Thursday, March 13, 2008

Revelation 2:8-11 (3)

This is the third part of my script from Sunday morning's preach at Reading Family Church. You can listen to it online here.

As I was thinking about this verse after I’d read through the passage a few times, it occurred to me that I don’t really know what it means to overcome like this. I don’t know what it means to be faithful to the point of death, in short, I don’t know what this verse means. But, I know there are hundreds of thousands of people who, since this letter was written, have been faithful to the point of death, who have overcome as Christ overcame. Men like Hugh Latimer and Nicolas Ridley who were burnt at the stake for their faith in Oxford under the reign of Queen Mary. Latimer and Ridley were burned together. Both of whom held high positions in the church that they lost when they refused to compromise their faith with the Catholicism that was being reinstated by Queen Mary.

Latimer was committed to Biblical reform in this country and before he was arrested would often preach before Henry VIII who swung from Christianity to Catholicism and back again. Once he said this as he started to preach in the kings court: ‘Latimer, Latimer, thou art going to speak before the high and mighty king, Henry VIII, who is able, if he think fit to take away thy life. Be careful what thou sayest. But Latimer, Latimer remember thou art also to speak before the King of kings and the Lord of lords. Take heed thou does not displease Him.’

Ridley was no less courageous. Placed under house arrest in 1553, he was in good spirits on the night before his execution. He said, like so many Protestants, that he regarded his execution the next day as his marriage, and said that he hoped everyone would attend the feast. Mrs Irish, the Catholic owner of where he was kept under arrest, having been won over by Ridley was sad that he had to die and in reply Ridley is recorded as having said these words: ‘though my breakfast will be somewhat sharp, my supper will be more pleasant and sweet.’

These men were burnt together. They overcame, and were not hurt by the second death.

The last person I want to talk about is not as local to us as two men who met their end in Oxford. Polycarp was Bishop of Smyrna itself, knew the Apostle John, and since he was martyred less than thirty years after this letter was written, almost certainly read it. When persecution broke out he was persuaded to flee and hid on a farm on the outskirts of the city. When he was eventually tracked down he persuaded his captors to let him pray before they took him away. We’re told ‘on granting his request he stood up and being so full of the grace of God they could not hold his peace for two hours. His hearers were astonished and sorry they had come after such a venerable old man.’

On being bought into the stadium the noise was deafening. Polycarp was asked by the judge to have respect for his old age, and avoid the flames. Polycarp replied that he had served the Lord for 86 years, and He had done him no wrong. How could he blaspheme the King who saved him? The judge replied ‘I have wild beasts’ ‘Bid them be bought’ said Polycarp. The judge then challenged him ‘if you despise the beasts, unless you change, your mind I shall have you burnt’. Polycarp then answered with this memorable sentence: ‘you threaten me with fire that burns for an hour, and after that is quenched. You are ignorant of the eternal fire to come.’ Polycarp was burnt, and then stabbed, at the stake moments later.

He overcame and was not hurt at all by the second death.

It’s the second death that Christ is most concerned about, not the first. He will not expend limitless amounts of energy on keeping us from death, because on the cross He has already done all that is needed to save us from the second death. Dying in our place, paying the price for our sins so that we can know God though Him. So that we can not be hurt at all by judgement, by the second death.

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