Fascinating and inspiring stories abound of the many men and women who have been executed (martyred) throughout history for being Christians. In the early years of the church, the means of execution were often carried out by sawing, stoning, crucifixion, burning at the stake, and other cruel forms of torture and punishment.
One of the more intriguing stories comes from a man who pastored a church in Smyrna in the second century. Polycarp was a disciple of the Apostle John who is credited with assembling and organizing the books of the New Testament. He was arrested by the Roman government at the age of 86, tried, convicted, and sentenced to be burned at the stake. The executioner approached the old man saying, “I have wild animals here, I will throw you to them if you do not repent.” Polycarp replied, “Call them, It is unthinkable for me to repent from what is good to turn to what is evil. I will be glad though to be changed from evil to righteousness.” To that, the executioner said, “If you despise the animals, I will have you burned.” Polycarp then boldly replied, “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.” The Roman soldiers then grabbed the old man to nail him to a stake, but once again the bold, old man had more to say, “Leave me as I am. For he who grants me to endure the fire will enable me also to remain on the pyre unmoved, without the security you desire from nails.” At that point, Polycarp prayed aloud, the fire was lit, and his flesh was consumed. The author who wrote about his life and witnessed his martyrdom would later say, “it was not as burning flesh but as bread baking or as gold and silver refined in a furnace.”
What a godly, bold man he was, and what a great way to leave this world! How will you go? Kicking and screaming, grasping for every last breath, not wanting life to end? The Apostle Paul said,
“I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing” (2 Tim. 4:7-8).
The end of our physical lives should be embraced, not dreaded, for it starts something far better! Oh Christian, do not hold on to this world so tightly that you don’t look forward to Heaven. It’s all too easy to be distracted by what’s going on here on earth. But the Bible reminds us that “our citizenship is in heaven” (Phil. 3:20).
The promise of heaven is a wonderful, glorious promise that anchors our souls and gives us hope.
“With Christ as your friend and heaven as your home, the day of death becomes sweeter than the day of birth.” – Max Lucado
“This world is not my home I’m just a passing through
My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue
The angels beckon me from heaven’s open door
And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore.”
“But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, Neither have entered into the heart of man, The things which God hath prepared for them that love him.”
(1 Corinthians 2:9)