A re-post from 2010: How the Cross of Jesus Christ gladdened the souls of Martyrs
“Death smiles at us all, but all a man can do is smile back.” These were the words of the Roman Emperor and philosopher, Marcus Aurelius in the second century. What the pagan philosopher stated in theory, Christians did in practice. Death was an enigma for pagans, but for Christians, it was seen as the road to eternal life. This is why the early Christians were full of hope, even during the fall of the Roman Empire. Indeed, the finest of the early Christians, that is, the confessors and martyrs, never looked back. Their eternal destiny was ever impressed upon their minds. For what they sacrificed in this life would be paid back a hundred-fold in heaven. Such was the Lord’s guarantee.
This is why the early Christians displayed a serene confidence when faced with adversity and death. It was the Christians in large numbers, not pagans, who smiled back at death. This serene confidence in Christ and the eager anticipation of eternal life was exceedingly attractive to on-lookers. From it came a large number of conversions. This "smile" was captured in a letter by Tertullian, a Father of early the Church (around 200 A.D.). It was a letter addressed to a Roman emperor who, like Marcus Aurelius, persecuted and executed Christians. He wrote the following:
“You will never destroy our sect! Mark this well: when you think you are striking it down, you are, in reality, strengthening it. The public will become restive at so much courage. It will long to know its origin. And when a man recognizes the truth- he’s ours!”
That holy and serene confidence of the early Christians is the heritage of all Christians! We just have to remember to use it, then we too can smile...even back at death.