Dirk Willems was arrested in his hometown of Asperen, Netherlands in 1569. His crime – choosing to be re-baptized as a devoted follower of Christ and hosting worship services in his home – was completely unacceptable to the religious and governmental leaders of his day. The young Dutchman was carted off to a palace that had been converted into a prison to stand trial alongside other religious “troublemakers.”
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It was built to entertain the ruthless masses of the Roman Empire. The mighty Coliseum stood in the heart of Rome and played host to the gladiatorial games that would end up costing the lives of thousands upon thousands of contestants.
But the death toll rose even more when the Coliseum was used to kill followers of Jesus.
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The car had no sooner left its driveway when it was suddenly attacked by terrorists bent on assassination. The killers mercilessly sprayed the vehicle with gunfire as neighbors dove for cover.
When the smoke cleared, a powerful advocate for Pakistani Christians lay in a puddle of his own blood.
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Anne Askew didn’t raise a family. She never made large sums of money. She couldn’t even claim a solid reputation as her own. Instead, she was burned at the stake for crimes she committed against the state.
As ludicrous as it may sound, most of those crimes revolved around her understanding of the Lord’s Supper.
Plagues were fairly common in ancient times, and the microscopic germs that caused them could do more damage than an advancing army. In 260 AD, an outbreak of disease struck the Roman Empire with such severity that thousands were dying in the capital city each day!
The suffering was enormous and would reveal stark differences between Christians and non-believers.
Around 175 AD, a girl of noble descent named Perpetua was born at Carthage, which happened to be the epicenter of Christianity’s growth in northern Africa. Believing Christianity undermined Roman patriotism, Emperor Septimius Severus began a focused persecution of the Christians in that province.
Perpetua and a few friends were immediately arrested…but that was only the beginning of their troubles.
His name was Justin and he lived a century after Jesus. He experienced a powerful conversion and then spent his life arguing for Christianity’s legitimacy. In 165 A.D., he was beheaded for his faith in Christ, and has since been known as Justin Martyr.
But before he died, he wrote something that has guided the church for 2,000 years.
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The gladiatorial fights of the Roman Empire have been immortalized in our culture as tremendous battles between individual combatants, whole troops, and even wild animals. Images of weapon-wielding warriors fill our minds when we look at the mighty Coliseum.
But 1,600 years ago, a frail, unarmed man stepped into the amphitheater and changed everything.