Even though the official beginning of fall was two weeks ago, Southern California was in the grip of three-digit temperatures. It didn’t feel like fall—though I am ready for cooler weather, football and the World Series.
We have come to expect certain changes with the seasons, but the changes that come at us from out of the blue can be earth shattering. Such changes often don’t make sense, and they can really be a test of our faith.
The early church had its origin in the miraculous—but it soon found itself fighting for survival. Jesus had warned His followers that, if the world persecuted Him, it would persecute them as well. They should have seen it coming, but they were still basking in the warm glow of having experienced Holy Spirit baptism. They had been told to go out and change the world, but those Holy Spirit-empowered believers soon faced obstacles that were almost insurmountable.
The fledgling church encountered persecution first from Jewish religious leaders, but it soon experienced it as well from the Roman Empire—Nero even blamed the Christians for burning Rome! Many believers suffered the loss of all their material goods, some became vagabonds, and others were put to death for their faith. And many of those who died for their faith did so in the Coliseum.
Today, tourists visiting the Coliseum are led through one of four unmarked gates. The Coliseum had dozens of entries, but four were reserved for the emperor, nobles, other dignitaries, and gladiators.
Walking through the gate that emperors entered for almost five centuries and progressing to where the canopied imperial box was located, visitors now see a cross. The cross, placed several centuries ago by Benedict XIV, commemorates the Christians who lost their lives in a place that was dedicated to hedonism and blood-sport. It reminds us that the worst deeds of men couldn’t stop the cause of Christ.
The 2nd-century theologian Tertullian said that “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church,” and this has certainly been confirmed. And the cross, once the symbol of cruel and shameful death, has been transformed into a symbol of grace and hope.
Today, we can face whatever life throws at us with confidence. In all of the vicissitudes of life, we have a sure hope. As we consider our present reality, we have reason to be concerned, anxious, and maybe even alarmed. But we can put anxiety behind us as we understand that God is at work, as He was with the early church, to bring about His purposes. We may not see the “final cut” of the story, but we can be assured the Lord will prevail!
By: Glenn Burris Jr., president of The Foursquare Church