It doesn’t make sense! When on July 17th 180, the Roman proconsul proclaimed the death sentence on seven men and five women because they were Christians, “Speratus, Nartzalus, Cittinus, Veturius, Felix, Aquilinus, Laetantius, Januaria, Generosa, Vestia, Donata, and Secunda, I have ordered to be executed”, their only response was “Deo Gratias! Thanks be to God!”
It doesn’t make sense. Amy Carmichael was a frail, sickness prone Irish woman who served as a missionary first in Japan and then in India for a number of years. When she was asked by a young lady who was considering life as a missionary, ‘What is missionary life like?’ Amy wrote back stating, “Missionary life is simply a chance to die.”
Suffering. Death. How is it possible that some people find a value in these things? They claim that they are following someone called Jesus Christ.
The life of this man started and finished with suffering and pain! When the wise men did not report back to Herod the whereabouts of baby Jesus, he became so furious that he ordered all the baby boys up to two years old in and around Bethlehem to be slaughtered! Apparently, it is not comfortable to be in the vicinity of this person!
Years later, his cousin John, who prepared the messianic entry of Jesus in the land, was beheaded in the prime of his life. This must have hit Jesus hard. When he heard the news, he went away for himself for a while.
It seems like being persecuted is the normal way of life for the disciples of this man. Many finished off badly. Stephen, a deacon, was stoned. James the son of Zebedee was beheaded. The same fate happened to Paul in Rome. Peter was crucified upside down. Andrew was crucified on an “X”-shaped cross in modern day Turkey.
Philip had a far reaching ministry in Carthage North Africa and in Asia Minor. He converted the wife of a Roman proconsul who retaliated by having Philip arrested, scourged and thrown into prison. Mark was dragged in the roads of the town by the people of Alexandria. Matthias, who replaced the apostle Judas, was stoned and then beheaded.
A wealthy young man, Chrysanthus was educated in the arts and sciences of third century Rome. Then he stumbled across Christian writings. His father however would have nothing of it. He despised cowardice and Christianity. He demanded that Chrysanthus return to the old gods. When his son refused, the father locked him into a cellar on short rations for many days. It did not work. So his father opted for another strategy – seduction. He fitted out a room with plush drapes and decorations, prepared a feast and wine for his hungry son and hired sexy girls to whisper sweet suggestions in his ears.
It did not work either. He managed to come out victorious, even persuading the girl that came to lure him, to abandon her ways, embrace Jesus Christ and marry him! They were both stoned to death in a sand pit near the catacombs.
And the story continues! But what is really amazing is the reaction of these men in front of suffering. Ignatius, bishop at Antioch, when he heard the lions roaring in the Coliseum, said, “I am the wheat of Christ: I am going to be grounded with the teeth of wild beasts, that I may be found pure bread!”
When Polycarp was brought before the judge, and commanded to blaspheme Christ, he decisively answered, “Eighty six years have I served him, and he never did me wrong, how then can I blaspheme my king who has saved me?”
Justin Martyr wrote to the emperor, “You can kill us. But you cannot hurt us.” Perpetua, a young woman of 22, who had just given birth to a baby boy when she was thrown into prison, stated clearly “The dungeon became to me as if it were a palace!” This from a young woman of considerable wealth and education!
I have to confess. I am baffled! Terrible circumstances did not defeat them. The prospect of torture and death could not break their spirit. The only explanation that I can give to myself is that their Lover, Jesus Christ, created within them an interior fortification to resist panic. He put a feast in their hearts.
The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church, Tertullian is quoted as saying. Perhaps this is what we need today – more of this seed!
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