This week I encountered a church sign which read – “It does not cost to follow Christ, it pays.” Though I understand that everything we lose when we follow Christ cannot compare to all that He gives us, I still took issue with the sign. And as a student of Church History, I was reminded of many whose cost of following Jesus was very real. I want to share just one of those martyrs’ stories with you…
In the year 202, Emperor Septimus Severius issued a degree against Christians. At that time there was a young woman named Perpetua who was from a “well-to-do” family in Carthage, a city in North Africa. Perpetua was only 26 and married and had just given birth to a son. Her mother and brothers were believers, her father was not, and we have no record of her husband being a Christian either. Perpetua was eventually placed under house arrest because of her faith. Her father pled with her to recant and perform the necessary rituals to declare that the emperor was God. She pointed to a water pot and asked, “Father, do you see this vessel? Can it be called by any other name than what it is? So also I cannot call myself by any other name than what I am – a Christian.”
She was then moved to a prison cell, and her father visited her, begging her again to reconsider. Later at her trial, her father even pleaded with her on behalf of her infant son. She held fast to her faith and by doing so, several of her guards were converted as well as the prison warden.
On the night before she was to be thrown into the arena with wild animals and gladiators, Perpetua had a vision of heaven and wrote these words in her prison diary, “I saw that I would not fight with beasts but with the devil himself: I knew the victory to be mine.” A Christian of Carthage recorded the scene of the execution and described it like this: “The day of their victory dawned, and with joyful countenances they marched from the prison to the arena as though on their way to heaven.”
Perpetua was first wounded by one of the wild animals and then went to minister to others who had fallen. When a trembling young and inexperienced gladiator finally approached her, she helped guide his shaking sword to her throat. The date was March 7th in the year 202 AD.
Her devotion to Christ strengthened the faith of the Christians of North Africa. In the face of personal tragedy and family pressure, Perpetua remained steadfast in her commitment to Christ. Some may assert that it doesn’t cost anything to follow Christ. Indeed it does cost a great deal. True, the sacrifice pales in comparison to what we are given by grace through faith in Jesus. But we cannot simply dismiss those sacrifices as inconsequential, especially in the days in which we live. Many believers throughout the world suffer and are killed for their faith. Their losses are not in vain and they are not trivial. They stand as reminders to us all that following Christ does require a cost. The cost may be small – the loss of a friendship, the scorn of coworkers. The loss may be even greater – the loss of a job, a spouse who is an unbeliever and who walks away. The loss may be profound – we may face physical persecution and even death. And yes, all of these losses will be worth the surpassing glory we experience in Heaven, but while we live in our mortal bodies, the losses will still be felt.
May we each learn to stand firm in our faith as we face the daily trials that come our way. I pray that we will never have to endure the persecution that so many like Perpetua have faced, and are still facing.