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A Perspective on SufferingApril 4, 2018
I’ll never forget July 30th, 2012 when I stood in the Coliseum in Rome, Italy with my son Ian. There were hundreds of tourists walking around this eerily, quiet 1st century amphitheater and everyone seemed to have the same sobering realization of the suffering and carnage that took place to the delight of its pagan spectators nearly 2,000 years ago. Being condemned to the beasts in the Coliseum was a particularly grisly end. It meant that you would be exposed in the arena to a variety of wild and ferocious animals including leopards, boars, even lions, and required to fight for your lives. As I walked around, there was a moment when I became overwhelmed with emotion and hid in one of the corners of this monstrous structure and wept because of the realization that many brothers and sisters in Christ had gone before me suffering horrible deaths because they had dared to live a godly life in Christ Jesus (2 Tim. 3:12).
The first century Roman historian Tacitus wrote about Christians, ‘they were nailed on crosses…sewn up in the skins of wild beats, and exposed to the fury of dogs; others again, smeared over with combustible materials, were used as torches to illuminate the night’. If you did not die a martyr’s death as a first century believer, you might have been denied business opportunities and status in society, freedom to worship, attacks by mobs, persecution and torture. Many were simply killed in organized campaigns by the Roman government. Christians who happened to be Roman citizens, including the apostle Paul, were executed by beheading, which was considered a quick and merciful end. The “lesser sort”, as they were known, everyday people i.e. non-citizens of Rome who followed Christ, were subject to more violent punishments, the kind the Roman historian Tacitus wrote about. Persecution of Christians through the first 3 centuries was not constant as there were periods of relative peace, but when persecution did come it was relentless and merciless.
All of this seems very far removed, even irrelevant from our existence here in Waynesboro, Georgia as we struggle through the daily issues of life. Who enjoys thinking about martyrdom? I don’t! But we all need to realize that for the early church martyrs they struggled with issues of political and social choices just like we do today only for them the cost of allegiance to Christ above all else was far more costly. The difference between then and now is the cost of following Christ.
Brothers and sisters, none of us like to suffer for what we believe or think about persecution. It’s not the most uplifting subject matter. Our difficulty is handling the tension that often exists between living holy and faithful lives before God in the face of the cultural pressures that conflict with Kingdom values. We should be asking ourselves daily if our allegiance and obedience to Christ is reflected in our attitudes toward money, family, the people we live and work with and the lost.
As some of us come together on April 20th for Secret Church be thinking about how far you are willing to go in your commitment to Christ and to see others know Christ and the power of his resurrection (Philippians 3:10). As John Piper once asked, ‘are we treasuring, admiring, delighting in being satisfied by Jesus, the most beautiful treasure of all?’ If we are, there will be no boundaries to how far our love and devotion to Christ will be and the way it is lived out in the world before us.