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 known through all the Roman Empire. But the emperor was not satisfied with their military service – he wanted each soldier to bow down to him.
When the time came for each soldier to bow down, 40 could not. They were faithful soldiers, but more importantly, 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 Christian 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 Christian Roman 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 storm. They stripped them of all their clothing and left them to freeze to death.
But the general didn’t want to lose these 40 good soldiers. He said, “Simply bow down to the emperor and save your life?” But they did not. The soldiers taunted and laughed at them – “soon you’ll 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 on 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 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 have sacrificed for their faith and belief in Christ.