When I was a teenager and a new Christian, I received a copy of DC Talk’s book Jesus Freaks. Named after their famous song (and most youth groups unofficial anthem) of the same name, the book was a collection of stories about Christian martyrs. The band partnered with Voice of the Martyrs, an organization that supports the persecuted church around the world, to tell the stories of these brave men and women who suffered for their faith.
As a teenager, I was fascinated by these stories. Accounts of men and women, young and old, from all around the world who made the decision to suffer rather than deny their faith. Some were thrown in prison while others were mocked and ridiculed. Still others were beaten, tortured, and even killed for their faith in Jesus Christ.
Martyrdom is as old as the church. The book of Acts describes the first Christian to die for his faith. Stephen, one of the seven men appointed to care for the orphans and widows in the early church, was stoned to death. Church history and tradition teaches us that all but one of the apostles were killed. The one who died of old age, the apostle John, suffered as well. After an unsuccessful attempt to take his life, he was exiled to an island for the remainder of his days. Many others throughout church history were willing to give their lives rather than renounce their faith. As Tertullian, and early church father, once said, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” Even as persecution rose throughout the Roman empire, it could do nothing to stamp out the Christian faith.
But what made people so willing to suffer for their faith? Why would so many Christians rather go through humiliation, pain, and death than turn away from the Lord? They put their hope in Jesus and the promises of God’s Word. They were able to look beyond the present. Their momentary suffering was just that: momentary. They knew that there was an even greater reward in store for God’s children, which far outweighed their current experience. The Apostle Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 4:16-18,
“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”
The hope we have in Christ is not just for this world. If we focus only on our current situation, no matter how bad (or good) it may be, we are missing the point. Instead, we must turn our attention to eternity. We must put our experiences in their proper perspective. When we think in these terms, we will be able to find true joy, contentment, and hope. The martyrs trusted that, even though they experience pain and suffering now, the prospect of eternal life with Christ far outweighed their present circumstances. They thought in light of eternity, not just the present.
Hope is future-oriented. It is not dependent on our current circumstances. As Christians, we have hope based on God’s unchanging character and the trustworthiness of his Word. No matter what we face in this life, we now that God is faithful, just, loving, and merciful. We have the promise of forgiveness in his Word, made possible through Christ’s death and resurrection. Nothing in this life can take that away from us. As Paul says in Romans 8:38-39,
“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,[k]neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
That is our hope.