Foxe’s Book of Martyrs. According to this summary from Christian Book Summaries,
Writing in the mid-1500s, John Foxe was living in the midst of intense religious persecution at the hands of the dominant Roman Catholic Church. In graphic detail, he offers accounts of Christians being martyred for their belief in Jesus Christ, describing how God gave them extraordinary courage and stamina to endure unthinkable torture.
From the same link, the book’s purpose was fourfold:
- Showcase the courage of true believers who have willingly taken a stand for Jesus Christ throughout the ages, even if it meant death,
- Demonstrate the grace of God in the lives of those martyred for their faith,
- Expose the ruthlessness of religious and political leaders as they sought to suppress those with differing beliefs,
- Celebrate the courage of those who risked their lives to translate the Bible into the common language of the people.
Text from Foxe’s Book of Martyrs
We are looking at the ten primitive persecutions. Foxe developed his chronicle in chapters from the first martyr, Stephen, in chapter 1: “History of Christian Martyrs to the First General Persecutions Under Nero” and now we are nearing the end of chapter 2: “The Ten Primitive Persecutions“. This brings us up to 303AD.
Vitus of Sicily was taught the principles of Christianity by a nurse who raised him. When his pagan father, Hylas, discovered this, he tried to convert him to paganism but failed. To appease his gods for his son’s insults to their deity, he sacrificed Vitus to them on June 14, 303.
I looked at just one man today, Vitus. I want to examine the nature of the family relationship for a moment.
The bible says, “You will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and some of you they will put to death.” (Luke 21:16)
This became a sad truth for Vitus, but also a joyous one. He died for the name of Christ! And he is given the Crown of Life, also known as the Martyr’s Crown. (Revelation 2:8-11, James 1:12)
We often believe that family ties are the strongest ties we can have on earth, but it is not true. We read old secular proverbs like”Blood is thicker than water”, indicating that family ties will outlast and be stronger than any other ties. We read Mario Puzo’s book The Godfather and the indelible memory of Vito Corleone’s son Michael (another Vito from Sicily, this one fictional) saying “Fredo, you’re my older brother, and I love you. But don’t ever take sides with anyone against the Family again. Ever.”
But we know what happened there, money was thicker than blood, and poor Fredo went fishing…and then slept with the fishes.
The family is an institution Christ set up in the garden. He married Adam and Eve and told them to be fruitful and multiply. He likened the sacrificial love of a husband for his wife and family to the love Christ has for His bride. And the same with the wife. Jewish progeny was supremely important in order to perpetuate the race and to keep the tribes intact. Deuteronomy 25:5 makes provision for keeping the family name alive, in commanding the widow of one brother to marry the other in case of death, so the name will be kept going.
All of this is beautiful and true. However, the fact is that whether a person is an unsaved person or a saved person, family is not the main relationship. Unsaved people serve satan, and when push comes to shove, the unsaved person will serve satan out of hate rather than their family out of love. Vitus is but one example. The Luke 21:16 verse proves that family ties will matter little when faced with a push from satan. Here are two more examples-
“They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.” (Luke 12:53)
“Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death,” (Matthew 10:21)
So the unsaved serve satan above his family. Alternately, the saved person serves Jesus above his family.
“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:26)
“And his mother and his brothers came, and standing outside they sent to him and called him. And a crowd was sitting around him, and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers are outside, seeking you.” And he answered them, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking about at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.” (Mark 3:31-35).
We should be aware that secular relationships are filled with betrayal, because they serve satan. Just look at abortion, putting babes in the fire for sacrifice to Molech. Infanticide is horrible and satanic.
Yet though Christian family relationships are modeled after Christ, and are a picture of the glory to come, they won’t last. As John Piper said in his tremendous sermon Single in Christ: A Name Better Than Sons and Daughters, when we attain heaven, there will be no marriage. We will not marry nor procreate. Our relationships will be complete. Through Christ, we will be one family. We won’t need the picture when we are face to face. Here is a snippet from Piper’s sermon, where he is outlining his main points:
- That the family of God grows not by propagation through sexual intercourse, but by regeneration through faith in Christ;
- That relationships in Christ are more permanent, and more precious, than relationships in families (and, of course, it is wonderful when relationships in families are also relationships in Christ; but we know that is often not the case);
- That marriage is temporary, and finally gives way to the relationship to which it was pointing all along: Christ and the church—the way a picture is no longer needed when you see face to face;
- That faithfulness to Christ defines the value of life; all other relationships get their final significance from this. No family relationship is ultimate; relationship to Christ is.
For poor martyred Vitus was killed by his father in the name of a satanic god, but Vitus held fast to the value of a relationship with Christ, His true Father. Vitus not only attained the crown of life, but look what else is given to Vitus, and to all of us:
“And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life.” (Matthew 19:29)
You and I will have a hundred-fold mothers, and not just any mothers, perfect mothers. Perfect brothers and perfect sisters and perfect children…
While your blood ties on earth are temporary and imperfect, and even if you have experienced betrayal and heartbreak, awaiting you in heaven is the perfect family. What a blessing we can have a taste of that family life now, in the family of Christ on earth. The family of God is eternal and everlasting and forever, amen.