This is a re-post of an old entry that I really liked and I first posted on Neo-Reformation two years ago. Hope you enjoy it!

In Christianity martyrdom has always been regarded as sharing in Jesus’ suffering by giving your life for the gospel. I just mention that as a contrast to other forms of martyrdom that involve taking as many other people with you as you can.

Studying the early martyrs recently – like Polycarp and Perpetua – I was struck by something I had never thought of before. The very act of not fighting back when faced with violent persecution is an acknowledgement of humanity’s inclusion in Christ.

In order to respond to violence with violence you have to regard the other person as somehow something different than yourself, somehow less than human or excluded from the humanity in which you are a participant. No officer ever tells his soldiers “go murder your brothers in the other army.” He says something like “wipe those @#!% off the face of the earth!!” Responding to violence with violence requires thinking like a roach exterminator, not thinking like a child of the Father in relationship with humanity in Jesus.

When Jesus said “Father, forgive them” and when the martyrs of the church have echoed his words, they were acknowledging that we are all in this together. The persecuted and the persecutor, the perpetrator and the victim, both share together in the life the Son has shared with the Father and with humanity.

Thus the prayer for forgiveness. What the perpetrators of violence and persecution need is not a repayment of their violence in kind or even a transformation from being animals to being human in Christ. They are already human in Christ, they just aren’t acting like it.

What they need is a change of mind – a repentance. To stop believing lies about themselves and start believing the truth: that they, like the ones they are persecuting, are already forgiven and included in Christ.

What’s really remarkable about so many of the stories of the martyrs through the centuries is how often the ones assigned to carry out their persecutions failed to do so. Frequently in the martyrologies the persecutors stop, repent, and end up going to the death with the very ones they were told to kill.

In the end the Christian response to persecution in the ancient Roman world brought about the repentance and conversion of the Empire itself. With one voice the early church for three long centuries said of their Roman persecutors “They are human; they, like us, are part of the new humanity created in the Son’s incarnation; Father, forgive them, they don’t know what they’re doing.”

And the truth of this good news won the day.

Perhaps its time for the church to return to the truth of humanity’s adoption in the Son and find again the power that comes from praying for those who persecute us and loving those that hate us.

~ Jonathan Stepp

1 comment so far

  1. Jerome on

    This made me think about Pastor Timothy’s latest post where he references the Cosmic Christ. The bigger we conceive Jesus to be, the bigger humanity should seem to be in our minds. The little “omnigod” isn’t all that concerned about most people – believing in him leads us to feel the same way about others. But when repentance comes, and we believe in the Big God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit, who loves us, we can then see humanity included in Christ’s humanity, redeemed, healed and adopted, and we can cherish each life as He does – then we see a cosmic humanity caught up with the Cosmic Christ! Big thoughts go with a Big God.

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