My Name is Perpetua
My world is the world of the Roman Empire. In my world, the rule of the Caesars is supreme. Everything they say goes. And so it was that just last year Emperor Septimius Severus issued a decree forbidding conversion to Judaism or to Christianity. For you see, for emperors both are troublesome religions. Each insists on one God and at least inthe Emperor’s mind, he is the one true god. Emperors don’t like sharing their glory with another.
When the decree was issued, I was already being instructed on the faith, having chosen Christianity and the Christ of Christianity as my own. Some might say that I really didn’t know my own mind, being as it was that I was only twenty years old. But I knew. No one coerced me into choosing Christ. I chose Him on the basis of His great love for me long before I turned twenty. My training in the faith came later. And it was only after I was baptized, declaring my supreme allegiance to be to the Christ of Calvary that things really began to heat up for me.
The only thing that really bothers me about the punishment the powers that be have laid out for me is that I must leave my one-year-old son in the care of others and I will never see him grow to maturity. My prayer is that my mother and my brothers, who are also Christians, will somehow be spared and be used by God to raise my child in the nurture and the admonition of the Lord. The child, little Marcus, is after all, as he has always been, in God’s hands alone. My father and my husband do not profess Christ as yet and they have spared no expense and attention to try to get me to reverse my decision to follow Christ. But how could I ever turn my back on such a One as Christ who didn’t turn his back on me? I cannot, and I know that these whom I love cannot help themselves. They love me and that is all that matters to them. They have never known such love or they could not, they would not, presume upon my desire to spare them pain by asking me to deny my Lord. I am a Christian. I will always be a Christian. I am a pot in the Master Potter’s hands and I can be nothing but a pot, even if it means the end to my life upon this earth.
They say my next place of imprisonment will be a dark dungeon that allows no light to permeate its depths. I have always loved sunlight and I wonder how I will fare in a world that is completely dark. I will need all the help from on high that I can get in order to persevere. God will be my light. I am certain of it. But those first days will undoubtedly be difficult. Please God. Give me strength.”
Such is the sort of story Perpetua may have written in her journals. We have some of her journals, you know.
As time went on it became increasingly obvious that freedom for Perpetua was not ever meant to be. She was indeed imprisoned in the darkest of dungeons, but as her faith increased, the darkness became to her as the palace of a King. Here it was that she could walk and talk with her Savior. Here it was that she continually laid her future at his blessed feet.
One day, soldiers came to escort her into the presence of the judge. There beside him stood her father. In her father’s arms her infant son, who reached with his entire body in the direction of his mother. How she would have loved to hold him, to have smelled his baby hair, to cradle his tiny baby body close to her own. But she could not. Her soul had been bought and paid for by One whose own sacrifice was beyond her own, and thus it was that Perpetua stayed firm throughout the numerous entreaties on the part of her father to renounce her faith so that she could rejoin those whom she loved. When Perpetua refused to respond to her father’s pleadings, the judge had him stripped right there in front of her and beaten with rods. How it hurt her to see her father treated so but her allegiance to Christ prevented her from acting in any manner inconsistent with her Christian confession of faith. And so it was that the evil judge condemned her, after he had beaten her father, to be sacrificed to the wild beasts.
The reader might be tempted to think that this terrible death sentence might dissuade the young Perpetua. It did not. It only strengthened her resolve. When the guards in the prison cut back on the food allotted to Christians, she taunted them with sayings like, “Shouldn’t you be fattening us up if you intend to sacrifice us to hungry beasts?”. And she wrote. She wrote of visions given her by God in those final days before her death. In one vision, she was stepping on the head of a dragon, who was, as she said, “certainly the serpent of old.”. There was also a Shepherd in her dreams, the one whose name is above every name, who would be welcoming her into her heavenly abode. Death was merely a door, and on the other side, the King of glory awaited her.
In addition to writing about the comfort the Lord was giving her while imprisoned, Perpetua used her writing to talk about familiar things like babies and nursing, being a mom and all the things she loved about being part of a family. She was a Christian who believed wholly and completely in the sovereignty of God, and God had not made a mistake, she knew, when He appointed her to die at the tender young age of 21. He had a purpose. She was certain of it. And she was determined to fulfill that purpose though it cost her everything.
She hadn’t long to wait to give her all. As her torment0rs prepared her for execution, she refused to wear clothing dedicated to pagan gods, so great was her resolve to stand firm in her beliefs. As she entered the arena, the man who had condemned her to die stood nearby. She addressed him boldly. “You may have judged us, but God Himself will judge you.”. And then she went courageously to meet her death.
For Perpetua, death did not come quickly. A mad cow tossed her and her young friend and fellow Christian, Felicity, around on it’s horns and instead of killing them both, only wounded them. Soldiers had to slit the throats of both the young women to bring relief and death. But through the courage and the tenacity of these young girl’s faith, others were inspired to stand firm in their faith when they too were called upon to name the name of Christ and die or to deny him and live long lives.
Faith that costs is transformational. Faith that costs inspires. Faith that costs is noble faith. And faith that costs has the power to transform the world. Do you want to transform the world with the Gospel of Jesus Christ? Then live a faith that costs you something. Seek to be bold in your profession and the living out of your faith even though you stand alone. God can and will use men and women who are sold out to him. And who knows? Someday your name and your story might be being read to men and women in a distant part of the world as an example of one who was not afraid to sacrifice everything for the sake of the Gospel.