Letter to the Romans 2-6
Ignatius wrote ahead to the church at Rome asking them not to attempt to prevent his death. In his passionate desire for martyrdom, we sense the bishop’s wish to make his final act count for eternity. If we are sensitive here, we can also read between the lines to find a man struggling with fear: fear of the pain that awaits him, and fear that he will not measure up to what is expected in his moment of trial. Ignatius describes to the Romans the man he hopes to be. It’s as if he is steeling himself for what lies ahead. The letter reminds us that this was no superhuman saint, but a humble Christian trying to set his eyes on Jesus rather than the things of the world.
I’ll never again have an opportunity like this to reach God. Nor will you Romans ever again have such a chance to be credited with a finer accomplishment-provided you remain silent. For if you quietly refrain from interfering with me, I will become a crystal-clear message from God. But if you love my earthly body too much, I’ll only be an incomprehensible noise. I ask you to grant me nothing but this: that my blood should be poured out as an offering to God while I still have an altar available to me. In your love, you can become the accompanying choir for my sacrifice. You will sing praises to the Father in Jesus Christ because God has deemed me, the bishop of Syria, worthy to be summoned from the East to the West. Oh how good it is to be like the sun now setting on this world-for that means I will soon rise up into the presence of God! … I do have one prayer request. Pray that I’ll have strength in my soul and in my physical body, so that I won’t just give lip service to martyrdom but will actually desire to go through with it. I don’t want to merely call myself a Christian-I want to back it up when it counts. For if I can back up my words, then I will be worthy of the name of Christian. I will be known as a man of faith even when the world can’t see me anymore. It’s not the things you can see that have true value. For example, our God Jesus Christ revealed his glory even more clearly when he ascended back to the Father and disappeared. Nothing is really achieved by trying to persuade people. Christianity’s true power is discovered only when it is hated by the world. I’m writing letters to all the churches so I can proclaim clearly to everyone that I’m totally willing to die for God. But I can only do that if you won’t interfere. I beg you, don’t try to show me a “kindness” that I don’t really want. Allow me to serve as food for those savage animals-for through them I can reach God! I like to think of myself as God’s own wheat. I must be ground up into flour by the teeth of those beasts so I can be baked into a pure loaf of bread for Him. Instead of interfering, it would be far better for you to urge those animals on! Let them become my tomb and completely devour me. I don’t want to burden you with having to collect my remains after I have died. Only then will I be a disciple of Jesus Christ in the fullest sense: when the world can no longer see my physical body. So pray to the Lord for me! Ask that by means of these animals I might become a sacrifice to God. Please understand, I’m not giving you orders as if I were Peter or Paul. They were apostles, but I’m just a condemned criminal. They were free, but even at this very moment I’m chained up like a slave. But I know if I suffer, I’ll be freed by Jesus Christ. United with Him, I will be raised to eternal freedom! Right now, though, I’m a prisoner learning what it means to put aside my desires. From Syria to Rome, I’m already battling with wild beasts. By land and sea, night and day, I’m chained to ten leopards: the soldiers who have me in custody. When they are treated kindly, they only become more cruel to me. However, through their mistreatment I am becoming a better disciple-not that this earns me any credit with God. Oh may I rejoice in those wild beasts awaiting me! I do pray they will be done with me very quickly. In fact, I will coax them to come eat me up right away. I hope they won’t behave timidly like they sometimes do, lacking the fierceness even to touch the people thrown in the arena. And ifwhen I’m ready for the great moment the animals are holding back, I’ll force them to take me! Please bear with me here, friends. I really do know what is best for me. I am only now beginning to understand what it means to be a disciple. I pray that the events in that arena, and the unseen forces ofwick- edness behind them, will not conspire against me out of envy and prevent me from reaching Jesus Christ. Bring on the fire, bring on the cross, bring on the hordes ofwild animals! Let them wrench my bones out of socket and mangle my limbs and grind up my whole body! Bring on all the hideous tortures from the Devil! Just let me get to Jesus Christ. Nothing on this wide earth matters to me anymore. The kingdoms of this world are entirely meaningless. I am at the point where I would rather die for Jesus Christ than rule over the whole earth. He alone is the one I seek-the one who died for us! It is Jesus that I long for-the one who for our sake rose again from the dead!
Source: Bryan M. Litfin. Getting to Know the Church Fathers: An Evangelical Introduction