The year was 155 AD and the place was Smyrna, in the Roman province of Asia. There was a new wave of persecution that was sweeping against the Christian church, and the proconsul of Smyrna was especially vicious in his pursuit and persecution of the followers of Jesus. He focused on the bishop of Smyrna, a man named Polycarp, who was almost 100 years old. When the Christians of Smyrna found out that an arrest warrant had been issued for Polycarp, they whisked him away and hid him in a barn on a farm outside of Smyrna. But the police found him and brought him into the city, to the center of an arena where there were tens of thousands of people screaming for his execution. As the old man stood in the middle of the arena, anticipating that soon he would die, the proconsul had a moment of sympathy for the old man. He raised up his arm and he silenced the crowd. When everything was quiet, the proconsul shouted out, "Polycarp! Curse the Christ and live!"
Polycarp, with a strong voice, answered back, "Eighty and six years have I served my master and king, and he has done me no wrong. I dare not blaspheme him now." With that refusal to renounce his faith in Jesus Christ, the proconsul brought down his arm, and Polycarp was executed as a Christian martyr.
I have often wondered, How did he do that? How did he remain so trusting? Where did he muster the faith and the strength to be faithful to Jesus Christ, under the worst of circumstances? I have a theory: I think Polycarp acted in line with what his mentor had taught him—and his mentor was none other than the apostle John!
The apostle John had had a most unusual relationship with Jesus. For a while, there were thousands who thronged around Jesus ...
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