Sunday, September 1, 2013

Polycarp: Martyr for the Cause of Christ

Polycarp : Martyr for The Cause of Christ
   Do you know Polycarp?  Have you heard of him before?  I had not heard of him at all to my recollection prior to studying ancient history with Jonathan a few months ago.  I'm sure everyone who's been to Seminary or has studied various religion classes knows much more about him than I have learned, but I have been fascinated at finding out some of the history of him.  What is so fascinating to me is the testimony of his death and following.  You see, when he was in his late 80s he was given an ultimatum which is to 'renounce Jesus Christ and live, or, hold on to his faith and die'!  He chose the latter.  The norm at that time was to nail the martyr to the wood to be burned however he asked not to be nailed and that he'd stay put so they did as he asked. 
   I digress just a bit.  Polycarp was a man in his eighties in Smyrna circa AD70-155.  As he was eating supper in his home he realized his life would probably be in danger soon since many Christians had just been executed for their faith in the local arena.  However, given these circumstances he still refused to leave Rome.  You see the Romans were executing any self-proclaimed Christians and many were betraying those who they knew to be Christians.  Following recent executions, the crowd in the arena began calling for Polycarp's death.
   We know John the apostle, who is the person who mentored Polycarp and led him in discipleship in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.  In the days preceding this night at supper, one of Polycarp's servants had been tortured into revealing his whereabouts.  When the soldiers arrived knocking at his door, rather than trying to hide his calm statement was "God's will be done".   At this time he requested an hour of time for prayer and given his age the soldiers allowed him his request.  He actually prayed for two hours not for himself but for all the Christians he knew and for the universal church and the soldiers gave him the lattitude.
   As he entered the stadium, it is reported that several Christians present heard a voice from heaven say, "Be strong, Polycarp, and act like a man."  Due to his advanced age the Roman proconsul gave Polycarp a final chance to live.  All he had to do was to swear by Caesar and say, "Take away the atheists", for at that time all Christians were called atheists.  At being given this choice the crowds began gesturing him to say "Take away the atheists!"  The proconsul then continued, "Swear, and I will let you go.  Reproach Christ!"
   He then turned and boldly declared,  "Eighty-six years I've served Him, and He has done me no wrong.  How can I blaspheme my King who saved me?"  Yet again he was urged to swear by Caesar.  At this his reply was, "Since you vainly think that I will swear by the Fortune of Caesar, as you say, and pretend not to know who I am, listen carefully, I AM A CHRISTIAN!"  I think you can't get any more plain than that.  As Polycarp knew he'd be led to the slaughter soon he continued to look unto the hills from where his help comes.  This is what we can do today also. 
   I said before that he'd be burned but he was also given the choice to be torn apart by wild animals.  We saw in Daniel both of these two choices used against men of God and God's hand stayed both of these things from hurting His children.  When Polycarp was threatened with each of these choices given he replied, first concerning wild beasts, "Call them!  For we cannot 'repent' from what is better to what is worse; but it is noble to turn from what is evil to what is righteous" and in reference to threat of fire, "You threaten me with a fire that burns an hour and is soon quenched, for you are ignorant of the fire of the coming judgment and eternal punishment stored up for the ungodly.  But why do you delay?  Do what you want."
   At these two statements it was decided that he'd be placed on the pyre for burning.  As the preparation continued and Polycarp was ready it was custom to nail him up but he asked them to, "Leave me like this.  He wo gives me to endure the fire will also give me to remain on the pyre without your security from the nails."  So they allowed his request yet again.  As Polycarp confidently approached the wood, he prayed these words, "O Lord God Almighty, Father of Your beloved and blessed Son Jesus Christ, through whom we have received knowledge of You, God of angels and powers and all creation, and of the whole race of the righteous who live before You, I bless You that You considered me worthy of this day and hour, to receive a part in the number of the martyrs in the cup of Your Christ, for the resurrection to eternal life both of soul and of body in the incorruptibility of the Holy Spirit.  Among them may I be welcomed before You today by a fat and acceptable sacrifice, just as you previously prepared and made known and You fulfilled, the deceitless and true God.  Because of this, and for all things, I praise You, I bless You, I glorify You, through the eternal and heavenly high priest Jesus Christ, Your beloved Son, through whom be glory to You with Him and the Holy Spirit both now and for ages to come.  Amen." 
   Now comes the total climax of the whole of Polycarp's life.  As he had been threatened with wild beasts and fire allowing nothing to turn him away from his faith in Jesus Christ, the pyre was lit with the flame springing up quickly.  However, even the fire would NOT touch him as it formed an arch around his entire body.  The Romans didn't know at all what to make of this and in the end commanded an executioner to stab him with a sword.  At that time there came such a great amount of blood from his body that the remaining fire was extinguished and Polycarp bled to death.  Don't you know that at thot moment Polycarp was in the presence of the Lord in whom he had just professed as his own Savior and King and that he had no regret or remorse.
   The reason for these executions was to destroy the name of Jesus in the world and lo and behold following the martyred death of Polycarp more people became Christians and at a greater rate because of his death.  His death was remembered by "everyone" -- "he is even spoken of by the heathen in every place." 
   You know, this story is so important at this time of year in that he, in his later years did what he could to settle disputes about the date to celebrate Easter.  He was also responsible for converting many from Gnosticism.  I'm sure if we really knew all this man's life entailed we'd be amazed and astonished as it is reported that he was not a highly educated man but was firm and direct in his stand for righteousness.
   This is just one example of one person who has made Jesus Christ the Lord of their life.  I think the apostle Peter in I Peter 1:7 said it best, "That the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ."   We've all heard of the heroics of missionaries and others called to serve in various parts of the world but what about you? what about me? as we serve right here, right now.  Let's determine to be as steadfast in our faith realizing the preciousness of that faith and when tested by fire we can be found to be full of praise, honor and glory in our revelation of Jesus Christ.
In His Love and Service,


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