The Story of Polycarp

   It was late in the first century A. D. Since the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, Christianity had begun to spread throughout the Roman Empire. The apostles and other early Christians preached the good news of salvation, of “repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ,” (Acts 20:21), to Jew and Gentile, male and female, slave and free.
   One person whose life was changed by the gospel was Polycarp. As a young slave boy, he had a kind mistress named Calisto who treated him more like a son than a slave, and it may have been from her that he first learned of Christ. He was also taught by the Apostle John, who had seen the risen Christ with his own eyes.
   When Calisto died, she left her entire wealth to Polycarp. Eventually, he became a bishop, serving the church in the city of Smyrna.
   In A.D. 155, when Polycarp was an old man, the Roman emperor Hadrian launched a massive persecution of the Christians. They were rounded up and then brutally tortured and killed in Roman amphitheaters as entertainment for the crowds. One of the most sought-after Christians was Polycarp.
   When soldiers came to arrest him, Polycarp surprised them by inviting them to eat and asking if he could pray while they supped. They agreed, and for the next two hours, Polycarp prayed aloud to his Heavenly Father. Some of the soldiers were so impressed that they were hesitant to arrest him. But they still followed their orders and took the elderly bishop prisoner.
   Polycarp was given the chance to deny Christ and save his life, but he refused. He said, “Eighty and six years have I served Christ, and He has done me no wrong; how then can I blaspheme my King who saved me?”
   He was ordered to be burnt at the stake in the amphitheater. As the executioners prepared to light the fire, Polycarp prayed, “Lord God, Father of our blessed Savior, I thank Thee that I have been deemed worthy to receive the crown of martyrdom, and that I may die for Thee and Thy cause.” Like the apostles, he rejoiced that he was “counted worthy to suffer shame for His name,” (Acts 5:41).
   As the crowd watched, the fire was lit, and Polycarp faced death with quiet courage. An eyewitness wrote, “He was in the middle, not as burning flesh, but as bread baking or as gold and silver refined in a furnace. And we smelled such a sweet aroma as the breath of incense or some other precious spice.”
   But something strange happened. The fire kept going out. Finally, Polycarp was killed with a spear. When the flames finally did consume his body, he was already dead.
   The early church father Tertullian wrote, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” And it was. As more and more Christians were martyred, more and more people turned to Christ.
   They killed Polycarp’s body, but they couldn’t kill his soul. And they couldn’t kill the message he preached. Polycarp is now in the presence of the Lord he loved, and the gospel has continued to spread to the farthest reaches of the earth.

P. S. I highly recommend watching the movie Polycarp made by Henline productions. It's a great, family-friendly movie on the life of this inspiring Christian martyr. Check it out here. Art by yours truly.



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