We remember today the martyrdom of Lawrence, who boldly stood his ground against the Roman authorities until the very end. Our devotion comes from One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism: Christians Through the Centuries.
Lawrence was a third-century deacon in Rome. In his death, he echoed that of Jesus by demonstrating that the greatest victory in our faith comes through suffering rather than through brute force. While we lament Lawrence’s loss of life and the pain he endured, we also thank God for using his death as a witness that brought many other people to faith.
Prudentius’s verse portrays Lawrence as a Christian champion who fought against pagan Rome. He was fearless before the power of the Roman Empire. In his death and apparent defeat, this humble Roman deacon was a martyr and actually victorious.
Two events precipitated Lawrence’s martyrdom. The first was a prophecy. The persecution of Christianity was in full swing with the crucifixion of Pope Sixtus. With Lawrence, the archdeacon at Rome, lamenting at the foot of his cross, Sixtus prophesied that Lawrence would follow him into martyrdom in three days.
The second event occurred on the same day as the first. The Roman prefect, desirous of money, summoned Lawrence who was responsible for the Church of Rome’s treasury. The prefect complained that Christians condemned the Roman gods and noted greedily that the Christian Church was extremely wealthy: silver chalices and golden candlesticks and great deposits of coins. For the welfare of the empire, he demanded that Lawrence hand over the treasures of the church. To encourage Lawrence, the prefect cited Jesus: The image on a coin is not God, but Caesar (Matthew 22:19–21), and poverty is a virtue (Luke 6:20). In the following three days, Lawrence gathered the impoverished and crippled and diseased for whom the church cared, also virgins and widows, presented them to the prefect, and declared that these are the treasures of the Church. Chosen by God and hated by man, Lawrence trod the path of martyrdom.
The prefect, expecting riches and receiving the impoverished, was so infuriated with Lawrence that he promised him a long and painful death by fire. Led to the pyre, his face glowed as had those of Moses in the Old Testament and Stephen in the New Testament. As the flames scorched his flesh, Lawrence made a mockery of this torment. Rather than crying out in pain, he calmly noted to the prefect that he was well done on one side and needed to be turned to the other. With his final breath, he prayed to God on behalf of pagan Rome and prophesied of a future Christian emperor.
The martyrdom of Lawrence turned the spiritual tide of the day. Many Romans—senators and pagan priests and others—were converted to the Christian faith. While the pagan temples emptied, multitudes flocked to Christian altars. Satan was defeated in this battle.
In his martyrdom, the countenance of Lawrence shone like those before him who had been in the presence of God. Lawrence was a Christian warrior like Jesus. Neither used a sword nor led an army. Both suffered and died. Both wrestled not “against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). Both were victorious in death.
Almighty God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first suffered pain, and entered not into glory before He was crucified, mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace, through the same Thy Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
Devotional reading is from One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism: Christians Through the Centuries, pages 77–78 © 2006 Thomas A. Von Hagel. Published by Concordia Publishing House.
Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Prayer is from Meditations for College Students, page 48 © 1961 Concordia Publishing House. All rights reserved.