Polycarp, the Bishop of Smyrna in the 2nd century, exercised enormous Christian leadership in the early Church. When he was in his 80s, for instance, he journeyed to Rome where many were converted to Christ. Shortly after his return home to Asia Minor, persecution broke out against the Church in his city.
For sport, the Romans abducted 11 Christians and martyred them at a great festival in Smyrna. The appetite of the mob was inflamed by the spectacle of the martyrdom. A cry was raised “Let a search be made for Polycarp.” Polycarp had taken refuge at a country farm, but his whereabouts were betrayed.
He was arrested and brought back to the city, where the proconsul urged him to “revile Christ”, promising that if he would deny his faith, he could be set free. To this demand, Polycarp made a memorable answer:
“80 & 6 years have I served Him; and He has done me no wrong.
How then can I speak evil of my King who saved me?”
These words only intensified the fury of the mob, which clamored for a lion to be let loose on him. Instead, a fire was kindled for him. Polycarp was placed on the wood. With calm dignity and unflinching courage, he was martyred by being burned alive.
Right up to the time the flames licked up his body and he breathed his last, he remained faithful to His Lord and to his calling as a servant of the LORD. I believe God’s grace enabled him to respond the way he did. God’s kingly presence enabled Polycarp to give a royal testimony to the indestructible purposes of our heavenly Father and King.
In a similar way, 3 young Hebrew exiles – Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego – responded in a majestic manner to King Nebuchadnezzar, the despotic ruler of the Babylonian Empire in Daniel 3. They refused to bow down to the 90-foot high gold statue that Nebuchadnezzar had set up. This golden image somehow represented the Babylonian king’s power. Nebuchadnezzar then had a blazing furnace prepared to throw them into it. The 3 young Jews’ response in Daniel 3:16-18 is a memorable one:
O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you
in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God
we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your
hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know that
we will not serve your gods, or worship the image of gold you
have set up.
The LORD has promised to give us grace in our time of need as we look to Him and draw near to Him (Heb. 4:16). The 3 young Hebrews didn’t know whether the LORD was going to grant them the grace of deliverance or the grace to die for God’s glory! But either way, they were confident that God’s kingly presence and working was going to fulfill His kingly purposes through them.
Polycarp, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego trusted God even when they were in very difficult circumstances. They had the conviction that God was King even when everything around them seemed to shout otherwise. Furthermore, they had the conviction that they were in covenant with a King who was faithful to His promises, even to the point of death.
The whole story of the Judeo-Christian faith culminates in the death of our covenant-making and covenant-keeping LORD on the cross. God had always dealt with His people in the Old Testament on the basis of covenant, whether the Abrahamic covenant (see Genesis 15) or Mosaic covenant (see Exodus 19 &24). The New Covenant inaugurated by Jesus’ life, death and resurrection is the fulfillment of God’s promises to His people that He made in the earlier covenants. God was willing to die in our place to fulfill our side of the Covenant in order that His blessings might come to all who trust in Him.
We often find ourselves in situations where it seems like the LORD is not King, just like Polycarp and the 3 young Jewish friends. It could be marital difficulties, employment problems or health issues. When we are in the blazing furnace of these trials and tribulations, it is easy for many people to conclude that God is not King but that these circumstances are LORD.
When we find ourselves coming up against the hard realities of life, God wants to assure us that He is there and He can be trusted. Never will He leave us or forsake us (Heb. 13:5). When we pass through the turbulent waters and walk through the fires of life, God will be with us because He is King of the earth and He is our faithful covenant LORD (Isaiah 43:2,3). All who trust in Him will be vindicated in their faith. There is nothing in all of creation that will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our LORD (Romans 8:39).
In Christ’s love & service, Pastor John Neposlan