With the world watching in mid February…twenty one men, clad in the unmistakeable orange jump suits were marched on to a Libyan beach somewhere along the Mediterranean and were brutally slaughtered before a watching world…simply because they followed Jesus, and they were willing to die for their belief. The gruesome caption over the screen warned “…the people of the cross and the hostile Egyptian Church.”
I have read with sadness the stories of some of these men which were published in the days soon after the slaying. Young men in their prime, some had just married and some were about to be married. Some left behind a young wife and young children, whom they would never see again. According to WORLD Magazine many of them had already been suffering for their faith, they had already faced severe persecution in their home villages simply for what they believed. They experienced harassment, threats, difficulty finding jobs so much so that they could not support their families. And what I find personally emotionally staggering is that 13 of the 21 men came from the same village, and the same church family. What a heartbreaking loss for a local church and a local community to experience.
Now we know that it is more than just Christians who are being brutally targeted and murdered by ISIS. There are even fellow Muslims who do not subscribe to the extremist ideology of ISIS who do not capitulate and they end up dying for their faith as well.
But the question remains…Why? What did these men do to deserve such a horrific end?
Jesus, Himself, had warned His original followers and every generation that followed (even to the current generation)…that the world will, in fact, hate them. The world will hate Christians because they first hated Him, Jesus. And they will do so …without cause. Jesus went on to say that there will be some who will honestly believe that they are doing God’s holy work by killing Christians. And yes that is the prevailing ideology of the terrorist group ISIS. Go figure! You can read about it for yourself in John 15:18-16:4. But just imagine that for a moment…Jesus, the Son of God, a man known for His love for mankind, His grace, His mercy and His kindness…and His followers…okay albeit not perfect representations of Him, but for the most part they do their best to act, love and live like Him…and they are hated with such monstrous viciousness! This is very difficult to explain, and yet it is the reality in so many parts of the world.
What an honour to be known as “the people of the cross”. Make no mistake…the cross has always been offensive…originally a heinous instrument of the Roman Empire to inflict massive pain and cause an ugly degrading and horrific death. But it was on the cross that Jesus, the Son of God died for the sins of the world. So it goes without saying, if one hates the cross they hate Jesus, and they will hate those who follow Jesus.
Why do Christians love the cross? The cross is a symbol of what was accomplished by Jesus that day. It is through His death that mankind is freely offered forgiveness for sin. It is through the death of Jesus that we have life in Him. Believe it or not, it is only through the cross that people can know true forgiveness, peace and joy. It is through the cross of Jesus that the believer in Jesus Christ has forgiveness of sin…the debt of their sin is paid for in full. All because of the cross.
So how should we respond to those who hate “the people of the cross”? In Matthew 5:43 Jesus clearly said to His followers “But I say to you, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you!”Jesus Himself said this and did this. I recently heard an interview with a brother of one of the men who was murdered on that beach. Speaking Arabic, thankfully, it was translated into English… the brother was asked what he would do if he met the man who killed his brother…to which he replied “I would take him home and feed him a meal.” Then the same brother was asked if he would be willing to pray for the one who killed his brother? And he said “yes”. And he even did it on live satellite television, transmitted through out the mid eastern world. Of course this interview would never make the headlines on CNN or CBC yet “the people of the cross” are showing grace, mercy and forgiveness for the ones who hate them so much without cause.
The Christ of the cross and “…the people of the cross” would want you to know today, that the way of the cross leads to Jesus. You do not have to jump through religious hoops, or even change your behaviour, that is merely religion. The people of the cross do not have religion. They have a relationship with God through the Lord Jesus Christ. You too can have that relationship with God by simply trusting in Jesus’ death on the cross for the forgiveness of all your sins. To personally know that your sins are forgiven, provides you with hope, joy and peace not just in this life, but for all of eternity.
Pastor, Fellowship Baptist Church, Burford.