Excerpt from the class “Christ is Everything to His Followers.” Also used in pastoral care, counseling, and prison ministry.
Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me….My times are in your hands; deliver me from the hands of my enemies, from those who pursue me….They triumphed over Satan by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death. (Psalms 23:4; 31:15; Revelation 12:11)
The Scriptures above reminds me of Perpetua (180-203 AD), a woman of faith in Christ. Perpetua was 22 at the time of her martyrdom, married, and well-educated. Her mother was a Christian; her father was a pagan. Perpetua was a new follower of Jesus, not yet baptized at the time of her imprisonment. She and fellow believers suffered together in Carthage (modern-day Tunisia, North Africa) because of their allegiance to Christ, God’s Son made flesh.
In 202 AD, the Roman emperor Septimius Severus prohibited conversions to Christianity. Perpetua, Felicitas (her servant), and other new believers were jailed and sentenced to die. Perpetua kept a journal, documenting the Lord’s care for her in prison, just as the Lord sustained Joseph in Bible times (Gen 39:2–23). Perpetua declared, “The dungeon became a palace to me and I would rather have been there than anywhere else.” In that depressing place, she enjoyed sweet spiritual fellowship with the Risen Jesus and His people. She learned to be content in Christ, even in the hardest of circumstances. Perpetua is an example for us.
Philippians 1:20-23 Now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far.
When Perpetua’s father begged her to deny Jesus, she said: “I cannot call myself any other than who I am, a Christian.” While in chains, Perpetua waited on Christ, no matter what. Whether she lived or died. Whether her imprisonment ended in release or martyrdom. When she realized that she was going to die, she accepted Christ’s providence for her, even though it was not what she wanted. On the evening before their martyrdom, the believers celebrated the Lord’s Supper, focusing on Christ’s historic death and resurrection for them, His present upholding them, and their future home in glory with Jesus. Then, approaching the arena, Perpetua sang Psalms in strength of the Holy Spirit. She died, trusting Christ, even as the crowds mocked her and her fellow believers. Perpetua and Felicitas were beheaded and the others were killed by wild dogs.
Christ Preserves All His Followers
Job lived during the days of Abraham and suffered in different ways than Perpetua. Yet he trusted in the same Lord as she did and said:
I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end He will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see Him with my own eyes–I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me! (Job 19:25-27)
Perpetua’s faith in Christ was very strong, but that’s not the biggest lesson I learn from her. My faith is often weak and wobbly. Thank God, Perpetua and all true believers are delivered by our strong and perfect Savior! Jesus saves us all through this life and brings us into the world to come to be with Him forever. Perpetua’s example reminds me of the Apostle Paul’s words before his martyrdom:
2 Timothy 4:7-8 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day– and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for His appearing.
Readiness to die for Christ leads to readiness, eagerness, intention to live in service to Him now. “We live by faith, not by sight….So we make it our goal to please Him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it.” (2 Corinthians 5:7,9)
Note: Perpetua story adapted from Christian History, Issue 37.