The heroes of the faith teach modern Christians to imitate their Christ-like behavior and learn from their mistakes and triumphs. As stories of Christians who endured terrible deaths challenge and inspire, they spark in modern Christians a flame of love for Christ and a willingness to die for His Sake. They begin to inwardly question themselves, wondering if they are willing to receive the torch of martyrdom and endure imprisonment, torture, and eventual execution for their faith. And yet, Christians who have gone before this generation endured such treatment for the Sake of their King–Jesus Christ.
Below are two examples of Christians in the early church who withstood the urge to give in to the temptation to renounce Christ in order to spare their physical bodies and instead faithfully witnessed for Christ by giving up their earthly lives.
Blandina was a young Christian woman during the fourth persecution of the early church, which the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius officiated. Others thought she would flee in the face of persecution and that she would be too worried about her physical comfort to stand bold in the day of trial. Yet when she was captured and tortured, she remained firm in her faith. Officials tied her to a pole, and she dangled from a rope as food for lions, but the beasts refused to touch her. God performed this miracle for Blandina two more times. Finally, her torturers used a different strategy. After Blandina suffered attacks by lions and wild bulls, she was scourged with whips and burned with hot metal. However, “When she could speak, she exhorted all near her to hold fast to their faith…When Blandina’s torturers were unable to make her recant her faith, they killed her with a sword” (Foxe 20-21).
How great was Blandina’s joy at meeting her Savior and hearing Him say, “Well done, Blandina, My good and faithful servant. Because you have not denied Me among men, I will not deny you before My Father.”
Unlike Blandina, Polycarp was an overseer in the church of Smyrna. He also was “a student of the Apostle John” (17), and Polycarp undoubtedly gained much wisdom from the man who had seen Jesus with his own eyes.
During the same persecution under Marcus Aurelius that Blandina endured, Polycarp learned that soldiers had been sent to take him to his trial. However, God used a child to prevent him from escaping, and Polycarp resolved to face death with bravery and faith. When soldiers came for him, Polycarp invited them in for a meal and treated them hospitably. He requested some time to pray, and they granted his request. They soon regretted capturing this man of God.
Sentenced to die by fire, Polycarp refused to be nailed to a stake, stating that he would stand in the middle of the flames without attempting escape. He stood firm as the flames were lighted. However, the onlookers soon discovered that the flames refused to burn Polycarp, harmlessly falling around him instead. Finally, someone pierced him with a sword. As he died, blood gushed from his wound and put out the fire.
Polycarp had the privilege of suffering for Christ and entering into the joy of his Lord.
Like Blandina and Polycarp, Christ calls you to proclaim His Name, to be a martyr. The word martyr simply means “witness.” Christ commands you to witness for Him, no matter the earthly consequences. All are called to martyrdom in the sense of “witnessing,” though Christ calls some to die for His Sake. In truth, you died the moment you accepted Christ’s blood as the propitiation for your sin, and you became a new creation, a living vessel through whom Christ can draw men to Himself.
The heroes of faith whom you have read about this year extend to you a symbol of witnessing for Christ: the torch of martyrdom. Fueled by martyrs’ blood, Stephen first lit this torch when Jews stoned him. This symbol of faith has been passed from generation to generation, carried by hundreds of thousands as they witnessed and died for the Sake of the One who paid their ransom.
To close, let the words of this hymn exhort you to faithful witness for Christ:
We bear the torch that flaming
Fell from the hands of those
Who gave their lives proclaiming
That Jesus died and rose
Ours is the same commission
The same glad message ours
Fired by the same ambition
To Thee we yield our powers
Are you willing to bear the torch?
Soli Deo Gloria
Eusebius. Eusebius–The Church History: A New Translation with Commentary. Translated and commentated by Paul L. Maier, Kregel, 1999.
Foxe, John. Foxe’s Book of Martyrs. Edited by Harold J. Chadwick, Bridge-Logos, 2001, pp. 17-19, 20, 21.
Houghton, Frank. Facing a Task Unfinished, Getty Music, performed by Keith and Kristyn Getty, https://www.gettymusic.com/facing-a-task-unfinished/.