The smell of burning flesh hung in the air. The villagers turned their heads and gasped. Stray dogs fled. The man’s wife wept bitterly. His children watched in horror and the smell burned their nostrils. The stench was a vivid reminder of who sat on the throne. Mary Tudor ruled with ironclad authority. Her subjects were obligated to obey. Any dissenters would pay the ultimate price. The world would remember her as “Bloody Mary.”
The day was February 4, 1555. The man roped to the pyre was known well in the British village – a man of humble origins. A man with bold ambitions and simple obedience to match. A man who dared to challenge the throne with two simple acts – preaching the Word of God and printing the Matthews-Tyndale Bible. His name was John Rogers. Pastor, father, martyr. He was the first Christ-follower to pay the ultimate price of death during Mary’s bloody reign of terror. He was the first of hundreds who would die at the hands of this blood-thirst tyrant.
John Rogers stands in a long parade of God-centered men; men who preached the truth, confronted sin, lived uncompromising lives, and finished strong. Like Rogers, some were martyred. Others died of old age or were tormented with disease. Those who participate in this Christ-exalting parade still have something to say. Their courage emboldens us. Their lives inspire us. Their theology instructs us. Their devotion moves us to action.
February 4, 2020 marks the anniversary of Roger’s brave march to the pyre. Over 460 years later, the world is a very different place. Yet the persecution of Christ-followers has not decreased. It has increased. As people committed to the sovereign reign of Jesus stand for truth, righteousness, and justice – the persecution will grow steadily. As Christians take a stand against same-sex marriage, abortion, human trafficking, and pornography – the persecution will escalate. Tolerance is the popular buzzword, yet fidelity to God’s Word will not be tolerated by many in this world. John Rogers is a reminder to stand firm in the face of adversity. His picture is glued to the flyleaf of my preaching Bible and beckons me to boldly declare the truth of God’s Word – unashamed, unhindered, and resolute – on fire for Christ!