“The people of the cross.” Remember this statement? In the words of ISIS, it was the crime of which 21 ex-patriate Christians in Libya were found guilty and worthy of beheading by ISIS a few months ago.
As we approach Easter, I cannot help but once again think of those brave 21 whose faith and final cries, “Lord… Jesus Christ!” shook the world. What kind of faith did they have in Christ? What kind of pride in not only living but dying as “the people of the cross”?
According to an article in El-Watan News, a popular privately-owned local newspaper here, a key ISIS leader stated that they gave the 21 a chance to renounce their faith and be set free, but they refused. They had over a month while being held hostage to do so. And from what we’ve seen of the brutality of ISIS, I imagine that month was filled with multiple forms of abuse to pressure those 21 to renounce their faith in Christ. Achieving that would have been seen as a great victory by the terrorists.
As Wazala’s interview with some of the families shows, the 21 came from very impoverished backgrounds. They had received minimal education and sought work in Libya out of desperation to provide enough income for their families at home to survive. They did not have degrees in theology. They did not earn certificates in apologetics. They were very simple men who “did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death” (Revelation 12:11).
What did they see in the cross? What was worth dying for and leaving behind mothers and wives and very young children? They saw an amazing power that is foolishness to their murderers and to many others. As Paul wrote, “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18).
In the light of this, I actually thank God for the turmoil in the Middle East – for the imminent threat to die for one’s faith. Does that sound strange? In Egypt, we see that it has made us stronger as Christians. Knowing that the danger is very close is a blessing that deepens our commitment to Christ – to a Saviour who was not overcome by events but went to the cross in full control as the King of the Universe.
Dr Maher Samuel beautifully illustrated this in his message at the “Witnessing His Majesty” Prayer Conference broadcast live by SAT-7 last weekend. He reminded us that Christ was completely in charge of the events leading to the cross and on the cross. He was not overwhelmed, he was not involuntarily led to the cross, he did not give in to human plots for his crucifixion… he amazingly orchestrated every detail of his judgment, crucifixion, and resurrection.
Jesus is Sovereign! From the beginning of time and to eternity, He is Sovereign! But do we as Christians display this to the world? Do we display this message of power? Or do we remain silent and lead the world to believe that the message of the cross may, after all, be a message of foolishness by a misguided individual who claimed to be God and failed to save Himself? What a responsibility we bear!
In a recent message I heard by Ravi Zacharias, he shared that our faith in Christ must rest “Not merely (on) content but conviction, not merely (on) conviction, but communication, not merely (on) communication, but consistency.” We all know the content; the “head knowledge,” but do we have the conviction to die for our faith? And if we do have the conviction, do we communicate it well? Are we living letters for Christ to a world that has never been so desperate for answers to the deepest questions and longings found only in Christ? And if we do communicate it, do we do so consistently even when the storms of life rage around us? Or are we inclined to deny Him when the going gets tough?
May the glorious Easter message shine anew in the hearts and lives of Christians across the globe. May it be so apparent through us to those around us that people wonder. And then, may we “always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks (us) to give the reason for the hope that (we) have” (1 Peter 3:15).
Ekhristos Anesti, Alithos Anesti. Christ is Risen! He Is Risen Indeed! Happy Easter.