“Master you must leave,” Thomas urged. “It has been two days since Justinius was arrested. They will have tortured him to find you.” The master’s silence caused Thomas to continue. “How long will you wait here for the soldiers to take you away? Did you not hear what happened at the arena only weeks ago? The crowd was calling your name. You life is in danger, master.”
“Were we not told? Did we not know? Christ Jesus, our Lord, said that persecution would come. Should I run away? Nay. Though they kill my body, they cannot touch my soul. Now, I shall sup.”
Thomas commanded the meal be brought. The faithful servant longed to convince his aging master to leave Rome. But it was clear that the Bishop of Smyrna was not going to go. For weeks Thomas had pleaded with the older man, but the master remained resolute. His answer was always the same: “God’s will be done.”
Heavy pounding on the front door sent Thomas rushing to answer. Four soldiers pushed roughly past him and headed for the back room where his master was eating. Thomas followed close behind. The soldiers circled the old man where he sat a supper.
“Polycarp, you are hereby arrested under order of the proconsul for being a Christian. What say you?”
The master looked up from his food. “God’s will be done.” He then looked at Thomas. “Bring these men meat that they may eat.”
Thomas nodded to a nearby servant, who rushed to do his bidding. Keeping his place by the wall, Thomas watched as the master addressed the soldiers again.
“Sirs, would you grant me an hour of prayer?”
Much to Thomas’ amazement the soldiers agreed to the master’s request. Two hours later the aged man finished his prayer, and went peaceably with the soldiers. Thomas also prayed. He prayed for God’s strength for himself and his master. He prayed for the souls of the heartless proconsul which persecuted those who did not follow the old ways. He prayed for the quick return of the Lord.
After a sleepless night, Thomas followed the crowd into the arena. The proconsul sat, waiting for his prized prisoner. Near the proconsul sat Philip the Asiarch, keeper of the lions. Thomas shuddered to think of his calm, kind master being torn apart by the savage beasts. He sent a prayer to heaven as he caught sight of his master’s bent form coming through the crowd. The area resounded with the cries and jeers of the Roman spectators.
The proconsul silenced the masses as the master stood before him. The proconsul urged the master to reproach Christ. Thomas could hear his master’s voice clearly.
“Eighty-six years I have served Him, and He has done me no wrong. How can I blaspheme my King who saved me?”
“Swear by the fortune of Caesar and you shall be free,” the proconsul promised.
“Since you vainly think I will swear by the fortune of Caesar, as you say, and pretend not to know who I am, listen carefully: I am a Christian!”
Thomas wanted to cheer, and cry at the same moment. His master’s faith was strong despite the trial. Still, Thomas prayed for deliverance for the beloved gentleman.
“I will throw you to my wild beasts if you do not repent,” threatened the proconsul.
“Call them! I cannot repent from that which is better to that which is worse.”
Thomas watched the large purple vein protrude from the proconsul’s forehead. “I will have your body burned.”
“You can threaten me with a fire that burns for an hour, but do you not realize that there is a fire that burns for eternity, which is the coming judgment for the ungodly. But why do you delay? Do what you want.”
Thomas could see the anger in the face of the proconsul as the herald made his announcement to the arena. Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna, was order to die for his faith. As they led the elderly man roughly away to the marketplace to be burned on a pyre, Thomas could almost hear his master say in his calm, quiet voice, “God’s will be done.”
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