The following is adapted from our 2018 graduation address, but this encouragement is for all the church! You can watch the video here.
Lately, as I’ve been thinking about parenting and pastoring a key verse has grabbed my attention. Revelation 12:11 has given me a picture of what I want to see produced in people. Speaking of the persecution that Satan, the accuser of the saints will bring against God’s people in the future it says, “And they overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony, and they did not love their life even unto death.” When I think about the people I pastor, the students I teach, my own children and even myself, this is what I want. I want God’s people to be victorious martyrs.
Revelation was written in a context of persecution of the church. So John writes to the seven churches of Asia Minor of God’s victory. In fact, the word ‘victory’ occurs more times in Revelation than the rest of the New Testament combined. At the beginning of Revelation, John writes a letter to each church. And in each letter it says, “To the one who overcomes, I will give…” followed by God’s rewards in heaven for them. That word overcomes here, is this same word for victory. John is concerned that the church overcome, conquer and be victorious.
The other key word in Revelation 12:11 and throughout Revelation is the word testimony. Revelation 12:11 says that these saints overcame because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony. The word testimony is used of official confirmation that an eye witness gives in court. And you may also know that this Greek word ‘witness’ is where we get our word martyr from. A martyr is someone who testifies and gives witness to the truth. So we see that when faced with severe persecution these saints gave witness to the truth even at the cost of their lives. They are true victorious martyrs.
They are so captured by the cross, by the blood of the Lamb as this verse says, that they give up everything to testify to the truth. Their victory wasn’t the fact that Satan was defeated, although we do see that happen in the end of the book of Revelation. Their victory, their overcoming, their conquering was the fact that they stood firm, that they held fast and didn’t compromise the truth, that they testified even when their very lives were at stake.
As John writes of the persecution that is coming on the world, this is what he wants for the church. He wants us to have persevering faith. He wants us to be overcomers. And so in light of a changing world that is more hostile to Christianity, and in light of all of our callings to take the truth into the darkness, how can we be victorious martyrs?
Meditate on God’s Word Day and Night
Let us look at three ways to grow in confident persevering faith. First of all, the simplest, and yet probably the most profound way to grow in endurance faith is to meditate on God’s Word Day and Night. Psalm 1 tells us that the man is blessed who does not walk, stand, or sit in the counsel of the wicked, but he delights in Yahweh’s law, and meditates in that law day and night. He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water. He will yield fruit in season, and not wither, but will prosper in whatever he does. I want to be like that tree. This tree is firm and immovable. Drought cannot wither this tree because its roots go deep into streams of water. It is always bearing fruit and prospering because it is rooted in God’s Word.
In so many ways I could assume people know this. We know we should study God’s Word. But I think this is more profound than we know. This isn’t just talking about reading and knowing God’s Word. This isn’t even necessarily talking about memorizing God’s Word. This is talking about meditating on God’s Word. You can have a passage memorized and yet never think about it. But even if you don’t have a passage memorized, you can constantly think about its meaning. You see, we have to let the truth of God’s Word affect our thinking, feeling, and doing. We have to ponder deeply what the text means and how it should affect our lives. The danger is for us to be familiar with God’s Word, but not nourished by it. As I like to say, this is about taking what we know in the back of our heads and bringing it to the front of our minds, where it is controlling our thoughts, feelings, heart, and our will.
So if you want to be immovable, meditate on God’s Word. Let it become part of you. Go deep into Scripture. Let its rich theology sink into you and transform your patterns of thought. Let its truths liberate and set you free from the lies that enslave us. But never let the Bible be merely knowledge to you. Chew on it. Wrestle with it. Be gripped by it. I can’t tell you how many times over my life the depth of God’s Word has saved my life. So let your roots go deep into Scripture, be anchored by it, and may you be firmly planted by the life giving truths of God’s Word.
Face Suffering Head on
But secondly, I want to call us to something more costly. No matter how much time we spend meditating on God’s Word, we will never develop persevering faith if we don’t step out into situations where we need God to come through for us, for His Spirit to empower us, where we depend on God’s Word to be real for us. So the second way to grow to be conquering martyrs is to not avoid suffering, but to face it head on. There are a lot of verses we could go to which emphasize this. The book of Job has many lessons about suffering. In the key verse of 2nd Timothy Paul commands Timothy to suffer with him for the gospel. But here, I want us to simply take time to meditate on Jesus.
Our church has been preaching through Matthew. And the last two weeks I have had the privilege to preach on Jesus’s life from the garden of Gethsemane through Pilate’s trial. I have been struck dumbfounded in a new way meditating on how Jesus walked to the cross.
Jesus was amazingly purposeful and intentional in going to the cross. He knew full well what He was walking in to. As Matthew walks us through this section he carefully shows us how nothing took Jesus by surprise. Jesus was aware of how He was fulfilling prophecy. He was not an unsuspecting victim, He was an active participant in what went down.
Jesus chose to walk straight into suffering and rejection, and death of every kind for the sake of others. This is true love, giving up everything in complete selflessness. As fully man, Jesus felt the full weight of temptation. Before the cross in the garden of Gethsemane He told His disciples, “My soul is deeply grieved, to the point of death.” And yet He gave up His own desires and will to love. He said, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will.”
The author of Hebrews tells us that although Jesus was a Son, He learned obedience from the things that He suffered (Heb 5:8). This tells us that Jesus grew throughout His life by continually choosing what God wanted over His own will. He wasn’t just born ready to die. No, Jesus spent His whole life growing and preparing for this ultimate test of faith. And so if we want to grow in persevering faith, we must take up our cross and follow Jesus. We will look at this amazing truth more in a followup blog, but for now, know that dying to our own will to choose God’s is one of the ways that God uses to grow our faith.
Keep Your Eyes on Jesus
And so lastly, if we want to grow in persevering faith, we need to keep our eyes on Jesus and our hearts in the gospel. We can never live this kind of sacrificial selflessness without gospel power. As the author of Hebrews says in chapter 12, if we are going to run the race with perseverance, we must fix our eyes on Jesus who endured the cross for the joy set before Him. We must consider Him, meditate on Him, so that we don’t grow weary and loose heart. Jesus went through the cross for the joy set before Him. He saw all the pain, the suffering, and the rejection, and He saw the glory of God’s coming kingdom, and He said, it’s worth it! So let us meditate on Jesus, on His amazing selfless love, and on the incredible hope and joy set before us that He opened up for us, and let that drive our hearts to joy in selfless sacrifice for the world.
Friends, I want so badly for us to be witnessing overcomers, victorious martyrs. I want us to be so captured by the gospel, that no matter what the cost, we must testify of God’s amazing grace and salvation. And John says in Revelation 12:11, “And they overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony, and they did not love their life even unto death.” May that be true of us as well.