Equipping the End-time Church
How does the Lord equip His church for days of great persecution, days of great deception? The great “faith” chapter of the scriptures, Hebrews 11, reviews saint after saint who walked in faith, who conquered. Then it continues on in verse 35 to those who “were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection. Still others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented…”
And what is the summation of all this? How does it come into our own lives?
“Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us…” Hebrews 12:1
The lives of those who went before us are not works of art meant to inspire awe or be revered, nor are they quiet things to be kept between dusty pages and perused every so often as one would review an ancient text. Perpetua, Felicitas, Saturninus—indeed, all martyrs and witnesses from the past—were humans as vitally alive and as varied in their pain tolerance as you, or I, or our brethren in Indonesia (or North Korea, etc.) who are the ones currently being beaten and imprisoned and impoverished.
The stories of brothers and sisters already received into the Lord’s embrace are passed down to us for a far greater purpose than historical knowledge or religious hagiography. We gain from their faith; we are spurred on by their struggle; we find victory in their triumphs. When we see the Lord Jesus strengthening them to endure the oppression we think we could never face well, our own faith and our own endurance are built; and it will take endurance to finish the race we are in.
Perpetua’s story, and those like it, is meant to equip the church. There have been those before us who successfully endured persecution, who finished the race they had started, who fought the good fight. And these ones have not been any different than we are. When they said “yes” to God, He gave them the endurance to end well. When we say “yes” to God, He will give us the same. Hagiography is simply this: allowing ourselves to be surrounded by a great—by such a great—cloud of witnesses.