Smyrna 155 A.D-The night is cold and damp. There’s great anticipation that something is going to happen. It is the Asia minor city of Smyrna. There’s feasting around the corner. The proconsul Statius Quadratus is present, and the asiarch Philip of Tralles is presiding over the games. Eleven Christians have been brought, mostly from Philadelphia, to be put to death. This was the pattern of life in the first century –Anno Dommini.
Polycarp was the bishop of Smyrna. He was also one of the first Apostolic fathers or parents of Christian belief and thought. Smyrna was awash with the form of persecution that is only spelt by the cruel and grotesque elimination of human life -martyrdom. One Christian, Germanicus, who when exposed to the wild beasts, incited them to rather slay him. His death stirred the fury of the multitude, and the cry was raised “Away with the atheists; let search be made for Polycarp”.
The insatiable appetite of the populace was inflamed by the spectacle of each martyrdom. Polycarp took refuge in a country farm. His hiding-place, however, was betrayed and he was arrested and brought back into the city.
Attempts were made by the officials to induce him to recant, but without effect. When he came into the theatre the proconsul urged him to “revile Christ,” and promised, if he would consent to abjure his faith, that he would set him at liberty. To this appeal Polycarp made the memorable answer:
“Fourscore and six (eighty six) years have I served Him, and he has done me no harm. How then can I curse my King that saved me.”
These words only fed a gluttonous rage of mob fury. They begged for a lion to be let loose upon Polycarp. The asiarch however refused. For he said the games were over. How about make a human torch? The mob begged that their victim be burned – the proconsul did not interfere. Timber and faggots were hastily collected and Polycarp was placed upon the pyre. With calm dignity and unflinching courage he met his fate and crowned a noble life with an heroic death.
Today’s average Christian hardly reads or hears about church fathers like Polycarp or the different apostles who met their end being used as bait for lions, beheaded by gladiators, boiled in oil and burned at the stake or crucified on a cross. More than half of evangelical Christians have never known what the reformation period was all about. Or even aroused to the significance of sound doctrine in Christian maturity.
But the life stories of the early Christian martyrs and modern day persecuted church should inspire and encourage everybody. Trials and hardships come to strengthen our faith in God. Despite the challenges we must persevere to the end. Isn’t it written that, “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”- (Philippians 3:14 ESV)
Even Joel Osteen would be happy to hear that. Unless he still believes that a Christians’ best life is here on earth.
“I exhort you, press on in your course, and exhort all men that they may be saved.” – Polycarp