Do you like “once-upon-a-time” stories? I’m sure, like most kids, you grew up with them. Even grown-ups enjoy them every now and then. Stories of romance and brave deeds can fire up our imagination. But when these kinds of stories are true, they thrill us even more—especially when they involve heroes and heroines of the faith. Such is the story of the “Thundering Legion.”
A long time ago, there was a Roman emperor, Constantine the Great, who had an army that came to be known as “The Thundering Legion.” Christianity had just begun to spread throughout the world, under this emperor. The army occupied a very important place, something like an elite force in the military today. The regiment had a total of forty soldiers, and amazingly, all of the members became Christians! These soldiers openly declared their faith, and for this, were severely persecuted. When they could not be persuaded to give up believing in Christ, they were sentenced to a particularly brutal treatment.
One night, they were forced out naked upon a frozen pond. A fierce wind was blowing. Near the pond stood a beautiful house, all lit up with fires and candles. The soldiers were told that inside there were warm baths and a great supper, everything that could comfort and delight. A commander spoke to the men and said: ” If you will give up Christ — any of you, who ever will — he may at once leave the ice, and the cold, and go into that warm house, and have that supper, that warm bath, that bed, and be happy. But going into that house means giving up Christianity. If you stay upon the ice you will die before morning. Nobody can survive through the night here.” The forty men decided to honor God and stay upon the ice, and this is what they said in prayer: “O God! Forty wrestlers have come forth to fight for Thee. Grant, O Lord, to the forty wrestlers the victory!”
The Thundering Legion continued to pray. As the night wore on, some of the soldiers felt like sleeping. This was the kind of sleep that a person sleeps who is dangerously cold, but will never awaken. Some of the men walked around very fast to keep themselves warm; some gazed at the house with all its comforts. One poor soldier could bear the torment no longer and chose to forsake his faith and go into the house. A Roman centurion, who witnessed the men’s bravery on the pond, thought to himself, “There must be something in this religion which can make these men bear all this agony, and go to the death for the sake of Christ. There must be something in it that is quite true. I will go and join them.”
So the centurion, who commanded a company of soldiers, went and joined these faithful, courageous men in the place of the poor man who had left. Still the prayer went on: “Forty wrestlers have come forth to fight for Thee. Grant, O Lord, to the forty wrestlers the victory!”
When the sun arose the next morning, even though there were forty lifeless bodies on the ice, victory had come! For there in Heaven was a legion surrounded by every comfort and delight. There was a legion that had fought bravely. There in Christ’s presence was the “Thundering Legion.”
We may not be persecuted for our faith as these godly men were, but may we stand for God’s honor even when our friends around us do not. May we remember this last, honorable battle of the Thundering Legion and pray that God would give us courage in our day to put God’s honor first, even before our own life.
Taken from: The Expositor’s Treasury of Children’s Sermons*—James Vaughan.
*The Expositor’s Treasury of Children’s Sermons, edited by Robert Nicoll and Jane T. Stoddart, published by Hodder and Stoughton: London, 1912 .pp. 454
A WORD WORTH KNOWING
cen·tu·ri·on — ruler of an elite force of soldiers in the days of the Roman Empire