Listen to this devotional:
Listen while you read: "O The Deep Deep Love Of Jesus"1 (Lyrics)
Matthew 16:25-26 – For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? (NKJV)
During the past few weeks, I have been reading some historical novels about the time of the Roman occupation of a considerable number of countries in the Middle East and Europe. One book in particular dealt with the capture of Christians in various places, their enslavement by the Romans, and in many cases, their death in the arenas, either by gladiators or by lions. The Roman authorities used them as entertainment, not only in the Coliseum in Rome, but in other places as well. Many Christians were condemned to be thrown to the beasts to entertain spectators. One early Christian, Ignatius of Antioch, wrote in 100 A.D., "I am God's wheat and shall be ground by the teeth of wild beasts, so that I may become God's pure bread. … The time of my birth is at hand."
In 1999, we were part of a group of Christian people touring Israel, and one of the stops was at the ruins of Beth Shean (house of security or rest). This was the place where King Saul and his three sons were killed and where Saul's body was cruelly displayed on the city wall, recorded in 1 Samuel 31:8-10. What made a real impression on me, however, was the visit to the amphitheatre. It is small by comparison; it seated only about 8,000 people, in contrast to the Coliseum in Rome, which held 50,000. We were told that it was built around 200 A.D. and was used for about 200 years. The ruins were discovered only in 1980.
During a short period of free time, I separated myself from the group and sat on the stone seats where spectators sat so many centuries ago. Across from where I sat, on the other side of the sandy arena, was a wall with a number of arched gated openings, behind which the lions were kept. As I sat there, I could almost feel the anticipation of the crowd, waiting for the gates to be opened. I could visualize a small group of Christians huddled together in the centre of the arena. The only visible movement was the moving of their lips as they silently prayed to God as they faced a certain death.
I could imagine the roar of the crowds as the hungry lions were released and began their feeding frenzy as our brothers and sisters in Christ died right there in front of 8,000 spectators, their only crime being their faith in Jesus as Saviour and Lord. They were willing to follow Jesus, knowing that it could mean losing their life.
Across the centuries, the roar of the lions, the roar of the people, and the desire to stop the Christian faith have reverberated around the world. Even now in some places, this is a reality, for Christians are still being persecuted and killed for their faith.
If you are being ridiculed or ostracized for your faith in Jesus, take comfort in Jesus' words in the Sermon on the Mount:
Matthew 5:10-12 – Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you, when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (NKJV)
Prayer: Our Father in heaven, it is with sadness that we think back to all the brothers and sisters in Christ who have lost their lives for the sake of the gospel of salvation. We pray for all those who are living in fear of losing their lives, even now. We pray, Lord, that You will comfort them and sustain them, and that a change can come about. We ask it in Jesus' name. Amen.