“Take him and give no heed to what he may say” barked the Centurion to several soldiers as he pointed to the blessed Polycarpus, Bishop of Smyrna. His words were not a warning to expect the beloved Pastor to talk his way out of the charges, but rather an urging to the soldiers to not receive the things of Christ that he would undoubtedly speak to them as they led him away under arrest.
Revelation chapter 2 foretold of the day when the leadership of this faithful church at Smyrna would be imprisoned and put to death. Here, some 60 years after the words were penned by the Apostle John, the aged soul winner whose very name means “much fruit”, was taken to the Roman amphitheater and placed before the depraved crowd that had called for the blood of so many other Christians.
The presiding office gave Polycarpus the opportunity to regain his freedom unharmed. offering “If you will but curse this Jesus you speak of, I will set you free.” The crowd chanted “curse him, curse him,” but the man of God would not. Instead, he raised his voice as loudly as his old frame would allow and said “Eighty and six years have I served him and he has done me nothing but good. How then shall I curse him, my Lord and Savior?”
The command was given to lash him to the pole for burning, but he pleaded “Tie me not, for the same Christ who gave me power to come to this fire shall give me strength to stand.” He was allowed to stand untied and he did not attempt to flee the flames. The crowd was amazed at the strength of this great man of God. Some cheered in glee. Others celebrated. But there were many who sat in hushed awe at the power of God.
We cannot ignore that some non-Christians die as bravely as Polycarpus did, but I think it is safe to say that none die with the triumphant, conquering spirit or joy that this man died with. Some may claim they are going to a better place, but even they know the uncertainty of their words. Only a Christian can die with joy, because our joy is founded on what we have in the next life and not this present one.
“Mark the perfect man, and behold the upright; for the end of that man is peace” Psalm 37:37