PASTOR’S PERSPECTIVE; “Increasing our devotion as we remember their last full measure of devotion!”
Most historians agree that the 272 word speech given by President Abraham Lincoln, on November 19, 1863, to dedicate the Battlefield of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, is one of the greatest speeches of all time. Lincoln said, “The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but they can never forge what they did here. It is for us to be dedicated to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us-that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here gave the last full measure of devotion-that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain…that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth”. He called the nation never to forget the price that these brave soldiers paid to keep freedom alive. But that was not the end of the story. His speech challenged them to increase their devotion to the cause that they gave their last full measure of devotion! What a worthy challenge. As we go through the Book of Acts we too will be challenged to never forget the price some early Christians paid to further the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. The first martyr was Stephen. His sacrifice was soon followed by the sacrifice of James, the brother of our Lord. As the Book of Acts ends we are anticipating the two primary Apostles, Peter and Paul, also “giving their full measure of devotion”. Both of them do make that sacrifice under the ghastly reign of the maniacal Nero! Their dedication reminds us of what missionary Jim Eliott said, not long before giving his life in the cause of our dear Lord. He said, quoting Peter Marshall, “It is not the duration of our life that matters, but the donation!”
The giving of the full measure of devotion of Stephen, James, Peter and Paul, encouraged the early Church to follow in their train. Many were so emboldened that they too would stand for the Lord, come what may, whatever the price, to extend the Gospel of their Blessed Lord. In the Church of Antioch, where believers where first called Christians, in the year 70 A.D. They had a marvelous pastor by the name of Ignatius, He was a dynamic, Spirit-filled and godly powerful preacher. His preaching was turning the entire population of the city to Christ. So Trajan, the Emperor of Rome, came to visit Antioch to see what was happening there concerning emperor worship-idolatry and heathenism. He listened to that preacher Ignatius preach. He saw the throngs turning to the Lord, and forsaking Roman gods and paganism. He commanded that Ignatius be brought before him. He sentenced him to be brought to Rome and to be exposed to the wild animals in the Coliseum. The Coliseum was built about 5 years after the death of the Apostle Paul. That means it was likely built in 72 A.D. Now the historians tell us that the first Christian to be martyred in the Coliseum was Ignatius, the pastor of the Church of Antioch. In the long journey to Rome he wrote beautiful and inspired letters. They are the treasures of Christendom to this day. Finally coming to Rome, he was placed , sent out, stood on the sand in the center of that great arena, with tiers with thousands of spectators watching all around. The cages were opened, and the lions were let loose. When the leading lion ran omniverously, carnivorously, vicisously, fiercely toward God’s preacher, Ignatius held out his hand, and arm, to the leading lion, and above the crunching sound of bone and tendon, he was heard to declare, “Now I begin to be a Christian!” That is how we honor those who gave their full measure of devotion. That is how we increase our devotion. That is how we honor them, and never forget them! Willing to join them in bold courage to be faithful unto our Lord at all cost! Another Christian martyr of the 20th century reminded us that such a commitment is not in vain. Jim Eliot, who lost his life taking his Lord’s gospel to the Auca Indians of Ecaudor, said, “He is no fool, who gives what he cannot keep, (his life), to gain what he cannot lose, (eternal reward)”. To honor them we must never forget! In the words of Rudyard Kipling- ” Lord God of Hosts be with us yet- Lest we forget, Lest we forget!” (The Recessional).