The stories of our forefathers and mothers in the church are encouraging yet haunting depictions of incredible faith in a living Savior. I read their stories and I am at once amazed and chastised.
Imagine yourself as a young nursing mother, facing your pleading aged father from a dungeon cell. From the Martyrdom of Saints Perpetua and Felicitas, these are a few of the recorded words of the early martyr, Perpetua:
While we were still under arrest my father out of love for me was trying to persuade me and shake my resolution. 'Father,' said I, 'do you see this vase here, for example, or waterpot or whatever?'
'Yes, I do', said he.
And I told him: 'Could it be called by any other name than what it is?'
And he said: 'No.'
'Well, so too I cannot be called anything other than what I am, a Christian.'
She would die in the arena in 203 AD. The record of her faith comes to us today and it is not for the faint of heart. Would you face the arena with the same grace and joy that she did? I am not sure that I would.
Then there is the powerful story of Polycarp. His martyrdom story can be read in full at the link, but this portion was particularly powerful to me.
As Polycarp was being taken into the arena, a voice came to him from heaven: “Be strong, Polycarp and play the man!” No one saw who had spoken, but our brothers who were there heard the voice. When the crowd heard that Polycarp had been captured, there was an uproar. The Proconsul asked him whether he was Polycarp. On hearing that he was, he tried to persuade him to apostatize, saying, “Have respect for your old age, swear by the fortune of Caesar. Repent, and say, ‘Down with the Atheists!’” Polycarp looked grimly at the wicked heathen multitude in the stadium, and gesturing towards them, he said, “Down with the Atheists!” “Swear,” urged the Proconsul, “reproach Christ, and I will set you free.” “86 years have I have served him,” Polycarp declared, “and he has done me no wrong. How can I blaspheme my King and my Savior?”
“I have wild animals here,” the Proconsul said. “I will throw you to them if you do not repent.” “Call them,” Polycarp replied. “It is unthinkable for me to repent from what is good to turn to what is evil. I will be glad though to be changed from evil to righteousness.” “If you despise the animals, I will have you burned.” “You threaten me with fire which burns for an hour, and is then extinguished, but you know nothing of the fire of the coming judgment and eternal punishment, reserved for the ungodly. Why are you waiting? Bring on whatever you want.”
Why are you waiting? Bring on whatever you want.
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
Amen and amen.