Matthew 10: 32-33
“32 So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, 33 but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.”
Somewhere around the time of AD 160 a man named Polycarp was aging into his late 80’s. He had become a Christian at a young age, and eventually became a bishop, or elder, at the church of Smyrna which is located in modern day Turkey. This church was located in a society that was completely devoted to worship of the Roman gods, and allegiance to the Roman Empire. If you know anything about early Christian history, then you are aware that this was one of the most pivotal and crucial times in Christian history. The Church had experienced growth, but was still struggling against rampant persecution.
Polycarp was not known for his eloquence, or his education but he had earned the extreme honor of a reputation as someone who was staunchly committed to Christ, uncompromisingly so. What set him apart was not his knowledge, but his utter surrender and love for God, one of amazing boldness.
It is likely that Polycarp was the last living person who was discipled by one of the original Apostles. It is said that Polycarp was a close friend and disciple of the Apostle John.
A letter was written for the churches and believers around the world shortly after Polycarp’s martyrdom. This is earliest chronicle of martyrdom outside of the New Testament itself. You can find the entire letter translated into English here: https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/study/module/polycarp/
Polycarp, in the later years of his life, had become the focus of much attention and persecution from the Roman government and the public as a whole.
At the time of his arrest Roman soldiers came to the house in which he was staying, and his friends urged him to flee and run away. Yet, Polycarp replied: “God’s will be done” and let the soldiers in.
He amazed the soldiers with his kindness and humility, even to the point of serving them food and drink in exchange for an hour of uninterrupted prayer before they took him away to be executed. After spending time praying for the life of the Church and the fellow believers being persecuted, he submitted himself to them and was led to the city arena in order that he might be burned alive and mauled by wild animals if he shouldn’t denounce his faith in Christ.
Well, of course he did not, and He was bold until the very last breath. Some of his last words were:
“86 years have I have served him,” Polycarp declared, “and he has done me no wrong. How can I blaspheme my King and my Savior?”… “You threaten me with fire which burns for an hour, and is then extinguished, but you know nothing of the fire of the coming judgment and eternal punishment, reserved for the ungodly. Why are you waiting? Bring on whatever you want.”
Polycarp was executed that day, which was heartbreaking to young church of Smyrna, yet it accomplished something the Roman Emprire did not want. Instead of striking fear into the Church, it sparked courage and boldness that led to a very powerful time for the Church. Polycarp was just the first of many who have since laid down their lives and comfort for the sake of Christ and the opportunity to proclaim the Gospel to a dying world.
The letter says that at the time when Polycarp was set afire, that the flames formed an arch around him and the fire did not consume him as the Romans had hoped. Instead, it created the appearance of illumination. In frustration, the executioner stabbed him with a dagger resulting in his death.
Let me assure you of something my dear friends. The western world is not far removed from such a similar time. I am no prophet, nor am I attempting to be, but if things continue the way they are then there may come a day when the same courage displayed by Polycarp, the Apostle Paul, and the Disciples may be also required of us if we are to continue passing the Faith onto the next generation.
Polycarp’s martyrdom is an amazing story of courage and commitment to Christ. One in which many of us would hope earnestly to imitate if we were to be found in a similar situation. We too would hope that we would remain committed to Christ until our very dying, executed life. But, will we be? Only time will tell… but there is one way that we can test ourselves to see, and that is through the daily death and commitment that being a Disciple of Christ requires. It is through the daily acknowledgment of Christ before men that may just be more painful than physical execution at times.
Every day in which we awake there is presented to us an opportunity to acknowledge Christ in our lives before men and before the world. It may not be one of physical torture and execution as Polycarp faced, but it is quite probable that each day presents an equally painful and demanding surrender…the daily sacrifice of our lives in order to acknowledge Christ.
So I ask you… Will you acknowledge Christ with your life… DAILY? Even now, before the fires begin to burn, before the threats begin… Will you prepare yourself by persecuting yourself through a daily dying to yourself for the sake of Christ?
Or will you deny Him?
J.P. Murray of Trinity College Dublin once said, “I am a Christian but inoffensively so.”
Oh the brutal betrayal of Christ that occurred in this statement!!!
I pray that we would instead say:
“I am a Christian, and at times, offensively so!!”