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 ISIS executes 21 Egyptian Copts in LibyaWho will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written,
‘For your sake we are being killed all day long;
we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.’
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.  For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 8:35-39

You probably saw the horrific images on the news.  I did, and I can’t get the images out of my head.  I see twenty-one men in orange jumpsuits, force-marched to a deserted beach on the shores of Tripoli, in Libya.  Having been given the choice by ISIS terrorists to convert or die, these twenty-one men have chosen to die.

If you look at the video of these twenty-one martyrs frame-by-frame, you will see them saying their last prayers.  Then, just before the scimitar blade comes down on their necks, each man cries out: “Ya Rabbi Yassou”, “Jesus is my Lord.”

After the beheadings were announced by ISIS, the Coptic Church in Egypt released the names of the men.  But strangely, they released the names of only twenty of them.  The name of the twenty-first man was missing, leaving many to wonder about him.

It’s an inspiring story that later came out about this unnamed, twenty-first man.  The Ahram-Canadian News Agency in Cairo broke the story.  This unnamed twenty-first martyr was actually a non-Christian construction worker from the African country of Chad. (Note his darker skin in the picture above.)    But when this twenty-first man saw the determined, committed Christian faith of his twenty co-workers from Egypt, he knew he wanted what they had.   He chose then to be marked for death, and identified with Jesus, and with His followers.  It was a bold confession unto death that this twenty-first man volunteered to the terrorists: “Their God is my God!  Their God is my God!”

Today I read the story of this twenty-first martyr, and I think about the power of a faithful witness to Jesus as Lord.   Yes, I know the American adage that says don’t talk religion or politics!  But the Christian life is a calling to martyria, which was the ancient Greek word for a “witness”.    The word martyria was first used by early Christians to describe a life lived in faithful “witness” to Jesus as Lord.    Theirs was a “witness” sometimes leading to martyria by lion, fire, sword, and cross.  Sometimes leading to ridicule, harassment, and shaming.

Imperial Rome tried to persecute Christianity right out of existence, but the more they persecuted it the faster and farther it spread.  Roman Emperors soon discovered The Law of Spiritual Thermodynamics that says, “The greater the heat the greater the expansion.”   The more they tried to stamp out the Church the greater it grew.   (See the astonishing growth of the Church in modern China!)

Church Father, Tertullian of Carthage (A. D. 155-240), described The Law of Spiritual Thermodynamics working in his day; Tertullian wrote:  “Christians can afford to be put to torture and to death, and the more they are cast down the more they grow; the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church” (Apologetics, chapter 50, emphasis added).

In today’s Scripture text the apostle Paul writes to Christians in Rome facing persecution and harassment.  Some might be tempted to be ashamed of Paul’s persecutions and many imprisonments.  Some might be tempted to just go with the flow of those around, and when in Rome to do as the Romans.   Some are perhaps fearful of the days ahead.

But Paul assures them, as he assures you and me: Neither things present, nor things to come, can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.  In all of these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us!

Ya Rabbi Yassou”, “Jesus is my Lord.”

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