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Posts Tagged ‘martyrdom’

Appointed Scripture Readings:  Acts 15: 1-21   Psalm 46   Galatians 2: 1-10   St. Matthew 16: 13-19

 

About this Feast Day and St. Peter and St. Paul, Apostles:   The festival of St. Peter and St. Paul is probably the oldest of the saints’ observances (dating from about the middle of the third century). An early tradition held that these two pillars of the New Testament Church were martyred on the same day in Rome during the persecution under Nero. In addition to this joint commemoration of their deaths, both apostles are commemorated separately: Peter on January 18 for his confession of Jesus as the Christ (Matthew 16:13-16) and Paul on January 25 for his conversion (Acts 9:1-19).

The confession of St. Peter did not arise in the imagination of Peter’s heart but was revealed to him by the Father. The reason this confession is important is seen in Jesus’ response: “You are Peter [Greek Petros], and on this rock [Greek petra] I will build My church” (Matthew 16:18). As the people of God in the Old Testament began with the person of Abraham, the rock from which God’s people were hewn (Isaiah 51:1-2), so the people of God in the New Testament would begin with the person of Peter, whose confession is the rock on which Christ would build His Church. But Peter was not alone (the “keys” given to him in Matthew 16:19 were given to all the disciples in Matthew 18:18 and John 20:21-23). As St. Paul tells us, Peter and the other apostles take their place with the prophets as the foundation of the Church, with Christ Himself as the cornerstone (Ephesians 2:20). The confession of Peter, therefore, is the witness of the entire apostolic band and is foundational in the building of Christ’s Church. Thus the Church gives thanks to God for St. Peter and the other apostles who have instructed Christ’s Holy Church in His divine and saving truth. 

St. Paul’s life-changing experience on the road to Damascusis related three times in the Book of Acts (9:1-9; 22:6-11; 26:12-18). As an archenemy of Christians, Saul of Tarsus set out forDamascus to arrest and bring believers toJerusalemfor trial. While on the way, he saw a blinding light and heard the words: “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” Saul asked, “Who are You, Lord?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” In Damascus, where Saul was brought after being blinded, a disciple named Ananias was directed by the Lord in a vision to go to Saul to restore his sight: “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of Mine to carry My name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel” (Acts9:15). After receiving his sight, Saul was baptized and went on to become known as Paul, the great apostle.

Reflection:  Those who would remake the Church into what they want and desire, will eventually have Christ Jesus remade into their own image, that is, an idol.  Too many build the Church upon men’s opinions of Jesus Christ.  Our Lord’s question to the disciples, Who do men say that I am? was never intended by the Lord to be an eternal discussion question for so-called Bible studies in too many congregations. Every year, before Christmas and Easter, come the articles debunking some portion or portions of the Bible about Jesus, like clockwork.  The Lord’s question to Peter surfaced the rumors about Him and they were just that rumors, conjecture, innuendo. Peter and Paul knew that Christ  is the only Cornerstone of His Church and that all who were being baptized, were being built onto the Cornerstone,not the cornerstone upon them! See Acts 4:11,Ephesians 2:20, 1 Peter 2: 5-7.  The Holy Spirit conforms us to the Lord’s specs in the blueprint of His Church,  by His mercy for sinners, not according to our specs and schemes for His Church.

Peter and Paul had differences between them and much in common.  Both Peter and Paul were Jews.  Peter was an uneducated fisherman, while Paul was a highly educated Pharisee who was taught at the feet of the great rabbi, Gamaliel. Peter was with Jesus from the beginning, the first of the Apostles.  Paul, as he said, was the last of the apostles.  Both were zealous for the Law. Yet, Peter denied Christ.  Paul persecuted the Church and consented to the murder of Stephen, the first martyr of “followers of the Way”.  Both knew they were sinners whom the Law could not save and that Christ alone does atone.  Peter,
 
61 And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the saying of the Lord, how he had said to him,“Before the rooster crows today, you will deny me three times.”62 And he went out and wept bitterly.” 
 
“Behold of a sudden the lover is a liar. (Peter) finds out what he is; he who had thought too highly of himself” (St. Augustine).  Peter’s tears were of godly sorrow that leads to repentance.
Paul wrote to Timothy, “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.   Paul was blinded by his sin in the glory of crucified Jesus on the road to Damascus.  Paul finds out what he is and like Peter, Paul also thought so highly of  himself and Christ taught him well:
 
For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. (Romans 12: 3)
 
Paul’s confession of sin was also of the godly sorrow. Called by Christ Jesus, Peter and Paul both knew by faith His forgiveness of them and each and everyone of us. Both confessed Jesus is Lord. Both built up the Church through the Word of God, as St. Paul wrote:
According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it.
As the Apostle Peter wrote:
1 Peter
As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
Both built well with the Word of God upon the sure Cornerstone Jesus Christ. Neither Peter or Paul built the Church upon themselves, their spiritualities or the fads and fashions of this vain world. Both were martyred, tradition says on this day, in Rome. Remember and rejoice that  Peter and Paul, and all Christian martyrs, unlike the Islamic variety, do not try to take people with them in death, but ever preached and taught, the Way to heaven, in faith, not to kill the infidel, but that the infidel come to faith and  live eternally in Jesus Christ.

 

Prayer of the Day

Merciful and eternal God, Your holy apostles Peter and Paul received grace and strength to lay down their lives for the sake of Your Son. Strengthen us by Your Holy Spirit that we may confess Your truth and at all times be ready to lay down our lives for Him who laid down His life for us, even Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. 

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Biography:  Boniface was born in the late seventh century in England. Though he was educated, became a monk, and was ordained as a presbyter in England, he was inspired by the example of others to become a missionary.  The 8th century the Church was international: Rome, England, Germany, Frisia (Holland) were all part of the Boniface’s bio and mission.   The Word created the uncommon common culture of the Church. Upon receiving a papal commission in 719 to work in Germany, Boniface devoted himself to planting, organizing, and reforming churches and monasteries in Hesse, Thuringia, and Bavaria. After becoming an archbishop, Boniface was assigned to the See of Mainz in 743. Ten years later he resigned his position to engage in mission work in the Netherlands. On June 5, 754,  Pentecost that year, and at sunrise, while reading the Gospel to a group of the newly Baptized, a band of pagan Frisians attacked Boniface and the

neophytes.  Boniface and the neophytes were massacred. According to reports, Boniface was carrying a Bible and it was stabbed. So his emblem is the one you see here.  In Fulda, Germany, are the remains of Boniface along with the Bible, with the slash mark, he was holding when killed.  Boniface died while catechizing. He was around 80 years old.

Reflection:  The movie clip is from “The Avengers” one of the crop of superhero adventure movies.  In this scene the Norse God Thor and Loki are battling and Captain America goes to fight them, but before he does he delivers one of my favorite lines of any from this movie genre:

Yes, this is a strange clip for a saint’s commemoration but the false god Thor has a connection with Boniface!  

The greatest, most noted and spectacular event in Boniface’s mission work occurred in 723, when he returned to the mission fields in Hesse, “…was to fell the sacred oak tree of Thor (a Norse god), at Geisman in the region of Hesse.  When Boniface was not struck down by the ‘god’, many people were converted and Boniface built a chapel in honor of St. Peter with wood from the tree.” (Festivals and Commemorationsby Rev. Phillip Pfatteicher)  Nowadays progressive Prots and Roman Catholics would probably want to form a dialogue with Norse ‘theologians’, but Boniface and company preached the Gospel, the Bible, Christian morals and catechized and educated the people…without compromising to the pagan worldview nor the corrupt priests Boniface disicplined (1).  

The Church was built and the Lord was the builder.  Even a script writer for The Avengers got it right about Thor: “Ma’am, there is only one God and I’m pretty sure He doesn’t dress like that”.  He dressed in our flesh in the fullness of time to bear our sin and be our Savior.  Boniface was dress in Jesus Christ so that many could hear the Word and be saved.  If you want to read more about Boniface read this.  It is so clear from the Bible, Church history, as it was in the ministry of Boniface, the mission work of our forebears to this land, who built churches, hospitals, orphanages, schools, colleges, seminaries, that the work of His Church is to build and edify through mortar and in mortals, because God so loved the world He gave His only-begotten Son.  

Almighty God, who called Your faithful servant Boniface to be a witness and martyr in the lands of Germany and Friesland, and by his labor and suffering raised up a people for Your own possession, pour forth Your Holy Spirit upon your Church in every land, that by the service and sacrifice of many Your holy Name may be glorified and Your kingdom enlarged; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

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(1)  From a letter from Bp. Boniface to Bp. Daniel of Winchester, “…we have fightings within as well as fears, caused especially by false priests and hypocrites, enemies of God, ruining themselves, misleading the people with scandals and false doctrines, and crying to them, as the prophet says, “Peace! Peace! when there is no peace.”  They strive to cover and choke with weeds or to turn into poisonous grain the seed of the Word which we have received from the bosom of the Catholic and Apostolic Churchand have tried to sow.  What we plant they do not water that it may increase but try to uproot that it may wither away, offering to the people and teaching them new divisions and errors of divers sorts…that murderers and adulterers who persist in their crimes may nevertheless be priests of God.

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At the beginning of the third century, the Roman emperor Septimus Severus forbade conversions to Christianity. Among those disobeying that edict were Perpetua, a young noblewoman, and her maidservant Felicitas. Both were jailed at Carthage in North Africa along with three fellow Christians. During their imprisonment, Perpetua and Felicitas witnessed to their faith with such conviction that the officer in charge became a follower of Jesus. After making arrangements for the well-being of their children, Perpetua and Felicitas were executed on March 7, 203. Tradition holds that Perpetua showed mercy to her captors by falling on a sword because they could not bear to put her to death. The story of this martyrdom has been told ever since as an encouragement to persecuted Christians. Read more on these blessed martyrs and the actual account of their martyrdom here.

 

An early Christian writer, Tertullian (c. 160 – c. 220)  penned that , “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.”  This was literally so in the building of the first church structures:  they were erected over the sites of martyrdom, as was the case of Perpetua and Felicita after Christianity became a legal religion after AD312.  We erect church buildings in our day after a church building committee has taken in consideration all sorts of factors but this one is major:  visibility, with good parking.  Now parking is important and convenient.  But it is a sobering reminder that the first basilicas, etc. were not built for convenience but for remembrance and rejoicing for the life of those martyred.  Though  I will hazard a guess that the sites of church buildings on the locales of martyrdoms met the visibility requirements:  coliseums, courts, arenas, after all,the martyrs were publicly executed in a “high traffic area”, a crossroads of civilization. Today the martyrs are executed on the new crossroads of the internet and television for all to see.

Martyrdom is not convenient.  The persecutors think they will stop not only the Christians and the faith, but they can not. The martyrdom of Perpetua and Felicitas encouraged a young Church.    The martyrs’ light so shines before others, even in death, that others might see their good works and give glory to our Father in heaven (see Matthew 5:15-17). The word “martyr” in New Testament Greek is literally “witness”.  We are to be prepared to give our witness at any time (see   1 Peter 3:14-16) even when not convenient.  I am no expert at witnessing, but the faith to so witness  comes  not from within but from with out:  in the Lord,  in the Holy Spirit (see Matthew 10:19-21).

When I have read the many narratives of the martyrs of the first centuries of Christ’s Church, I always thought the reports of bulls, burning at the stake, flaying alive, had to be exaggerations.  After what we have seen in our time, in the Middle East, I no longer have any doubt to the historicity of those reports. The martyrs who witnessed by their blood give us good courage for our witness so that others might call upon the Name of the Lord and be saved.  

The Christian martyrs, contrary to Islamic ‘martyrs’, do not destroy themselves to kill others.  Many of them so verbally witnessed to Jesus Christ in the Coliseum and other places so that the hearers could repent and be saved and live eternally in Christ.   The martyrs in Christ died so that others may call upon the Name of the Lord and be saved. Perpetua and Felicitas would know the truth of this statement by a Lutheran Pastor:“When the devil is mocked, he sheds the blood of the mockers. When God was mocked, He shed His blood on the mockers.”   The icon above has the shape of heart, the heart of Christ in His love even for the persecutors.  The Church’s prayer is as Christ upon the Cross:  “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”  The Lord’s salvation is also for the oppressor that they be freed from their oppressing, as was the Apostle Paul.

May the blood of Perpetua and Felicitas remind us of the precious, holy and innocent blood of Christ who has washed us in Baptism.  May the blood and the water of the 21 Coptic Christians remind us ever of our Baptism into Christ and encourage us when called to give a defense of the hope that is in us. They died so that the we might live in Christ Jesus, in His Church, indeed:  “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.”

Let us pray:

O God the King of saints, who strengthened your servants Perpetua and Felicitas and their companions to make a good confession, staunchly resisting, for the cause of Christ, the claims of human affection, and encouraging one another in their time of trial: Grant that we who cherish their blessed memory may share their pure and steadfast faith, and win with them the palm of victory; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

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Intro:   Polycarp’s martyrdom on this date around AD 156 deeply impressed the nascent Church and can not be glossed over.   Polycarp was a link between the time of the Apostles and post-apostolic era.  He was martyred when he was 86 years of age by being burned,and when the flames did not hurt him, he was stabbed in the heart.  Eyewitness accounts said the smell was of baking bread.  His name means, “much fruit”.  Below is a short bio from The Apostolic Fathers edited by Jack Sparks of the Eastern Orthodox Church:

“Take the oath and I will let you go,” said the proconsul. “Revile Christ.”

“I have served Him eighty-six years,” replied Polycarp, “and in no way has He dealt unjustly with me; so how can I blaspheme my King who saved me?”

Thus the aged and much revered bishop spoke, in full knowl­edge of the outcome. His martyrdom was sealed. His life had stretched from the days of the apostles till the middle of the second century, and on a February day in about 156 he moved on with honor to the church enrolled in heaven.

We first meet Polycarp as the relatively young bishop of Smyrna when the aging Ignatius of Antioch was on his way to mar­tyrdom. It was in Smyrna that Ignatius made that famous rest stop on his final journey, and Polycarp was the only individual on record to whom the great martyr ever addressed a personal letter. In the years that followed, Polycarp gathered Ignatius’ letters and passed them on to others.

Irenaeus, who was bishop of Lyons in the latter half of the second century, tells us that Polycarp was a disciple of the apos­tle John and indeed knew others who had seen the Lord in the flesh. The witness of Irenaeus is important because he appar­ently grew up in Smyrna. What he says of Polycarp indicates that the bishop of Smyrna was most concerned about the pres­ervation of the orthodox faith. One incident he reports demon­strates the severity of Polycarp’s attitude toward heresies and heretics. Polycarp, says Irenaeus, once met the heretic Marcion on the streets. “Do you recognize me?” asked Marcion. “In­deed,” replied Polycarp, “I recognize you as the firstborn of Satan!” (Adv. haer 3:3,4).

Though Irenaeus hints at several letters by Polycarp, only  one has come down to us. That letter is to the church at Philippi and reflects the same concern for truth and orthodoxy we have already mentioned. His letter is filled with, indeed almost made up of, quotes from the Gospels, Acts, and Epistles of the New Testament, as well as the letters of Clement and Ignatius. Some critics have sneered at Polycarp because he is so uncreative and offers no new theological insight. We can be glad he was the way he was. Through Polycarp we have not only a link with the ear­liest days of Christianity, but a faithful transmission of apostolic doctrine as well. No, he was not creative. He was a loyal disci­ple of Christ and the apostles.

Near the end of his life Polycarp made a visit to Rome to dis­cuss with Bishop Anicetus a number of church matters, appar­ently including the date of Easter. The Eastern churches were still celebrating Easter on the exact date of Jewish Passover, while Rome was using a specified Sunday each year. Neither agreed to change, but their fellowship was not disturbed. Before he left Rome, Polycarp, at the invitation of Anicetus, led in the celebration of the Eucharist. The two men parted in full agree­ment to leave their respective traditions as they were.

Last of all we have an eyewitness account of the martyrdom of Polycarp. Perhaps by request, the church at Smyrna pre­pared a full account, to be sent to the church at Philomelium and other places. This clear and simple testimony of the martyrdom of an aged saint should bring tears to the eyes of any believer. Some have questioned the record because of the miraculous ac­count of the means of his death. But there is great danger in rejecting a miracle on the grounds that “such things just don’t happen.” Some have done so and thus have rejected the mira­cles of the Scriptures.

Polycarp’s last prayer is characteristic of the man and a clear testimony of his faith. He concluded with, “I praise you, I bless you, I glorify you, through the eternal and heavenly high priest Jesus Christ your beloved Son through whom to you with Him and the Holy Spirit be glory now and forever. Amen.”

Below is a selection from The Martyrdom of Polycarp.  Please note that the first Christians were accused of “atheism” because they would not sacrifice to the false god of Caesar, and so they were considered as not believing and thus imperiling the ‘divine’ order of the Empire and the Emperor.

“…the police captain, Herod, and his father, Nicetes, met (Polycarp); they transferred him to their carriage and sitting down beside him tried to persuade him, saying: “Why, what is wrong with saying, ‘Caesar is Lord,’ and sacrificing, and so forth, and thus being saved?” At first he did not answer them, but when they persisted, he said: “I am not going to do what you advise me.”  Since they had failed to persuade him, they uttered threats and hurriedly pulled him off so that as he was descending from the carriage he scraped his shin. And without turning around, he walked along briskly as though he had suffered no injury. As he was led into the stadium with the uproar so great that it [the announcement of Polycarp’s apprehension] was not heard by many….

 Now a voice from heaven came to Polycarp as he was entering the stadium: “Be strong, Polycarp, and play the man!” (Josh. 1:6,7,9.) No one saw the speaker, but many of ours heard the voice. And then as he was brought forward, there was a great uproar now that they heard that Polycarp had been apprehended. So when he was brought forward the proconsul asked him whether he was Polycarp; and when he admitted it, he tried to persuade him to deny, saying: “Respect your age” and all the other things they usually say: “Swear by the Genius of Caesar, change your mind, say, ‘Away with the atheists.’ ” Polycarp looked sternly at the whole crowd of lawless heathen in the stadium, indicating them with a wave of the hand, groaned and looked up to heaven, and said: “Away with the atheists!” When the proconsul persevered and said: “Take the oath and I will let you go; revile Christ,” Polycarp replied: “I have served him eighty-six years and in no way has he dealt unjustly with me; so how can I blaspheme my king who saved me?”

 Since he persisted and said: “Swear by Caesar’s Genius,” he answered: “If you vainly expect that I will swear by Caesar’s Genius, as you suggest, and pretend to be ignorant who I am, listen (to what I say) openly: I am a Christian. If you want to learn the teaching of Christianity, name the day and hear (about it).”  The proconsul said: “Persuade the people.” Polycarp replied: “To you indeed I have considered myself accountable; for we have been taught to render fit honor to rulers and authorities appointed by God in so far as it is not injurious to us [cf. Rom. 13:1,7;1 Pet. 2:13ff]; as for these, I do not consider myself bound to make my defense before them.”

Comment:  Note that what the Christians were asked to do, burn a little incense to Caesar and swear by him is really a ‘small thing’, as it was pitched toward the Church.  As the proconsul said, what is wrong with saying, Caesar is Lord?  Indeed!  It might seem such a small thing to “go with the flow”, do what others are doing which seems so much fun and the like.  But it’s not a ‘small thing’ and Polycarp knew what it meant:  denying Jesus Christ who saved him.  

I like Fr. Sparks’ comment that Polycarp’s one letter shows he was not creative.  He quoted the Bible. No, he was not creative. He was a loyal disci­ple of Christ and the apostles.”   I took a course in seminary, “Creative Ministry”.   We make ministry ‘creative’?  No, the Lord does.  He re-creates us through His Ministry of Word and Sacraments through His called pastors and bishops.  Polycarp was not creative:   he was faithful.  He was a faithful servant of Jesus.  Satis est.  That is enough and Christ will fill us by His grace for us sinners.

Let us pray:  O God, the maker of heaven and earth, who gave to Your venerable servant, the holy and gentle Polycarp, boldness to confess Jesus Christ as King and Savior, and steadfastness to die for the Faith, give us grace, following his example, to share the cup of Christ and rise to eternal life; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

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St. Stephen, “a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 6:5), was one of the Church’s first seven deacons. He was appointed by the leaders of the Church to distribute food and other necessities to the poor in the growing Christian community in Jerusalem, thereby giving the apostles more time for their public ministry of proclamation (Acts 6:2-5). He and the other deacons apparently were expected not only to wait on tables but also to teach and preach. When some of his colleagues became jealous of him, they brought Stephen to the Sanhedrin and falsely charged him with blaspheming against Moses (Acts 6:9-14). Stephen’s confession of faith, along with his rebuke of the members of the Sanhedrin for rejecting their Messiah and being responsible for His death, so infuriated them that they dragged him out of the city and stoned him to death. Stephen is honored as the Church’s first martyr and for his words of commendation and forgiveness as he lay dying: “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit” and “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (Acts 7:59-60).

Reverent hearts, it is an old, laudable custom to commemorate St. Stephen on the second day of Christmas. For just as the innocent children were the first martyrs after Christ’s birth, so also St. Stephen was the first after Christ’s ascension to praise our glorious King Jesus with his blood. Our predecessors used to say, Heri natus est Christus in mundo, ut hodie Stephanus nasceretur in coelo. “Yesterday Christ was born in the world, so that today Stephen would be born in heaven.” This is speaking rightly and truly of the fruit of Jesus Christ’s birth. If the Christ Child had not been born, the entire world would be lost. Thus Stephen’s sleep in death and entrance through the open heaven to the glory of God in eternal life will show us well what great usefulness and goodness we have from the incarnation and birth of the Child Jesus.

Stephen means a “garland” or a “crown.” Think here of our beautiful Christmas consolation. Whoever believes in the name of Jesus is righteous before God and can expect a glorious crown. Devout Christians are “virgins” before God (Matthew 25:1; Revelation 14:4) and have four different virgin garlands. The first is the garland of righteousness gifted. Second is the garland of righteousness begun. The third is the garlandof all kinds of cross and thorns. The fourth is the glorious garland of perfect righteousness.

The ancient teachers of the Church say that the Lord Jesus loved Stephen in life, in death, and after death. First, in life, for He filled him with His Spirit, with heavenly wisdom, and faith unfeigned. Second, in death, for He offered him heaven opened and waited for his soul. Third, after death, for He gave him the garland of glory and set up for him a famous commemoration until the Last Day. These are the beautiful flowers of Christmas. Those who truly love our glorious King Jesus Christ shall be certain of God’s grace in life, in death, and after death. They shall not die, but live, and proclaim the work of the Lord.—Valerius Herberger

 Acts 6: And Stephen, full of grace and power, was doing great wonders and signs among the people. Then some of those who belonged to the synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called), and of the Cyrenians, and of the Alexandrians, and of those from Cilicia and Asia, rose up and disputed with Stephen… This man never ceases to speak words against this holy place and the law, 14 for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and will change the customs that Moses delivered to us.

The freedmen, or literally, the liberated ones, were possibly descendants of manumitted slaves.  So maybe for them to hear that they will be freed freely in Jesus Christ would have been galling and going against the ‘freedom’ they had sought in their own synagogue and earned for themselves, but in Christ they were truly manumitted, eternally. In front of them and the high priest, in his speech, more like a sermon,  (Acts 7) Deacon Stephen went through Israel’s history.  He  pointed out the way the Lord led them in freedom for Israel only to reject the Lord’s Word and finally that happened to the Messiah Jesus and they resisted the Holy Spirit and the prophets who spoke by the Holy Spirit, and did not keep the Law.  The people did not want to hear any more and they stoned him to death.   Here was a man full of the Holy Spirit who was in love with the One born yesterday Who alone can free, what no law could free.  We could sing today, On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me…Himself:  Jesus Christ.  “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit” and “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (Acts 7:59-60).And the Lord said before He died, “Father, in Thy hands I commend my spirit” and “Forgive them, for they know not what they do”. 

It is recorded that Stephen’s face shined like an angel’s (6: 15).  “Angel” means “messenger”.  Stephen was a messenger of the message of glad tidings of Jesus Christ. People will misunderstand both the message and the messenger and think by killing the messenger, they will kill the message, but they can’t.  Pope Francis does not want his church to evangelize the Jews, funny, since that is what Stephen did.  Even if Church and State try to stop the message, it has not worked yet, for the Lord, even through the blood of His saints, wants all men to come to the knowledge of Christ and His Name to free all men and women.

Hymnody

Jesus! Name of priceless worth

To the fallen of the earth

For the promise that it gave,

“Jesus shall His people save.”

—Jesus! Name of Wondrous Love (LSB 900:3)

Prayer of the Day

Heavenly Father, in the midst of our sufferings for the sake of Christ grant us grace to follow the example of the first martyr, Stephen, that we also may look to the One who suffered and was crucified on our behalf and pray for those who do us wrong; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

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9 After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10 and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” Revelation 7: 9-10

Our Confession approves honors to the saints. For here a threefold honor is to be approved.

  • The first is thanksgiving. For we ought to give thanks to God because He has shown examples of mercy; because He has shown that He wishes to save men; because He has given teachers or other gifts to the Church. And these gifts, as they are the greatest, should be amplified, and the saints themselves should be praised, who have faithfully used these gifts, just as Christ praises faithful business-men, 5] Matt. 25:21, 23.
  • The second service is the strengthening of our faith; when we see the denial forgiven Peter, we also are encouraged to believe the more that grace truly superabounds over sin, Rom. 5:20.
  •  The third honor is the imitation, first, of faith, then of the other virtues, which every one should imitate according to his calling.  These true honors the adversaries do not require. They dispute only concerning invocation, which, even though it would have no danger, nevertheless is not necessary.

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About St. Bartholomew, Apostle:  St. Bartholomew (or Nathanael, as he is called in St. John’s Gospel) was one of the first of Jesus’ twelve disciples. His home was in the town of Cana, in Galilee (John 21:2), where Jesus’ performed His first miracle. He was invited to become one of the Twelve by Philip, who told him that they had found the Messiah in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. (John 1:45). Bartholomew’s initial hesitation to believe, because of Jesus’ Nazareth background, was quickly replaced by a clear, unequivocal declaration of faith, “You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” (John 1:49). He was present with the other disciples (John 21:1-13) when they were privileged to see and converse and eat with their risen Lord and Savior. According to some Early Church Fathers, Bartholomew brought the Gospel to Armenia, where he was martyred by being flayed alive.

 “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” 50Jesus answered him, “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these.” 51And he said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”

The apostle Bartholomew exclaimed after Jesus found and called him,  and especially after He said, I saw you under the fig tree, with great enthusiasm, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”   This is a clear confession but it is not complete.  Bartholomew went from Rabbi to Son of God, and then to the “King of Israel” which would have meant for any devout Jew, as Bartholomew, a temporal kingdom here and now. Christ Jesus is, but not in a political sense.  In John 6, when Jesus feeds the 5,000, the evangelist John alone tells us another reason the Lord went off to pray by Himself:  the crowds were trying to make Him king. The Lord would have none of that. In the Bible 2 Kingdoms are described, ruled by God’s right and left hand.  Left hand are the kingdoms, nations of this world by which the Lord rules (see Romans 13:4) and the Kingdom of His right hand, the reign of God in Jesus Christ coming spiritually  in the preaching and teaching of the Gospel.  When men confuse those two hands into one hand, tyranny is the result, even if it is ostensibly Christian.  If you want see false faiths fusing religion with the state:  See ISIS, for then a political kingdom can do anything in the Name of God with seeming impunity. The Lord will have none of that yet He will bring tyrants down from their thrones in this world with the sword, if needs be.  And at great cost. See Hitler who proclaimed the 1,000 year kingdom. 

The titulus, the plaque that Pilate put on the cross in 3 languages read, “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews”.   When the Lord, after being beaten is brought before Pilate and John alone tells us more of the conversation they had and it centers on Jesus  being King.  Jesus does not deny that He is King but the scope of His kingdom is a temporal one:  “My kingdom is not of this world.” This is the proof text showing the falsehood of the doctrine of the 1,000 year reign of Christ on earth.  Jesus says to Bartholomew, You will see greater  things, the angels ascending and descending on the Son of Man. Bartholomew, you will see upon the ladder of the Cross, God descending, the Word made flesh, the Lamb of God bearing the sin of the world into the depths of the darkness of iniquity.   When Jacob had his dream of a ladder to heaven, and just as Jesus said, Jacob saw the angels ascending and descending on it and the Lord stood above it and with Jacob, the Lord coming down the patriarch Jacob.  Jacob exclaims:

“How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.”

 Awesome means full of awe.  Bartholomew would see something greater, the house of God , the gate of heaven, Jesus Himself in His crucifixion and resurrection.  “The Kingdom of heaven is open to all believers” (Te Deum Laudamus).   As Jesus said in John 10, I am the gate of sheep, the door. He is the key to the Father’s heart.  “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.”  Golgotha was the ultimate awesome place and when the Lord’s crucifixion and resurrection is preached for us tired, hiding, running away  sinners (as Jacob did a lot of running), we see the Lord in His Word, the house of  God and the gate of heaven.  The vain idols of this world are seen for what they are:  despotic, deathly and done for, desperately lashing out.  This is why those who try to put God out of the public square can not tolerate those who do not go along, who are freed in Jesus Christ. Political tyrants can not tolerate the true King over men’s souls and bodies.

Bartholomew preached the sharp word of Law and Promise. He preached Christ for sinners.  It was not well-received by the powers that be.  According to tradition he was martyred by being flayed alive.  In a congregation I served, has behind the altar the 12 plaques of the Apostles and 11 of them were martyred.  The symbol is usually the means of their execution.  A fellow member told me that those plaques disgusted her and could they be taken down. I said no, they are good reminders of the cost of faith in Christ Jesus.  At the time, my problem was the opposite:  I never thought anyone would be flayed alive, but after ISIS, I believe.  The word of God is sharper than any two edged sword (Hebrews 4:12).  He will reveal the thoughts of many (Luke 2:35).  He will heal of the lives of even more (Revelation 7:9).  The Lord sent Bartholomew was sent preaching and baptizing (Matthew 28). His Church is still so sent.

 

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