441) The Martyrdom of Eleazar

From:  II Maccabees (Apocrypha), chapter 6

     In this chapter King Antiochus is persecuting the Jews in Jerusalem, commanding them to forsake their faith, or face torture and death.  An elderly scribe named Eleazar refuses to abandon his faith, and he faces death with courage and faith.  The Oxford Annotated Bible tells us this is the earliest of the ‘martyrologies,’ stories of the suffering and death of martyrs, recorded to encourage the faithful when persecuted.  This is believed to have been written in the first century B.C.  In the next century there would be many Christian martyrs, and there would be many such Christian martyrologies in that century, and every century since.  This is a paraphrase of the King James Version.

     Not long after this, the king compelled the Jews to depart from the faith of their fathers and not live according to the laws of God.  The Gentiles also polluted the temple in Jerusalem, calling it the temple of Jupiter.  The coming in of this evil was most grievous to the people, for the most holy temple was filled with wicked reveling by the Gentiles, who were even having their way with harlots in the sacred places.

     It became illegal for Jews to keep the Sabbath day or any of the ancient fasts.  In fact, it was even forbidden for anyone to profess himself to be a Jew.  But on the day of the king’s birth every month, the Jews were forced to take part in those sacrifices.  And when the fast of Bacchus was kept, the Jews were compelled to walk in procession to honor Bacchus.  Whoever would not conform themselves to these new laws should be put to death.  One can now see what misery they were in.  There were two women brought in who had circumcised their children.  These were led round about the city for all to see, the babies hanging at their breast.  Then, mothers and babies were thrown down off the top of the wall.  Others, who had gathered together in caves near by to keep the Sabbath day secretly, were discovered, and then were all burned to death together.  They were defenseless, because they would not fight to defend themselves on their holy day.

     Now I beseech those who read this book, that they be not discouraged by these calamities, but rather realize that those punishments were not meant to be for the destruction of, but for the discipline of, our nation.  For indeed it is a token of God’s great goodness when wicked doers are not left alone too long, but punished without delay.  For this is not as it always is with other nations, whom the Lord might wait patiently to punish, until they have piled sin upon sin, and receive then the most severe punishment.  Thus, God never withdraws his mercy from us.  Even though he may punish with adversity, yet, he will never forsake his people. But let this be a warning unto us.

     It was in these days that Eleazar, one of the most important scribes, an aged man and highly esteemed, was forced to open his mouth, and to eat the forbidden swine’s flesh.  But he, choosing rather to die honorably than to live with the guilt of such an abomination, spit it out, even though this meant he would have to endure the torture of his body being torn apart on the rack.

     But they that were in charge of that wicked feast were longtime friends of the old man.  So they took him aside and urged him to bring out some other kind of meat, something that was lawful for him to eat, and just pretend he had eaten of the flesh taken from the sacrifice commanded by the king.  Then, by doing so, and because of their old friendship, he might be saved from death.

     But Eleazar considered the honor of his gray head, and how ever since his education as a child, he had lived by the holy law made and given by God.  Therefore he answered accordingly, and he said that he would rather that they send him to the grave.  “For it is not wise,” he said, “to in any way be false about this, whereby many young people might think that Eleazar, being fourscore years old and ten, had now gone over to a strange religion.  And then they, because of my hypocrisy and desire to live a few moments longer, would be deceived by me; and I would add this disgraceful stain of sin and guilt to my old age.  For though in the present time I would be delivered from the punishment of men, I would not escape the hand of the Almighty, neither in this life or the next.  It is far better that I gladly give up my life now, and leave to the young a noble example of how to die willingly and courageously in obedience to God’s holy laws.”  And when he had said these words, he was immediately taken to the rack.

     The good will of those that had charge of him then changed into hatred because they thought that what he said was insane.  When he was about to die from the torture, Eleazar groaned and said, “The Lord knows that though my body might have been delivered from death instead of enduring this pain, my soul is well content to suffer these things, because I fear him.”  And thus he died, leaving his death as an example of a noble courage and a memorial of virtue, not only unto young men, but unto all his nation.

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Revelation 13:9-10  —  He who has an ear, let him hear.  If anyone is to go into captivity, into captivity he will go.  If anyone is to be killed with the sword, with the sword he will be killed.  This calls for patient endurance and faithfulness on the part of the saints.

Revelation 14:13  —  Then I heard a voice from heaven say, “Write:  Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.”
“Yes,” says the Spirit, “they will rest from their labor, for their deeds will follow them.”

I Peter 5:6-11  —  Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.  Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.  Be self-controlled and alert.  Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.  Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.  And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.  To him be the power for ever and ever.  Amen.

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A OLD GERMAN LUTHERAN PRAYER FOR THE END OF THE DAY AND FOR THE END OF LIFE:
Abide with us, O Lord, for it is toward evening and the day is far spent.  Abide with us and with thy whole church.  Abide with us in the end of the day, in the end of our life, in the end of the world.  Abide with us by thy grace and bounty, by thy holy Word and Sacrament, by thy comfort and thy blessing.  Abide with us when there cometh over us the night of affliction and fear, the night of doubt and temptation, the night of bitter death.  Abide with us and with all thy faithful, through time and eternity.  Amen.

142) A Family of Martyrs

From The Fourth Dimension, by Dr. David Yonggi Cho, 1979, Logos International Press, pages 103-104.  Dr. Cho is the pastor of the largest church in the world.  It is in Seoul, South Korea.  

     The Communists were vicious to the ministers.  One minister’s family was captured in Inchon, Korea, and the Communist leaders put them on what they called a “People’s Trial.”  The accusers would say, “This man is guilty of causing this kind of sin, and for that kind of sin it is proper that he be punished.”  The only response then given would be a chorus of voices agreeing, “Yah, Yah!”

     This time they dug a large hole, putting the pastor, his wife, and several of his children in.  Then the leader spoke, “Mister, all these years you misled the people with the superstition of the Bible.  Now if you will publicly disclaim it before these people, and repent of this misdemeanor, then you, your wife, and your children will be freed.  But if you persist in your superstitions, all of your family is going to be buried alive.  Make a decision!”

     All of his children then blurted, “Oh Daddy!  Daddy!  Think of us! Daddy!”  

     Think of it.  If you were in his place, what would you do?  I am the father of three children, and would almost feel like going to hell rather than see my children killed.

     This father was shaken.  He lifted up his hand and said, “Yes, yes, I’ll do it.  I am going to denounce … my… “

     But before he could finish his sentence his wife nudged him, saying, “Daddy, say NO!”

     And to her children, she said, “Hush children, tonight we are going to have supper with the King of kings, the Lord of lords!”  She led them in singing “In the Sweet By and By,” her husband and children following, while the Communists began to bury them.  Soon the children were buried, but until the soil came up to their necks they sang, and all the people watched.  

     God did not deliver them, but almost all of those people who watched this execution became Christians, and many are now members of my church.  Through their suffering the grace of redemption flowed.  God gave His only begotten Son to be crucified on the cross so that this world could be saved and redeemed.  That is God’s uppermost goal– the redemption of souls.  So when you desire your divine healing, or an answer from above, always look through the lenses of the uppermost goal, the redeeming of your souls.  If you see that your suffering brings about more redemption than your healing, then do not ask for deliverance, but ask God to give you the strength to persevere.

There were more Christian martyrs in the 20th century than in all previous centuries.

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Matthew 5:10-12  —  (Jesus said), “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.  Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. 

Luke 12:4-5  —  (Jesus said), “I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more.  But I will show you whom you should fear:  Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell.  Yes, I tell you, fear him.”

Mark 8:34-38  —  Then (Jesus) called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said:  “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.  For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.  What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?  Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?  If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”

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O Christ, the hope of all people, our refuge and our strength, whose light shines upon us through the dark clouds and across the stormy ocean so that we may be directed to you, our haven:  Grant, O Lord, that I may not perish in the waves, that the tempest may not drown me, nor the deep swallow me up: bring me from this troubled sea to you, my only consolation; whom I behold from afar awaiting me on the shore of my heavenly home.  Hear me, O God of my salvation, the hope of all the ends of the earth; you see my danger, save me by your mercy, deliver me from my distress, and bring me joyfully to the haven where I long to be.  Amen.    –source lost