Faithlife Sermons

The Martyrdom of Polycarp

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During one season of persecution, a frenzied crowd in Smyrna cried out for a search to be made for Polycarp. He had moved to a town just outside the city, and three days before his death he had a dream from which he concluded, “I must needs be burned alive.” So when the search was finally made, instead of fleeing, he said, “The will of God be done.” The ancient account of the martyrdom gives the following record:

So, hearing of their arrival, he came down and talked with them, while all that were present marveled at his age and constancy, and that there was so much ado about the arrest of such an old man. Then he ordered that something should be served for them to eat and drink, at that late hour, as much as they wanted. And he besought them that they should grant him an hour that he might pray freely. They gave him leave, and he stood and prayed, being so filled with the grace of God that for two hours he could not hold his peace, while they that heard him were amazed, and the men repented that they had come after so venerable an old man.11

When he was finally taken away and condemned to be burned, they tried to nail his hands to the stake, but he pled against it and said, “Let me be as I am. He that granted me to endure the fire will grant me also to remain at the pyre unmoved without being secured with nails.”12 When his body seemed not to be consumed by the fire, an executioner drove a dagger into his body. The ancient account concludes: “All the multitude marveled at the great difference between the unbelievers and the elect.”13 In large measure, this is what explains the triumph of Christianity in the early centuries. They triumphed by their suffering. It did not just accompany their witness; it was the capstone of their witness. “They have conquered [Satan] by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death

John Piper, Desiring God (Sisters, Or.: Multnomah Publishers, 2003), 271-72.

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