Did you know? Valentine’s day is named after a priest who was martyred on February 14 in the year 269 AD. During that time, Rome was at war, and the emperor, dubbed Claudius the Cruel, prohibited marriage and engagements because he felt that the people’s attachment to families was stopping them from signing up for the Roman army. Valentine actively went against this decree. Tradition says that Valentine cut little heart-shaped papers and spread them around the city to remind people of Christ’s love. He secretly officiated the marriage of Christian men and women under the authority of Christ. He was placed under house arrest because of his actions.
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Yet not even prison could hinder his love for Christ and for his neighbors. While in prison, a judge, Asterius, was debating with him about the authenticity of Jesus. As a final act to disprove Christ’s authority, he handed Valentine his own adopted daughter, who was blind. Then came the challenge: If she was healed of blindness, then Asterius and his family would believe in Jesus. Tradition says that Valentine prayed over the young woman, and her sight was miraculously restored. The judge and his forty-four family members believed and were all baptized. Furthermore, the once skeptical judge released all Christian prisoners who were in his prison. The Judge and his once-blind daughter would build a strong friendship with the priest.
Once released, Valentine did not hide from the emperor, but actively evangelized Italy and its surrounding lands. His faithful actions finally led him to be imprisoned by Emperor Claudius once again, who finally sent him to his death by severe beating and beheading. This was all because during his defense before him, Valentine audaciously preached the gospel of love to the very face of the cruel emperor. Before he was dragged away from his cell to his death, Valentine left a farewell letter for Asterius’ daughter, signed, “Your Valentine.”
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This Valentine’s Day, lets go back to the root of this love that this eponymous saint died for. As Christ said, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 14:13). Jesus, our Savior, did this, taking the nails and the cross so that we could be free from the stain of sin. We were saved by pure grace, even though unworthy and countlessly sinning against Him. “For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:7-8).
Countless martyrs like Valentine died to spread the Gospel of Unconditional Love even to people who were unwilling to listen. It was a love not just for the beloved, but a love for jailors, enemies, and those unworthy of love.
Let your love today be more than just overpriced flowers, chocolates, and things that pass away in a single day. Let your love be about patience, sacrifice, and an eternal compassion for the lost that would endure beyond our dying day. Here’s an idea: Why not send love to someone unexpected this Valentine’s Day? Perhaps some food for the poor, perhaps a note of forgiveness to an enemy, perhaps a flower for a stranger, perhaps a word of encouragement to someone at the fringes of darkness who needs our love the most? And when you do, I’m sure Valentine would approve.
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Erich Velasco, who was once a graphic artist in One Voice Magazine, is the Senior Pastor of Village Baptist Church.