I closed my eyes and waited. Today was the day we would die in the arena. Not long ago, I had been asked to throw incense to Caesar and call him that which no mere man was… call him a god. But, Jesus was Lord. Jesus is always Lord. He never changes. Caesar was a mere mortal, a son of man who would wither like the grass. By the grace of God, we who confessed Jesus as Lord would not die; rather, we who die with Him will also live with Him.
Only God knew what awaited any of us in the arena. Sometimes, it made my blood run cold. But, I knew Jesus was with me. As frightening as it could be, considered in the flesh, this was an honor of which I was not worthy: to be a witness of the Lord. The thought that I would die for Him – it was inconceivable, unbearable joy. And then… I would see Him! I couldn’t imagine it. I’d fall at His feet and beg His forgiveness for not loving Him better. I knew He’d forgive me. I just couldn’t believe it. To finally see Him whom I loved – Him who had died for me! It was so wonderful it was scary. Scary in a happy way, but I’m not sure it’s not as scary as the arena. Peter’s words were so perfect. He’d said, “You believe in Him though you have not seen Him. You love Him though you do not see Him now. And, so, you are filled with joy, inexpressible and full of glory, as you are receiving the goal of your faith: the salvation of your souls.”
In the darkness near me, someone was singing softly. “The Son is the image of the invisible God and the firstborn over all creation. For in Him and through Him all things were made…” he hummed.
The door swung open. Soldiers made us move out into the passage. Together, we all drew in a deep breath of fresh air and sang. “Though He was, in very being, God…”
This was why we were here! This was why we were Christians! This was why we did not count our lives dear! O Jesus, I thought. I couldn’t get over it. He was God and He died on a cross for me. I knew there was far more there than I could ever get to the bottom of. Whatever suffering awaited us, whatever suffering we had endured, it was nothing. Nothing at all!
“And gave Him the Name that is above every name…” The Hebrew Christians had explained about the Name. “… every tongue will proclaim that Jesus is Lord…”
The last doors… the gate to the arena… swung open. We were going to sing this again! Little did we know the shock, the horror, that lay ahead of us.
A moment later, I was in a large hall. It took me a while to realize what was going on. Before us, a bunch of children stood solemnly with some adults. They were dressed in strange clothes. Everything was unlike anything I’d ever seen. “Lucia, what’s going on?” my brother asked, tugging on my shawl. I didn’t answer. I’d been about to ask the same thing.
“I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America,” the group recited. I had no idea what that meant. United States? America? Where were we? This could not be an arena in Rome!
“…and to the Republic for which it stands…” I did know about Republics. “… one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
I knew I was seeing blasphemy and idolatry. It seemed like this was these people’s equivalent for throwing incense to Caesar. They worshiped their nation. I had no idea what “United States” or “America” meant, and I didn’t know what they meant by “indivisible,” but it was clear: “One nation under God.” They considered their nation to be a kind of demi-god or priest. They were solemnly pledging it their hearts’ allegiance. I’d told the Romans I would respect Caesar as my ruler. Even though he had us arrested, tortured, and killed, it was God’s will for him to be Emperor. But allegiance? Jesus was my King. Heaven was my kingdom. And then… “with liberty and justice for all.” O God, I prayed, please help these people to see Your truth. It’s so sad that they’re looking to their nation for salvation. It’s an affront to Your Majesty, too, since only You can give freedom, justice, and salvation. And, You will. You will provide justice for the peoples. O God, I fear Your judgment. Lord, have mercy.
I knew what had happened now. Like He did with Philip the Evangelist, God’s Spirit had carried us to a distant place so we could preach the Gospel here. I still had no idea just how horrible this would be.
“What is the first goal of Awana?” someone asked. I was totally unprepared for what came next.
“To reach young people with the Gospel of Jesus Christ!” the children responded in unison.
I recoiled as if struck. I fell against the wall. God! I pleaded, unable to pray. What did these people think they were doing? Had I gone mad? Was I imagining it all?
No, I heard God’s Spirit whisper to my soul. This horror is real.
A man named Alexander was striding forward. “How can you do this?” he demanded. “How can you give into fear and the Devil and still call yourselves Christians, and this with no repentance?”
It wasn’t just that they gave into fear once, when tested. I knew of some who had denied the Lord when tried, but they had returned to confess Jesus. It reminded me of our song. “If we deny Him, He will also deny us. If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself.” No, it was that this was obviously a way of life for them! First they worshiped the flag. Then, they did Awana, whatever that was, but it was about whatever they meant by “the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”
I thought I would die. I wondered how Jesus felt when the people whom God had prepared to receive Him condemned Him to death for being who He was – God’s Son. These people were like the chief priests when they’d condemned God’s Son to death and then avoided Pilate’s palace for fear of ceremonial uncleanness. Then, they’d cried, “We have no king but Caesar!”
A lump formed in my throat. Jesus had chosen, freely, to endure all of that for me. He’d even been betrayed by His friend. He could have chosen to be arrested and crucified by the Romans without being betrayed with a kiss and condemned and mocked by His own people. O Jesus, thank You, I prayed.
If the Romans had decided to crucify me, I would have begged them not to; I was too unworthy. I would have been ashamed.
Copyright 2018 Raina Nightingale