A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master; it is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher, and the slave like the master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household! “So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops. Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. And even the hairs of your head are all counted. So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows. “Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven.”Matthew 10:24-33
In our contemporary parlance, we usually talk about martyrs as persons who are killed because of their beliefs, religious or otherwise. The English word martyr comes from the Greek martus (μάρτυς), which means witness or someone who bears testimony about something. Originally, the Greek word didn’t have the same denotation in English as it simply referred to a witness, someone who gives testimony or evidence in a court of law. However, the word gradually took on a new meaning in the first three centuries of Christianity’s existence due to persecution. Many Christians were arrested for the crime of “atheism” because they refused to make sacrifices to the Greco-Roman deities or to the Roman emperor. They were urged to deny Christ or to make pagan sacrifices, and those who refused were put to death. The church regarded the deaths of these steadfast Christians as the ultimate witness for Christ, because they demonstrated the truth of their faith by their willingness to be executed for it—there can be no greater witness than this. Hence, in the wake of persecutions, the term martus took on new meaning for the church.
Today in Singapore, the church isn’t persecuted (in any way which resembles that of the first three centuries) and Christians don’t have to face martyrdom as a prospect. Nevertheless, witnessing for Christ remains difficult. We still face rejection, ridicule, and even castigation when we tell others of Christ and the Christian faith in our secular multi-religious society. This should come as no surprise since Christ was already maligned and rejected (and later given over to execution) by the Jewish leaders in his earthly ministry. What more his disciples? They are not above their teacher and they will inevitably face opposition from the world.
However, Christ reminds us that we have nothing to fear. When we bear public witness to him, our Heavenly Father is watching over us and is keeping us in his providential care. In the unlikely case that we should be martyred, Christ acknowledges us before his Father and receives us into heaven, just as he did for the glorious cloud of faithful martyrs who have gone before us. The worst anyone can do to us is to destroy our bodies, but our souls remain in the hands of our Father and nothing can snatch us away from his love. As the Apostle Paul writes, “neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Therefore, we’re freed to acknowledge Christ before the world and proclaim his good news from housetops in broad daylight. May we be bold witnesses for Christ wherever we are!