Polycarp was the Bishop of Smyrna around 155-160 AD. He was arrested by the Roman authorities. They took him to the local Arena. In the Arena they exhorted him, saying, “Swear by the Genius of Caesar; repent, say, ‘Away with the atheists!”
Polycarp looked around the arena. Then he motioned toward the crowd with his hands and he said, “Away with the atheists!”
The magistrate persisted. He said, “Swear the oath and I will release you. Revile Christ!”
Polycarp replied, “For eighty-six years I have been his servant, and he has done me no wrong. How can I blaspheme my King who saved me?” And so Polycarp persisted in his faith. And they lit him on fire.
John Huss was a minister in Bohemia. He was a preacher of justification by faith alone in Christ alone. In 1415 Hus was summoned to the Council of Constance. On July 6, 1415 John Hus was burned at the stake for preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ.
In October 1555 Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley were burned at the stake in Oxford, England. What was their crime? Preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Or consider Hugh MacKail – the 20-something Scottish pastor in the 1660s. When they arrested MacKail they took him to the Tollbooth. There they placed his leg in the Boot, a device of torture whereby the knee would be broken – forcing it to bend backwards, one wedge at a time.
As they moved MacKail back to his cell, he was heard to say, “How good is the news! Four days now till I see Jesus!”
When he was asked about his impending hanging, MacKail said he was far less bothered about dying than he had ever been about preaching a sermon. When the day came, as he went up the ladder, he said, “Every step is a degree nearer to heaven.” They hung him from the gallows. What was his crime? Preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Down to today, Christians continue to suffer. Recently about 150 Hindu radicals attacked 4 Christian families who had gathered for worship in India. Following the attack, the Christians were asked to recant their faith. When they refused, the Christians were beaten again.
In Central Africa, rioters attacked a pastor’s home and a church located close to the city center. The church building was set on fire along with the pastor’s home.
These sorts of stories are happening all over the world.
The suffering of God’s people continues to mark the history of the church.