Isaiah 35:10 – And the ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads: they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away. (KJV)
While studying early church history several years ago, I came across one of the most fascinating and inspiring stories of faith, told by Perpetua, a young, newly-converted Christian who was martyred around the year 200 A.D. in Carthage (near modern Tunisia) in north Africa. While in prison, she described her experience and the events she shared with close friend and fellow prisoner, Felicitas. Believed to be the first writing generated by a Christian woman, the diary of Perpetua has been especially influential in the lives of many believers.
Writing two centuries after the martyrdom of these two young women, the early church father Augustine noted the significance of the names Perpetua and Felicitas, together meaning "everlasting joy". This wonderful insight was an encouragement to me and brought to mind the promise of today's Scripture for all believers. Isaiah chapter 35 is a song of gladness, anticipating the day when the desert will blossom like a rose at a time of renewal and healing. And the ultimate reward for the ransomed of the Lord is the promise of everlasting joy!
Confirming the faith of Perpetua and Felicitas prior to their martyrdom, it was reported that they left their prison cell rejoicing. Perpetua's journal was completed by other believers who witnessed the details of her execution. One account said that in order to avoid the appearance of grief, Perpetua asked for a pin to straighten her hair, moments before she was killed. Today, an early marble inscription can be seen which bears the names of both women, commemorating their faithfulness and sacrifice.
Hebrews chapter 11 lists the names of many heroes of faith, and goes on to say:
Hebrews 11:13 – These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. (KJV)
1 Corinthians 2:9 – But as it is written, eye hath not seen nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him. (KJV)
When faced with conflict, these heroes depended on God's grace — and no differently than people of faith nowadays. Today, on this International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church, let us offer our heartfelt support to our brothers and sisters around the world who are still being persecuted for the sake of Christ. May we continue to be encouraged by their amazing testimonies, standing with them in the hope of the gospel to receive the crown of everlasting joy — a crown of victory for those who have placed their hope in Him.
Prayer: Father, thank You for the faith and testimonies of Perpetua and Felicitas, reminding us that everlasting joy will crown the heads of all who are ransomed by the precious blood of our Saviour, Jesus Christ. Thank You for the rich heritage and glorious future of Your church, through whom You live and reign forever. In Jesus' name, we pray. Amen.