Martyrdom and sainthood are not an everyday language for us Lutherans. We believe that all of us are sinners and saints. Our Lutheran theology does not exclude any Christian from sainthood. We do not call Martin Luther, Saint Luther, but we have martyrs in our history. For instance, Johann Esch and Heinrich Voes were the first two Lutheran martyrs were executed for their adherence to reformation. They were burned at the stake in Brussels on 1 July 1523. Sir Patrick Hamilton was also burned at the stake on 29 February 1528. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was executed by hanging on 9 April 1945 at the hand of the Nazi. These four men and I believe we have more martyrs suffered because of their faith in Christ Jesus and their commitment to the gospel. You might feel pity for them because they underwent brutal execution, but the gospel of Luke calls them blessed.
The word blessed in ancient Greek is “Makarios” it was used in the three ways.
“The ‘blessed’ ones lived in a higher plane than the rest of us. They were gods. They were humans who had gone to the world of the gods. They were the wealthy, upper crust. They were those with many possessions. The blessed were those people and beings who lived above the normal cares, problems, and worries of normal people.”
Jesus reversed the usage of Makarios and employed it to refer to the disadvantaged. According to Jesus, those who are blessed are not the wealthy or the dead, or gods but those who endure persecution, including physical, mental, and social ramifications.
Let us imagine the scene of Luke chapter 6. The “disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon. They had come to hear him and to be healed” (vs. 17-18). Jesus looks at his disciples whom he has chosen earlier in this chapter and calls them blessed, and the crowd was witnesses.
Jesus uses the second person rather than the third person throughout his beatitude. The beatitudes are concerned about the present time of the disciples and the crowd. The disciples possess the Kingdome now. It is not a future event, but it is present now. To you now is the kingdom of God.
“Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.
The disciples are blessed because they left everything and followed Jesus. “Now they are living in want and privation, the poorest of the poor, the sorest afflicted, and the hungriest of the hungry. They have only him, and with him they have nothing, literally.”
Luke says “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God,”
Matthew says “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
We might think that the evangelist Luke might refer to the economically impoverished person whereas the "poor in spirit" in Matthew's gospel refers to the pious person. The answer is no. Both Luke and Matthew are talking about pious poor who for the sake of Jesus Christ lost everything.
Social and economic oppression are attendant to a faith commitment. Jesus wanted his followers to know that they were getting into a situation of oppression for the duration of their earthly sojourn; he was not instructing them on how to get out of oppression. The only way out is up.
Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets (v. 23).
I summarize the beatitudes in one statement: following Jesus Christ means suffering. The world teaches us that prosperity, success, and peace are signs of God’s blessing, but Jesus teaches us that God blesses those who become destitute, hungry, bearer of sorrow, and persecuted on account of the Son of Man, Jesus Christ.
The Lutheran martyrs like Esch, Voes, Hamilton, and Bonhoeffer are blessed because they renounced the world and all its false promises to follow Jesus. They faced execution with courage and faith. Dietrich Bonhoeffer from his prison in Tegel, Germany, a few months before his execution, he wrote a hymn “By Gracious Powers” that expresses his trust and total submission to Jesus Christ, despite his torment. We are going to sing his hymn shortly.
I like to end with the testimony of a camp doctor H. Fischer-Hüllstrung, who witnessed Bonhoeffer's execution.
"The prisoners … were taken from their cells, and the verdicts of court martial read out to them. Through the half-open door in one room of the huts, I saw Pastor Bonhoeffer, before taking off his prison garb, kneeling on the floor praying fervently to his God. I was most deeply moved by the way this lovable man prayed, so devout and so certain that God heard his prayer. At the place of execution, he again said a prayer and then climbed the steps to the gallows, brave and composed. His death ensued in a few seconds. In the almost 50 years that I have worked as a doctor, I have hardly ever seen a man die so entirely submissive to the will of God."
 Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. The Cost of Discipleship (SCM Classics). Hymns Ancient and Modern Ltd. Kindle Edition. 1485.