This text is apart of the HIStory project, created by the Shine As Lights KIDScast. Click here to hear the original audio
Early Expansion Into Northern Africa
It was only natural for the gospel to begin to expand and invade the extended areas of the Roman Empire. God chose to send His Savior at a time in history where good news could travel and reach far and wide. The Romans had built roads throughout their empire and as they continued to expand, they continued to build and bring a form of peace which allowed for both land and sea travel to be used for their own purposes, as well as God’s. One such area where the boundaries were pushed was into Northern Africa. Thriving communities were established in this area which began to be quite prosperous because of their fertile farming fields and access to oceanic trade.
“This woman shared in, both, the graces and sufferings of Christ.”
It’s in the midst of this community that the seeds of the gospel began to spread and take root (which most believe as early as 60A.D.). By the turn of the third century a thriving Christian church had arisen. God had raised up more than 100 Overseers of his church in the provinces of Northern Africa including notable church fathers such as Tertillian, Cyprian and, later, Augustine but today we are going to hear the story of someone a little less known than these. Maybe less known to us but surely not less known to God, for this woman shared in, both, the graces and sufferings of Christ.
A Sword, Dividing Families And Empires
Do you remember when Jesus told his followers that one day his truth would divide households? That some of them would even have to choose between their love for Him and their own families? I know that’s a challenging thing to think about, but those words would ring true in the life of a noblewoman named Perpetua. At this time in history, there was an Emperor named Septimus Severus who ruled over an area called Carthage, which was where Perpetua lived. What you need to know about the leaders in Rome is that while they were pretty lenient about letting people have their own religious convictions, there was one area to which they would not compromise. Above all, Caesar was Lord. Their ruler was to be the ultimate ruler and he was even seen as a god. To them, you could worship other gods besides Caesar, but you must sacrifice and pledge your allegiance, above all, to lord Caesar. This, over and over again became the conflict between the early Christians and Rome. Jesus, not Caesar, is LORD of all and they absolutely would not back down from spreading this message. Naturally Emperor Serverus saw this as a threat to his province especially since the Christians and their influence continued to grow and grow. New converts were popping up everyday and he vowed to stamp them out!
She Was Brought To Life
One of the first to be arrested in this wave of persecution was Perpetua. She was a mother in her young twenty’s who had a servant named Felicitas. Up until recently, she was a pagan, which means she worshiped the common idols of her day. But that changed. She had heard the good news of Jesus, The Messiah, and her heart was changed. Enamored by The Savior who gave His own life to rescue others and who had the power to rise from the dead and forgive sins, she pledged her life to him and was preparing to be baptized (along with Falicitas, who also believed). It was at this point, as a new believer, when she and her servant were arrested. She was ripped from her family and thrown into prison. Hearing word of this, her father came to her in prison because he knew exactly how to get her out. It’s simple, Perpetua: deny that you are a Christian. But Perpetua’s answer was not what her father expected. “Father do you see this vase here?” she replied. “Could it be called by any other name than what it is?” “No,” he replied.“Well, neither can I be called anything other than what I am, a Christian.” This filled him with anger and he left.After a few days, and some incredible provision from God, Perpetua was allowed the waters of baptism and then the deacons from her church even convinced the guards to let her move to a better section of the prison so that she could breast-feed her son, who they brought to her.
“Well, neither can I be called anything other than what I am, a Christian.”– Perpetua
Her Fate, Foretold
Perpetua writes of a vision she had while in prison of a bronze ladder ascending up into the heavens. At the base of this latter was a fiery dragon who would attack any who attempted to climb and upon each wrung were swords, knives, and instruments of war so as to hurt and discourage those who decided to ascend. She saw one reach the top and turn back to her saying “Perpetua, I’m waiting for you but take care; do not let the dragon bite you.” “He will not harm me”, she said, “In the name of Jesus Christ”. She then began to walk towards the latter and the dragon slowly stuck its head out as if it were afraid of her. She stepped on its head and went up. At the conclusion of her vision, she reached the top and saw a man dressed as a shepherd sitting in a massive garden and surrounded by thousands dressed in white. He looked at her and said “I am glad you have come, my Child” he gave her sweet milk and as she drank it the crowds yelled “AMEN!”
Perpetua took all this to mean that their lives were coming to an end and they would enter the presence of Christ through suffering. As her trial approached her father continued to visit and plead with her. “Have pity on my gray head. Have pity on me, your Father, if I deserve to be called your father, if I have favored you above all your brothers, if I have raised you to reach this prime of your life.” He would threw himself down before her and kissed her hands. “Do not abandon me to be the reproach of men. Think of your brothers; think of your mother and your aunt; think of your child, who will not be able to live once you are gone. Give up your pride!”
Before I tell you how Perpetua responded to this… can you imagine the temptation she must have felt, at this point, to just give in and not stand for her convictions? She knows how to get out and how to save herself…just deny Jesus… and her own Dad continues to beg her to do it but what do you think she does? Well, she was undoubtedly emotional over it all but she remained unshaken because of her great love for Jesus. Her answer to her father was this “It will all happen in the prisoner’s dock as God wills, for you may be sure that we are not left to ourselves but are all in his power”. And so her father, once again, left.
Sentenced To Death
The day of the hearing arrived, Perpetua and her friends were marched before the governor, Hilarianus. Her friends were questioned first, and each in turn admitted to being a Christian, and each in turn refused to make a sacrifice to the Emperors false god. The governor, now turned to question Perpetua. At that moment, her father, carrying Perpetua’s son in his arms, burst into the room. He grabbed Perpetua and pleaded, “Perform the sacrifice. Have pity on your baby!” Hilarianus, probably wishing to avoid the unpleasantness of executing a mother who was still nursing a child, added, “Have pity on your father’s gray head; have pity on your infant son. Offer the sacrifice for the welfare of the emperor. “Perpetua replied simply: “I will not.”
“Are you a Christian then?” asked the governor. “Yes I am,” Perpetua replied. Her father interrupted again, begging her to sacrifice, but the governor had heard enough: he ordered soldiers to beat him into silence. He then condemned Perpetua and her friends to die in the arena. Their death was a particularly brutal one to which I will spare you the details but I can tell you that the records indicate that they all faced it bravely and uncompromisingly. Perpetua, in particular, sang psalms and showed daunting courage in the face of death by standing each time she was knocked over and even helping the others rise back up to face both animals and finally the sword.
Rejoicing In The Hope Of Christ
The new-life and death of Perpetua shows us the power of the gospel and the incredible love-of-Jesus that, when we truly understand it, we realize there is nothing in the world (not family, nor wealth, nor comfort, nor anything) that we would put before Him. Perpetua, like countless others who have given their lives for the sake of Jesus, knew that death is an upgrade for the Christian. Jesus promised that his followers would be persecuted, even unto death, but along with that promise was that His Spirit would never leave or forsake them and when they passed on, they would come into His presence with eternal life. We too, have this promise and can look to the courage and strength of examples like her to increase our own faith, by God’s grace. This is our family, these are our, stories!!
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