On the coast of the Mediterranean in northern Africa, a young woman and her companions were put to death because of their faith in Jesus Christ. Their murderers were barbaric and their deaths are too brutal to describe. Sound familiar? Sound like something you may have read in the papers or seen on the news? Unfortunately, the answer is “yes,” but these murders that I’m referring to took place 1,700 years ago. It is the martyrdom of Perpetua and her companions.
At the time, Emperor Septimius Severus ruled and he decreed that all living in the empire should make sacrifices to the divinity of the emperor. This was not something that a Christian could do without denying their faith and Perpetua and her companions were among them.
Following their arrest Perpetua had a dream where she realized that she was not battling the evils of this world, but was instead battling the devil. She wrote, “And I awoke, understanding that I should fight, not with beasts, but with the Devil.”
He father came and pleaded with her to renounce the faith. Her response to him and others was quite simple, but carried the wait of her convictions, “I am a Christian.” I am a Christian. Soon afterward she was thrown in the pit with the wild beasts. She cried out to her companions, “Stand fast in the faith and love one another. And do not let what we suffer be a stumbling block to you.”
I made the mistake of watching one of the videos showing the atrocities that are taking place in the same part of the world where Perpetua and her companions were put to death. It has haunted me ever since. I can assure you I won’t be making that mistake again. However, I wondered ever since then, as I’m sure many others have, how would I respond? Could I have stood alongside Perpetua – or those today – or would I have fallen?
What Jesus said has proven to be true time and time again: “They will hand you over to be tortured and will put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of my name. Then many will fall away, and they will betray one another and hate one another.”
Then many will fall away… Could we stand or would we fall?
The answer is, “Yes,” we can stand firm; however, we must be prepared, and the day of preparation is not then, but now. The Apostle Paul wrote in his letter to the Ephesians, “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.”
Hear that last part again, “…put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground…”
My favorite 14th century monk and one you will hear me speak of quite often, Thomas à Kempis, said, “The present is very precious; these are the days of salvation; now is the acceptable time.”
Could you stand with Perpetua and her companions? Yes you can, but to face that day of trial – that day of evil – you must prepare today. We may never have to face something so horrible, but by being prepared in Christ Jesus, we will have no fear. We will stand with Perpetua and say, “I am a Christian.”