ALL SAINTS DAY
Many years ago the bishops in England thought that there were so many good people to remember, that one day should be set apart commemorate all who had lived Godly lives, and so November 1st was designated as "All Saints Day". When we think of ‘saints’ there comes to mind a picture of a person in ancient costume with a halo around their head as seen in a stained-glass window but that’s not right because the Bible teaches that all who have trusted in Jesus as their Saviour are ‘saints’. When St Paul wrote his letter to the Christians living in Rome, the address he put on the envelope was "To all in Rome who are loved of God and called to be saints" (1:7). Like all of us, they weren’t perfect, but they were precious in God’s sight.
It’s on this day that we especially remember Christians throughout the centuries who have lived their lives faithfully to their Lord and Saviour. The New Testament tells the stories of Christians who were bitterly persecuted for their faith and had to pay for it by their lives and that has continued down the centuries. I’ll tell you the story of two of them.
The first was a man called Polycarp. He lived about 200 years after the Christian church was founded. Polycarp was Bishop of the church at Smyrna (present day Turkey). Persecution broke out in Smyrna, and many Christians were fed to the wild beasts in the arena. The bloodthirsty crowd would not be satisfied until they had killed their leader and sent a search party to find him. He was brought before the Roman authorities and told to curse Christ and he would be released. He replied, "Eighty-six years have I served him, and he has done me no wrong: how then can I blaspheme my king who saved me?" The Roman officer replied, "Unless you change your mind, I will have you burnt alive." But Polycarp said, "You threaten a fire that burns for an hour, and after a while is quenched; for you are ignorant of the judgement to come and of everlasting punishment reserved for the ungodly. Do what you wish." It was as much a day of victory as it was a day of tragedy. Polycarp illustrated the power of knowing Jesus, intimately enough to follow Him into the flames. As Jesus said, "What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?"
The second story is from the twentieth century. Jim Elliot was an American. He became a Christian at a young age and after university he became a missionary in Ecuador, South America. He, with a few other young missionaries wanted to reach a tribe of Indians who lived in a remote region beyond civilization. The tribe was known for its violence so no-one ventured in their territory but they were people for whom Jesus had died to bring them forgiveness and salvation. Jim Elliot and his four friends thought the best way was to try to make friends with them. They made contact by flying a small aircraft down their river bank. They made contact from their airplane with the tribe by using a loudspeaker and a basket to pass down gifts. After several months, the men decided to build a base a short distance from the Indian tribe. There they were approached several times by small groups of Indians, and even gave an airplane ride to one curious man. Encouraged by these friendly encounters, they began plans to visit the tribe, but then a larger group of Indians arrived who were vicious and they killed Elliot and his four companions on January 8, 1956. After his death an entry was found in his diary: "He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose."