightly different and frankly odd language. Look down at the middle of Hebrews 13:3: ARemember . . . those who are ill-treated, since you yourselves are in the body.@ However, when you begin to compare the various ways in which the English translators have rendered the Greek, you will begin to see a great variety. The Greek in this place is difficult to render in sensible English. The New English Translation, the NET Bible perhaps conveys the idea best with this translation: ARemember . . . .those ill‑treated as though you too felt their torment.@ Heb. 13:3.
What is very clear from this verse is that Aremember@ is not an idle act. Remembrance in this passage is an active, engaging of the imagination and senses until you hear the sounds of shouted threats and feel the weight of steel hanging from your wrists, and see the angry faces and smell your house going up in flames.
Thus, on July 20, 2008, you were in church in Haveri District of Karnatka State, India. While you were in service, a mob of radical Hindus broke into the building. They began to destroy everything. They destroyed every book. They tore your Bible from your hands. Then they took your Pastor, Pastor Abraham and beat him to a pulp before your eyes. The mob then dragged him from the building and took him to the police department where Pastor Abraham collapsed from the beating. The police do nothing; they are sympathetic to the Hindus.
Do you hear the sound of the mob? Do you feel the fear and confusion as the doors of the church are broken open and your Bible is torn to shreds and a group of men beat your pastor to a bleeding heap? Thus, when you pick up Foxes= book of martyrs, and you read that Justin was arrested along with six of his companions for being a Christian, you too, are there in their company. You hear the soldiers break the door of your small wooden apartment early in the morning.
You are grabbed by the wrist and hurled to the floor. You are kicked and spit out blood which fills your mouth. When the soldiers drag them before the crowd to force them to sacrifice to idols, you hear the crowd mocking you and threatening you. You hear your neighbors calling for your blood. You hear your name as one who deserves to die.
When they lay the incense in your hand, you too can smell the fire and see the altar and you feel the tremble of fear and hope knowing that if you drop a bit of incense onto the flame and worship the idol you will be freed. You drop the incense to ground and know that you too will die. You are dragged to the post, tie up and whipped. You hear the screams of your friends as their flesh is torn from their backs, and you realize that your own voice is screaming. You can’t imagine how anything could last for so long. You can’t imagine how you could be hated, and then you remember Jesus= promise, AThis world hates you.@
When you read of Perpetua being gored by a wild beast in 205, you are there with the young mother, her child not yet weaned. You feel the extraordinary sadness to have lost her only child for the sake of Christ. You are there when the bull charges and the horns lift you high up into the air and the bull shakes you and throws you about like a ball.
When you read of Latimer and Riddly being burned by Bloody Mary in 1555 in England, you can feel your hands tied behind your back and feel the rough hewn post against your back. When the executioner nails the chain into the post, you hear Ridley say, AGood fellow, knock the nail in hard, for the flesh will have its way.@ You see the executioner pile straw and wood about your feet. There is a bag of gunpowder tied about your neck as you hear the crackle of the flames and they tear against your legs and your bowels go lose for pain. As you die, you hear Latimer say, ABe of good cheer, Ridley, and play the man. We shall this day, by God=s grace, light up such a candle in England as I trust, will never be put out.@
You were in Nigeria in 2000 when Muslim mobs destroyed 260 Christian churches and killed 460 Christians during riots. You are Rose, the wife of a pastor, who heard the news that her husband was murdered by a mob. You feel the wave of fear and sadness and the steady help of the Holy Spirit as you know you are that much more alone in the country among the people for whom you have so long worked. And you continued to work at that church and raise your children and take them to visit your husband=s grave.
Remember. You must remember until your own legs shake and your hands tremble and your heart races and you must seek the help of God to stand. You must remember.
Point Two: You must remember until you love the martyrs
There will be some who ask, What=s the point? Isn=t it morbid to live through someone else=s agony? Surely you are asking me to harm my own mind. This is madness! I=m willing to sign a petition or send some money, but you can=t expect me to think about this so hard. It=s sickening.
And besides, such a person will ask, what good does it do any of those people to just remember them. It=s like saying that you=ll Athink good thoughts@ about me when I=m being trotted off to cancer surgery. It=s nice, but what=s the point? Much in every way.
Just the very act that you know about and remember your brothers and sisters who are suffering is an encouragement to them. Imagine yourself in their place: You are alone, in prison, and without any contact in the world. If you know that someone knows about you and cares about you and remembers you, that knowledge is a great comfort in a cold jail cell.
To not be remembered is a great weight to a human being. To be forgotten is to make the world a great blank, a washed-out agony, an-everywhere prison where the walls are in your own heart. To be forgotten is to feel that one is no longer human. It is worse to be forgotten than it is to be imprisoned.
Thus, to be remembered is a great hope and blessing. In the last entry of the updated Foxes= Book of Martyrs, there is the story of Abuk, a woman who was mutilated, sliced and stabbed throughout her chest with red-hot swords and knives by a group of Muslim men, just because she would not renounce Christ. She was then beaten unconscious by the soldiers from the Sudanese government. Left to die, she managed to untie herself, and walk and craw to a village. She still suffers from her wounds B years later.
The report ends with these words:
Abuk has a strong faith in Jesus Christ, and would undoubtably suffer again for Him. But like any of us would be, she is always strengthened when Christians come to her village to bring her supplies, to encourage them, and to tell them that their brothers and sisters in Christ throughout the world are praying for them. (396)
Being remembered is a great hope to our brothers and sisters. But please note that a concealed memory is no real memory. That is one reason that we are to remember so vividly, as if we ourselves were being tortured, too. The strength of the memory gives us, compels us to act.
The writer of Hebrews notes specifically that the sympathy for the martyrs, caused by the strength of the love and memory created in them, led the Christians who were not suffering to help those who were. Look at Hebrews 10 starting at verse 32:
But remember the former days, when, after being enlightened, you endured a great conflict of sufferings, partly by being made a public spectacle through reproaches and tribulations, and partly by becoming sharers with those who were so treated. For you showed sympathy to the prisoners and accepted joyfully the seizure of your property, knowing that you have for yourselves a better possession and a lasting one. (Hebrews 10:32‑34, NASB95)
I want you to see specifically what the Christians did: They shared in suffering and spectale and tribulations. They showed sympathy with the prisoners B even to the point of joyfully accepting the seizure of their own property. This was serious and necessary work for the life of the prisoner. In the ancient world, when you were in prison, you would starve to death unless someone came and brought you food. These Christians had shared the suffering of the prisoners B even when it meant the loss of their own property. To share means far more than to merely know or think; it means to do.
And why did they share all things and lose all things? Because they had a better inheritance. AThe eternal inheritance laid up for them was so real in their eyes, that they could lightheartedly bid farewell to material possessions , which were short-lived in any case.@ Hughes, 271. Do you see that? The sight of eternity spurred the love for the martyrs. The sight of the martyrs spurred the love of eternity. It permitted them to love the martyrs.
They loved and so they did. Hidden love is a talent which has been buried in the ground. Should your heart swell with love for the Christians in the Church in North Korea who saw their elders run over with a steam roller, you do no good to merely have an emotion, an imagination and then to never express that love in some tangible way.
John Brown gave this explanation of how this command was to be fulfilled: AThey B the prisoners B were to be remembered by their brethren. They were to be often thought of with affection and interest; they were to be prayed for; they were to be visited; they were to be supplied with food and clothing and and other comforts, and every lawful means employed to mitigate the rigor of their confinement and to obtain their liberty.@
And what is the measure of your conduct, the measure of your love. AThou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.@ Lev. 19:18. ABear one another=s burdens.@ Gal. 6:2. You must Aweep with those that weep.@ Rom. 15:15. As Paul writes, AWho is weak and I am not weak?@ 2 Cor. 11:29.
When your heart aches for the children of Rose who lost their father in Nigeria, do not let it pass by as if it were merely a show. These people who sought the blood of Pastor Abraham, would seek yours if they could only get it. We are all in one body of Christ B let us live like we are.
Thus, here is something to remember. This is from the Voice of the Martyrs prisoner alert. When you look to the website, you will see a heartbreaking picture of Shuang Shuying in prison: On January 26, 2007, 76‑year‑old Shuang Shuying and her son, house church leader Hua Huiqi, were attacked, wounded and arrested by police while walking near a 2008 Olympic hotel site in Beijing. Shuying has numerous medical problems and is serving two years in prison. We invite you to write a letter of encouragement to Shuying. We have experienced incredible results when readers write to believers who have been imprisoned for their faith. The letters often result in shorter prison sentences. Send a letter of encouragement to Shuying and let her know you are praying for her. Also, write to the Chinese government requesting she be released. Let your friends know about suffering believers in China and encourage them to pray and write too. Get involved. Pray and write today.
Pray for the martyrs. Write to the martyrs. Stir up others to do them good. And if you have not done them good; if you have never prayed for them, or wrote to them, or provided them any care it is for one reason: you have never remembered them. Remember the martyrs. Remember the prisoners. Remember them now.
Third Point: Remembering the Martyrs Until You no Longer Love the World.
You must remember. You must remember until your body aches under the pain of the memory. You must remember until you act and enter into the lives of those who are suffering. You must remember until you no longer love the world which would kill your Lord, which will kill your brothers and sisters, which would kill you if it could. Why do you love a world that despises you? Remember the martyrs; wake from your dream.
The act of memory as means to change your hearts and lives is used throughout the Bible. Again and again throughout the Bible, there are tokens given to cause a memory. Thus, when you partake of the Lord=s Supper, you do it to remember Jesus= death and his promise to return.
The purpose of these acts of memory is to cause you to know and then to act. You remember so that we will act. Tokens of memory can act as boundaries to our conduct B they can stop you. Thus, an adulterous man takes off his wedding ring when he enters the bar so that neither he nor others will remember that he is married.
Or, the memory of a gentle moment, a kind word, a loving glance can give strength to an ailing marriage. When the wife remembers the kindness of her husband, a kindness from so long ago, when she remembers the walk in the park or the smile or the kiss, her hopes grow strong again and she is willing to try.
Thus, memory changes you. You may ask, how does memory change me? It ties you to a particular point in time and forces that point of time onto your consciousness now to give you a clearer understanding of reality. You are hurrying through time at such a rough rate that every moment every-now is distorted by your rush. You can=t see or understand well B due to your hurry.
It is as if you are in a speeding car, and like a dog, you stick our head into the wind. You are certainly experiencing a great deal of information, but it is blurred and confused. We see things rushing by but never understanding what you are seeing or hearing. You have a sensation of movement, but nothing is ever clear.
Now, take your head back in from the window. Sit in the car and adjust. Instantly, your ears clear from the rushing sound of wind. Your vision begins to focus. You can look backward and see the places you have been, which helps you to understand where you are. You can look forward to where you are going.
Memory gives space to help you understand. You are so often comfortable in your homes and your lives. The things which trouble you are small compared to the martyrs. I have not heard of any of you being carted off by the secret police in the middle of the night. You have no real fear that a mob will suddenly break into this building and begin to beat you all to death.
But the memory of the martyrs, those imprisoned, ill-treated, killed; that memory brought vividly to your minds will break you from the world and your comforts and your entertainment haze and to let you see clearly the place in which you live.
You are prosperous. You suffer no adversity like being imprisoned, tortured or tried for being a Christian. Even the poorest in America can eat. And all this prosperity has made the American church sickly, worldly, ungodly. The American Church is by and large like an obese child, eating chips on the couch, remote control in hand. The American Church is like a stagnant pond stuffed with mosquitos and scum.
The comfort of living in Laodecia, the ease of wealth, the profit of materialism, lulls you into a sleep. And like a baby in a rocking train, you soon fall asleep as you speed down a track leading to hell. But, as one preacher wrote, AAdversity kills those corruptions which prosperity bred.@ 6 Flavel 10.
You are dogs whose head is firmly stuck into the wind. Sensation after sensation comes flooding into your eyes and ears. You are in a flurry of distraction. You chase after each scent merely to discover some new thing. You are like the philosophers on Mars Hill who spend all their time talking about and listening to the latest ideas (NIV Acts 17:21). The noise and distraction of Vanity Fair have so filled your minds that you scarcely know where you are. You are like drunks who have fallen asleep in a strange place.
To remember the martyrs is to shake yourselves to consciousness and look about the foreign room in which have laid your heads. It is to leave off chasing the scent. It is to turn off the sounds and sights and see where you are. It is to shout stop! And yank the cord and pull the train to a screeching halt.
Look about yourself and consider. Christian after Christian is lined up and murdered. They are counted as sheep for the slaughter. They are killed all day long. But what of you? Your heart is far from them. Even now, your thoughts are straying to the mall, to the baseball game, to the nap. Even now, you are going to work, spending your inheritance, getting a raise.
As we speak, there is a Christian family wondering if their daughter will ever come home from the job she got as a maid in the house of a Muslim family. Perhaps tonight she will be beaten and raped and sent off to be someone=s wife. The parents will be told that their daughter has converted to Islam. She may very well be dead in a ditch.
Ah, you will be safe and unconcerned. Perhaps you may shudder a bit , and then go back to pay-per-view.
But here in this verse you see that such is not an option. This is not a thing which you are allowed. You must take these facts to heart, you must make them part of your thoughts and lives. You must be changed.
But how? How should you be changed? What should the knowledge that your brothers and sisters are being trampled throughout the world do to you? Memory helps to give a clear sight, but what does it show?
I told you the book of Hebrews is book of many things, including a book of memory. The famous 11th chapter of Hebrews is nothing if not a book of memory of men and women who gave up all to follow after Christ.
The chapter details the privations, heartaches and crushing trials suffered by those who
Aconsider the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt@ Heb. 11:26. It is the story of people who Aendured, as seeing Him who is invisible@. 27.
Look how the writer summarizes the life of a believer, starting in the middle of Hebrews 11:35:
others were tortured, not accepting their release, so that they might obtain a better resurrection; and others experienced mockings and scourgings, yes, also chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, ill‑treated (men of whom the world was not worthy), wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground. (Hebrews 11:35‑38, NASB95)
Why did these people persevere through such trials? The answer to that question was given early in the chapter, in verses 13-16. Look with me there, Hebrews 11:13-16:
All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a country of their own. And indeed if they had been thinking of that country from which they went out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them. (Hebrews 11:13‑16, NASB95)
They persevered because they were strangers and exiles, pilgrims and strangers, seeking a better country, a City prepared by God.
Adversity had taught them to despise the world. The world is a wilderness, The world is a trap. The world hated them and killed them. The world hates you and will kill you. Thus, they despised the world and set it to their backs and sought a heavenly country.
The trials laid upon you are a vivid school, a painful alarm to teach you and remind you that you are not at home. You are not in the City of God. You have not yet received the redemption of your bodies. You are strangers and pilgrims.
And you who do not know Christ, take warning. Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints. Ps. 116.15. He will remember the wrong done to those he loves. He will avenge their blood. The world will be burned. It is a City of Destruction. The world killed the Son of God. The world killed the Saints of God. Do you think that God will leave the world unpunished? The world is a murderer steeped blood.
On the day of judgment, you will answer for the death of Christ. The perfect lamb of God will either plead your innocence or proclaim your guilt. The Judge will demand, What have you done with the death of Christ? If you see that you have rebelled against God. If you admit that you have violated the law of God. If you confess that you can do nothing to clear your name of sin and rebellion. If you admit that Jesus Christ died for your sins and raised on the third day for your justification, you will be saved.
But if you spit in the eye of God and say, I do not need the death of the Son of God. I will earn salvation on my own, the death of Christ will come hurtling down upon your soul and then you are undone.
And I must warn you all: Count the cost. There will be no hypocrites among the redeemed. As John Flavel said, Hypocrites are Alike flies in a hot summer, generated by the church=s prosperity; but this winter weather kills them.@ 6 Flavel 11. The winter of distress and persecution and suffering kills the hypocrite.
Count the cost: Count up the hatred of the world, the pain of the martyrs. No one will come to heaven in a comfortable bed. It is a weary pilgrimage to truly leave this world for the next. If you will not make the trip to the end, do not begin. Consider the reproach of Christ before you come a step.
If you are one who claims to know Christ, then how can you forget his body? Jesus said to Paul that when Paul had persecuted the body of Christ, it was the head, even Jesus Christ which felt the pain. If the pain of the martyrs is not a pain in your heart, then how can you claim to be of Christ? You cannot love the head and ignore the body.
You are commanded to remember. Remember the prisoners, take their pain as our own; to enter into the suffering of the body of Christ as your own. Own that these are your people, your real people, your own people. To remember the prisoner is to change your hearts and break you free from the perilous grip of comfort and ease and wealth and entertainment and materialism and politics which has infected your hearts and minds and homes.
The lukewarm Christianity, the corporate monstrosity that sells concerts tickets and prosperity rather than labors with love for the broken, that seeks ease rather than Christ, that promises good feelings rather than delivers the Gospel B such a so-called Christianity must die.
You must die to yourself and your comforts. You must remember the martyrs. You must pray for them. You must partake of their sufferings, willingly, lovingly, bearing the reproach of Christ.
Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people through His own blood, suffered outside the gate. So, let us go out to Him outside the camp, bearing His reproach. For here we do not have a lasting city, but we are seeking the city which is to come. (Hebrews 13:12‑14, NASB95)