By all accounts, he was a tenderhearted young man when he first came into power. The thought of putting a man to death was, in fact, repulsive to him.
But suspicions within his inner circle began to dramatically change Emperor Nero. Everyone became a threat, and he quickly learned to enjoy murder: his son, wife and mother all became victims of his brutality. One July evening in A.D. 64, Nero, out of sheer boredom, set Rome on fire. The city remained ablaze for nine days. Needing a scapegoat, Nero blamed Christians for the disaster and set in motion the first-ever government-supported persecution of Christians in world history. Nine other such persecutions took place in the Roman Empire alone over the next 250 years. An estimated 330,000 Christians were tortured and killed in Rome during that period.
When we think of persecution, our minds travel to dark times in the distant past – and it quickly loses relevance. It may surprise you, then, to learn that of the over 69 million estimated Christian martyrs worldwide since Jesus’ resurrection, nearly half were killed for their faith in just 36 years – from 1914-1950, a time spanning two World Wars and the rise of communism. Another 13.3 million have died since then.
Martyrdom is very much a modern-day reality. Yet in America, we have no concept of truly putting our lives on the line for God. Really, most of us haven’t even faced minor persecution. But as this country continues its slippery slide into moral oblivion, our beliefs are only going to be more-openly despised. As Christians, we need to be willing to take a stand and know what we believe – no matter the cost. This begins by studying the Bible and letting it define who we are. Here are three steps vital to making that happen.
First, become a pupil of the Word. For a believer to get into the Bible and gain a working knowledge of Scripture, apart from Sunday School or a church sermon, is a rarity in today’s society filled with distraction. You must dig deeply into the Bible yourself, and do it often.
Next, become a practitioner of the Word. This means you apply the teachings of the Bible in your home — in the raising of your children, in how you spend your money, in making your marriage strong and healthy. God’s Word speaks to these issues, and so much more. Discover what Scripture says, and put it into practice.
Finally, become a champion of the Word. Be ready and prepared with a balanced, Biblical response to pressing social issues such as same-sex unions, abortion, euthanasia and human cloning, just to name a few. Share the truth of God’s Word. But don’t be surprised if you encounter opposition. Remember Nehemiah? A group of men were fiercely against the rebuilding of the wall around Jerusalem. They challenged Nehemiah, did everything they could to undermine him, and ultimately tried to harm him. How did Nehemiah respond? He spoke the vision God had given him, and he stayed at work on the wall. He didn’t get sidetracked by the opposition, but stood boldly against it.
Are you willing to give your life for the Gospel? Perhaps you’ll never have to test the answer to that question in your lifetime. But you can give your life to the Gospel. Become passionate for His Word today!
The account of Emperor Nero and the statistics on Christian martyrdom were taken from Jesus Freaks, Vol. II by dc talk and the Voice of the Martyrs, Copyright 2002 by Bethany House Publishers, pages 65-66; 312-353.
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