A few days ago I was privileged to visit the Colosseum in Rome. Standing and looking at those ancient but still magnificent ruins, the architecture of towering and imposing walls brought many thoughts to mind.
If you can shut out the clamour and jostling of the thousands of tourists who throng the place (how many I wonder see it simply as a ‘Bucket list’ tick), it is a place of sombre and melancholy reflection. How many in those crowds think of what happened here, or understand that this was Rome’s equivalent of Wembley Stadium, or a USA Super Bowl venue, or the Melbourne Cricket Ground. That is, it was basically a place of sport, of ‘entertainment’ (although we might not see it as that), indeed in a sense it still is, as tourists pay millions to be ‘entertained’ by viewing this ancient structure.
The darker reality is that the Colosseum was a place of blood sports, where crowds gathered to be entertained, to watch professional Gladiators fight against each other or against slaves (often political prisoners) and also where slaves were forced to fight wild animals. These were extremely bloody and frequently fatal affairs.
The Colosseum is a sobering place, because many of those who died there were Christians who, because they were considered a threat to society, were thrown to wild animals or forced to fight Gladiators- all to provide ‘entertainment’ for the crowds. The reality is that in the Colosseum, Christians fought and died for their faith, and their voices are still speaking to us down the years.
Of course, it was not just in Rome that the Games were held and Christians killed for their faith but throughout the Empire, for example in Carthage, north Africa. One particular story from there is that of a young mother named Perpetua, with a newly born baby, who was arrested for her faith. For her life to be spared it was demanded of her, as of all Romans, that she renounce her faith in Christ and agree to the demand required of all Roman citizens that she worship the Emperor (in effect the state). She responded with these words-
“Neither can I call myself anything else than what I am – a Christian. I suffer what I’m suffering now, but then there will be another in me, who will suffer for me, because I am about to suffer for Him.”
This incredibly brave young mother was then stripped naked and with many others forced into the arena to face wild bulls and there standing for Christ was where she met her death (and then her Lord).
Standing looking at the Colosseum begs the question of this place of sombre melancholy, how many Christians died for their faith here, and in other Roman Games? Then the mind takes flight and travels down the centuries glimpsing the lives of countless others who standing for Christ, were persecuted and died for Him in order to keep the gospel flame alive. The flame that was carried to Europe, to the New World, to Australia. The flame that founded and shaped the beneficial societies in which we have been blessed to live. The flame that in historical ignorance, intellectual insanity and spiritual myopia is now being extinguished by the badly misnamed ‘intelligentsia’, the majority of the print and electronic media, and the educational ‘experts’ who believe, in true ‘Adamesque’ stupidity, that they ‘know a better way’.
But Perpetua and those like her, for example the reformation martyrs staked and burning, the Celtic missionaries enduring severe hardship that we might receive the gospel are the ones upon whose shoulders we stand, because of whose faith we reap blessing and inspiration. Yes, from those aged walls of Colosseum antiquity voices speak down the centuries to us, of faith, the faith of those tested there and proven true.
But now, the flame barely flickers, the faith of the western Church of St Lukewarm’s and its members is a weak, pale shadow of those Colosseum voices the winds of the centuries carry to us. As the faith of Jesus is once more alleged ‘a threat to the state’ would we refuse to reject Christ at the price of wild bulls or burning stakes, would we give our all for the one who gave his all for us?
Are we of the mettle of those distant voices? It may not be long before we are put to that test.