Sunday, July 14, 2013

Sunday Martyr Moment: Persecutions begin under Nero

Foxe's Book of Martyrs. According to this summary from Christian Book Summaries,

Writing in the mid-1500s, John Foxe was living in the midst of intense religious persecution at the hands of the dominant Roman Catholic Church. In graphic detail, he offers accounts of Christians being martyred for their belief in Jesus Christ, describing how God gave them extraordinary courage and stamina to endure unthinkable torture.

From the same link, the book's purpose was fourfold:
  • Showcase the courage of true believers who have willingly taken a stand for Jesus Christ throughout the ages, even if it meant death,
  • Demonstrate the grace of God in the lives of those martyred for their faith,
  • Expose the ruthlessness of religious and political leaders as they sought to suppress those with differing beliefs,
  • Celebrate the courage of those who risked their lives to translate the Bible into the common language of the people.
In these posts, which I began last April, I have gone chronologically through the martyrdoms of the first generation martyrs, beginning with Stephen and ending with John. I've also put up an essay on the martyrdom of John Huss, to note the anniversary of his death, and then opened with Foxe's next  section, the "Chapter One: History of Christian Martyrs to the First General Persecutions Under Nero" and related it to the coming persecutions of Christians today.

Now, we continue. Foxe's Book of Martyrs, by John Foxe

Nero was the 6th Emperor of Rome and reigned for fifteen years. He was a paradox, a man of great creativity combined with a vicious temper and extreme cruelty. It was said by many that it was Nero who ordered that Rome be burned and then blamed it on the Christians to turn the wrath of Rome's citizens away from himself.  Others say he was not in Rome when it burned. Whichever way it was, Christians were blamed for the fire that lasted 9 days, and during which the hunt for Christians increased and became a dreadful persecution that lasted the rest of Nero's reign.

The barbarous acts against Christians were worse than any they had previously endured, especially those committed by Nero. Only a Satan-inspired imagination could have conceived them. Some Christians were sewn inside the skins of wild animals and torn apart by fierce dogs. Shirts stiff with wax were put on others, and they were tied to poles in Nero's garden and set on fire to provide light for his parties.

This cruel persecution spread throughout the Roman Empire, but it only succeeded in strengthening the spirit of Christianity rather than killing it.  Along with Paul and Peter, several of the seventy appointed by
Jesus (Luke 10:1) were martyred also. Among them were Erastus, treasurer of Corinth (Romans 16:23), Aristarchus the Macedonian (Acts 19:29), Trophimus the Ephesian (Acts 21:29), Barsabas who was surnamed Justus (Acts 1:23), and Ananias, bishop of Damascus whom the Lord sent to Saul (Acts 9:10).

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Lord, we thank you for the faith of our fathers. We thank you that you gave them, and us, the Holy Spirit, to strengthen us in times of persecution and to enable us to proclaim Your name as witnesses to the ends of the earth. They were witnesses who suffered a tormenting death, but unto joyous eternal life. Nero suffered a comfortable life, but unto a tormenting eternal death. Therefore, we thank you that no matter what our situation, circumstance or problem, You have promised Good to us and a life of glorified fellowship with You now and in the future. We hold onto the promise of Your coming and the promise of life everlasting.

Meanwhile, please remind us to pray for the afflicted, the persecuted and those undergoing martyrdom right now. Let us pray for each other always. "and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you," (1 Thessalonians 3:12)

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