“Dying For What You Believe In”

Is there anything that you feel strongly enough about that you would die for it? A cause, a belief? Few of us today in American really know much of anything about sacrificing to the point of death, but there are stories in history that tell us amazing accounts of those who have suffered and died for a cause or belief. One such story took place in 328 A.D. in a city high in the icy mountains of Armenia.

It was a bitterly cold winter, and in the middle of that winter an order came from the Roman emperor that every man, woman, and child under the rule of his empire must bow down to him as a god.

Now there was a powerful force of Roman soldiers in that Armenian city known as the “Thundering Legion”, and their reputation as a powerful military force was well known throughout all the Roman Empire. But the emperor was not satisfied with just their military service – he wanted each soldier to bow down to him.

But, when the time came for each soldier to bow down, 40 could not. They were faithful soldiers, but they were Christians – they could not obey the emperor’s order to make him their god. They said, “We can only worship the one true God.”

Well, when the word of these 40 soldiers refusing to bow down and worship him was received by the emperor, his command back was simple, “Bow down to me, reject your Christian God, or die”. But the 40 soldiers did not bow down – so the decision was made that they would die.

But how should they die? Should they be fed to the hungry lions? Should they be burned at the stake? These were both terrible ways to die, but an even more cruel death was prescribed –

they were to be frozen to death in the bitter cold winter.

So, they took the 40 soldiers to a frozen lake in the middle of a terrible winter storm. They stripped them of all their clothing and left them to freeze to death.

But the general in charge did not want to lose these 40 good soldiers. He said, “Simply bow down to the emperor and save your life?” But they would not.

The other soldiers taunted and laughed at them saying, “soon you will be back; you will bow down”. But the laughing stopped when these 40 Christians bravely walked barefoot across the icy freezing lake.

Well, through the night the soldiers lit a fire and cooked food to tempt the Christians to give up. But the Christians prayed to God to make them brave, and they began to shout,

“Here die 40 men for Christ”!

The freezing bitter cold night went on until finally, the cold was too much for one of the men. He staggered back to the fire and agreed to denounce his God and to bow down to the emperor. But the remaining 39 Christians would not give in, even though they were literally freezing to death.

Then, amazingly, something happened that they could not believe – one of the Roman soldiers sitting by the fire, having watched the bravery and courage and faith of these dying Christians, he stood before the general and uttered these words,

“I will take that man’s place – I will be a Christian.”

As the general watched in amazement, this Roman soldier removed his clothing and walked onto the icy lake to join the other 39.

Well, the Roman soldiers sat by that fire all night long, and the last thing they said they could remember hearing through the howl of that terrible freezing winter storm was the now 40 Christian men shouting,

“Here die 40 men for Christ”.

In the morning, sadly, there were 40 frozen bodies; men who had sacrificed and died for their faith and belief in Christ.

A full 350 years later, in the chapel in the forum of Rome, there was dedicated to these 40 soldiers a plaque, a simple plaque which still hangs there today. It has these powerful words engraved on it,

“Here Die 40 Men for Christ”.

 

What cause would you be willing to die for?

When you close your eyes and try to imagine in your mind the physical appearance of our Founding Fathers, what do you see?  Of course, there were no photos taken in 1776, but the drawings and portraits we can look at tend to give us a picture of old, distinguished fellows, stately men wearing their powdered wigs.

Now, with that picture in my mind, it’s is hard for me to imagine that they were regular people just like you and me.

But did you know that so many of the signors of our Declaration of Independence were not old men at all?  That’s right, and one of the young men in that group was Thomas Jefferson. 

It’s hard to believe, but when Thomas Jefferson wrote the draft for our Declaration of Independence, he was only age 33? That’s amazing,

but even more amazing is the fact that Jefferson wasn’t even suppose to be there at that Continental Congress. Wow!

You see, in 1775, when the Virginia convention selected their delegates to go to the Continental Congress meeting in Philadelphia, they chose a man by the name of Peyton Randolph to represent them at that Congress, not Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson was picked as the alternate, to go only if for some reason Peyton Randolph could not go.

Surely that would never happen, but it did; delegate Peyton Randolph could not go, so Virginia’s second choice, alternate Thomas Jefferson, traveled to Philadelphia for that crucial meeting as a substitute.

Now, a little bit of information here on Thomas Jefferson that you may not know.

First, he was a very quiet man who rarely spoke publicly, but despite his reluctance to speak publicly, he was an amazing communicator. In fact, over the course of his lifetime he wrote over 16,000 letters. He was fluent in five languages, and was able to read two other languages.  He was a lawyer, a scientist, and he could play most all musical instruments.  He was an author, an architect, even an inventor. He was quite an amazing fellow.

But how did he come to write the Declaration of Independence if he was only an alternate delegate? 

Well, it’s not known just when the first fires of freedom were born in Jefferson’s heart and soul, but he was in attendance that day in 1765 when Patrick Henry gave his powerful, defiant speech against the Stamp Act, and that speech set Jefferson on his journey to freedom. His ideals and theories about self-governance and the rights of people were powerful.

Before Jefferson even left for that Congressional meeting in Philadelphia, he wrote down certain thoughts and ideals about freedom and he sent them ahead.  He called these thoughts, “A Summary View of the Rights of British American”.

But on his way to the convention, Thomas Jefferson became very ill and he had to delay his journey for a few days.

But when his papers arrived before him and were read by the other delegates, his words were so enlightening, so powerful, and so revolutionary, that the papers were immediately published as a pamphlet and circulated to the delegates.

So, by the time alternate delegate Thomas Jefferson arrived at the meeting, his words and ideals had already struck a “Chord for Freedom”.  And that’s why he was given the task to write that first draft of our Declaration of Independence- and, amazingly, only minor changes to its content before it was passed out.

The Lesson Here?

  1. Lest you think you’re too young to make a difference for our America, remember Thomas Jefferson, only age 33 when he wrote the single most powerful document in our American history.
  2. And lest you think you have no power or support in your own convictions and ideals regarding America, remember Thomas Jefferson, he wasn’t even a first choice.
  3. And finally, lest you think you have nothing to say worth hearing, remember Thomas Jefferson, not a public speaker, not a great orator, yet he was still a powerful communicator.

One last strange twist in the life of Thomas Jefferson – he died on July 4th, 1826, exactly 50 years to the date his Declaration of Independence was formed.  On his death bed, Jefferson told his good friend James Madison that of all the things he wished to be remembered for, he wanted to be remembered most and foremost as the author of our nation’s Declaration of Independence.  Mr. Jefferson, we have not forgotten.

About Jerry Stewart

I am a story teller. Since 1998, I have been telling the true stories of our nation and those Americans gone before us.  To say the least, these stories have been well received by Americans, both young and old.  So, here’s where the stories have taken me.  In 1998, I was broadcasting my stories on just one radio station in Washington State.  Today, from Texas 15 years later, these programs are now broadcast through a syndicated radio network to over 400 radio stations all across America, with literally millions of listeners.

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