The cold, hard ground was pressing against his cheek. Stavius stirred from his uncomfortable postition, slowly becoming aware of the darkness around him. A girl's voice said, "He's waking up." "Shhhhh", cautioned a man's voice.
Stavius pushed himself to a sitting position and found a wall next to himself. "Where am I?" he asked. The man's voice responded, "You are in the cells below the coliseum. You were brought here last night by a Roman guard. How did you come to be put here?" "I am a follower of the one known as Jesus, The Christ." responded Stavius, "I was sharing about his good news in the home of a local believer." "You are a believer?" interrupted the man. "yes" "Then we are all believers here! My family and I were arrested four days ago. I am Bracchus, my wife Flavonia and my daughter Grecia are here with me also. We will all share the same fate, together."
Stavius' eyes were growing accustomed to the darkness and he could see his companions in the dim light coming through the cracks around the door. Light cast by the single torch in the passage outside their door. "May God's peace truly be with you. My name is Stavius. Whatever our fate, let us worship Christ our God and pray for strength to face any trials."
They knelt together on the floor of the dark cell and in the cold, damp room they began to pray for strength. While they were praying, they heard the approaching foorsteps. A bolt was thrown back and the door was flung open. "Time to play some games."the leader announced with a smile. Laughter sounded from the guards standing in the hallway. Looking at each other, Bracchus led the way and Stavius followed after the two women. Their footsteps echoed heavily in the passageway. After passing through several levels, the passageway began to lighten and they began to hear a murmuring sound like the roaring waters of the Tiber river as it passed over the rapids. The light seemed a lot brighter as they approached a junction in the passage. Turning the corner, they were confronted by huge barred doors. Brilliant light was streaming through a small opening at the top of the door.
The soldiers removed the bar and threw the door open. Instantly, the muffled roar became a tumult of shouting and laughter from the thousands seated above in the massive coliseum. The stands rose above them, tier after tier, and it looked as though already there was no space for even a small child to be added to the multitude of screaming spectators.
The soldiers thrust the group forward and marched them to the center of the coliseum where other men and women were being herded from other doors around the arena floor. Stavius knew they would all die that day by one means or another. He wondered what his fate would be? Rocks were thrown at them from above. Some people began yelling at those in the arena, their words lost in the roar of the excited crowd.
Above the tumult of the crowds sounded the fanfare of trumpets and a man robed in imperial purple entered a covered, raised platform in the front of the lowest tier. He was surrounded by soldiers. The people rose to their feet and became silent. The man in purple waved his hand and the people sat down quietly. Stavius watched with amazement. It was the first time he had seen the power of the Emperor firsthand and he was amazed at the willingness of the crowd to obey even the gestures of this earthly ruler, while ignoring a much greater, heavenly ruler.
A man rose to his feet next to the Emperor and facing those in the arena, he proclaimed, "In the Name of the Emperor of Rome, you have been charged with abandoning the God's of Rome and following the myths, created by the Jews, concerning a Nazarene named Jesus. In so doing you have set yourself against our Gods and the Emperor himself. You may disprove these charges or recant these dangerous beliefs by worshipping the Emperor and denouncing this Jew named Jesus." He sat down when he finished the proclamation and a small altar and brazier was put before the Emperor's seat. Stavius knew that all that had to be done was to burn a small amount of incense and to say that he did not believe in the myths of Jesus. It would be easy and he would live to serve God in spite of those actions.
Every eye in the coliseum was now riveted to the group of thirty to forty people in the center of the coliseum. Although rarely did anyone recant, the crowd waited breathlessly to see if someone would bow to the Emperor. A few people in the center of the arena looked as though they wanted to speak to one another but all remained motionless, as if stone. No one moved.
The Emperor leaned forward and signaled a soldier who disappeared down a staircase behind him and moments later a chill went through Stavius as he heard the muffled roars behind the huge doors on his left. Grecia, the daughter of Bacchus, took her fathers hand and then grasped the hand of Stavius. Lifting her tearful, yet joyful eyes to heaven she began to sing,
"Worthy, worthy, worthy is the Lamb that was slain.
To receive glory, honor, power and might..."
As the roars became louder the group formed a circle and arm in arm, they lifted their voices in the same song and joined together in worshipping Jesus, the Christ. The Messiah!
The crowd's jeering grew louder at the men and women standing in the arena. However their yelling didn't drown out the roars of the lions which were also growing louder. Suddenly the doors were flung open and five huge, tawny lions emerged into the bright light. Blinking their eyes, they began to circle the perimeter of the arena looking for a way to escape or attack the loud crowd above them. The crowd's excitement had risen to such a pitch that everyone was on their feet screaming at the lions to find those within the arena. Their frenzy and hatred erupted and rocks began to pelt Christian and lion alike.
"Kill them! Kill them!" The crowd screamed at the pacing lions!
Several Lions, as if on cue, stopped and looked at the helpless group standing in a circle in the open center. Tail suddenly erect, a large male charged the group and the crowd's cheering thundered within the walls of the coliseum. In only a few bounds the lion reached the group and leaping upon a tall, muscular black man he knocked him and two others to the ground. The black man tried to regain his feet but the lions jaws closed on his shoulder and with his mighty rear talons he tore open the mans chest and the first blood began to stain the arena floor.
The crowd was on their feet, hysterical with pleasure at this bloody display. Stavius had looked away and heavenward again but now lowered his eyes from heaven and saw that an old man and woman were being mangled also, their blood joining that of the first man. He silently asked God for strength.
Two lions which had been pacing were now eyeing the Christians warily. They had been starved and were very hungry but it was obvious they were still leary of humans. The smaller of the two crouched and slowly began stalking toward the group. As he drew nearer, Stavius saw the lion's glittering eyes were fastened on a girl. His heart seemed to stop. He had not noticed her before. "She can't be more than 7 years old." He thought to himself. By this time the lion was very near and a tall, fair lady knelt and was trying to draw the child behind her, but the child kissed her cheek, smiled and said "Don't worry mother, we will be with Him soon." Drawing away from her mother who looked strengthened even through the tears that rolled down her cheeks, the girl knelt on the sand before the lion and began to sing a song of praise and hope. The lion had crouched to spring upon the girl and with fluid motion leapt toward her and was upon her, his claws tearing into her tender flesh. The song, suddenly silenced in the arena, continued in heaven before the throne of God and in concert with many who had gone before her.
Still the crowd raged on. Oblivious to the horror of the scene. Women were fainting in the stands above. Not because of the gore, but because of the hysteria that had overtaken them. The bloodthirstiness of the crowd would not be satisfied until all within the arena were dead.
Stavius saw that the remaining lion who had not attacked anyone yet had grown bold and was slowly approaching him. When the lion was still many paces away, he stopped and crouched, growling softly. Stavius watched and thought of the Lord's sacrifice. Of the Lord's example and of the Lord's love for all people. He tried to sing a little louder, hoping it would help him to feel braver. Then, with a loud roar, the lion leapt at Stavius and knocked him to the ground but his momentum had carried him past Stavius. Without thinking Stavius rolled and...
...bolting upright, his heart racing and his breath coming in gasps his eyes adjusted to the light from the streetlamp outside, falling across the end of his bedspread on on a small writing table. His senses were still heightened and trying to catch his breath he glanced around to be sure of where he was. The dream was still vivid in his mind. It was nothing like he had ever experienced in his lifetime. Glancing at the writing table he noticed the letter from someone he had met on the the internet. The person had been hurting and asked for someone to listen. But this person hated christians and always attacked him whenever he tried to help. He had ignored the letters. In fact, he remembered thinking to himself that family, school, dating, church activities, bible studies had taken all of the time he could afford to give and he didn't have time to help people that wouldn't listen anyway.
Laying back down, his heart still racing and thinking about his life and the lives of christians he knew, he found he couldn't go to sleep. He kept being drawn back to the dream and he kept thinking, but the only thought that come to his head was...
"Christianity wasn't always a spectator sport."
Matthew 5: (43) "You have heard it said, 'love your neighbor and hate your enemy." (44) But I tell you: Love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you. (45) That you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes the sun to shine on the evil and the good., and sends rain to the righteous and the unrighteous. (46) If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? (47) And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? (48) Be perfect therefore as your heavenly Father is perfect."
Matthew 10: (28) Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather be afraid of the One who can destroy both the body and soul in hell."
Hebrews 11: (1) "Now faith is being sire of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see (2) This is what the ancients were commended for. (3) By faith we understand that the universe was formed at Godís command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible. (4) By faith Abel offered God a better sacrifice than Cain did. By faith he was commended as a righteous man, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith he still speaks even though he is dead. (5) By faith Enoch was taken from this life, so that he did not experience death; he could not be found, because God had taken him away. For before he was taken, he was commended as one who pleased God (6) And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. (7) By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By his faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that comes by faith. (8) By faith Abraham, when called to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. (9) By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise .... (29) By faith the people passed thorough the Red Sea as on dry land; but when the Egyptians tried to do so, they were drowned. (30) By faith the walls of Jericho fell after the people had marched around them for several days. (31) By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient. (32) And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel and the prophets, (33) who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions (34) quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. (35) Women received back their dead, raised to life again. Others were tortured and refused to be released, so that they might gain a better resurrection. (36) Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison. (37) They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated--- (38) the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground. (39) These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. (40) God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect."