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A "CONQUERING" FAITH


The following story comes from Hank Hanegraaff's book, "The Last Disciple" (which refers to the Apostle John, the last one of the 12 to die). It is set within the historical context of first century Rome's persecution of the church. Leah is the sister of a young Christian named Nathan whom Caesar has sentenced to death by the wild beasts in the amphitheater.


A cacophony of sounds assailed Leah in the darkness beneath the amphitheater, sounds of quiet desperation. Groaning. Fear. Beyond those sounds coming from the prison cells on each side of the tunnel, she heard the occasional distant roar of animals trained to do the executing later.


She wanted to be brave. Needed to be brave. For Nathan.


She lifted the hem of her dress, blocked out her fear, and moved deeper into the darkness. As she left the shafts of light behind, the air seemed to close in on her, and her throat tightened as smells of suffering added to the sensation of smothering-body wastes accumulated at each cell, vomit, and the cloying, nauseating sweetness of alcohol from those fortunate few with enough money to bribe the guards and acquire the numbing forgetfulness from wine.


In this terrible labyrinth of doom and death, as darkness fell on Rome Leah began to search for her brother.


When she finally found Nathan, Leah expected to see the same despair that she'd seen in the other cells crowded with prisoners as she had peered inside, straining her eyes in the dimness to find her brother.


The prisoners gathered in her brother's cell, however, were not catatonic or drunk or wailing like those condemned to the arena for murder or robbery or arson. Instead, they were quietly singing hymns as they held hands. They were men and women and children, a dozen of them, making a joyous sound that seemed to brighten the cell as surely as if each had been holding a candle.


...


Nathan {speaking to Leah} closed his eyes briefly, "I wish so badly that you would understand. It is not turning away from the faith of our fathers. Jesus is the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets and the promises of God." He opened his eyes. "I'm sorry. You've heard me say that many times. I will continue to pray that you ... find this faith."


Leah did not understand. Here was Nathan. In a horrible cell. Facing a horrible death. And he prayed for others to share his faith? ...


{Nathan speaking} "It is faith in the resurrected Christ that gives us hope through all tribulations."


She gestured at the prison cell. Helpless. Hopeless. "Even through this?"


He was emphatic and looked her directly in the eye. "We willingly face brandished steel, the lion's gore, the tunica molesta because we follow the Christ and we are utterly convinced that we, like our Master, will one day rise from the grave in resurrected, glorified bodies."


Leah bowed her head. Rubbed her face. What was it about her bother's faith that made him so resolute yet so joyful?


{Nathan speaking} "The people who are destined for prison will be arrested and taken away," Nathan whispered. He'd reached through the bars with both hands and gently cradled her face. "Those who are destined for death will be killed. But do not be dismayed, for here is your opportunity to have endurance and faith." These are the words of John, the last disciple of our savior ... and he has given us comfort."


"What is our destiny? ... For all of us, is it not death? ... I'm not afraid of dying, Leah. I am afraid that my family will never understand what faith in Jesus means. The real tragedy is not to die young. The real tragedy is to live a long life and never use it in service of the Master. If my death leads you to eternal life--"


Nathan took a deep breath. He, too, was fighting tears. "I am heartbroken too. But if I have been called to be a witness in the arena with the others who believe, I cannot deny my Savior."


...{After the Christians are led into the arena}


Instantly, the beasts stopped the frenzied circling and responded by crouching. The crowd became silent as the moment of horror approached. In this silence, a sound rose from the sand. It took several moments for Leah to realize that her brother had begun to sing a beautiful hymn. Others on the sand joined with him, and their voices rose like a choir.


This serenity and peace were not the reaction that the mob had expected, and the silence of the audience continued, more from surprise than anything. The words of the hymn became more clear as the men and women poured joy into their singing.


A few lions crept closer.


Her brother fell to his knees and clasped his hands in prayer.


The boldest lion suddenly leaped forward.


Leah... turned her head and closed her eyes in that last moment as the lion closed in on her brother with outstretched claws.



One of the subtle yet powerful undercurrent's of Hanegraaff's book is Rome's failure to comprehend the source of joy, strength, and courage the Christ-followers possessed in the face of Nero's (and others) reign of terror. THAT SOURCE, THE PRESENCE OF THE RESURRECTED CHRIST, IS THE HEART AND SOUL OF OUR ABILITY TO OVERCOME AND MAINTAIN A TESTIMONY. The Romans did not understand that "conquering" did not mean victorious in battle but faithfulness to the end and its impending reward.

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