Most of you by now have heard that ISIS (ISIL, IS. whatever they are calling themselves today) beheaded 21 Egyptian Christians over the weekend. They made broad threats to Rome (a.k.a. the Vatican) and in a highly edited video called this soiree “A Message Signed With Blood To The Nation Of The Cross.” There’s also new reports that ISIS is using organ harvesting, sex slavery, and they may have burned 45 Iraqis alive yesterday.
I’ll admit, it looks kind of crazy…but here’s something ISIS needs to know. I’m not afraid of you. There. I said it. I’m not afraid of them. Why? Because I am a part of the “Nation of the Cross.”
See, ISIS, and organizations like them, rely on fear and intimidation to gain power over someone or something. I’m not going to give them that. Plus, I don’t need to be afraid. Why? Because Jesus told me so.
11 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matt. 5:11-12, ESV)
And this one:
33 I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world. (John 16:33,ESV)
This was a reality that the first Christians lived with. They were murdered for their beliefs often accused of being atheists (because they didn’t worship Caesar) or cannibals (because of a misunderstanding of the Lord’s Supper) and this is how they (and we) are instructed to respond:
12 Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. 14 If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. 15 But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. 16 Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name. (1 Peter 4:12-16, ESV)
I’m not afraid because I believe that death cannot stop me. How do I know? Because it didn’t stop Jesus Christ. He rose from the dead, and doing so he broke the power that death held on humanity (Heb. 2:15) and took away the fear because no longer is there any sting.
The Apostle Paul, who coincidentally (by church tradition anyway) was beheaded in 65 AD in Rome. Before he was killed, he was inspired by the Holy Spirit to write the most beautiful passage of Scripture that we can read. Here’s what he says:
31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be[i] against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? 33 Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written,
“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”
37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 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. (Rom. 8:31-39, ESV)
Did you catch that? Nothing, not trouble, hunger, war, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, or the sword – not death, not angels or demons, not the future or the past, no government, no amount of anything in all of the universe can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.
So those swords they are using to behead people? Worthless. Those fires they are burning people alive with? Useless. They bullets, guns, bombs, RPG’s, and tanks? Garbage. Why? Because you death does not stop my God. It didn’t, it won’t, and it can’t.
Jesus, in Revelation, says,
“Fear not, I am the first and the last, 18 and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.” (Rev. 1:17b-18, ESV)
ISIS doesn’t hold the keys. Sorry fellas. Jesus does.
I will admit, however, it isn’t easy to hear about or watch. But I want to respond the way Jesus tells us to – not with bullets and guns, not with sanctions and policy…but with love.
38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’39 But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40 And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. 41 And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. 42 Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you. 43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers,what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matt. 5:38-48, ESV)
So that’s how I want to close this post – I want you to join me in praying for our enemies – by choosing not to retaliate, but to love – because “by this all men will know that you are my disciples.”
I can’t imagine the sadness that fills your heart as your children are being killed simply because they love you. I admit that it makes me so angry, Father – so angry that I almost WANT to let it get the best of me. But I thank you for your grace that helps me see that retaliation and hate only lead to more destruction. Father, I lift up ISIS to you – I pray you would stop them – I pray that you would protect your children and provide for them. I pray that you will bring them to their knees in repentance and that they will turn from their evil service of Satan to the glorious Kingdom of Jesus. With every fiber of my being I want to go over there and hurt them, but Father, I know that isn’t right. I know that you are the one who brings justice and wrath, judgment and righteousness…and I am so far from those things. Forgive me. …this is hard, Father…this is really, really hard. I want to stop the injustice and the torture, the pain and the horror. I want to hold those little babies who had to watch mommy and daddy be brutally executed.
Father, I want to pray for these men and women who are devouring the Middle-East with terror…that you would speak love and compassion into their hearts. That they would find you in the midst of the atrocities they are committing, and that they would turn away from evil and let you make them whole. I also pray for your children in the path of this evil…that they will endure, because they WILL overcome by the blood of the Lamb and the word of their testimony. Give them the strength to endure, even to death, that you will carry them from this world on the wings of your holy angels into your Presence where there will be no more death, genocide, hate, evil, terrorism, sickness, war crimes, or fighting. Maranatha. Come, Lord Jesus. In your Name I pray. Amen.
Even so, Come, Lord Jesus.