That pathetic plea went straight to my heart because I’ve said it myself. I’ve felt desperation in reaching out to the Savior. Every real Christian knows what that means.
The difference is none of us reading this went on to get decapitated.
I had a different post ready for this morning, but in view of the latest brutality carried out by ISIS, I’ve decided on this one. You’ll have to give me a break because it went from keyboard to blog without much editorial tweaking in between.
For some time ISIS has mounted a campaign of terror against foreign aid workers, Jews, other Muslims, and basically the rest of the world. The organization has made itself the enemy of mankind. Obviously it needs to be stopped and the only language it understands is superior force.
But I’m not writing this piece from the standpoint of the global village with all of its political and military complications. I’m a patriotic American. I’m also a member of a fraternity that can’t be defined by race or nationality. The faith of Jesus Christ honestly held by any human being on any continent makes that person my brother in a way that natural birth can’t bestow. Including twenty-one Egyptian men whom I’ve never met.
Obviously then, I (and probably you) have feelings about this latest round of murders which consisted of gathering up Christians en masse and beheading them. It didn’t happen because they were carrying AK-47’s. They hadn’t bombed anybody. They hadn’t drawn pictures of Mohammed. They weren’t foreigners who had brought in offensive customs. In fact, they weren’t even citizens of a “Christian” country. What was the problem? They simply bore the name of Christ. Their connection to the Son of God got them killed.
These slain believers remind me what it costs to follow Christ. I’ve always known the price is high. But in a country like the United States, a place that has only begun to feel anti-faith backlash, the concept of sacrifice might easily mean drinking Folgers instead of Starbucks. Being a one-car family. Living in the polar vortex.
And then we hear news of believers systematically executed over just believing the gospel.
It really shouldn’t be a surprise. Jesus told that first crop of disciples, “You shall be my witnesses.”1 The Greek word for witness is basically martyr.
A martyr bears witness that Jesus Christ is real and His salvation authentic. It seems odd to say, but as Christians, we’re all supposed to be martyrs. You can either bear witness of Him with your life or with your death. Sometimes you don’t get to choose. You simply find yourself in situations where you’re called upon. It might be through your work ethic. Your biblical morals. Your compassion to a neighbor. Your faithfulness to your family.
Or somebody pointing a shotgun at your face and demanding you renounce Christ.
But one thing for sure—martyrdom is not what Muslim extremists think. It doesn’t mean taking your own life while you’re trying to kill other people. We shouldn’t confuse the words martyr and murderer.
I guess the Christian thing to do is to pray for the perpetrators. But I just don’t feel like doing that right now.
Don’t get me wrong, love and mercy is an appropriate sentiment, and one modeled in Jesus Himself—“Father forgive them for they know not what they do”2—and yet this same Jesus posted notice to His killers: “You will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power.”3 At another time He told them, “You will die in your sin.”4
I always like Billy Bob Thornton’s line in The Alamo, where he plays Davy Crockett. The Mexican army under Santa Anna is about to execute him as one of the last defenders. The issue of surrender comes up. The beleaguered and bloodied Crockett says to the thousand soldiers crowded around him, “You tell the general I’m willing to discuss the terms of surrender. You tell him, if he’ll order his men to put down their weapons and line up, I’ll take them to Sam Houston and I’ll try my best to save most of them. That said, Sam’s a mite twitchy, so no promises.”
Now that’s brass.
Similarly, when Paul considered those who were persecuting early Christians, he didn’t always wax eloquent about compassion for the persecutors. Though the believers were a motley crew of slaves and poor people, he considered the divine kingdom the ultimate equalizer. The apostle frequently reiterated how that kingdom always had the upper hand and would have the last word on everything:
6 “God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you,
7 and to grant relief to you who are afflicted, as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels
8 in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.
9 They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His might,
10 when He comes on that day to be glorified in His saints and to be marveled at among all who have believed…” (2 Thess. 1).
Martyrs not only pray for their killers (c.f. Acts 7:60), but they pray for justice as well. In the book of Revelation, John wrote,
“I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne. They cried out with a loud voice, ‘O sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?’” (Rev. 6:9-10).
The answer to this prayer is in its own way, a bit unsettling. The martyrs were “each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been” (Rev. 6:11)
Like I said, that’s pretty unsettling.
More martyrs will join those under the altar. Let’s pray that friendly, God-ordained human governments will restrain the menaces that put those souls there. And let’s look to the throne of God for final justice.
In the meantime as we grow in the knowledge of Christ, and enjoy the many extras He likes to give, like food and vacations and various freedoms, we might want to remember that we’re not primarily consumers. We’re witnesses.
And you know the Greek word for witness.
1 Acts 1:8
2 Lk. 24:34
3 Mt. 26:64
4 John 8:21