April 24, 2012

How Did Polycarp's Death Bring Glory to God?

<p>Another story that&rsquo;s very interesting is that of the martyrdom of Polycarp. He had gone to Rome in order to discuss the dating of Easter. Apparently this was one of the early questions that arose within Christianity. When do we celebrate Easter? There were some who continued to celebrate Easter on the 14th of Nissan, using the Jewish calendar. But there were occasions upon which the 14th of Nissan would fall during the course of the week and not on Sunday. There were others, other Christians who celebrated Easter on the Sunday after the 14th of Nissan. Of course, Sunday being the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus. And so they felt it was a more appropriate time to celebrate. But, of course, the church had to come together on the dating of this matter and so, Polycarp had gone to discuss these things. And he disagreed ultimately with the bishop with whom he had conversation.</p>
<p>But later when he went back home he was charged with being a Christian. And it&rsquo;s significant that when he was accused of that, the soldiers went out to incarcerate him and they got to his home in the evening and he opened the door; he was a kind, gentle man, already well up in years, 86 years of age. He welcomed them into his home. He asked them, &ldquo;Have you had anything to eat?&rdquo; He offered them food and drink, and he said, &ldquo;Please, allow me time to pray, it&#39;s too late for us to travel back and I will go with you peaceably.&rdquo; So Polycarp took care of his guards, and he went upstairs and he prayed fervently that night and then he came down.</p>
<p>And the next morning they went and stood before the proconsul. The proconsul who presided at his trial tried to persuade Polycarp, urging him to think about his advanced age, and told him to worship the Emperor. When Polycarp refused, the judge ordered him to cry, &quot;Out with the atheists!&rdquo; Now what you need to understand is that the accusation against early Christians was that they were atheists. The Roman Empire, with its worship of a hundred gods, thought it ridiculous for people to worship only one god and they thought that was something of an atheistic move. So when the proconsul urges Polycarp to say, &ldquo;Out with the atheists,&rdquo; he is as much asking Polycarp to say, &ldquo;Out with the Christians.&rdquo; To this, Polycarp responded by pointing at the crowd around him and saying, &ldquo;Yes, out with the atheists.&rdquo;</p>
<p>Again the judge insisted, promising that if he would swear by the Emperor and curse Christ he would be free to go, but Polycarp replied, &ldquo;For eighty-six years I have served Him and He has done me no evil. How could I curse my King who saved me?&quot; Thus, the dialogue went on. When the judge threatened him with burning him alive Polycarp simply answered that the fire that the judge would light would last only a moment; whereas the eternal fire would never go out. Finally, we are told that after he was tied to the post in the pyre, he looked up and prayed out loud, &ldquo;Lord, Sovereign God, I thank you that you have deemed me worthy of this moment, so that jointly with your martyrs I may have a share in the cup of Christ. For this I bless and glorify you. Amen.&rdquo; It&rsquo;s recorded for us in other places and later on that even the blood-thirsty Romans were impressed by the way that the Christians embraced their death in hope and in courage and in faith.</p>