Rabbi’s Reflections – Sunday, May 24, 2020
Counting the Omer – Day 43
Here is the proper blessing to be said each day. This is how Jewish people fulfill the command to count.
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ אֱלֹהֵֽינוּ מֶֽלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, אֲשֶׁר קִדְּשָֽׁנוּ בְּמִצְוֹתָיו, וְצִוָּֽנוּ עַל סְפִירַת הָעֹֽמֶר
Baruch Atah Adonai Elohenu Melech Ha-Olam, Asher Kid’shanu B’mitzvotav, Vitzivanu Al Sefirat Ha-Omer.
Blessed are You O Lord our God, King of the universe, who has sanctified us by his commandments and commanded us about the counting of the Omer. Today is six weeks and one day of the counting of the Omer.
Will You Ever March in “Stephen’s Army?” PRESENT Martyrdom
(Part 2) by Dr. and Senator Raymond Finney
INTRODUCTION: In last Sunday’s RR, I discussed a very few persons, primarily from the first century (Stephen and apostles), who were martyred for their faith in Yeshua. Today, I present a minuscule representation of present-day martyrs.
“A ROSE BY ANY OTHER NAME:” “A rose by any other name” was written by William Shakespeare (“Romeo and Juliet”). In this RR, I may be lax in designating followers of Yeshua– Christians versus Believers. I believe Yeshua loves anyone who loves Him, whether a Messianic Believer or a Christian Baptist. I believe He considers both to be part of His body. I ask your tolerance, when I stumble.
HOW MANY MARTYRS? Remember from last week’s RR that a martyr (from the Greek martus, or martys) is a witness who has seen or experienced something of extraordinary importance. This witness is willing to forfeit the most important possession he/ she has– life– to tell others about what has been witnessed. This telling of others may be by written word or by example of life and death.
Stephen, the first-recorded martyr (Acts 7:54-60), was murdered one year after Yeshua’s death. Following Stephen’s death, tens of millions of Believers have been killed for no other reason than they believed Yeshua to be Lord and Savior.
No accurate record of martyrs for faith in Yeshua exists, but it is estimated that more than 70-million Christians/ Believers have been murdered since Stephen’s first-century martyrdom solely because of their faith in Yeshua. Examples of mass martyrdom include (in descending chronological order):
** Communist China (1950-1980) – 700,000 Christians martyred,
** Uganda (under Idi Amin, 1971-1979) – 300,000 Christians martyred,
** Nazi Germany (1933-1945) – 1-million Christians, as well as 6-million Jews and many other “undesirables” martyred,
** U.S.S.R. (1917-1950) – 15-million Orthodox Christians martyred,
** China (1898-1900, Boxer Rebellion) – at least 200,000 Christians martyred, and
** Mexico (late 1800s–1930) – 107,000 Catholics martyred.
It is unknown how many Christians were martyred by the Roman Empire before AD 313. Early church historian Eusebius wrote of “great multitudes” having been killed. Other historians estimate the total number of martyrs during this time to be as low as 5,500 to 6,500, whereas others place the number at 100,000.
At the present time, estimates on martyrdom of Yeshua followers range from a high of 100,000/year (quoted by The Center for the Study of Global Christianity of Gordon–Conwell Theological Seminary) to a low of 9,000/year. Obviously, accurate records are not published.
We may think martyrdom only existed as a Hollywood version of Christians being fed to the lions in the Colosseum. But no, martyrdom still exists. Italian journalist Antonio Socci estimated in 2002 (nearly two decades ago) that 70-million Christians had died martyrs’ deaths, and 65 per cent of these (45.5-million) had been martyred in the twentieth century. See: http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/news/681473/posts .
HOW DID MARTYRDOM FIRST BEGIN? Martyrdom is a consequence of the timeless struggle between God and Satan (Genesis 3:15): [ADONAI Elohim said to the Serpent, who is Satan] “I will put animosity between you and the woman [that is, Chavvah, who is Eve] – between your seed and her Seed. He [Eve’s Seed, or Yeshua] will crush your head [when Yeshua casts Satan into the Lake of Fire, or Hell], and you will crush His heel [at Yeshua’s crucifixion].” The battles between followers of God and followers of Satan have led and still lead to persecution and martyrdom.
SIDELIGHT: If Adonai is omnipotent and has ultimate dominion over Satan, why has Adonai tolerated Satan for many ages? The Apostle Paul wrote of “mysteries,” which he could not answer and which greatly perplexed him. I suspect Paul may have pondered this mystery. Why do you think God has tolerated and even today tolerates Satan? Of course, I do not know. Could the answer, though, be related to the following thought? In Yeshua’s letters to seven churches (Ephesus through Laodicea) in Revelation, chapters 2 and 3– which many scholars think represent the seven ages of faith in Yeshua from the first century to the end of the age– Yeshua told each group that only “overcomers” can enter Heaven. Yeshua did not specify what must be overcome, but I assume it is sin that can be overcome only by faith in the shed blood of the Passover Lamb Yeshua HaMashiach. If God had terminated Satan many centuries ago, we would have no sin in the world. That is, there would be nothing to overcome (there would be no test of faith). In other words, we must have evil to manifest and appreciate good. This answer may not be correct, but it is the best my feeble mind can conjure up. END sidelight. Rabbi’s note: Thank you Raymond, I believe you got it right.
YESHUA’S FOLLOWERS ALWAYS AT RISK: When Yeshua called His disciples in the Gospel accounts, He issued a simple invitation: deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Me. “Take up your cross” was another way of warning a prospective disciple that death by crucifixion might result from discipleship.
Yeshua was well aware that both He and His followers would be persecuted and even martyred. Consider some of Yeshua’s words:
** In His Drash on the Mountain (the Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes), He promised a blessing for those who are persecuted (Matthew 5:10-11). In next Sunday’s RR, I will discuss a Bema Judgment crown for martyrs of the faith.
** He taught us to love our enemies and pray for our persecutors (Matthew 5:44).
** He warned of followers being hated because of hatred for Him (John 15:18-19).
** He promised a blessing for those persecuted because of Him (Luke 6:22, Mark 10:29-30).
** He told His disciples they were being sent into the world as sheep among wolves, and to survive they must be as wise as serpents and innocent as doves (Matthew 10:16).
** He told His disciples to sell their cloaks, if necessary, to purchase swords (Luke 22:36).
In next Sunday’s RR, I will discuss Yeshua’s teachings about martyrdom in our future (primarily during the Tribulation). A popular saying, “You ain’t seen nothin’ yet,” is attributed to many persons, which means no one really knows who first uttered this phrase. But, as bad as persecution and martyrdom has been in the past, we “ain’t seen nothin’ yet,” when the Tribulation begins. Yeshua, warning about the Tribulation, said (Matthew 24:21-22a): “For then there will be great trouble such as has not happened since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever will. And unless those days were cut short, no one would be delivered….” [NOTE: The TLV translates Matthew 24:21 as “trouble.” The Greek word, here, is thlipsis. Thlipsis (“great pressure”) is translated “tribulation” in most Bible versions.]
The Apostle Paul warned of suffering for Yeshua’s sake:
** Nothing, including persecution or martyrdom, can separate us from the Messiah’s love (Romans 8:35).
** Weakness and hardship for Messiah’s sake strengthens us (2 Corinthians 12:10).
** A godly life in Messiah invites persecution (2 Timothy 3:12).
** Resigning himself to God’s will, he prayed for deliverance (Romans 12:14).
We are assured that God will not desert us, even if we are persecuted:
** God will comfort us, even though we may walk through the darkest of despair (Psalm 23:4).
MORE INFORMATION: National/ international organizations which promote knowledge about and provide relief for the persecuted family of faith include:
** The Voice of the Martyrs, https://www.persecution.com/ ,
** Open Doors International, https://www.opendoors.org , and
** Eternal Perspective Ministries, https://www.epm.org/resources/2010/Mar/18/some-organizations-working-persecuted-christians-a/ (list of multiple organizations).
DAY OF THE CHRISTIAN MARTYR: Mark you calendar for June 29, 2020. Believers around the world will observe the Day of the Christian Martyr on this day, which is the traditional day the Apostle Paul was beheaded. This is a day to express thanks for the tens of millions who have marched to their deaths in “Stephen’s Army” and what their witnessing has meant to you and your family.
HOW DOES MARTYRDOM NOW BEGIN? I wrote a lengthy section for this RR about how mockery, harassment, persecution, and martyrdom begin and progress. Because the section was too long, I deleted it. In the future, I may write a RR devoted solely to this important subject.
Until that RR, keep your eyes open and notice the many subtle and blatant ways in which Jews and Christians are discriminated against, even in the United States. I see multiple examples of anti-Jewish and anti-Christian activity in the news every day. If you do not see such hatred of our faith, you are not paying attention.
There is a war being fought against Judeo-Christian followers. Many Americans would completely eliminate the practice of Judaism and Christianity, if they had their way. I quoted one verse in a previous section, but this warning is worth repeating at this point (Matthew 10:16-20): [Yeshua said] “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. But beware of men, for they will hand you over to the courts and flog you in their synagogues. You will be brought before governors and kings because of Me, as a witness to them and to the Gentiles. But when they hand you over, do not worry about how or what you should say, for it shall be given to you in that hour what you should say. For it is not you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.”
WHERE IS PERSECUTION THE WORST IN THE WORLD? Because we live in the Bible Belt, we are spoiled and even naive. Many persons in this area proudly, fearlessly identify themselves by their faith organizations (“I am a… Baptist… Methodist… Catholic…” and so forth.) When you drive to and from Shomair each Shabbat and sit in the sanctuary, you have no fear that soldiers or terrorists will kill you. In fact, the United States has a constitutional provision (First Amendment) that you have religious liberty, and this amendment is buttressed by an assortment of hate crime legislation provisions against anyone impeding your right to worship.
Such is not the case throughout the world. Consider the following statistics (primarily for one year– 2018), from: https://www.opendoorsusa.org/christian-persecution/stories/christian-persecution-by-the-numbers/ . “Christian” is used to denote any follower of Yeshua.
** In the top 50 World Watch List countries alone, 245 million Christians in the world experience high levels of persecution for their choice to follow HaMashiach.
** 1 in 9 Christians worldwide experience high levels of persecution.
** Number of Christians in the fifty World Watch List countries experiencing high levels of persecution rose by 14 per cent in one year.
** In these fifty countries, at least 4,136 Christians were martyred (murdered because of their faith in Yeshua) in this one year. Another 2,625 Christians were arrested and imprisoned without trial.
** In these fifty countries in this one year, 1,266 Christian church buildings were attacked or destroyed.
** In these World Watch List countries, seven of the top nine countries experienced persecution and martyrdom because of Islamic oppression. North Korea has retained the shame of being the number one oppressor of Christians for 18 years.
** A map showing countries where it is most dangerous to follow Yeshua may be seen at: https://www.christianitytoday.com/news/2018/january/top-50-christian-persecution-open-doors-world-watch-list.html . As one might suspect, these countries lie mostly in the infamous “10-40 window” – Islamic countries– and Communist countries.
** The eleven most dangerous countries to be a Believer are: (1) North Korea, (2) Afghanistan, (3) Somalia, (4) Libya, (5) Pakistan, (6) Sudan, (7) Eritrea, (8) Yemen, (9) Iran, (10) India, and (11) Syria. You might wonder about India. There is strong hatred of Yeshua followers by many Hindus.
CONCLUSION: Much, much more could be written about present-day persecution and martyrdom of followers of Yeshua. Just know that Jews and Believers/ Christians are being killed daily because Satan has enlisted his evil minions to kill the good people who love Yeshua and who love each other in Yeshua’s name and for His sake.
In other words, many witnesses continue the long march in “Stephen’s Army” throughout history. They follow in Stephen’s footsteps, and they may see Yeshua standing in respect of their sacrifices (Acts 7:55-56).
In next Sunday’s RR, I will discuss future persecution and martyrdom. Only God can know the future. Only He can know if you or a member of your family will some day march in Stephen’s Army– marching to honor and glory as one who gives up life in love for Yeshua (John 15:13): [Yeshua said] “No one has greater love than this: that he lay down his life for his friends.” Shalom and Maranatha.