The Meaning of Being a Martyr
1. The meaning of martyr
Definitions of martyr in thesaurus include: a) someone who dies for their religious or political beliefs and is admired by people for this; b) a person who voluntarily suffers death as the penalty of witnessing to and refusing to renounce a religion. Being a martyr means to witness to what one believes in. During early Christian centuries, the term acquired the extended meaning of believers who are called to witness for their religious belief, and on account of this witness, endures suffering or death.
2. Stephen’s martyrdom
In today’s sermon, we look at Stephen’s martyrdom in Acts 7. Accused of blasphemy at his trial because he had aroused the enmity of members of various synagogues by his teachings, Stephen made a long speech denouncing the Jewish authorities who were sitting in judgment on him.
After accusing the Sanhedrin of murdering the Righteous One and disobeying the law, Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” Then people began to stone him, while he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. …Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And he fell asleep.
Thus, Stephen became a martyr who died believing in God’s message and messengers. He gave his life believing in what Jesus had said:
“I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.” (John 14:18-20)
Stephen has witnessed to the life of Jesus Christ who offered his own life for the goodness of others. He died having lived a meaningful life of bearing witnesses for Christ.
3. What’s the meaning of being a martyr?
Viktor E. Frankl, the author of Men’s Search for Meaning and a survivor from Auschwitz, wrote, “life has a meaning, even in the most difficult situation.” He believes that there are three possible sources for meaning: in work (doing something significant), in love (caring for another person), and in courage during difficult times.
Frankl writes that there are two choices in the bitter fight for self-preservation: remain brave, dignified and unselfish, or forget your human dignity and become no more than an animal. Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances. In his words,
“Suffering in and of itself is meaningless. We give our suffering meaning by the way in which we respond to it. In some way, suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning, such as the meaning of a sacrifice.”
Frankl believes that we cannot control what happens to us in life, but we can always control what we will feel and do about what happens to us. We are never left with nothing as long as we retain the freedom to choose how we will respond.
The meaning of being a martyr is to be THE witness: to work and serve others, to love and care for others, and to have courage in difficult times. It means to live out a life with meaning, a life just like Stephen’s which is filled with the Holy Spirit.