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Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Observations Concerning the Martyrdom of Polycarp

Reading through the account of Polycarp’s martyrdom reveals several observations concerning the conflict of worldviews and the impact of truth. Polycarp was killed for being a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ, killed in the name of religion. The persecution of believers today occurs because of the same conflict the world showed against truth--the same hostility that even our Lord Jesus Christ faced in his arrest, trial and death.

Truth wrecks the principles of religion because truth is rooted in the person of Lord Jesus Christ, not in a man-made system of people who think they understand God. Pragmatism as a worldview results in many, many problems, because it attempts to establish truth in a "user-friendly" fashion. When two people stand shoulder to shoulder in the name of pragmatism or religious tolerance, the systems fail before it ever begins; for example, biblical truth stresses that man is the crown of God's creation, so for one man to "lift his hand" against another is a crime not only against the victim, but also against his creator. Pragmatic religion on the other hand, may allow me to find pleasure in pouring boiling water of the head of another man and I may be convinced that my god would allow me to do so. Then a miracle occurs: when I approach the other man who shares the same attitude of religious tolerance with my kettle, how quickly his philosophy changes!

"And going out, according to His custom, He went to the Mount of Olives. And His disciples also followed Him." (Luke 22:39)

The account reveals that Polycarp and other followers of Christ were in constant conversation with God, and subsequently, always ready to hear from heaven: “Now, as Polycarp was entering into the stadium, there came to him a voice from heaven, saying, ‘Be strong, and show thyself a man, O Polycarp.’ No one saw who it was that spoke to him; but those of our brethren who were present heard the voice.” The religious crowd only hear their own voices. Heaven is a real place and the lover of God is tuned to hear Him who makes Heaven what it is, like a tuned string resonates with a tuning fork (an out of tune string will not vibrate on pitch). God is not silent and hears those who walk in obedience before Him (Ps. 1; Isaiah 59:2).

"Then Pilate entered into the praetorium again and called Jesus and said to him, 'Are you the king of the Jews?' Jesus answered him, 'Do you say this thing of yourself, or did others say it to you about Me?' Pilate answered, 'Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered you to me. What have you done?' Jesus answered, 'My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would fight so that I might not be delivered to the Jews. But now My kingdom is not from here.'" (John 18:33-36)

Polycarp based his faith on the reality and reign of the Lord Jesus Christ. The religious crowd wanted nothing to do with the Lord Jesus Christ because it was disruptive to what they perceived to be good for them. The proconsul wanted Polycarp to confess his atheism (that is, he would not confess Caesar as god and failure to do so was atheism in their eyes). Polycarp confesses instead his eighty-six years of service to Christ and how those years were received by Him and blessed. The sovereignty of God in Christ Jesus was the platform form which he could wave his hand at the crowd and say, “away with the atheists.” There is no freedom apart from the Lordship of Christ for His reign is ethical in every sense--He sets men free to do everything they should. Christ rewards the obedient with life and enjoyment of God forever. Polycarp would not exchange walking any remaining time on earth in slavery to betrayal.

Jesus made it clear that the Kingdom over which He reigns is not of this world. Furthermore, He has no need of anyone to fight for it. The Kingdom of Christ comes from outside man, so his ideas of The Kingdom must be shaped by the way the King presents it. The King is not chosen by men, but God; the Kingdom does not come from the earth, but descends from Heaven (Rev. 22:2); The Kingdom does not come by striving, fighting and conquest, but by the will of God. The weapons are spiritual, the rewards are spiritual. The Kingdom of Christ is internal before it is external, one that is responsive when the Holy Spirit speaks to the conscience.

looking to Jesus the Author and Finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and sat down at the right of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:2).

The recorder of Polycarp’s martyrdom records specifically that as he stood firm in the truth out of love for Christ, that “he was filled with confidence and joy, and his countenance was full of grace, so that not merely did it not fall as if troubled by the things said to him, but, on the contrary, the proconsul was astonished, and sent his herald to proclaim in the midst of the stadium thrice, ‘Polycarp has confessed that he is a Christian.’” The peace and joy he experienced was not the basis of his faith, but the result of his faith. His faith was being exercised in the context of persecution and resulted in genuine comfort. His faith was not built on good feelings, good health, a full wallet and a plastic smile. His comfort and joy evidenced that the Holy Spirit was present, doing what He does best--giving glory to Christ, as the crowd witnessed. The religious crowd stood firm on faithlessness and lived riotous, in constant upheaval, unrest, pursuing hedonism because there was no joy.

And being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.” (Philippians 2:8)

Perhaps the most astonishing observation about Polycarp’s martyrdom is that he was determined to be obedient to the death. Literally. Polycarp had a vision during a time of prayer that showed he would die by fire. When they were ready to turn the lions on him, Polycarp responded that for them to do so was unlawful. This was a sharp, two-pronged reply: first, the lions were not released at random, but at specific times of the “show.” That time had already passed. Second, this was a reminder to everyone that murder is unlawful but their hard hearts set against the Lord Jesus Christ would drive them to it, in the name of religion. Murder is a crime against man and a crime against God, breaking the 6th Commandment. “Everyone hating his brother is a murderer. And you know that no murderer has everlasting life abiding in him.” (1 John 3:15) The crowd would help him see that he remained obedient to the death. “I must be burnt alive.”

To this end I was born, and for this cause I came into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.“ (John 18:37)

John 18:28-40 is the record of the religious crowd bringing Jesus before Pilate. He was being led by the religious crowd that wanted Him dead, but they loved their religion so much they would not be defiled by His death. Their pragmatic religion revealed the fact that they were not keeping God’s law, but were breaking it by murderous hatred and lies. John records they did not enter the praetorium because they wanted to go home and eat. This was the time of year they were to remember God’s deliverance for Israel through the shed blood of a lamb through the Feast of Passover. If they entered this place they would be ceremonially unclean. They were blind to truth for the sake of religion.

Conclusion: The list is very long for those who, in the name of Christ, have stood in truth and gave their blood for it. God does not want men to die for a lie--that is not His will. His will is that all should come to repentance by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. His will is that men walk before Him in holiness.

Speaking out with a biblical worldview requires that we saturate ourselves in God's Word, obey God's Word, and speak God's Word. God does not change, and neither does His purpose to exalt Christ in all His glory.

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