In the summer of 2006, thanks to the generosity of my church and cell group, I had the opportunity to live out one of my dreams: studying at Oxford University. One day as I was walking to class, I glanced across the street and saw something that took by breath away. It was this:
University Church of St. Mary the Virgin! Ok, you may not be as excited as I was that day, but there was a reason for my giddiness. I had only read about this church and seen pictures in books and now I was standing across the street! How in the world could I have walked to school every day that week and missed it? This church is one of the most historic churches in all Christendom. The present buildings range in date from the 13th to 17th centuries (can you imagine the “new addition” was built in 1637?) and those walls have witnessed some of the greatest minds and hearts deliver sermons – Thomas Cranmer, John and Charles Wesley, John Henry Newman, John Keble, Desmond Tutu and, of course, C. S. Lewis.
So you can understand my desire to go inside. I looked at my watch. I had only a few minutes before class started, but I didn’t care. (The lecture that day was on Freud’s theory of personhood, not a lecture I minded being late for or missing entirely. I’m not a Freud fan.)
If you will notice, on the first pillar on the left side there is a plaque above a notch that has been carved out of the pillar. This is where a stage was built during the English Reformation of the 16th century. On that stage Bishop Thomas Cranmer was condemned to death for his refusal to recant his Protestant faith. (Well, he had recanted earlier, but he recanted his recantation. It’s a long story…)
Anyway, they took Cranmer and bishops Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley down the street to a stake to be burned. As the story goes, Latimer and Ridley were tied back to back at the stake. As the fire began to burn, Bishop Ridley cried out in pain, to which Latimer said “Play the man, Master Ridley, for tonight we shall light such a fire in all of England that shall never be quenched!” Can you imagine? They are dying yet talking about lighting a fire that will never end! As soon as things get just a little difficult for me, I’m crying about how hard it is. I don’t even like going to the dentist!
I made my way to the location of their deaths. As I stood there in front of a monument to their death, I was overcome by a question that haunts me to this day: do I know anything about being persecuted for Jesus? What would I have done?
The inscription on the monument references the words of the Apostle Paul in Philippians 1:29 “For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him but also to suffer for him…” So many times I, like you, feel like quitting and giving up, but each time, I remember my brothers who gave their bodies to be burned. They didn’t give up. They didn’t quit. And now they have an eternal reward. Don’t give up! God is with you!
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