Inasmuch as the call to martyrdom is integral to the Gospel, it is likewise indispensable to the task of global missions. The theology of martyrdom is not just a personal discipleship issue; it is a Great Commission issue. As Christ-followers, we must faithfully and consistently speak of it as such, especially with regard to the daunting task of global evangelization in an increasingly hostile season of history. The “blood of the martyrs is seed” that must be sown in the field of the nations before salvation springs up from the ground.1
The advance of the Gospel among the unreached peoples of the Earth has always been costly. History shows that the proverbial roots of the Church grow the best in soil that has been saturated with the life-blood of missionaries. These are those who have counted Christ and His fame among the nations as more precious than the preservation of their own lives. Are we so foolish as to believe that such a price will not be required of us in our own generation—one in which over six thousand people groups have still yet to hear the Gospel?
In the same way that Jesus’ resurrection was preceded by His death and burial, so also must Gospel victory among the nations be preceded by the sacrifice of selfless bond-servants. In John 12 Jesus made this clear by declaring that His death was to be a model and an example of those who would follow and serve Him. And Jesus answered them,
“The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves Me, he must follow Me; and where I am, there will My servant be also. If anyone serves Me, the Father will honor him. (John 12:23-26)
Unless missionaries fall to the earth and die, they will remain alone; but if they die, they will bear much fruit. It was true of Jesus, the greatest missionary of all. And according to Him, it is true for all who serve and follow Him into the ripe harvest fields of the unreached and unengaged.
1 This famous statement comes from the fiftieth chapter of Tertullian’s classic work, Apologeticus, that was published in AD 197. A translation of the statement in context is, “The oftener we are mown down by you, the more in number we grow; the blood of Christians is seed.”