"But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death." (1 Cor. 15:20-26 ESV)
Family's Obituary - "Craig Martin Tessier of Smallwood, New York, died on Sunday, February 22, 2015 in a Hospice at Canon City, Colorado of Lou Gehrig's Disease. He died in his beloved Colorado Rockies where he spent his last years. He created landscape gardens in Colorado and New York, hiked the entire Appalachian Trail one summer, and loved the outdoors. He was very religious and in the last seven years found peace and solace in his faith. He knew death was coming and faced it with grace and faith in his Savior. He was born on July 11, 1959 in Smithtown, Long Island, NY. He is survived by his mother Charlotte Tessier, his brothers Robert, Joseph, and Gary, his four nephews Robert, Oliver, Martin, and David, and an uncle, aunts, and cousins."
This article is adapted from the message I shared at the memorial service held by The Cell Church for Craig Martin Tessier on Saturday, March 21, 2015. Since Craig told us that he went by his middle name among the brethren, I will refer to him in this article as Martin. I have tried to share as much as possible in Martin's own words from his letters to our ministry, beginning with his testimony.
"I really was out there in the wilderness for 40 years, running around like a madman. Looking back I really question my past sanity now, as the Lord has restored me so much over the past 6 1/2 years. I lived in New York, New Jersey, Oregon, Colorado & Montana, and I often took oﬀ into the woods for long periods of time, or traveled without funds or sane goals - just blowing in the wind. I lived in bondage, and I kept trying to break it, but I was too stubborn to try any help from outside myself. I claimed I believed in God and knew of God, and the reality is He kept trying to reach me all those years... Finally I became completely broken and contrite. I finally said, 'This is it, I don't want to go on anymore without knowing You.' I did not know what to do. I could not go backwards and change my past. All I wanted was to get to know Him and serve Him in some way. From that day forward He never left me. I had the most precious thing I ever had in my whole life - a real relationship with our Father - and I felt alive for the first time in my life."
Martin also shared the story with us about why he chose to go by his middle name: "I must let you know that I do go by my middle name amongst the brotherhood - Martin... I had a grandfather I never knew, as he moved to Japan before I was born, and died before I could meet him. Yet he left all the boys of my mother each a card with a message on the back... On the front of the card was an older saint walking hand in hand with a boy, and they both had halos. On the back it read, 'Martin Craig, how's that red hair coming along my boy? Leighton Brown.' One day after hiking the Appalachian Trail and returning home to New York at age 33, I told my mother about my belief in God. She said, 'Maybe it's time for you to have this,' and gave me the card. I carried the card for many, many years, occasionally looking at it as something I desired. I carried it with me on my last runaway in a confused and crazy attempt to seek out what the card represented to me. I even had a campfire ceremony to receive the reversed name, 'Martin Craig.' Three years later I received real conversion by the power of the Holy Spirit and lost the card - left behind when I began my journey back here. However I did not miss the card because now I had the real thing."
"Yes," Martin wrote, "it was been the most wondrous and awesome gift anyone could ever receive - to experience a real relationship - a growing relationship - with our Father, Creator, Savior, King, High Priest, and its restoring eﬀect over time. Here I am, only in my seventh year of new life, looking back as though I have been almost fully healed from a lifetime of extreme sinfulness and sickness... Yet when I look ahead with my hand in His and hear and see what He is telling me of what's up ahead, it's hard to fathom or comprehend its fullness. My deepest desire is to help others to see this also, to fully receive the truth of the promises both in this life and the next - eternal life."
It seems that everyone who got to know him found that the desire of Martin's heart was to teach the truths of the gospel of Jesus, to share with others what God was showing him. After Martin's death, his friend Bill Robertson wrote: "We knew he was going to a better place. I'm sad he's gone from my life because my life is smaller without him. But I know he has been released and I am better because I knew Martin. When I started walking with Martin I was not a Christian. Martin and I talked and walked in 2012, then he led me to Yahweh. Martin helped me come to terms with his future death. His big concern was that his insight on the word of Yahweh would not get out, because he was on fire for the Lord." I can also testify that this was Martin's great passion; in his last letter to us he wrote one page about his illness and his faith in God, followed by more than ten pages of teaching on Scripture, clearly handwritten with great physical diﬃculty. Since God gave Martin an unquenchable desire to teach His word, we will honor Martin's life and ministry by allowing him to teach us one more time. So let us consider one lesson we can learn from the way Martin lived, and one lesson from the way he faced death.
Martin's Life - One Who Made Peace
"A harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace." (Jam. 3:18 ESV)
"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God." (Matt. 5:8 ESV)
One of the great characteristics of Martin's life in Christ was that he was a peacemaker. He had a heart for fostering reconciliation and unity among God's people. Martin described what happened when the Lord first began calling him to serve as more of a leader: "I began to step out a little as a leader of Bible studies and prayer circles. There were a couple of occasions where this placed me in a more diﬃcult conflict/confrontation with others, but I worked through them and other conflicts that arose. I found that if I used what I was learning from the Lord's example it actually worked in these conflicts, and I was amazed."
One of the most striking things about Martin to me personally was the way he served as a mediator - a sort of bridge - between the Protestant Christian brethren and Messianic Jews. During my time in prison I found that Christians (myself included) and Messianic brothers, while they usually managed to get along fairly well, often interacted with one another primarily in the form of theological debate or disagreement. Martin was remarkable in that he considered himself to be a member of both groups; he described himself as agreeing with certain aspects of both Protestant and Messianic doctrine, and disagreeing with other aspects. As a result he managed to have communion and fellowship with brothers in both camps, and gathered around him a group of men with similar convictions and qualities.
The main reason Martin was able to successfully live out and encourage this sort of peaceful union was his firm conviction that, beyond the core essentials of the faith, disagreements about points of doctrine should not divide disciples of Christ. Martin, who was dedicated to continual learning about God's word, took a number of correspondence Bible study courses from both Messianic and Protestant perspectives. He once sent us a copy of a graded lesson from a Protestant course, on which the instructor had written a comment saying that although he disagreed with Martin on some points, they both loved and served the same Jesus. Next to the comment Martin had written two words: "A trophy!" He rejoiced in the fact that his instructor, in spite of their diﬀerences, had recognized their unity in Christ. For Martin, a passionate peacemaker, this was a victory. He always held the same attitude toward me, as we wrote back and forth about the Scripture and the Jesus we both loved and served. We were always able to share diﬀering opinions with one another without anger, defensiveness, combativeness, or divisive attitudes. It was a true joy, and blessed and encouraged me greatly.
What was it that motivated Martin to pursue peace and unity so intently? I think it was, in part, his recognition that we are all works in progress - including him. Martin certainly had strong convictions about his understanding of Scripture, and loved to teach and persuade others of his point of view. But he did so while recognizing that it was always possible that he, rather than the brother who disagreed with him, was mistaken. Martin trusted the Holy Spirit of God to guide all of God's children into the truth, and he knew that one day - when we see our Lord face to face - we will all perfectly agree. As Martin wrote, "I learned to deal in love with everyone inside and outside the truth. Love is the bond of perfection and the unifying factor in our fellowship with Christ. He will bring every one of His true children to unity of understanding in His time. Until then we must do our best to follow Him and emanate His truth through our walk. To reach out to others as much as possible, planting seeds, watering, pruning as the Spirit guides us." In his last letter to us, he returned to this theme: "This approach also includes building bridges of common ground while setting boundaries as appropriate and considering others' oﬀerings in prayer with His Holy Spirit. We will all stand in complete unity of understanding when we see Him face to face and we are like Him."
So what can we learn from Martin's life as a bridge builder and peacemaker? He passionately and relentlessly pursued a right understanding of God and His word, but was willing to acknowledge that his understanding was imperfect. So he trusted the Spirit to teach others, as well as himself, and lived at peace with those who disagreed with him by resting in the knowledge that one day all God's people will see Him as He is in perfect agreement and unity. Martin's life shows us how we can love the truth with humility, and love unity and fellowship with our brothers as well.
Martin's Death - One Who Was Faithful
"And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write: 'The words of the first and the last, who died and came to life. "I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich) and the slander of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. Do not fear what you are about to suﬀer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death."'" (Rev. 2:8-11 ESV)
The one thing that struck everyone who spent time with Martin in the last days of his life in this world was the way he faced death with unshakable faith in his Savior. His trust in Jesus in the face of suﬀering was an inspiration to those of us who had the privilege of knowing him. Even before he told us of his illness, Martin wrote to us of his trials in prison life: "All things are in His hands. Sometimes we may have to suﬀer under circumstances which just do not seem fair from our perspective. But little do we know the extent of the rewards which are ahead for His obedient and loving children." In his attitude Martin exalted the surpassing worth and joy of knowing Christ above all diﬃculty; in the days to come his disposition of heart would be severely tested, and would prove genuine.
Martin first mentioned his condition to us in October of 2014, and in doing so revealed the power of his faith in his Savior: "Recently a wicked sickness spread out in this unit and I got it too. We all had variations in the symptoms and their eﬀects. Seems like a stomach virus but it really made me sore and weak to the point of being shut down now for several days. Right now I am experiencing more muscular strain in writing this letter, as even small tasks like this are very diﬃcult. So unless I heal over the next few days this journey may take a lot longer than normal. Yet even in all these physical and mental struggles I am experiencing an outpouring in His spiritual realm that is filling my heart with such joy - these struggles pale by comparison!"
Martin's unshakable trust in Jesus carried him through to the very end. His brother Bob, who was able to spend time with him at the end his life, wrote: "I was really honored to be at Craig's side in his last days. It was extraordinary the way he met death and how strong was his faith. He felt a loving and forgiving God welcoming him to heaven. He forgave his captors and accusers and found peace with himself. He faced death with a courage and faith in his redemption that moved everyone that came in contact with him at the end. He died a prophet and a holy man." By God's unfailing grace, Martin conquered his incarceration and his illness - he was faithful until death, and we can be sure that he will receive the promised crown of life from the hand of his merciful Savior.
What can we learn from the way Martin faced death with such powerful faith? First, Martin remained faithful by focusing not on his circumstances or suﬀering, but on the supreme treasure of Jesus and His promises. "No matter what happens in this current world," Martin wrote, "our spirits soar with Him far above, and His promises far outweigh our trials now." Second, as he focused on Jesus his heart was filled with the glory and beauty of Christ, and Martin poured all his energy into sharing that treasure with others. In his last letter to our ministry it was clear that his passion to teach the truths of the gospel remained undiminished: "Our God is at work through all things for the good of those that love Him and are called according to His purpose. Though I cling to Him in prayer for healing and will never give up faith, hope, and trust, my approach is balanced by the fullness of Scripture built together into His big picture of light. So I follow in His footsteps too, with 'Let Thy will be done, not mine,' and I seek out all He is showing me and teaching me through this experience. I must tell you that now I am being filled to overflowing with His word of life, and am being transformed in His image in an incredible and very fulfilling way. So I am writing a lot of letters to everyone to give and serve as much as I can." At the end of his life, Martin's burning desire was to share with others what God was revealing of Himself.
Martin Tessier lived his life as a peacemaker who sought to unite all of God's people around the truth of God's word and the person of Jesus Christ. He died with remarkable faithfulness to his Lord and Savior, conquering prison, sickness, suﬀering, and the fear of death by fixing his eyes on the beauty of God and calling others to join him in that vision. Much like Jesus Himself dying at Calvary, to those who did not know Martin his death may have looked, from a distance, like one of weakness and defeat. But for those of us with eyes to see, God has made both Jesus, and through Him His servant Martin, victors over death and conquerors in glory. As he would be the first to tell us, all the things he taught - his love for peace and unity, his faithfulness in the face of death - really came not from Martin but from his Lord. The same glorious God, the same faithful Savior, and the same Spirit of power who defined and shaped Martin's life and death are also ours if we are united to Jesus. The grace to live and die to the glory of God is available to us all. As we seek to learn and draw inspiration from our brother, our ultimate goal is to look through Martin to see the beauty and majesty of the God he served. I know Martin would want it that way.