I’ve recently been teaching a class on the topic of martyrdom. Since we enjoy the blessing of religious freedom and tend to take our liberty for granted, it’s sobering to learn of persecution against Christians today and in church history.
I’m struck by the resolution, even optimism, of the early church during the blood-stained Roman persecutions.
“We multiply when we are mown down by you; the blood of Christians is seed. Dying we conquer. The moment we are crushed, that moment we go forth victorious.” (Tertullian)
Ignatius, the leader of the Antioch church in Syria, incurred the wrath of Emperor Trajan for preaching against Roman idolatry. Ignatius was seized and brought to Rome, where he was tortured and sentenced to be consumed by lions.
Standing in the arena before the animals were unleashed, Ignatius testified:
“O Romans, all you who have come to witness with your own eyes this combat; know, that this punishment has not been laid upon me on account of any misdeed or crime; for such I have in no way committed, but that I may come to God, for whom I long, and whom to enjoy is my insatiable desire. For I am the grain of God. I am ground by the teeth of the beast, that I may be found a pure bread of Christ, who is to me the bread of life.”
We seem to avoid the idea of experiencing persecution. Yet these men could glimpse God’s sovereign ability to turn suffering and death into new life. They envisioned a stronger church, despite their losses. They were joyfully defiant in the face of evil and preached the supremacy of Jesus.
I have wondered: what would they think of Australian Christians today?