American Christians were shocked to wake up to this image in all the headlines on Sunday morning. Twenty-one Christian men had been beheaded by the Libyan branch of the ISIL terror army. The victims had traveled to Libya hoping to find jobs to support families back home in Egypt. Their capital offense: calling on the name of Jesus Christ. Today they are still being celebrated in Heaven.
These godly men probably realized that traveling to Libya would increase their risk, but were already accustomed to that kind of hardship. They had faced violence and oppression at the hands of Muslim extremists in their Egyptian homeland as well. Inquiring minds might wonder how anyone in Libya detected they were Christians. By and large, they look like their Muslim neighbors in Islamic nations: same complexion, same language, same dialect. But unlike many in such places who mask their deepest convictions beneath a shallow Muslim veneer in exchange for personal safety, Coptic Christians are utterly unashamed of their faith in Christ. They comprise one of the oldest living churches in the world, and they’ve seen it all before!
Casual Christianity is an oxymoron in the Middle East. That’s why the death of these martyrs at the hands of religious ghouls comes as a slap in the face of us who call ourselves saints in the USA. We don’t know what could motivate followers of Christ to live so boldly and so selflessly in a hostile environment. And that’s just one of the areas where our confidence is lacking. In our First Church of the Last Fifteen Minutes, we think blurred lines are a mark of sophistication:
- We are not sure Jesus is the only way to God.
- We don’t know if homosexuality is really a sin or just an alternate lifestyle.
- We aren’t positive about the relevance of the Bible in our scientific age.
- We are not convinced that the Church is important, much less essential.
- We have no idea why fornication is wrong for unmarried people of faith,
- We don’t know how to teach our children about faith, or how to tell our friends about Jesus.
- We don’t believe in denying self or picking up a cross, because it’s easier to blend in with the other narcissists and party down before we get old.
Ironically, this is the news that would have shocked and horrified the saints of the first century in the Book of Acts. They refused to countenance fifty shades of gray or even two or three! They enjoyed a sharply honed sense of God’s purpose, and a clear cut definition of holiness. Materialism and sexual immorality were an accepted way of life everywhere except in the Church. In the Kingdom, these things were anathema. In their holy war, the weapon was truth and the battlefield was one of hearts and minds.
On the other hand, they were perfectly willing to die for their faith without offering so much as a pinch of incense to the pagan Emperor. Like our 21 sons of light from Egypt, they were not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ, even at the pain of death. In our age of blurred lines where nothing seems taboo anymore, that alone is unthinkable.
Lift up the Cross!