Final Thoughts on Their Death and Our Life
Not everyone who was killed for their faith in the early church was a famous Christian. Foxe's Book of the Martyrs tells us the story of two women named Perpetua and Felicitas. They were killed in March of 205. Perpetua was married and had a child, an infant. Her father was angry at her new found faith and beat her severely. Still, she would not recant. He had her thrown in prison. Still she would not recant. She was commanded to make a sacrifice to idols. She refused. They took away her newborn baby. Her only response was, "God's will must be done."
They led the two women into an arena where a wild animal attacked them. An executioner ended their lives with a sword.
It's not my intention to simply tell you sad and morbid stories. But if I simply said, "Thousands of Christians were martyred in the earliest days of Christian history," it would be easy to dismiss them. The death of thousands is a statistic; one person's death is tragic.
These were not nameless, faceless historical figures. These people had families. They had children. They were people -- just like you and me. Their willingness to suffer -- and the way in which they suffered -- played a part in preserving the faith for us. We have the Christian faith today because there were people willing to endure torture and face death.
Christianity could well have ended before it began, but the fact that believers would not recant kept the fires burning brightly. And gradually people began to think about what they were doing and why. Christians believed that God had validated Jesus' identity by bringing him back to life. They were convinced that Jesus had defeated death and had promised eternal life to all those who would follow him. There is no other explanation for why so many ordinary men, women and children endured the beatings and the fires and the wild beasts as they did.
So the question I'm left to ponder is this: Do we still believe what they believed about Jesus? Do we really? Are we convinced that death has no sting and that eternal life is truly ours?
If we did I imagine we'd live a little differently than we do.