He was freezing, out in the middle of a frozen lake with nothing on. No shoes, no clothes, no coat, nothing. He and 39 other members of the elite Thundering Legion of the Roman Empire. The year was 320A.D. Emperor Licinius had demanded that all Roman soldiers worship him as a god. This was nothing new but it wasn’t enforced all that much. All his life, he had wanted to be a soldier and serve his emperor. He would die for him. He considered it to be a great honor to be in this very decorated Thundering Legion. But the last few years, he had come to know Jesus as his Messiah. He could no longer worship anybody except Him. But he still wanted to serve in the Roman army.
At first, Governor Agricola of Sevaste (in modern day Turkey) spoke mildly but firmly to the men in their barracks. “I am told you refuse to offer the sacrifice ordered by Emperor Licinius”. One of his friends said, “We will not sacrifice. To do so is to betray our holy faith”. The Governor replied, “But what about your comrades?….Think of the disgrace you bring upon your legion”. His friend replied, “To disgrace the name of our Lord Jesus Christ is more terrible still”. The Governor promised promotion to all who does his duty. No one stepped forward. The Governor said, “Then prepare for torture & death”. The 40 soldiers stood firm. They were flogged in the freezing cold. The whips tore into their flesh, bloodying them but they stood firm.
Eventually, they were taken down to a frozen lake & stripped completely naked. The Governor could hardly believe his eyes. The men ran unto the freezing lake shouting, “We are soldiers of the Lord and fear no hardship. What is our death but entrance into eternal life?” Baffled, the Governor posted guards around the lake. He then heated large tubs of water to entice the men to come in from the freezing lake.
One of the guards said, “Look (pointing to the sky), doesn’t anyone see them?…spirits hovering with golden crowns over these men’s heads, holding out rich robes for them”. No one but this one guard saw this. But it was too much for one soldier. He came in and was immediately put into one of the hot tubs. But the shock was too much for him. He went into convulsions and died. The guard who had seen the vision of crowns, shucked off his clothes and ran unto the lake saying that they would be 40 again as he just accepted the Lord.
By morning 39 of them had died but the young man was still barely alive. The guards told his mother about her son. They told her they would look the other way if she wanted to come and get him. “What kind of talk is this” said his mother. “Would you cheat him out of his crown? I’ll never let that happen”. As the wagon of dead bodies pulled away, she cradled her son’s head and said, “Go son,,,go to the end of this happy journey with your comrades so that you won’t be the last to present yourself to God”. The guards were astonished. They couldn’t believe their ears & eyes. The bodies of the 40 were burned and their ashes cast into a river. Christians collected what they could of their ashes & bones and preserved them as the honored remains of these 40 brave Christians who wouldn’t deny their Lord & Savior. The next time you have to make a decision that may cost you something, remember these brave believers. Philippians 3:8 “What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ…”
For His Kingdom,