Second Corinthians 4:7-10 greets me each morning as I fumble for the key that unlocks my office. It is the superscription below a picture that hangs on the wall opposite my door. The picture and the verse arrest my attention and focus my perspective of why I am here—today—on this planet—at this very moment.
The scene is a sporting event. The stadium is filled with people—not an empty seat to be found. The sky is darkening and the lights are slowly coming on. The crowd roars in anticipation as the home team enters the field. There is no doubt as to what will be the outcome. If you or I were sitting in the bleachers this would be our perspective of the event about to be played out before our eyes. The problem with perspective is that what you see is not always reality.
The scene I witness each day is not the perspective of the crowd but the reality of the visiting team. For them this is not a sporting event. Rather, it is life and death. A doomed little group of men, women, boys, and girls are huddled near the wall on the floor of the Coliseum in first century Rome. Their names are not stitched on their jerseys, but everyone in attendance knows exactly who they are.
The gods of the city sit perched on the Palatine Hills and the Forum above the great stadium like modern day team owners in their sky boxes. The blood lust roar of the crowd erupts and the place is electrified as the great cats slowly enter the dirt floor, signaling the beginning of the main event.
As the evening shadows fall, a man dressed in red, lights the tar-soaked bodies of men who have been crucified all around the perimeter of the stadium floor. Their brutalized bodies will provide the light needed to illuminate the horrific events about to unfold just inches below their nailed-pierced feet.
In this terrifying scene painted by Jean Leon Gerome (The Christian Martyrs’ Last Prayer), a gentle peace seems to hover over the tiny group kneeling near the wall. They are praying…they are Christ-followers—real Christians. This is the church. These are the shoulders on which we stand, the fathers and the mothers who at the cost of their very lives passed on what we claim to preach, teach, and believe. These were the martyrs who chose to experience a violent death rather than live a lie and renounce their Lord or recant their faith. These were the ones whose blood became the seed of the Church (Tertullian). Their treasure—their hope—was not in their children or their possessions or even their own lives. Roman crosses could not kill it. The fires could not consume it. The lions could not devour it. Their hope was not a religion—their hope was the Christ who had overcome the cross and would deliver them through the fire and out of the mouths of the wild beasts. They were not just dying for their faith; they were living out their faith in a magnificent display even to the very end.
So…what is your treasure—your hope? What are you carrying around in the clay pot that is you? Is it worth dying for? If so, don’t just talk about it—live it! Let your treasure be a reality to the crowd and not just a perception in your head. You never know who might be watching.
“But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the surpassing greatness of the power may be of God and not from ourselves; we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the dying of Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body.”
2 Cor. 4:7-10