Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God--this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is--his good, pleasing, and perfect will. (Rom 12:1,2)
Imagine what it would be like. You are being escorted under guard into the Colosseum in Rome. You enter amidst the roar of the 65,000 people gathered to watch a spectacle of gore. In terror you know that you are going to be the entertainment for this blood-thirsty throng. You will enter but you will never go out the gate you came in. Your life will be sacrificed, for one reason, and one reason only – because you call yourself a Christian. You are about to give up your life for your faith in your Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Before the day is through, you will be dead. Dead to this world. Dead to all in this life you held dear. Dead to your family, your friends. Within a few hours it will be all over. This is a grim, but realistic way to look at what has happened to countless numbers of Christians throughout the ages.
However, let me go from the horror of the moment to the honor of the moment by telling you another story, of two Englishmen centuries later. There is a young man by the name of Thomas Bilney. He is studying at Cambridge University in England. The year is 1519. He began to read a new translation of the Greek New Testament that was published in 1516 by Erasmus. Coming to the words of the Apostle Paul in 1 Timothy 1:15, which in English (NIV) reads, “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners--of whom I am the worst .” The words grip him. He finds comfort in them, finds the way of salvation in them, and begins ardently to study the Scriptures.
Bilney desires to share his new-found faith. He reasons within himself, “Hugh Latimer, if he should come to a true knowledge of faith, with his preaching skills, what a dynamic Christian he would be!” Unsure of how Latimer would respond, Bilney comes up with a plan. “Latimer is a priest. I will ask him to hear my confession, and I will confess the gospel to him! Yes, that is what I will do,” he reasons.
So, Bilney confesses the Gospel to Latimer. “I have sinned,” he said, “I was reading Erasmus’s Greek NT and in Paul’s letter to Timothy I read this.” “By his confession,” Latimer has been reported to have said, “that he learned more in that brief confession than in all his years of study.” Hugh Latimer became a powerful Gospel preacher. However, it was a dangerous time to openly proclaim Christ.
In 1525 Bilney was licensed to preach and he began to preach the Gospel. Cardinal Woolsey got wind of it and Bilney was summoned before Woolsey. Bilney had to take an oath to say he would not preach the doctrine of Martin Luther and he was released. But, Bilney kept preaching the Gospel. One Sunday, the authorities came to the church and arrested him while he was preaching. He was thrown into the Tower of London, convicted of heresy, and given time to recant. Which he did.
Being released, Bilney was overcome with his denying the Gospel. The churches were no longer opened to him, so he preached in the open air. This time, Bilney was arrested, and on August 19, 1531, burned at the stake.
Cardinal Woolsey was after Hugh Latimer as well. However, the political situation kept Latimer free to preach for a much longer time. It was not until Mary, Queen of Scotts, came to the British throne, that Latimer was arrested and sentenced to die with Nicholas Ridley. On the day they were burnt, as the flames were licking their body, being tied to the stake. Hugh Latimer uttered words that will live on forever. He said, “Play the man, Master Ridley; we shall this day light such a candle, by God’s grace, in England, as I trust shall never be put out.”