The year was A.D. 155, and persecution against Christians had swept across the Roman Empire and come to the city of Smyrna. The proconsul of Smyrna, caught up in this persecution, put out an order that the Bishop of Smyrna, named Polycarp, was to be found, arrested, and brought to the public arena for execution. They found Polycarp and brought him before thousands of spectators screaming for blood. But the proconsul had compassion on the man, who was almost a hundred years old. He signaled the crowd to silence.
To Polycarp he said, "Curse the Christ and live." The crowd waited for the old man to answer. In an amazingly strong voice, he said, "Eighty and six years have I served him, and he has done me no wrong. How dare I blaspheme the name of my king and Lord!" With that, Polycarp became a martyr.
As often as I have reread and thought of that ancient, true story, I have wondered what it is about a man in those worst of circumstances, in what could be counted as his greatest moment, that enabled him to behave in the way he did: to trust Jesus Christ. There are significant spiritual and supernatural explanations, but I think there's something of a human explanation to it as well. Polycarp had been mentored by a man who knew Jesus Christ in a most unusual way. Polycarp's mentor was the apostle John.
As you recall from the biographies of Jesus, thousands thronged around him and hundreds followed him. A dozen became his disciples. Out of the dozen, three were in the inner circle. In the inner circle was John, described as "the disciple whom Jesus loved." Their relationship was something unique. John must have passed it along to Polycarp, and to his other disciples. I think I can sum up John's attitude by saying that ...
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