Egyptian church burns
The persecution of Christians began before there really were Christians, per se. Jesus accepted abuse from the established religious authorities of the day throughout His ministry years on earth. It launched in a broader way after He was taken from the Garden of Gethsemane to be tortured and crucified.
This element of the Christian faith has never waned.
In fact, Jesus told us: “If they have persecuted me, they will persecute you, also.”
We see that this persecution created a major part of the character of the early church through those in Jerusalem, followers such as Ignatius and Polycarp, the thousands that were sent to the coliseum to be fed to ravenous beasts, and the countless numbers hunted throughout the Roman Empire for three centuries.
Yet the faith spread like wildfire during these centuries. Persecution continued in small and great waves through to the Reformation. (Many men acting through the power of the state “church,” were clearly not Christians.)
And persecution continues to be a part of the Christian life for hundreds of millions of followers to this day. From the horrors of North Korea to the attempts to crush the underground church in Communist China to the violent destruction of churches by Muslim sects in the Middle East to the battle for hearts and souls through Central Africa, the persecution of those who follow Christ continues.
North Korean Christian beaten
Chinese churches being torn down.
It’s helpful to remember that what is going on today is not new. Just the details are changed.
“Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.” Hebrews 13:3.
Read more on how followers prevailed in their Christian walk, and their connection to each other and all of use here.
The Roman Coliseum
Polycarp was arrested for being a follower of Christ. The Roman proconsul, Statius Quadratus, urged Polycarp to curse Christ and save his life. But the life-long believer remained strong in his convictions, giving the proconsul and all those in attendance his famous reply:
“Fourscore and six years have I served him, and he has done me no harm. How then can I curse my King that saved me? You threaten the fire that burns for an hour and then is quenched; but you know not of the fire of the judgment to come, and the fire of the eternal punishment. Bring what you will.”
It was too late to feed Polycarp to the beasts, as was the norm for arrested Christians. So the proconsul decided to burn him at the stake. The crowd eagerly gathered wood for the fire. Polycarp was to be burned alive. When soldiers started to nail him to the stake, he stopped them. “Leave me as I am. For He who grants me to endure the fire will enable me also to remain on the pyre unmoved.”
The faithful servant was spiritually steeled to the moment.
Indeed, he was unmoved in the flames.
As the pyre was set ablaze, Polycarp prayed again. “Lord God, Father of our blessed Saviour, I thank you that I have been deemed worthy to receive the crown of martyrdom, and that I may die for you and for your cause.” The multitude that had gathered to watch were dismayed at his serenity and willingness — a sharp contrast to when unbelievers were killed in the stadium.
Polycarp’s body was burned down to the bones, which were collected by Christians and buried. His death was remembered throughout the Christian world.
Polycarp lived and died as a Christian for the world to see, and followed Ignatius in helping set the stage firmly for the early church — in word and in action. He battled heresies that threatened the core of Christianity and he endured persecutions until finally being martyred, a formula that would be followed by many.
We did not spontaneously pop into existence at a random moment. We stand on the shoulders of those who went before us.
On purpose. By God.
Ephesians 1:4 explains that God chose us before the foundation of the world. He put us in a place and in time. We are now because God wanted us now.
And that means He knew we would be following in the long thread of faithful men and women who are part of the fabric leading to this moment. For this reason, it is healthy and wise for us to have an understanding of how the world, and the world of Christianity, arrived at this moment — the moment in which God has placed us.
The stories woven in this book can help us see what we might expect as we follow Christ in love and obedience and extend our portion of the thread toward the eventual return of the Messiah.
Read more here: http://www.amazon.com/Living-Threads-unbroken-connections-through-ebook/dp/B009JMGAP4