Tuesday, October 27, 2020

The Death of Perpetua: Christian Identity

The martyrdom of Perpetua, have you ever read the account? It's absolutely incredible to read.  It's from thousands of years ago, yet it's so relevant to today.

I find it amazing to realize, though I'd read of Perpetua before, to learn that she was only 22 years old at this time.  How amazing for such a young and impressive woman give her life for the Lord!  

 I see Christian identity at work in her story. She knew who she was.

Perpetua's account articulates Christian identity in her conversation with her father in the clearest form when she says, I must call myself what I am, what am I but a Christian? Her father begs her to simply renounce Christ. Think of your baby! But she cannot deny Christ. How could she deny the chief nature of who she was?  How often have I identified myself as perhaps a learner, or a lefty, or an eccentric, or a pastor?  But what am I chiefly? A Christian.  That is the very root of Perpetua's identity. Can you say the same? Can I say the same?

She faced her own death as a temptation to recant Christ. Would you give your life for Jesus? She faced an impossible situation, seeing her own long life ahead of her. She also faced the proddings of her father, and the prodding of her baby and the needs of the child, as well as the prodding of the Romans, but could not recant from her love of Jesus. The text articulates the importance of her Christian witness, and that it be maintained unto death.

The Romans were so threatened by this simple faith in Christ, because it was an outside referent by which to judge the state.  The basic structure of roman society was that of the roman culture, the worship of the emperor, and reverence of the state as the ultimate authority.  That is what probably was thought to keep the public in line and under control.  

 How could Rome allow a different worldview, the Christian perspective to so radically challenge the roman belief structure?  From the Christian perspective, they could judge the roman society as either good or bad based on Christian beliefs.  But from the perspective of emperor worship, the state could do no wrong.

 Despite that severe pressure from outside to conform or die, Perpetua knew who she was. She was a Christian, a follower of Jesus.  And she died for it.  

She was condemned.  She had a vision of saints beckoning her to the coliseum.  And then she was brought out into the stadium, and she joined other Christians, who were devoured by wild animals, struck by Lions and armored gladiators. She died a saint and a martyr for Christ.  Would you do the same?