If push came to shove, if I had to choose between my life and allegiance to Christ, would I finish with the same flourish? Would the way I died shine light on the spiritual darkness of those who yelled for my life to end?
Story of Staunch Faith
He was 86. The year was around 160 AD. The Bishop lived in Smyrna, a city devoted to Rome, where those who didn’t believe in the Roman gods were vilified as “atheists.” Greatly revered as a teacher and church leader, he was the last surviving person who knew one of Jesus’ original apostles–in this case, John.
When the arresting party came to his house, he gave them food and drink, and asked permission to pray before leaving to meet the proconsul. For two hours he poured out his heart to the Savior while the soldiers watched and listened.
Taken into the crowded arena, the proconsul tried to persuade him to shuck his allegiance to Christ and to swear by Caesar. “Repent!” bellowed the proconsul, “Just say, ‘Down with the atheists’ (Christians)! Reproach Christ and I’ll set you free.”
A calm Polycarp said within earshot of the crowds, “86 years I have served Him, and He has done me no wrong. How can I blaspheme my King and my Savior?!”
“I have wild animals here,” goaded the proconsul. “If you don’t repent, I’ll release them on you!”
“Bring on your beasts!” Polycarp answered. “It is unthinkable for me to repent from what is good to turn to what is evil.”
“If you despise the animals, I’ll have you burned!”
“You threaten me with fire which burns for an hour, and then is extinguished, but you know nothing of the fire of coming judgment and eternal punishment reserved for the ungodly? Why are you waiting? Bring on whatever you want.”
He prayed aloud as the executioners prepared for his demise. His words included, “I give You thanks that You count me worthy to be numbered among Your martyrs. May I be received as an acceptable sacrifice. To You be glory both now and forever.”
The way He died provided an even stronger testimony of faith than the way he lived and what He taught.
Effects of Polycarp’s Example
During his sermon, our pastor recently recounted Polycarp’s dialog with the proconsul. Because I knew the details of his martyrdom, as soon as he said the name “Polycarp,” tears cascaded down my cheeks. The story always spawns tears, perhaps because I admire Polycarp’s bold faith and yearn for just a smidgen of it as a Christ-follower.
Remembering how Polycarp died inspires the following thoughts in me today.
*”Old age, bring on your creaking joints, the escalation of fatigue, the worsening back pain, the more frequent visits to the doctor, and the higher prescription costs!
“These factors are temporary. They merely remind me that I’m a lot closer to my eternal home than I was years ago when my body was stronger and more agile. Sooner, rather than later, physical death will burst the cords that imprison this frail body and shuttle me into the presence of my Savior, where there will be no more pain, no more mourning, no more death (Rev. 21:4).”
*”Satan, bring on your attacks! Your ramped-up temptations suggest that I’m a bigger-than-ever threat to you. The intensity of the warfare, your relentless assaults that try to thwart my ministry, just goes to show how important my teaching and writing is. Ironically, your assaults encourage me!
“Oh, I occasionally stumble, but the Spirit who has kept me on the battlefield, and the weapons of warfare He provides, are as strong as ever to rebut your efforts. Because He has enabled me to resist you for decades, I can trust Him to help me resist for a few more years. My Lord is faithful to strengthen and to protect me from you (2 Thess. 3:3). And greater is the Spirit who resides in me than you will ever be (1 John 4:4).”
*”Depression, bring on your episodes of darkness and despair!
“My emotional frailty forces me to cling more desperately to my Savior. When I am weak, then He is strong (2 Cor. 12:9-10). When I accomplish something for the Lord, those who know me and my weaknesses give God the glory instead of me. Others know me too well to attribute the outcome to me. They figure the only explanation is that God did it (2 Cor. 4:7)!
“And since the Lord has chosen not to eradicate your emotional pain from my life, He must have a reason, because He’s sovereign and I belong to Him. He knows what He’s about, while my perspective is finite. Though He doesn’t remove you from my life, He sustains me daily (Ps. 54:4), and uses me, not in spite of you, but because of you. I believe what Charles Spurgeon said about needing grace: ‘God gets from us most glory when we get from Him much grace.’
“So envelop me in darkness. That’s okay, because I believe Micah 7:8: ‘Do not rejoice over me, O my enemy. Though I fall, I will rise. Though I dwell in darkness, the Lord is a light for me.'”
“Bring on the…..”
How should you complete that sentence today?
Don’t complete the sentence glibly. We don’t exult in victories without bruises from the battles.
Yet when a victor from church history speaks, will we listen?