This story was taken from Jesus Freaks by D.C. Talk and Voice of the Martyrs. It is found on pages 96-97. It took place in 320AD
“The Roman governor stood resolutely before the forty roman soldiers of the Thundering Legion. ‘I command you t make an offering to the Roman gods. If you will not, you will be stripped of your military status.’
The forty soldiers all believed firmly in the Lord Jesus. They knew they must not deny Him or sacrifice to the Roman idols, no matter what the governor would do to them.
Camdidus spoke for the legion, ‘Nothing is dearere or of greater honor to us than Christ our God.’
The governor then tried other tactics to get them to deny their faith. First heoffered them money and imperial honors. Then he threatened them with torments and torture with the rack and with fire.
Camididus replied, ‘You offer us money that remains left behind and glory that fades away. Youseek to make us friends of the Emperor, but alienate us from the true King. We desire one gift, the crown of righteousness. We are anxious for the glory, the glory of the heavenly kingdom. We love honors, those of heaven.
You threaten fearful torments and call our godliness a crime, but you will not find us fainthearted or attached to this life or easily stricken with terror. For the love of God, we are prepared to endure any kind of torture.’
The governor was enraged. Now he wanted them to die a slow, painful death. they were stripped naked and herded to the middle of a frozen lake. He set soldiers to guard them to prevent any from coming to shore and escaping.
The forty encouraged each other as though they were going to battle. ‘How many of our companions in arms fell on the battle front, showing themselves loyal to an earthly king? Is it possible for us to fail to sacrifice our lives in faithfulness to the true King? Let usnot turn aside, O warriors, let us not turn our backs in flight from the devil.’ They spent the night couragiously bearing their pain and rejoicing in the hope of soon being with the Lord.
To increase the torment of he Christians, baths of hot water were ut around the lake. With these the governor hoped to weaken the firm resolve of the freezing men. He told them, ‘You may come ashore when you are ready to deny your faith.’ In the end, one of them did weaken, came off the ice, and got into a warm bath.
When one of the guards on the shore saw him desert, He himself took the lace of the traitor. Surprising everyone with the suddenness of his conversion, he threw off his clothes, and ran to join the naked ones on the ice, crying out loudly, ‘I am a Christian!’
Some call it ‘the mystery of martyrdom.’ Why would seeing 39 believers who were willing to die for their faith inspire a highly-trained soldier, in the prime of his life, to join them in death? It seems so foreign to our American way of thinking. It is amazing to see how God works through these tragic situations to call more people to Himself.”
This is the power of our God. The gospel is worth suffering and dying for. I love this story. I have an extremely vivid imagination and can picture 40 men, slowly freezing to death, encouraging eachother with Scripture, songs, calls to faithfulness, and reminders of what they are standing for. I can picture their despair as one of them finally gives in and deserts his faith. I can hear them calling to their brother, entreating him to come back, repent, and be saved. I can feel the chords around the guard’s heart as God breaks them to reveal Himself. And I can feel joy with him as he chooses to sacrifice his own life in order to gain it.
The postscript at the end of the story is true. The guard choosing to join the dying men is very foreign to our minds. Why did he need to do that? No one knew that he had just been converted. He could easily have saved his life by simply keeping quiet. No one would ever have known. But he didn’t. He truly believed that what he was witnessing was the truth, the ultimate truth, and he truly believed that Jesus was worth dying for. So instead of rationalizing how much better it would be for him to live, he chose to make the ultimate sacrifice and gave up his life.
Oh that we would take these examples to heart, that we would live as though the gospel is the dearest thing to us and that Jesus is worth living and dying for.