Anton led the small cohort of soldiers through the underground tunnels, deeper and deeper into the catacombs. Sounds of singing echoed through the tunnel, and up ahead, firelight danced off the cavern walls. As he drew closer, his stomach lurched into his chest — he recognized a familiar dulcet tone.
He stopped short and listened. But there was no mistaking that voice. Wishing it was not so, he motioned his men forward. He had no choice; even his own men’s loyalty had its limits. The singing stopped abruptly as the soldiers raided the secret meeting. Anton waited to for screams and the scuffle of fighting, but all he heard was a soft, reverent chanting, and then, unbelievably, the singing resumed.
Forcing himself to walk around the corner, he saw his men binding the wrists of the prisoners. Anton scanned their faces. Sure enough, he spotted his sister, Lydia, among the captives.
Her face lit up when she saw him. “Anton, please, let these people go,” she said. “What have they done?”
“They are enemies of Rome,” Anton answered impassively. “Traitors to Caesar.”
He sighed as he watched her led away with the others.
At first light the next morning, Anton trudged down the stone steps to the dungeons. Instead of the moans and wailings he was accustomed too, it was singing that wafted up to him from the behind the cells.
Lydia ran to him, her white knuckles clasped around the iron bars.
“I’m getting you released,” Anton whispered.
Lydia backed away in surprise. “I do not wish to be released. Can you not see that I do not fear death? Perhaps if I am willing to die, you will understand what I have tried to tell you about the Christos.”
“Do not speak of that name to me!” Anton hissed. “That is the least you can do, seeing as how I am going to….”
“Going to what?”
“Good bye, Lydia,” Anton said. “I love you.”
As evening fell, several guards entered the dungeon. “Pray that your god can hear your cries,” they laughed as they unlocked the cell doors.
As Lydia followed the other prisoners out of the cell, a guard gripped her arm. “This way,” he said, pulling her away from the tunnel leading to the arena.
“No,” she cried. “I want to die with my friends! I want to die for my God!”
The guard shoved her out into the street. “Well, someone’s taken your place!”
Anton stood in the arena, looking up into the blood-thirsty faces of millions of spectators. It was weird being on this side of the crowd. His heart hammered in his chest, but he had made his decision, and he would not recant. For the first time, as he stared at the myriad of people eagerly waiting to see him torn limb to limb, he saw the barbaric nature of watching torture for sport and wondered at the lack of value for human life.
In the distance, he heard the low rumble of angry, half-starved lions and their claws scratching at the gates. He closed his eyes and tired to ignore the fear that gripped his soul.
And then he heard it…singing.
He opened his eyes and stared into the peaceful faces of the captives being led into the arena with him. A bunch of singing, delusional idiots willing to die for a dead man.
He looked up to see his sister forcing her way to the front of the crowd. Tears streamed down her face as she frantically called out to him. “You don’t understand! You are not ready!”
Anton felt a hand on his shoulder and looked up to see one of the prisoners smiling at him.
“Why is it so hard to understand?” the man asked. “You love your sister so much that you are willing to die for her, yet that is exactly what the Christos has done for you.”
“Get away from me, old man,” Anton said, shaking himself from the man’s grip.
Anton’s body stiffened as the gates were unlocked. An excited hush fell over the spectators. Once again, the captives resumed their singing.
Anton closed his eyes and waited. His mind was overcome with fear, but this time, it forced him to listen to the words of their song.
He came from above
Because of His love
To save the lost
No matter what the cost
So open your heart
To words that are true
For His Spirit is calling
He’s calling to you
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