1-15-2017, The Second Century Church, part 11
In our last article, I began to share from the ancient document about the Martyrdom of Polycarp, which I paraphrased into modern English. Let's continue where we left off: "In the morning the time comes for Polycarp to be led out into the stadium before the multitude assembled in the seats. The pagans cheer loudly when they see and hear that the leader of the Christians has been apprehended and will probably face the wild beasts. Polycarp hears a voice from heaven saying, “Be strong, Polycarp, and show yourself to be a courageous man.” No one sees the speaker, but some Christians hear the voice.
As he stands before the proconsul, he is asked, “Are you Polycarp?”
“Yes, that is I.”
“Deny this Christ of yours.”
“I will not.”
“Have respect for your old age. Swear by the fortune of Caesar. Repent, and say, 'Away with the atheists!'"
Polycarp gazes with a stern countenance at the multitude of heathen people in the stadium and motions toward them with his hand, while he looks up to heaven and declares, “Away with the atheists!”
The proconsul urges, “Swear, and I will set you free. Reproach Christ!”
“For 86 years I have served Him, and He has done me no wrong. How then can I blaspheme my King and Savior?”
“Swear by the fortune of Caesar!”
“Since you vainly urge me to swear by the fortune of Caesar, and you pretend not to know who I am, hear me declare with boldness: I am a Christian! And if you would like to learn the teachings of Christianity, appoint me a day, and you will hear them.”
“Persuade the people.”
“It is right for me to offer an account of my faith to you, because we Christians are taught to give the honor due to those in authority, for God ordains powers and authorities. But as for these people, I do not count them worthy to hear an account from me.”
“I have wild beasts at hand - I will throw you to them unless you repent.”
“Call them on! We Christians do not repent of what is good in order to adopt what is evil. It is a good thing that I have been changed from what is evil to what is righteous.”
“I will cause you to be consumed by fire, seeing you despise the wild beasts!”
“You threaten me with a fire which will burn for an hour, and then be extinguished, but you are ignorant of the fire of the coming judgment and eternal punishment reserved for the ungodly. But why delay? Bring on what you wish.”
The proconsul turns to his herald and commands him, “Proclaim in the midst of the stadium three times: ‘Polycarp has confessed that he is a Christian!’”
Once the message is relayed, uproar fills the stands. The crowd is furious and shouts, “This is the teacher of Asia, the father of the Christians, and the one who overthrows our gods! He is the one who has been teaching many not to sacrifice to our gods or to worship them! Burn Polycarp alive! Burn Polycarp alive!”
Soldiers gather wood. Others grab Polycarp and place wood and kindling around him. One soldier comes to nail him down, but he requests, “Leave me as I am; for He who gives me strength to endure the fire will also enable me, without you securing me by nails, to remain without moving, in the pile.” So the soldier only binds Polycarp’s hands behind him.
Polycarp looks up to heaven and prays, “O Lord God Almighty, the Father of Your beloved and blessed Son, Jesus Christ, through Whom we have come to know You, the God of angels and powers and all creation, and of the whole family of the righteous who live before You, I give You thanks for counting me worthy of this day and hour, that I should have a part in the number of Your martyrs, and that I may partake of Christ’s cup, and the resurrection of eternal life both of soul and of body through the incorruption that is imparted by the Holy Spirit. Among Your martyrs may I be accepted this day before You as an acceptable sacrifice, as You have prepared and as You, the God of Truth, revealed beforehand to me, and now fulfill. Therefore I praise You for all things. I bless You and glorify You, along with the everlasting and heavenly Jesus Christ, Your beloved Son. To You, with Him, and the Holy Spirit, be glory both now and in all coming ages! Amen.”
As he completes his prayer, the soldiers light the fire. Soon the flame blazes in great fury, but something quite unusual happens. The fire shapes itself in the form of an arch, or like the sail of a ship filled with wind, and encompasses as a circle around Polycarp’s body. The Christians, who have gathered as closely as the authorities would permit, smell a sweet odor like frankincense or some such precious spice coming from the pile. And Polycarp’s body is not burning!
The commander notices that Polycarp’s body is not being consumed by the fire. He commands one of the executioners, “Pierce him through with your sword. Let’s end this.” The executioner obeys and such a large quantity of blood pours forth that it extinguishes the fire. But the job is finished. Polycarp has passed on to be with his Lord." (This account found in Polycarp and the Second Century Church, pages 75-81).
Note: (Written, March, 2017) This is the last article on Church History we plan to post for a while. If you have not yet read Polycarp and the Second Century Church, and you have enjoyed these articles on Early Church History, I recommend that you go to the books section of this Website where you can order the book on Amazon or Kindle. The book has much more information and good reading material in it than these eleven articles which quote from it. At the present time, we are putting the finishing touches on my second book which we plan to publish by the middle of this year. After that book is out, I plan to post devotionals from that book on this Website.
God bless you.