Ignite, Day 3
Enter Ignatius and Polycarp. Or, as I affectionately call them, “Poly & Iggy.”
Where did we start?
Here is The Wick preceding The Flame!
And before that?
Yes, that would be our friend Paul, or Saul… You’ll have to step into his story with us on Sketched V!
What happened before Paul?
Oh yes, those were the Seeds scattered by the growing church right after Jesus ascended and the Holy Spirit descended. Don’t miss that!
But that brings me back to my friends, and fellow igniters for the Gospel, Polycarp and Ignatius… theirs is a story to tell!
Ignatius lived in what I have to imagine must have been one of the most exciting times in church history. He was born in 35 A.D., most likely just after Jesus died and was resurrected. He grew up in those early years, and was considered one of the first-generation believers. Ignatius became the church father of Antioch during his time, and was more commonly referred to as the bishop. (Yes, the same Antioch at which the Holy Spirit filled the Upper Room of believers – and the city in which followers of Jesus “Christus” were first dubbed “Christians.”)
Ignatius is most famously known as one of the church’s earliest martyrs, but he was also one of the first-generation disciples. Although he was likely not born until just after Jesus ascended, as a young man in Ephesus, Ignatius was personally discipled by the apostle John.
I have to stop right here for a moment. Can you even imagine being “personally discipled” by one of Jesus’ own disciples who physically walked with Him? Who prayed with Him? Who saw Him turn water to wine and call Lazarus to life? Who saw His resurrected body and witnessed His ascension?
Ignatius lived to the age of 72, and by all accounts, he was exceptionally full of fire and boldness. (I mean, the man pouring into him was poured into by Jesus Himself, in the flesh. How could you NOT be?) Ignatius was the first to speak about the virgin birth of Jesus outside of the New Testament, and he is also credited for the earliest recorded use of the phrase “catholic church,” with regard to the universal church. His heart echoed Christ’s regarding unity, and he openly denounced division as “the beginning of evil.” Throughout his years, Ignatius wrote many letters to the church at various locations, the majority of which addressed the threat of false teachers who asserted that Christ did not actually appear in the flesh.
In a nutshell, history shows Ignatius as a man fixed on truth. Ignatius knew truth, applied it, lived it, and spoke it. He lived and died with single-minded purpose, refusing to stop until the very end.
Ignatius was arrested, most likely on charges of “atheism,” and escorted from Antioch to Rome under guard of ten soldiers. At every stop along the way, he was able to meet with leaders of the local church there, and he wrote seven letters to them with the help of a secretary. To the church at Smyrna (led by the bishop Polycarp), he wrote “Follow, all of you, the bishop, as Jesus Christ followed the father.”
The exact details of his death are unknown, but the heartbeat of his life can be felt in his words:
“Now I begin to be a disciple… Let fire and cross, flocks of beasts, broken bones, dismemberment…come upon me, so long as I attain to Jesus Christ.”
– Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch
Polycarp was born in 69 A.D., and was appointed as bishop of the church at Smyrna by the apostles, yes, the original apostles you read of in your Bible! He was actually a friend and disciple of Ignatius, as well as a disciple of the Apostle John. When Ignatius, under guard, was en route to his execution and writing letters to several church bodies, Polycarp’s church was a recipient of one such letter.
As one of the first second-generation disciples, Polycarp was alive when the church was growing rapidly. He became a follower of “Christus” as a child, and his faith and boldness were apparent in many documented instances. He was adamant that the truth and message of Christ would not be distorted, and he didn’t flinch when confronting early Gnostics and heretics. In fact, Polycarp is credited with converting many Gnostics to Christianity. Though he held little formal education, his one writing to the church at Philippi conveys he was both humble and direct.
Polycarp’s death is the first recorded martyrdom in post New Testament church history. At the age of 86, he was arrested on charges unknown. After a surprisingly witty banter with the proconsul, Statius Quadratus, he was burned at the stake.
His response when the soldiers grabbed him to nail him to the stake leaves little question about the strength of his faith. “Leave me as I am. For he who grants me to endure the fire will enable me also to remain on the pyre unmoved, without the security you desire from nails.”
Not unlike the fire that burned so many martyrs of the early church, the flame of faith continued to burn brighter.
These early fathers were on fire for Jesus, delivering the message of Christ readily and often. Their whole-heart, whole-life, bold faith inspired those around them to be bold in turn, and the church ignited.
I’m not going to lie to you. Studying the lives and deaths of these men was not easy. Their willingness to go and grow, and die for what they believed in forced me to take a hard look at my own faith and how I walk it out. There was guilt. There were tears.
And then, there was hope.
Their devotion was unmatched. Their fervor inspired. These men lived their whole lives for Jesus and His message, and after a lifetime of devotion, they gave the ultimate sacrifice to be with their Jesus.
What would this place look like if we lived our days and nights with that kind of fervor?
What would it look like if we set aside our cultural comforts and embraced “Christus” and His message the way they did?
What would it look like if we denounced our social media-centric lives, and chose to cultivate actual Biblical community instead?
What would it look like if we cut through the distractions of this age and actually began to crave time with the One Who makes our heart beat?
Would our youth grow and return and thrive in the Church? And would they bring others with them, because the Church wouldn’t be a building at all, but a family?
Would our denominational division start to look less like walls and more like bridges?
Would we work together to fix the mess we’ve helped to create, in love?
And would the flame begin to grow like it once did, because WE would carry it boldly?
Love, would we start to catch fire again?
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