For years Christians have been routinely slaughtered around the world but with the coming of the Islamic State of Iraq it’s finally front page news. The focus on it and graphic awareness that news coverage brings is causing Christians to get discouraged, frightened, angry, saddened and confused. Undoubtedly there has been “a great disturbance in the force” but could it be that the disturbance is one of rejoicing?
Scripture says “precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints” (Psalm 116:15). Wherever the church has gone martyrdom has always followed. As Tertullian stated, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.”
In fact, we get our word “martyr” from the Greek word translated “witness”. So, when Jesus said, you shall be my witnesses, the first disciples heard, “you shall be my martyrs”. A martyr is simply one who testifies to the truth of his message by his willingness to sacrifice his very life rather than deny the message.
As we see the horrific pictures of butchered Christians we are repulsed and can easily wonder, “where is God, where is our government, where is hope in the midst of this mess?” But there is another level which sees that each of those who bowed their head rather than bow their knee was screaming with their own blood, “Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.”
The first martyr of the church, Stephen, proclaimed forgiveness and witnessed to the truth of his message in a way that surely impacted the future apostle Paul. In the early apologetic story, Octavius points out that Romans praise to high heaven men who suffered great agonies for the cause of Rome but among Christians even the women and young boys “treat with contempt” the tortures heaped upon them rather than deny their faith. In the same way, the death of each of these in Iraq and around the globe –men, women and children – screams to the executioner that Jesus Christ is Lord and worthy of their very lives.
We can be certain that with each death a roar of applause goes up from that “great cloud of witnesses” as these runners cross the finish line and are triumphantly welcomed home by their Lord and Saviour. “Well done. Race well run. Enter in to the joy of your salvation.”
I am not saying we should do nothing to oppose the evil. We are still called to “do justly, love mercy and walk humbly with our God” but we must see this world from a higher plane. The news media will not give us this exalted perspective. We must get it from the Word and from God’s messengers to the church, its leaders.
Pastors, we must draw back the curtain and allow Christians to see a higher, a more glorious picture of what is happening around us. Our response was laid out by Paul in his letter to another church familiar with martyrdom.
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. … Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Romans 12:14, 15, 21 NIV
Any institution is only as solid as the foundation upon which it is laid. The foundation of this new Caliphate is being laid upon the “seeds of the church” – the death of God’s saints.
Yes, we pray the Lord will “deliver us from evil”. Yes we pray for God to forgive those guilty of these horrors. Yes we take what actions we can righteously take to put a stop to it. But we must never forget God is still at the helm of the universe. These and even greater evils to come were all foretold thousands of years ago but just as surely as these prophetic nightmares are being fulfilled, so will the glorious prophecies of a coming kingdom of peace, justice and righteousness.
Look up saints. Lift your head. Your Deliverer is coming.