When Joshua led the Israelites across the Jordan River into the promised land, He was commanded by the Lord to take 12 stones from the middle of the Jordan River to set up in their camp to be a memorial of God’s faithfulness in leading them from the wilderness to the promised land. They were to remember God’s lovingkindness to all generations and to be thankful. Our God is a faithful God.
Psalm 100: 4-5 says Enter His gates with thanksgiving And His courts with praise. Give thanks to Him, bless His name. For the Lord is good; His lovingkindness is everlasting And His faithfulness to all generations.
The Lord God is a loving Father who cares for and protects his people throughout all of history. He keeps his covenant promises to his children. We should give thanks to him for his faithfulness throughout all generations. We want to be a people who do not forget the faithfulness of our Lord. Jesus Christ preserves his people, the Church. He has and is building his church on the foundation of the prophets and the apostles. We are being built upon that foundation and we have a great cloud of witnesses who surround us. Therefore, in order to remember this lovingkindness and give thanks to our Creator, we think it is important to retell the stories of the lives of faithful men and women used by God in history in the building of his church. We want to remember the martyrs who faced tyrants, torture, wild beasts, and death in order to make the good confession. Like memorial stones these accounts remind us that God is the covenant keeping God who has been faithful and will be faithful to us and our children. They remind us to lay aside every encumbrance and sin which so easily entangles us, and run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of the faith.
Today, we are reminded of the work of the early Christian apologists. An apologist is someone who gives an apology for the faith. And no they are not saying sorry for the faith. Rather they are giving a defense of the faith. They are as scripture says destroying "arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ." Christians have always had to respond to the philosophies of their age. The first in a long line of Christian apologists was a man named Justin. As a well-born Roman, Justin received a classical education in Greek and Latin. Searching for truth, he studied various popular philosophies. But none of them filled his hungry heart. At last, about A.D. 130, after a conversation with an older Christian man, his life was transformed. Justin wrote, "A fire was suddenly kindled in my soul. I fell in love with the prophets and these men who had loved Christ; I reflected on all their words and found that this…alone was true and profitable.” Justin continued to study and was well versed in philosophy but he was more than just an academic. He wrote defenses of the faith and addressed his arguments to the Roman emperor himself.
Christians in his time were being arrested and charged with, believe it or not, atheism. They were atheists because they refused to bow down to the false gods of the age. Justin answered that charge by writing: “And we confess that we are atheists, so far as the gods of this sort are concerned, but not with respect to the most true God, the Father of righteousness and temperance and the other virtues, who is free from all impurity. But both Him, and the Son … and the prophetic Spirit, we worship and adore, knowing them in reason and truth, and declaring without grudging to every one who wishes to learn, as we have been taught”
Justin plead with the Emperor to stop murdering Christians and to submit himself to Christ. Justin argued that Christians are, in fact, the emperor's "best helpers and allies in securing good order, convinced as we are that no wicked man ... can be hidden from God, and that everyone goes to eternal punishment or salvation in accordance with the character of his actions.” Justin called for the emperor to receive the faith and to protect Christians and if he would not, Justin said “We forewarn you, that you shall not escape the coming judgment of God.” That is boldness preached to civil magistrates.
One interesting aspect of Justin’s written work is that he describes the early church’s worship. He did this to counteract the rumors from the pagans that Christians were cannibals or having wild parties. Here is his description and as you read it notice how similar it is to what we still do today.
"On the day called Sunday there is a gathering together in the same place of all who live in a given city or rural district. The memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits. Then when the reader ceases, the ruler in a discourse admonishes and urges the imitation of these good things. Next we all rise together and send up prayers. When we cease from our prayer, bread is presented and wine and water. The presiding officer in the same manner sends up prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability, and the people sing out their assent, saying the 'Amen.' A distribution and participation of the elements for which thanks have been given is made to each person… Those who have means and are willing, each according to his own choice, gives what he wills, and what is collected is deposited with the ruling officer. He provides for the orphans and widows, those who are in need on account of sickness or some other cause, those who are in bonds, strangers who are sojourning, and in a word he becomes the protector of all who are in need.”
Justin recounted the reading of scripture, the preaching of the word with practical application, prayers, singing, giving, and the Lord’s Supper. These are the foundations of all Christian worship.
Justin was given the name Justin Martyr because in addition to writing a defense of the faith, he ended up pouring out his life in a courageous defense of the faith. Justin was arrested and brought before Rusticus, the Roman prefect, Rusticus demanded that he “obey the gods at once, and submit to the kings.” "To obey the commandments of our Saviour Jesus Christ should bring neither blame nor condemnation," replied Justin.
With Justin were several other Christians. Rusticus tried to turn them against Justin but they all refused to blame him. Instead of agreeing to the accusation that Justin had put them up to it, they boldly said they were standing for Christ by their own desires. They reused to throw Justin under the bus.
Finally, The prefect spoke to Justin Martyr. "Listen, you who are called learned and think you know true doctrines. If you are scourged and beheaded, do you believe you'll ascend to heaven?" "That is my hope," Justin replied. The Prefect asked again "So you suppose that you will ascend into heaven to receive some payment for your faithfulness?" "Not suppose, I know and am fully convinced of it," Justin Martyr replied. Rusticus then shrugged and said "Let's get right to what matters, then. You've been brought here to offer sacrifice, all of you together, to the gods." Justin said "No one in their right mind leaves godliness to take up ungodliness."
"You're aware that unless you obey, you will be mercilessly punished?"
Justin answered, "Through prayer we can be saved because of our Lord Jesus Christ, even after we have been punished. This will become salvation and confidence to us at the much more fearful and universal judgment of our Lord and Savior." The other martyrs echoed his sentiment. "Do whatever you want. We are Christians, and we don't sacrifice to idols." Rusticus stood to make his pronouncement, "Let those who have refused to sacrifice to the gods and to yield to the command of the emperor be scourged, then let them be led away and beheaded, according to the laws." Justin and the other Christians were led away and beheaded. God had seen fit to grant them to suffer with Christ.
Today we give thanks for God’s faithfulness to raise up men like Justin and others who set a good example and made a good confession. It is Christ Jesus who gives boldness to his people. He is the one worthy of our devotion and praise. As we have remembered those who came before may we be encouraged by their boldness. May we refuse to bow down to idols and worship vain things. May we be found ready to give a defense of the faith at all times to those who would besmirch the glory of God. But most importantly may we be pointed to Jesus Christ who is worthy of all our praise. He, who hears the prayers of his martyrs, is worthy. Amen
Let us now pray for our brothers and sisters working for God in various places.
(From the 12/16/18 liturgy of Sovereign King Church. Compiled and Written by Joseph Spurgeon.)