Rather than tell Thomas Bilney’s story I will just place some links at the bottom of this post for anyone who would like to read more about him. Bilney was born in 1495 and became a catholic priest in 1519. He performed all the rituals, rites fasting, purchasing of indulgences, but like many other reformers he did not feel secure in his Salvation. The Priest had forbidden him to read the Greek New Testament, but his curiosity (or God’s Grace) got to him. After getting a copy, he locked himself in his room and opened it up to 1 Timothy 1:15 “This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief.(KJV)” This verse changed his life. This verse Saved him! If Jesus died to save Paul then his death would also save Bilney. I remember when I read this verse I probably felt the same way as Bilney did. “Oh Paul you just don’t know, I’m going to have to take that Chief sinner title from you.” I love how when I’m having doubts about myself, my salvation or just how my life is going God will use a simple verse to say “Hey get out of your pity party and look! I’m here for you! I love you!”
So Bilney was now truly saved and he prayed for others to come to that same saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. He talked with his friends about his new found faith. As God took his shyness away he started preaching publicly. Then just as happens with us Satan set him up for a fall. In 1527 he was arrested and charged with heresy. The typical practice in that day was if you denounce your heresy then you would be allowed to live. As he sat in his cell his friends begged and pleaded with him to denounce his teachings so he would escape execution. He gave in and as his punishment he had to publicly burn a stack of Tyndale Bibles. He did this and because of his denial of Christ, his life lost its meaning. I understand his pain. I know what it’s like to feel you have failed your Savior. To feel you have crucified Christ all over again! Then just as he did with Peter Jesus called him into service again. (John 21:15-19) In 1531 he was arrested for heresy and sentenced to be burnt at the stake. The night before his execution as he sat talking with friends he stuck his finger into the flame of a candle and left it till it was burned to the bone. When his friends asked what he was doing he read from Isaiah 43:2 “…when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee. (KJV)” The next day he was tied to a stake and as his flesh melted from his body he called Jesus! and I Believe!
Would you go out and witness to the lost if you knew you would be burned alive? How about being tied to a red hot iron plate? If you read Foxe’s Book of Martyrs you will see being burned at the stake was not the worst means of execution. The Romans and The Catholic Church were very creative with pain and death. As I read Foxe’s Book I noticed that as the martyrs were dying they all seemed happy and at peace. Many even asked God to forgive their persecutors, just as Stephen did. (Acts 7:59-60) You may have seen video on the news or the internet of Muslims beheading their victims. The crime of being a Christian is still punishable by death in many places. As you reflect on this or as you study the Martyrs, remember the souls under God’s throne waiting for vengeance (Revelation 6:9-10) and pray for those who dare to take the word of God to these violent places that don’t know Jesus. Pray for those who live in these areas and are brave enough to trust in Christ.
Lord I pray for those who have been willing to give their lives for you. Those who sacrificed their bodies to ensure your word would make it to me. Father I pray that while I live in a country where I can worship you freely, where I can write about you, and be a witness to others of your grace and gift of salvation, that I will not waste my opportunities to serve you. Father I pray that You will remind me of those less fortunate who risk death just to call on Your Son’s Holy name. Father I pray for those with the courage to go to the countries that are hostile to Your gospel. Lord I pray that You will protect them and Lord those who must die in Your name Father I ask that you comfort them in their time of pain just as You did with Stephen. Lord I thank You for Your grace and love. In Your Son’s name I pray. In the name of Jesus Christ.