Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Faithful Warriors! #8. Vespasian's Wrestlers

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil.   Ephesians 6:13 (NLT)

When a soldier has been properly outfitted, trained and pointed in the right direction, there is only one sensible thing left to do – Join the fight   I don’t know what that means for you tomorrow, or even this afternoon; God is the one who defines and directs the strategy.  I suggest you keep an attitude of prayer, and an open heart.  He will bring you into the battle where you’re needed, and at the right time.  Good commanders know their troops.

In the days of the Roman Emperor Nero, there lived and served him a band of soldiers known as the "Emperor's Wrestlers."  Fine, stalwart men they were, picked from the best and the bravest of the land, recruited from the great athletes of the Roman amphitheater.

In the great amphitheater they upheld the arms of the emperor against all challengers.  Before each contest they stood before the emperor's throne.  Then through the courts of Rome rang the cry:  We, the wrestlers, wrestling for thee, O Emperor, to win for thee the victory and from thee, the victor's crown.

When the great Roman army was sent to fight in Gaul, no soldiers were braver or more loyal than this band of wrestlers led by their centurion Vespasian.  But news reached Nero that many Roman soldiers had accepted the Christian faith.  Therefore, this decree was dispatched to the centurion Vespasian; If there be any among your soldiers who cling to the faith of the Christian, they must die!

The decree was received in the dead of winter.  The soldiers were camped on the shore of a frozen inland lake.  It was with sinking heart that Vespasian, the centurion, read the emperor's message.  Vespasian called the soldiers together and asked:  Are there any among you who cling to the faith of the Christian?  If so, let him step forward!  Forty wrestlers instantly stepped forward two paces, respectfully saluted, and stood at attention.  Vespasian paused.  He had not expected so many, nor such select ones.  Until sundown I shall await your answer, said Vespasian.  Sundown came.  Again the question was asked.  Again the forty wrestlers stepped forward.

Vespasian pleaded with them long and earnestly without prevailing upon a single man to deny his Lord.  Finally he said, The decree of the emperor must be obeyed, but I am not willing that your comrades should shed your blood.  I order you to march out upon the lake of ice, and I shall leave you there to the mercy of the elements.

The forty wrestlers were stripped and then, falling into columns of four, marched toward the center of the lake of ice.  As they marched they broke into the chant of the arena:  Forty wrestlers, wrestling for Thee, O Christ, to win for Thee the victory and from Thee, the victor's crown! 

Through the night Vespasian stood by his campfire and watched.  As he waited through the long night, there came to him fainter and fainter the wrestlers' song.  As morning drew near one figure, overcome by exposure, crept quietly toward the fire; in the extremity of his suffering he had renounced his Lord.  Faintly but clearly from the darkness came the song:  Thirty-nine wrestlers, wrestling for Thee, O Christ, to win for Thee the victory and from Thee, the victor's crown!

Vespasian looked at the figure drawing close to the fire.  Perhaps he saw eternal light shining there toward the center of the lake.  Who can say?  But off came his helmet and clothing, and he sprang upon the ice, crying, Forty wrestlers, wrestling for Thee, O Christ, to win for Thee the victory and from Thee, the victor's crown! 

For You Today

My friend, it makes little difference where you live, or what epoch in history; the battle is the Lord’s.  Someday the battle will be in front of you.   The question to settle right now, right here – so that you will be ready on that day – is:

Will there be 39 or 40 when Christ calls?

That is the decision Christ invites you to make for Him.  And so the invitation is what it has always been: Christ bids us:  come and die, Christian – Come and die!

You chew on that out on that Rocky Road today…and have a joy-filled and blessed day!

[1] Title image:  © Jorge Royan /, via Wikimedia Commons

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