before the sun goes down

"Be of good courage, and let us behave ourselves valiantly for our people, and for the cities of our God: and let the LORD do that which is good in His sight" (I Chronicles 19:13).

Friday, March 11, 2011

Thirty Soldiers of Christ

This is a story based on an actual account in history that I heard when I was a youth and wrote out in order to remember and relate to others.  The events occurred in the days of the "Pre-Christianized" Roman Empire. I have often been provoked by the men in the story.  I am sharing it today that you might also consider their testimony...

The Roman army was the pride of Rome. It was known for speed and strength. There were legions of them! The generals were famous for their brilliance in military strategy and leadership. The men, strong and disciplined--loyal to the emperor and to Rome. This army was the most powerful and feared army in the world. They were virtually unbeatable. 


Now, in one of the renowned legions, I believe it was the one called the Eagles, there were thirty soldiers who were especially strong, and courageous. They were instant in obedience, powerful in warfare, and steady in service. These thirty men were also what the Romans called Christians. They were followers of the Jewish Messiah.  Jesus had been crucified, buried, and had come back to life. They believed he was the Son of God, and that He had died for their sins. They followed his teachings.

Their belief, as some may think, did not cause the to be unfaithful to Rome--it had the opposite effect. They were Romans. Jesus commanded men to, "...Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's" (Matthew 22:21). By following this command, they were even more loyal to the Caesar, and showed integrity in their personal lives.

 
And their General whom they served under, loved these thirty men. They were loyal to him, and feared not to take the most dangerous assignments. They were respectful at all times. They were the best men in his legion. They served with all their heart. And they won many battles for the Caesar.


Then came the decree that all soldiers in the Roman host must worship the idol of the Caesar. When the general received it, he knew that his thirty best soldiers were in danger. He called all his men together. And read the decree: “All soldiers of Rome shall offer sacrifice to the image of the emperor to prove their loyalty to him. Any who refuse to follow the above shall be killed.”


The men in the army instantly began to take turns offering sacrifice to the image. All, that is, except the thirty Christians. The general pled with them to obey but they respectfully refused to do it. He tried to reason with them--they didn’t need to turn from their faith inwardly, just outwardly bow to the image. This argument didn’t persuade them. The general, wanting to save their lives, then commanded them to follow orders. They again stood and said we cannot. It was the very first time they had ever disobeyed him. 


He flew into a rage. Now, it was wintertime and the snow covered the hard ground. The army was encamped beside a lake, which was now frozen. Out of his anger the General shouted, "All right! You know the penalty of disobeying the decree. Death! You will remove your armor, you will remove your shoes, and you will march out onto the ice, and you will stand at attention, there until you freeze to death."


Without hesitating, the soldiers began to disarm. Shields were put aside. Cloaks were cast off broad shoulders. Shining helmets were lifted off the head. Breastplates were removed, and belts and swords laid aside. They unbuckled their shoes, and taking them off, stood in only their tunics. The cold wind blew on them, and yet, none wavered. At the command, the thirty men marched out onto the frozen lake, barefoot and with out any protection from the elements. None tried to flee; none made an effort to escape.


As the general watched, they marched to the middle of the lake, and stood at attention on the ice. And as he listened, they began to sing. And these were their words that reached his astonished ears:

Thirty soldiers of Christ are we,

This we do not deny
Jesus gave His life for us,
And now for Him we DIE!


Their strong voices echoed over the frigid lake; the General heard every word. The song was sung over and over again.


Thirty soldiers of Christ are we,

This we do not deny
Jesus gave His life for us,
And now for Him we DIE!


For hours they stood at attention in this manner. The sun set, and the army slept in their tents. But the general didn’t go to bed. Instead, he stood by a fire onshore--he could not escape their song.


Thirty soldiers of Christ are we,

This we do not deny
Jesus gave His life for us,
And now for Him we DIE!


It grew dark, and it got colder. The general clasped his cloak about him, leaning upon his spear and staring into the flames. The singing was still to be heard, but it was growing fainter.  The warriors on the ice were weakened by the weather. But they stood tall, even then. And the winter breeze carried their words.


Thirty soldiers of Christ are we,

This we do not deny
Jesus gave His life for us,
And now for Him we DIE!


Suddenly the song stopped. The general, startled, turned toward the lake and squinted his eyes. What was the matter? 

 
One man was coming back, crawling on his hands and knees across the ice. His feet were frozen. As his comrades on the ice watched him go, the song was not sung. Everything was quiet. The general watched him reach the shore, bow down and offered worship to the image, and make his way into his tent.


The men on the ice stood at attention still, but no song came from their lips. There weren’t thirty of them anymore. 


The general pondered on how these same men had fought valiantly in battle; how they were the best men in the legion.  He could not deny that they owed their good fame to the Lord Jesus Christ--they had often witnessed to him of the gospel.  He knew these men had never disregarded his orders until now.


Suddenly, he threw down his spear. He removed his cloak and his armor. He took off his shoes.  And determinedly, he marched out on to the ice. When he reached the line of soldiers, he stood at attention, and began singing.

Thirty soldiers of Christ are we,

The soldier beside him joined in.

This we do not deny

Another and another-

Jesus gave His life for us,

‘Til every soldier in the line sang together the last line.

And now for Him we DIE!


And they did die. In the morning, they were found frozen on the ice.


These men were loyal to their authorities: their general, their country, and to their God.

 

They were faithful, unto death.
 

WHO FOLLOWS IN THEIR TRAIN?


There is still time to win a battle before the sun goes down.

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