This post originally appeared at “Borrowed Light,” Mike Leake’s blog.
On Sunday the 15th, the frigid wind blew outside my home as windchills dropped to 35 below. Arctic air had pushed out of the North bringing snow squalls and treacherous travel the night before and church services had been canceled. Though winter’s fury raged outside, my house was warm and my family happy. We had spent the day relaxing and enjoying each other’s company while nature blew ragged icy gusts outside. I had just returned from an unexpected trip to California where they had temperatures in the 80?s. Jet lagged and temperature shocked, it was a good day to rest in the warmth and reacclimate to my native time zone.
That evening I was shocked from my warm reverie with devastating news. News that made me yearn for justice and long for heaven. News of yet another mass murder at the hands of ISIL. I have yet to watch the full video of the beheading of 21 Egyptian men who were identified by their executioners as “people of the cross.” Marched in funerary procession yet wearing orange jumpsuits as though they were inmates at a penitentiary were 21 men whose charge was belief in Jesus Christ.
They were Egyptians who had gone to Libya for work. Fathers, sons, brothers, husbands; all had gone in search of wages to support themselves and their families. Men who widened their gaze and went to where the work was in order to fulfil their responsibility to care for their families. We don’t know much of the circumstances surrounding their abduction, but such things are not done without violence and fear. Whether they were ripped out of bed at gunpoint, or pummeled at a jobsite and forced into vehicles, they were taken against their wills by men who meant them no good.
I wonder what went through their minds. Did they have hope they would live through this experience? Did they have hope they would escape? Perhaps. Yet when the questioning started about their faith and the demands began for them to recant or face the sword, I imagine all earthly hope fled. Their looming death settled like rocks in their stomachs as their captors demanded conversion to Islam or be executed as infidels.
I can imagine this because these men, these 21 Coptic Christians, were executed precisely because they would not recant. I can sit and wonder about these things because these men considered death more preferable to denying the Lord. Indeed the video is titled “A Message signed with blood to the nation of the cross.” The 21 men are slaughtered like animals with a blade to the throat, sawing repeatedly until the head is freed from the body. Shocking to us westerners who live with no fear or dread beyond someone not liking us for our faith.
We shouldn’t feel guilty that we live by the grace of God in lands with no persecution. We Americans specifically live in a land of religious freedom, and even though that freedom is eroding, we have the ability to speak out and argue for it without fear of violent reprisal. Thank God for his grace to us. Lets not ignore this grace, however, and use our time wisely to advance the kingdom of God against the darkness.
We Christians are Ambassadors of another kingdom. Each church is a beachhead established by heavenly force against the darkness of this sinful world. Like torches thrown into pitch black holes, we burn by the Spirit of God to push back the darkness of this earthly kingdom. These 21 brothers, and yes I will call them brothers in Christ, shone brightly and still do in the darkness threatening to overtake the Middle East. (If you’re not sure about their faith, read this.)
“And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.” (Rev. 12:11)
If you’re not sure what to think, let this remind you that we are at war. We represent another kingdom, the kingdom of God. The god of this age, Satan, desires to stamp out and destroy anything that glorifies God. Our weapon is the very word of God and our objective is to use that weapon indiscriminately for God. We share the gospel with all, regardless of whether they are friends and neighbors or Zealots of Islam or other faiths who would see us dead. We push back the darkness with every soul that God converts and plant the flag firmly in enemy territory with every church established.
“For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” (Eph. 6:12)
When I read the story and saw the images Sunday night, I quickly progressed from shock to anger. I wanted blood, their blood, for committing such evil acts. I wanted my earthly nation of America to engage fully in stamping out this evil. There is certainly room for a just war against such terrible evil for many reasons, yet God moved my heart beyond the vengeance he has assured me is his. (Rom. 12:19) In fact, he told me not to worry about vengeance but to overcome evil with good.
What now? Southern Baptists (which I am) say you either go to the mission field, or send others. We’re doing that in our churches by contributing to the cooperative program that funds full time missionaries or volunteering to go. If you cannot go and witness to unreached nations, there are other ways to contribute than financial support. Most assuredly, prayer.
Pray that there is a “Saul of Tarsus” among the ISIL. Just as the man we know as the Apostle Paul persecuted Christians for their faith and looked on as they were executed, may there be one such God has chosen among ISIL to win these bloodthirsty murderers to Christ.
Pray that our hearts are not exalted like the Pharisee over the Tax Collector (Luke 18:9-14) supposing we are better than another. While their sin is more heinous in our eyes, we share a sinful nature for which God demands justice. Whether that justice was executed on Christ at Calvary for believers or waits for Judgement Day for unbelievers, His justice will be not be avoided.
Pray for revival in our land and theirs, that the Kingdom of God would increase to the glory of God in the salvation of sinners.
Pray for your own heart, that it would be heartbroken for the lost. Praise God for his immeasurable grace in saving those of us who believe, and may he glorify himself yet more in us.
Remember these 21 martyrs, and the masses of unreported martyrs who die for Christ every day across the world. As Greg Gilbert so brilliantly said “A Christian can look at death and say: “The only thing the King has given you permission to do is deliver me into his arms.””
“Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus. And I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” “Blessed indeed,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!”” (Revelation 14:12-13)