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Posts Tagged ‘Justin Martyr’

This morning we are looking at another story of faithfulness, in this case, the life an ancient believer whose life and faith I believe should be an encouragement to us in our Christian lives. Justin is his name, and he illustrates for us some specific aspects of faithfulness to Jesus which I will highlight at the end.

Some basics on Justin

He was born near Shechem, Samaria around 100 AD (A1-1) so he is a very early Christian. He was born just 30 years after Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 AD, and around 70 years after Jesus had his conversation with the Samaritan woman not far from Shechem.

He was not a Samaritan, or a Jew however (D – 28). He was born to a pagan family (A1-1) so he had no Christian influence growing up.

As a young man he gave himself to the study of Philosophy, going through several different schools of thought seeking after a knowledge of God. (D-2)

Justin’s conversion

Around 130 AD he had a conversation that changed his life. He most likely lived in Ephesus at this time. And as was his custom, when he wanted to get away to think, he went to a field by the sea where he could be alone.

But this time he met an old man there who challenged him to rethink his search after God.After pointing out several shortcomings in his thinking he led him to the Hebrew prophets as reliable teachers about God and his Son, the Christ. These were those who didn’t just think about God, but saw and knew God. And the man admonished him to pray that God would open his heart and mind to receive the truth of God. (D-7)

As Justin testified, “a flame was kindled in my soul; and a love of the prophets, and of those people who are friends of Christ, possessed me; and while revolving his word in my mind – I found this philosophy alone to be safe and profitable.” (D-8). He had been prepared for this encounter beforehand by seeing and admiring the courage of Christians as they faced death in times of persecution (A2-12)

Justin’s ministry

Justin MartyrHe continued on in the role of a philosopher, complete with dressing in the traditional cloak (tribon) of a philosopher (D–1); but as a Christian who encouraged the study and practice of the teachings of Jesus (D-8). He was a scholar and a teacher.

And he used this role as an opportunity to share the gospel with others. An example of this comes from his Dialogue with Trypho,who was a Jewish philosopher. He he wrote an account of and it can still be read. As he said to Trypho early on in this conversation, “If then you have any concern for yourself, and if you are eagerly looking for salvation, and if you believe in God . . . you may become acquainted with the Christ of God (through the Scriptures), and, after being initiated live a happy life.” (D-8)

Later he moved to Rome and started a school. While he was in Rome he wrote two defenses of the Christian faith. One was written to Emperor Antonius Pius, the other to Emperor Marcus Aurelius. These can also still be read. In these he stood up for believers who were being persecuted and killed for their faith, often based on rumors and baseless objections to Christianity.

Here’s an example – many thought Christians had no morals. For instance, since Christians celebrated a love feast (the Lord’s supper), called each other brother and sister and met in private for this – they thought they were promiscuous or even incestuous. (A1-29). So Justin repeatedly emphasized the values and morals that Christians believed and practiced. In one passage he says, “we who formerly delighted in sexual immorality – now embrace sexual purity alone . . .”

He goes on, “we who valued above all things the acquisition of wealth and possessions, now bring back what we have into a common fund and give to everyone in need; we who hated and destroyed one another, and on account  of their different culture would not live with people of a different tribe, now since the coming of Christ live in relationship with them and pray for our enemies . . .” (A1-14)

Christians were also despised as atheists because they did not worship the gods or offer sacrifices to them. Justin explains, “what sober minded person then will not acknowledge that we are not atheists, worshipping as we do the Maker of this universe and declaring . . . that he has no need” of sacrifices. (A1-13).

This brings us to –

Justin’s death

Although it was illegal to be a Christian at this time, the Roman government didn’t usually seek Christians out to persecute them. If, however, they were exposed by others and didn’t recant they would be condemned. So, if you had a neighbor who didn’t like you; or a business competitor that wanted to get rid of you; or an enemy that wanted you dead – all they had to do was accuse you of being a Christian to the government. And once the charge was made persecution and often death followed.

Well he had enemies. One was a philosopher named Crescens. He and Justin had held public debates before about Christianity. As Justin said at one point, “I . . . expect to be plotted against and crucified . . . perhaps by Crescens . . ..” (A2-3). Tatian, a student of Justin, said that Crescens had indeed sought to kill them both at one point (Address to the Greeks). Whether it was Crescens or someone else, eventually he was arrested along with several of his students, including a woman named Charito.

At the trial the Roman Prefect demanded that Justin offer up a sacrifice to the gods. He asked, “Are you not then a Christian?” Justin answered, “Yes, I am a Christian.” The Prefect, contemplating Justin’s death asked, “Do you suppose, then, that you will ascend into heaven to receive some recompense?” Justin said, “I do not suppose it, but I know and am fully persuaded of it.”

The Prefect demanded that they all offer sacrifices to the gods. Justin said, “No right minded person falls away from true belief to false.” The others said, “Do what you will, for we are Christians and do not sacrifice to idols.”

The Prefect announced the sentence, they were to be scourged and then beheaded. Justin, and the others, remained faithful and were killed for their faith. Later, a group of Christians secretly obtained their bodies and gave them a proper burial.

This happened in 165 AD, so Justin was around 65 years old. This is also how Justin came by the name that he now bears – Justin “Martyr.” He was a true witness to Jesus, which is what the word martyr actually means, in his case, he was a witness even unto death.

Now let’s look at –

Several characteristics of faithfulness

 1. He was a faithful teacher and wise man. As Jesus said in Matthew 23:34 – “I send you (that is unbelieving Jews) prophets and wise men and scribes . . .” (although he was sent to the Gentiles primarily)

And just as the parable of the talents teaches us in Mathew 25:14-30 we have all been given tasks to do for God as we serve him in our earthly lives. What ministry has God called you to and how is it going? Justin was faithful to his calling in a time when being faithful was dangerous. Are you faithful to your task in our time?

2. He bore witness before the authorities. Jesus said in Luke 21:12-15 – “You will be brought before kings and governors for my name’s sake. This will be your opportunity to witness. . . . I will give you  a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict.”

He argued effectively in writing and in person in debates and conversations and when he was on trial before the Roman Prefect. We are called to bear witness before others as well, even if they are less intense situations. But God will also be with us as we speak to give us wisdom. Do you have the courage to speak out and trust God for the right words?

3. Justin confessed Christ under persecution. Jesus said in Matthew 10:32 – “So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven.”

Justin confessed Christ when he life was on the line and died for it. And so we can be sure that he did and will receive a blessing from God, even as he said in faith that he would before the Prefect. Do we identify with Jesus and confess him in front of others? Or are we ashamed of him and hide our faith because it is a socially awkward situation or because it might affect our social standing or reputation? Don’t think that you can be ashamed of Jesus in these “little” ways and that when more serious persecution comes and your life is on the line that you will suddenly confess Jesus. All these lesser situations are practice for the more serious. It is those who are trained to identify with Jesus in everyday life who will confess him with boldness when their lives are on the line.

A1 = First Apology

A2 = Second Apology

D = Dialogue with Trypho

The other numbers refer to the sections of each work.

 

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