“But Peter and John answered and said to them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, make your own judgment; for we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.”” Acts 4:19-20,
One of the most inspiring stories in Church history is the martyrdom of Polycarp, who was a student of the Apostle John. He lived between 69 and 156 A.D and served as head of the Church at Smyrna. He was seen as one of the earliest fighters of Christian heresy and was well respected by the Church, standing firm in the faith while facing incredible persecution. And this firm stand is what caused his eventual martyrdom. Below is the account of his death.
The leaders of Rome had unleashed bitter attacks against the Christians in the early 2nd century, and members of the early church recorded many of the persecutions and deaths. Polycarp was arrested on the charge of being a Christian, a member of a politically dangerous cult whose rapid growth needed to be squelched. In the midst of an angry mob, the Roman proconsul took pity on such a gentle old man and urged Polycarp to proclaim that Caesar was Lord. If Polycarp would make this declaration and then offer a small pinch of incense to Caesar’s statue, he would escape torture and death. To this Polycarp responded, “Eighty-six years I have served Christ, and He never did me any wrong. How can I blaspheme my King who saved me?” Steadfast in his stand for Christ, Polycarp refused to compromise his beliefs, and thus, was burned alive at the stake. (You can read more about this at www.polycarp.net)
What a testimony. All he had to do was declare that Caesar was his lord, and he would be spared. All he had to do was sprinkle a little incense toward Caesar, and he could have gone free. However, he chose to stay true to Christ, his Savior. And because he made this choice, he was tied to a stake and burned alive. It is said he did not cry out, but that he sang praises to Jesus until he died. His martyrdom is but one of many stories of persecution ending in the death of the persecuted. We have all heard of the Christians who were thrown to the lions as thousands of Roman citizens watched with delight. Many, like the Apostle Paul, were beheaded. And it is said that Nero would burn Christians alive as lamps to light his debaucherous parties.
My prayer is that we as Christians living today would have the same testimony as Polycarp. We may not find ourselves facing death for the cause of Christ, but we should be willing if required. However, we all will face resistance for our faith in Christ. What if we were told to do something unethical or immoral as a requirement to keep our job? Would we make small concessions, such as lying or participate in behavior unbecoming a Christian? Would we sprinkle a little incense toward Caesar? What would happen if we were given the choice of rejecting Christ or losing everything we have? This may become a reality as we come closer to the great tribulation. Or what if we are compelled to accept a little leaven in our lives in order to be accepted by the crowd? Could we resist? These are important questions to ponder.
There will be times in our lives when we will have to decide to stand firm for Christ, or compromise. The apostles Peter and John made the choice to obey God and preach the gospel, rather than obey the Sanhedrin. They were then beaten, ordered not to speak in the name of Jesus and then released. Did they discontinue telling others about Christ. No, they did not. Here is what happened as written by Luke in the Book of Acts.
“When they had brought them, they had them stand before the Council. The high priest interrogated them, saying, We gave you strict orders not to continue teaching in this name (Jesus), and yet, you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and intend to bring this Man’s blood upon us. But Peter and the apostles answered, We must obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom you put to death by hanging Him on a cross. He is the one whom God exalted to His right hand as a Prince and a Savior, to grant repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses of these things; and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey Him. But when they heard this, they became infuriated and nearly decided to execute them. But a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the Law, respected by all the people, stood up in the Council and gave orders to put the men outside for a short time. And he said to them, Men of Israel, be careful as to what you are about to do with these men. For, some time ago Theudas appeared, claiming to be somebody, and a group of about four hundred men joined him. But he was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and came to nothing. After this man, Judas of Galilee appeared in the days of the census and drew away some people after him; he also perished, and all those who followed him were scattered. And so, in the present case, I say to you, stay away from these men and leave them alone, for if the source of this plan or movement is men, it will be overthrown; but if the source is God, you will not be able to overthrow them; or else you may even be found fighting against God. They followed his advice; and after calling the apostles in, they flogged them and ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and then released them. So, they went on their way from the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name. And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not stop teaching and preaching the good news of Jesus as the Christ.” Acts 5:27-42.
They did not stop just because it got a little uncomfortable. They persevered, knowing that they could be treated even worse. But it did not matter to them, for they chose to please God rather than men. This should be our attitude as well. We should be willing to stand up for the truth, no matter the cost. We may lose our friends, jobs, possessions, family, or even our very lives. What we need to ask is, are these things a higher priority than God? Do I want the acclaim of men or God? If there is any hesitation at all that our answer is God, then we need to examine our priorities and bring them in line with God’s. Only then will we be able to say as Polycarp did, “For so many years I have served Christ, and He never did me any wrong. How can I blaspheme my King who saved me?”