Sentenced to Paradise
June 25, 2017
Sentenced to Paradise
This is a story I found in a little book in the Westport Central School Library, entitled: Ten Saints. It was written is by Eleanor Farjeon in 1936.
There was to be a banquet one night in Cappadocia. That same day Sapricius, the governor, was holding trials in his court. Near him sat Theophilus, a young Prefect, who had come to listen to the questions put to those on trial, and to their answers. Knowing his love of amusement, Sapricius said,” Do not expect to be entertained, Theophilus. Today I am trying Christians, and they will all say the same thing about this Christ of theirs, Who was born three hundred years ago, and for Whom they are ready to die.”
Theophilus said, “Still, I will stay a while to hear these questions and answers. I have nothing better to do till I join my friends at the feast.”
One after another, the Christians were brought before Sapricius and questioned. Theophilus lounged in his seat and listened idly. It was not very amusing; as his friend had said, one Christian was much like another.
“Who next?” asked Sapricius.
He was told, “The Maiden Dorothea from Caesaria.”
Into the court was brought a young girl so fair and innocent that Theophilus roused himself to look at her. It would be a pity, he thought, for this Christian to die.
The questions began. She answered each one simply, and her voice did not falter.
“Do you fear nothing?” Sapricius asked presently. “Neither pain nor death?”
Why should I fear death?” answered Dorothea. “Death will bring me to Whom I love.”
“Who is it you love?” demanded Sapricius.
Dorothea answered, ”Christ the Son of God.”
“Where is this Christ?”
“He is everywhere,” said the girl in her clear voice. “In His divinity, He is on earth, in His humanity, He is in heaven. He awaits me in Paradise.”
Then, Theophilus leaned towards the girl and spoke, “Dorothea, earth itself is Paradise! Think of its flowers. How can you bear to leave them?”
She smiled at him, “What is your name, young Prefect?”
“Listen, Theophilus. In Paradise, where the woods are always green, apples as yellow as gold shine in the leaves, and lilies white as silver bloom in the moss. In Paradise, bright springs bubble forever, the grass on the hill never withers, and the rose on the plain never dies.”
“Enough, said the Governor, since Paradise is so beautiful, you shall go there today!”
He pronounced the sentence and signed to his officers. As they approached, Theophilus said to her lightly: “Young Spouse of Christ! Send me some apples and roses from Paradise.”
“I will, Theophilus,” said Dorothea, and was led away.
Theophilus rose and prepared himself for the banquet with his friends. The merry making lasted far into the night. They feasted, sang and drank, growing more boisterous with each passing hour. Each started to share stories of what they had done that day. When several had spoken, Theophilus laughed, “These things you have seen and heard are common things! Now this day, I have had a miracle promised to me!”
“What then, Theophilus? Where have you been today?”
“I was in court, hearing the Christians tried. And one fair maid told me she was going to Paradise, and promised to send me fruit and flowers from Heaven!”
A shout of laughter rang out around the hall, but died on all lips as though cut off with a knife. Out of the air appeared an angelic child, and stood among them. In its hands, the little angel bore three apples and three roses, a like which had never been seen before on earth. It held them out to Theophilus, saying, “Dorothea who hasjust entered Paradise sends you these.” Theophilus took them and the angel vanished.
Next morning Sapricius sat again in his court. And again, when certain Christians had been tried, he cried, “Who next?”
He was told, “Theophilus of Cappadocia.”
The Governor saw his own friend brought before him.
“What jest is this Theophilus?” he frowned.
“No jest, Sapricius,” answered Theophilus.
“What do you come for then?”
Theophilus said, “I come to confess Christ, In Whom I believe, for Dorothea’s sake.”
And the Governor sentenced him to Paradise.
Dorothea had obviously learned what Jesus was teaching His disciples in the reading we heard today: discipleship requires the rejection of what this world finds important and devotion to Christ and what He finds important, even when doing so can mean that we must defy convention or suffer potentially great loss.
Today, Jesus tells us that he will be called horrible things and we, His disciples, will certainly be called even worse things. We are not to fear them because God knows who and what they are as well as knowing that we are His. Because of this, we must respond accordingly. What we hear the Holy Spirit telling us to do, we need to do. The words of hope and truth He whispers to our hearts in times of darkness, times when it’s just us and Him, times of loneliness, prayer, trial, heartbreak, we need to shout from the roof tops.
We are not to fear those who stand in the way of our faith, those who mock us, those who sneer at our acts of charity, our adherence to the Ten Commandments, our absolute belief in that which we cannot see but know to exist because feel Him in our hearts and see His work all around us. For the worst that they can do to us if we hold onto what we believe is merely alter our immediate future. They cannot touch our souls. The one we should be concerned with is God, who holds eternity in His hands.
Jesus was the Son of God who walked the earth searching for and saving desperate people who were yearning for God. He did so without fear of what would happen to Him. His only concern was doing what His Father wanted Him to do in the way His Father wanted Him to do it. He saved souls and recruited others to carry on His work, evading capture only until He knew it was time for Him to fulfill His destiny on the cross. He allowed Himself to be captured and beaten. For us He carried His cross through taunting crowds. He was humiliated, crucified, buried and had to descend into Hell all for the Glory of His Father and to save each one of us.
The passage we read today tells us what we need to do in the face of those who would scoff at Christ, those who might demean our faith. We need to be prepared to take the possible consequences while boldly standing up for Jesus, for our faith, because He stood up for us when He died on the cross and He will stand up for us again when we meet Him in Paradise. Jesus is our friend, our advocate. Will we be loyal, faithful friends to Him just as He is to us? Will we remain focused on what Jesus wants us to do and the way He wants us to do it? Or will we buckle under the pressure exerted by those who think we’re silly, putting our faith in that which we can’t see? Will we, out of fear of being judged by the faithless, act as though we don’t know Jesus as our savior? We simply cannot do that. Jesus explained the consequences of denying Him: “So everyone who acknowledges Me before men, I will also acknowledge before my Father who is in Heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.
The lyrics of this great old hymn clarify perfectly what we are to do:
Stand up, stand up for Jesus,
Ye soldiers of the cross;
Lift high his royal banner,
It must not suffer loss.
From victory unto victory
His army shall he lead,
Till every foe is vanquished,
And Christ is Lord indeed.
Stand up, stand up for Jesus,
Stand in his strength alone;
The arm of flesh will fail you,
Ye dare not trust your own.
Put on the gospel armor,
Each piece put on with prayer;
Where duty calls or danger,
Be never wanting there.
Stand up, stand up for Jesus,
The strife will not be long;
This day the noise of battle,
The next the victor's song.
To those who vanquish evil
A crown of life shall be;
They with the King of Glory
Shall reign eternally.
We know who Jesus is. We know that He bore His cross for us. Will we hear His whispers echoing in the chambers of our souls and shout to the world that He has saved us? Will we bear our cross for Him now? Do we love him enough to face hardship or persecution for Him? As A.W. Tozer, an American Christian pastor, preacher, and author said, “Wherever I am, whatever I am doing, I hope and pray to God that I will have the courage to stand up for the real Jesus of the New Testament, regardless of whom I offend.”
When we find ourselves in a position to proclaim or deny our faith let us remember who we will meet in eternity and dare, like Dorothea, to be joyfully sentenced to Paradise.