I practically had to force myself to watch the devastating video of the 21 Coptic Christians being beheaded by the enemies of Christ, the Islamic State. I thought of every reason not to let my eyes see it, but my deciding reason for watching it was to witness (albeit on a video and separated by thousands of miles) the reality of today’s persecuted Church that is described in the pages of Scripture. And so, barely being able to breathe I saw the barbaric brutality that took place, on the shores of the Mediterranean, in the name of Allah. Even though I already knew the outcome from news and social media sources, I watched and still hoped that the true God would intervene and rescue these faithful brothers from the snare of the evil one.
Now I don’t claim to know exactly what those “People of the Cross” were experiencing in those haunting moments as they were being ruthlessly marched out for their executions by the Islamic barbarians but I do know the God that they serve, whose glory they have now seen. Our God, the God of peace, mercy, and true justice promises an unfathomable joy in the midst of suffering that is of inestimable value and is found in the Holy Spirit and has been purchased by the blood of Christ. Thus I, by the grace of God, can believe that during the terror of their martyrdom those Coptic Christians were given an outpouring of the Holy Spirit as they prayed, and in the midst of distress and affliction God was near and in their weakness, He made those brothers strong. So with great assurance, we know that God did rescue them for as the author of Hebrews describes the ones that remain faithful unto death: “the world was not worthy of them” (Hebrews 11:38). And thus they were rescued in those moments and found safe in the arms and glory of Christ.
My prayer for myself and for many others that experience Christianity in the western world is that we would understand the difference between looking to God to provide us with things that give us joy and looking to God to give us His very self in Christ, which is a joy that never fades or falters. If the words in Scripture are true then those 21 Christ-followers had no interest in trading places with you or me – they were full in Christ and did not covet our lives of comfort and leisure. This is hard to believe as I can’t get the picture of their executions out of my head but, by grace, my faith is in that which is unseen. I hope yours is too. Let us all pray together for the persecuted Church in foreign lands and may the blood of the martyrs strengthen the Church worldwide.
– Jake McCall is a religion columnist for The Clanton Advertiser. He is the pastor at Grace Fellowship Presbyterian Church in Clanton, AL. His column appears each Thursday.