Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Forty Soldiers

Both Matthew and Luke record Jesus’ teaching that we should not fear those who have power over us in this life. Matthew 10:28-32 says, "Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul, rather fear him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground without the Father’s knowledge. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Therefore, do not fear. You are of more value than many sparrows. Whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven."

In 320 AD, in an area known as Sabaste (now part of Turkey) a Roman legion was garrisoned. At that time the Emperor Licicnius was persecuting Christians and ordered that all those who would not worship the Roman gods should be killed. The Commander of the Legion at Sebaste assembled his men. Any who were foolish enough to follow this Christian God, he commanded, step forward to be put to death. Imagine his surprise when FORTY of his bravest and best soldiers stepped forward, saluted, and announced that they were followers of Jesus.

Now, Commander Vespatian, didn’t really want to kill forty of his best men, and he didn’t want to order his men to kill so many of their comrades – so he decided to let them think about it overnight and he would ask again in the morning. But in the morning the forty soldiers were still steadfast. Hoping they would change their minds the commander ordered them to be imprisoned and brutally beaten.

For three days the men endured by praying and singing Psalms, and on the evening of the third day when they were brought before Vespatian again they still stood strong. “We have made our choice.” They said. “You may kill us if you must. These soldier bodies belong to the Roman Emperor, but our souls belong to the One True King.” Commander Vespatian was left with no choice.

It was the middle of winter in Sebaste, Vespatian ordered that the men be stripped down and marched out into the middle of a frozen lake to die of exposure. Still hoping that some of the men might recant he also ordered that large bonfires be built on the shore of the lake and warm baths prepared. Across the ice of the lake could be heard the chant of the men. “Forty soldiers for Christ we stand. In God alone we place our hope and we are not ashamed.”

As Vespatian stood on the shores of that frozen lake, throughout the night the chant of the men could still be heard, but growing weaker as the cold began to take its toll. “Forty soldiers for Christ we stand. In God alone we place our hope and we are not ashamed.

Towards morning one lone figure could be seen creeping back across the ice. History records his name as Melitis. And as Melitis shivered by the bonfire on the shores of the lake, across the ice the chant of the men began again “Thirty-nine soldiers for Christ we stand. In God alone we place our hope and we are not ashamed.”

Vespatian looked in disgust at the shivering soldier. Then this man, this commander who had beaten the Christians, jailed them, and ordered their deaths, suddenly threw off his own clothes and ran out onto the ice towards the men shouting “Forty! Forty soldiers for Christ we stand. In God alone I place my hope and I am not ashamed.”

Today, let's ask ourselves: Are we standing on that shore?

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