It’s no secret that the world is at odds with Christianity. Jesus was rejected, His followers were rejected, and He warned us that we would be rejected as well. But what happens when there is more than rejection? What happens when it is full blown persecution and suffering? Where will our faith be? Where will our confidence be? Will we be able to stand firm? We look to the life and death of John Rogers as an example of strong faith in the midst of the most severe form of persecution there is: martyrdom.
Rogers was born in England, educated at Cambridge University, and became a priest (similar to all the other Reformers). As he studied the Scripture he became more and more disillusioned with the official teachings of the Catholic Church, seeing how they disagreed with the Bible.
Through the providence of God, Rogers ended up in Holland where he ended up meeting William Tyndale. It was here that Tyndale taught Rogers the Bible and the gospel and Rogers was converted. When William Tyndale was arrested just a few months later, he left all his writings and works in the hands of John Rogers to finish for him. Rogers eventually finished Tyndale’s translation work under the pseudonym of ‘Thomas Matthew.’ The Matthews Bible would become the first officially authorized version of the Bible in the English language.
Rogers pastored churches in Holland and in Germany but he really wanted to be back in England. He returned there with his wife and his 8 children. In England he preached and pastored safely and securely under the reign of Edward VI, until Edward died. For those of you who remember your history, after Edward died, his half-sister Mary became queen. Mary Queen of Scots was eventually dubbed ‘Bloody Mary’ for her vicious persecution of Reformers and Protestants.
Mary arrived in London as queen on Thursday, August 3rd, 1553. John Rogers was supposed to preach at St. Paul’s Cathedral that following Sunday. What would he preach on? He knew where Mary stood: she was staunchly against any Protestant teachings and wanted to restore the Church of Rome back to its place in England. I wonder, what would I preach on? Rogers got up that following Sunday and proclaimed with all boldness the salvation in Christ alone, by grace alone, through faith alone, taught in the Scripture alone. He told the people to beware of the Pope, idolatry, and Catholic superstitions. That was his last sermon.
He was placed under long house arrest for his teachings, along with the crime of being married (because he was supposed to be a celibate priest in Mary’s mind). Eventually, he was transferred to Newgate prison where he was locked up with thieves and murderers. He was awakened on the morning of February 4th, 1555 and told he would be burned at the stake. His one request was that he would be able to speak a few words with his wife; a request that was denied. When he was brought out to the stake, he was asked if he would recant his teachings. Rogers said, “That which I preached I will seal with my blood.” The sheriff in charge told him that he would never pray for Rogers, to which Rogers replied, “But I will pray for you.”
On his march to the stake, in the crowd of thousands, was his wife and his now 11 children; one of which was still a baby he had never seen until that day. As the flames began to rise, even the knowledge of his wife and children watching, would not deter John Rogers. He boldly washed his hands in the flames as they reached higher and higher. He died lifting his hands up high.
It is said that at the death of John Rogers the crowd erupted in applause. They were not applauding the execution, but the boldness and courage of the man who was executed. Up to that point, no one knew how these English Reformers would handle the threat of death, or even, the reality of martyrdom. The crowd was stunned that this man would give his life for what he believed the Bible taught.
Over the rest of the reign of ‘Bloody Mary’ 287 other English Reformers were burned at the stake for their faith. Men, women, or children, it didn’t matter in Mary’s eyes. But some of these martyrs admitted that seeing the bold faith of John Rogers was what gave them courage to meet their impending martyrdom.
Of course, we don’t have to go through this level of persecution….yet. But the world is not becoming a friendlier place to Christians. I wonder, where will my faith be if it is challenged like this? Or, threatened like this? Or, tested like this? Where will your faith be?
-Pastor Mark Scialabba