I am awe-inspired by the courageous last words of early Christians before facing their martyrdom. Their last words and prayers before facing their Maker are worth reading and reflecting. .
I will try to paint you a picture of the last words and prayer of one of the most famous early Christian martyr, Polycarp(c. 70-156). Polycarp was the Bishop of Smyrna, who also claimed to have been a disciple of John. Caught and charged by Romans for Atheism: his refusal to worship a deified Caesar as Lord.
Picture an old man with gray hair that bears witness to his age, tied to a stake that is surrounded by bundles of wood, looking at the Heavens, awaiting his execution.
“Last chance to redeem yourself, old man ” shouts Roman’s proconsul, “I will cause you to be consumed by fire, if your despisest the wild beasts, unless you repent.” The stadium full of chanting and booing spectators, awaiting to witness another Christian burnt. The governor looked at the brave old man, not fully understanding why he could be so stubborn. How hard could it to deny a crucified “King of the Jews”, Christ Jesus as Lord and fall, instead to the lordship of Caesar?
There stood Polycarp, full of hope and joy in what he believed, waiting to share in the suffering of his Lord and King. With peace that transcend human understanding, the old man answered the governor “You threatenest that fire which burneth for a season and after a little while is quenched: for you are ignorant of the fire of the future judgment and eternal punishment, which is reserved for the ungodly. But why delayest you? Come, do what you wilt.”
Proconsul blown by the courageous old fool, wondered, what kind of King is that that won this old man’s ultimate allegiance.
“I have served Christ eighty–six years and He has done me no wrong. How can I blaspheme my King? I am a Christian.” said Polycarp “Come, do what you wilt.”
With that Polycarp said his last words:
‘O Lord God Almighty, the Father of Thy beloved and blessed Son Jesus Christ, through whom we have received the knowledge of Thee, the God of angels and powers and of all creation and of the whole race of the righteous, who live in Thy presence;
I bless Thee for that Thou hast granted me this day and hour, that I might receive a portion amongst the number of martyrs in the cup of [Thy] Christ unto resurrection of eternal life, both of soul and of body, in the incorruptibility of the Holy Spirit.
May I be received among these in Thy presence this day, as a rich and acceptable sacrifice, as Thou didst prepare and reveal it beforehand, and hast accomplished it, Thou that art the faithful and true God.
For this cause, yea and for all things, I praise Thee, I bless Thee, I glorify Thee, through the eternal and heavenly High-priest, Jesus Christ, Thy beloved Son, through whom with Him and the Holy Spirit be glory both now [and ever] and for the ages to come. Amen.’
There came the firemen and lit the fire. Crackling, sizzling and popping sound of a might flame flashed forth, consuming a praising Christian. Cheering and chanting filled the stadium as the Jews and Romans roar in laughter and mockery at a deluded followers of the “crucified Messiah”.
But there in the dark corners of the stadium, secretly stood Christians, knowing any time, any moment, could be their turn. In joy, they prayed and praise God, singing “Home, Home, Home Polycarp goes, see you when we too come”
The Epistle of Polycarp, Tran: J.B. Lightfoor ( Early Christian Writings)
Douglas, J. D., Comfort, P. W., & Mitchell, D. (1992). Who’s Who in Christian history (572–573). Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House.