So I just finished a 5 minute video presenting quick information about Saint Valentine, and this is what I picked up.
Let’s go back to the days of the Roman Empire. Society was predominantly pagan, and the concept of Christianity was barely known, if not spurned upon its mention. Take note that I’m not trying to have us think that ancient Rome was so barbaric and crude, but it really just was how things were at the time.
A big reason why I think this way comes from a book I read, Destroyer of the Gods by Larry Hurtado. The way it was projected was that there didn’t seem to be a prevalent religion – if you worshipped one god, then you go to that god’s temple and perform rituals. But, if you, say, followed one god but wanted to curry the favor of another god, nobody stopped you from offering sacrifices to this said god.
Think of how a soldier worshipped Mars, but also offered sacrifices to the god of the harvest for the farm he established. Think of how a gladiator would also worship Mars, but also make a prayer to his father and grandfather before he continued into the Circus Maximus.
Now, imagine how Christians lived at the time.
Imagine being a Christian slave. Again, regarding slavery, it wasn’t necessarily as we would see it today; slaves at the time came from all sorts of people groups we would call castes or hierarchies. You’d be a prisoner of war sold as a slave. And they wouldn’t be limited to menial tasks or manual labor as we would imagine slaves today. There were accountants and barbers who were slaves.
I guess the one thing that may have been in common between then and now would have been that slaves were considered more as property, and how they lived and thrived was pretty much in the hands of their masters, or who owns them.
So again, imagine being a slave who has heard and accepted the Gospel.
Because you have been more or less overwhelmed by the everlasting love of God above all that may be called good or bad in this world, and because you have been filled with the Holy Spirit, you no longer see the need to worship a god for better circumstances.. and, being a slave, you may not be as enthusiastic in joining your masters in, say, making an offering to the god they serve.
And considering that you belonged to a following that was still in its infancy, you were certainly a target for ridicule and bias. Prominent Romans would listen in as a group of believers remember Christ by way of communion, and they would leave and proclaim that these Christians were such a barbaric group of cannibals, eating flesh and drinking blood!
Being a Christian slave, you’d be seen as a killjoy, or a weirdo – and clearly, the rest of Rome doesn’t like a party pooper. This is why Nero found it convenient to blame and kill Christians for the burning of Rome – they were already disliked to begin with. Other Roman Emperors persecuted Christians, not necessarily to gain favor with the rest of the populace, but because they seriously thought that Christians were enemies of the state, based on what they believed.
Now, understand that this may not be the full picture, but I am just letting you guys consider this perspective of how things were back then.
This was the reality that our protagonist, Valentinus, was in.
It may have been challenging to be a Christian already, but he was under the likes of Emperors like Claudius. If memory serves me right, there have been glorious Roman emperors – Julius Caesar and Octavian – but there were also the lesser-known emperors who didn’t reign for long because of their performance, and Claudius seemed to be one of them. I’m assuming Claudius was more attuned to participating in activities which would seem immoral and repulsive to us… and therefore the Roman populace was encouraged to do the same.
Valentinus stood out because not only was he living and spreading the Gospel, but it was said that he was also marrying Christians in secret. Why in secret? At the time the Goths were invading the Roman empire, and Claudius needed as much able bodied men as he could gather to fight against this threat… but married men were exempt. In order to bolster his numbers Claudius, could have made a decree to conscript the men with wives and children, but instead, he straight up banned marriage… and it was only a matter of time before Valentinus would also be caught.
It is said that while imprisoned Valentinus kept sharing the Gospel to prisoners and his jailers, headed by one Judge named Asterius. In his evangelizing Asterius challenged Valentinus; the judge told him that if he could heal the blindness of his adopted daughter, then he would do whatever he asked. Valentinus laid hands upon the girl and prayed, and her sight was restored. Asterius, overwhelmed by the sign, was converted to Christianity. Valentinus and his fellow Christian inmates were freed.
It would not be long, however, until Valentinus was caught once again, for evangelizing and marrying more Christians. This time, he was brought before the Emperor himself, who told him he may renounce Christianity and be freed, or be beaten with clubs and beheaded. Valentinus refused, and he was executed on February 14, 269AD. Sound familiar?
It was also said that before his execution, Valentinus sent a note to the daughter of Asterius, signed, ‘from your Valentine’. It would be said that this was the very first love note.
It was also mentioned that the note was accompanied by a heart shaped box filled with Ferrero Rocher chocolates and a bouquet of roses from Bahong, La Trinidad.
That last claim is still up for debate.
I suppose a good deal of us would listen to that story and say, wow, that’s certainly a lot that the early Christians had to endure. We’d say stuff about how their faith was incredible, that they were able to endure. We’d tell people, if the early Christians were able to go through such persecution, then we should prepare as well.
And really, that’s all fine. I’m okay with us setting our minds and preparing for trials and tribulations. I guess we should, considering the seasons.
Let’s go back to 1 John 4:9-12: “God showed how much He loved us by sending His one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through Him. This is real love — not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins. Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other. No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and His love is brought to full expression in us.“
Friends, I would have us all remember one thing that remains true in every season, whether it was in the clear and present danger of the times of Christians in the Roman Empire, or for us today as we navigate through uncertain waters – That the spotlight was never on us, more than it was on Christ and His finished work. We don’t love God for Him to love us more, but it was God who loved us FIRST with an EVERLASTING love – and this is why we love.
It was God’s love that caused our brothers and sisters way back in the days of the Roman empire to not only to endure but to flourish. They were singing with joy while being burned alive, serving as grotesque lanterns to light of the streets of Rome – not because they loved God so much, more than because they knew that NOTHING could ever separate them from HIS love for them, and they knew that Christ’s finished work GUARANTEED that they were loved with an everlasting love – a love that was with them, before and after the expiry of their physical bodies.
And today, are the trials any different? We may be free in this day and age and in this country to speak out for our faith, but I assure you, the enemy continues to try to steal, kill and destroy us – if not our physical bodies, not our finances, the enemy would come at us with more brutal tactics to burn our minds alive with the same ferocity as he did for the Christians in the Coliseum.
I will not end this day without saying 1 John 4:19 – We love because He first loved us.
The Holy Spirit continues to sing to us today as in every day… and not only does He sing of God’s love that endures forever, but by the Word, He sings to us – We love because He first loved us.
Friends, you can forget everything I said leading to this point, but remember this, on this day before Valentines. I don’t care where you are in the social spectrum of relationship standards. Our song is not, “I did my best, but I guess my best wasn’t good enough”, it’s a song my own father sung to my mom, a song I imagine was sung by many husbands to their wives at the time.
If anyone should ever write my life story
For whatever reason there might be
You’d be there between each line of pain and glory
‘Cause you’re the best thing that ever happened to me
You’re the best thing that ever happened to me
Christ is the best thing that ever happened to any of us. We love because He first loved us.
And with that said… Let’s celebrate.
Advanced Happy Valentines’ Day to us all.
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