Twenty-one brothers. One video. After the beheadings of young Coptic Christian men in Libya this week, the world reacts in shock and outrage. The message titled “to the nation of the cross” now serves as a reminder that America’s new foe isn’t simply a political one. But look closely at the video and you’ll find two messages. One from the captors. And another from the captives themselves. Only one was heard by the Western world. But the other reached the heavens in praise. Twenty-one men became twenty-one witnesses to the infinite worth of Jesus Christ. And precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints. (Ps. 116:15)
Despite the merciless treatment of prisoners by ISIS, a Syrian villain breathing threats and murder against the Lord Jesus Christ is nothing new. A man by the name of Saul approached the Syrian city of Damascus two thousand years ago with the same objective. (Acts 9:1) His aim was to eradicate Christians from the face of the earth. However, Christ met his enemy head-on, in a flash of light from heaven. And his words were few: Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? (v.4) For the countless lives this man was responsible for taking, it was only one name he smeared. When Saul persecuted Christians, he persecuted Christ Himself. And ISIS does the same. But the American reaction to persecution doesn’t seem to be the one recorded in Acts. Instead of praying that God multiply His church, we seem to pray first for God to multiply our armies. American Christians need an obvious lesson in the way that the kingdom of God operates. Since the New Testament, every time that the church is attacked from outside, it expands. That’s why church father Tertullian once said, “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” God builds his church through faithful souls who die for their Messiah. But how? The deaths of Christ’s saints announce something that no propaganda video ever can. When Christians “love not their lives unto death”, it declares the infinite worth of Christ over everything the world has to offer. (Rev. 12:11) We have overcome, even unto death. Those who live well know how to die well. And those who embrace the cross embrace suffering. These men apparently did. They not only renounced the world in their beheadings, but they imitated their Savior in a grotesque earthly exit from a persecuting world. They did more than kneel and die. They witnessed.
The word martyr comes from the Greek word martys, which means ‘witness.’ Before Saul became Paul, he was a fire-breathing ‘terrorist’ of sorts. He oversaw the stoning of the first Christian to die for his faith, Stephen. (Acts 7:58) Consequently, Stephen is mentioned toward the end of Acts as “your witness.” (22:20) To be a witness for Christ was to expect to die. Thus Paul, who himself would become a martyr, knew very well what the devotion of Christ looked like. In the early church, to die for Jesus Christ was to be a witness to His own death. To tell of His love. To tell of His cross. And if necessary, to embrace eminent death for that cross. Two thousand years later, 21 faithful young Christian men were asked to denounce their Lord minutes before their beheading. Instead, unconfirmed reports tell us they chose to sing songs of praise toward heaven. I believe it. The cross still kills. But Jesus still saves.
“To the nation of the cross.” One can’t help but see the irony in that message: a country that has increasingly separated itself from Christianity nevertheless finds itself synonymous with Christ by its enemies. In the eyes of ISIS, America isn’t hated so much for its free enterprise as its faith in Jesus. The Apostle Paul was right: to those who are perishing, the word of the cross is still foolishness. (1 Cor. 1:18) So whichever side you stand on Calvary, the cross still stands for something. You either worship at the foot of it. Or you absolutely hate it. A stumbling block for Islamic extremists has become the cornerstone upon which twenty-one Egyptian believers have founded their lives and their hope. And they ran not in vain. American culture can try as hard as it wishes to remove it, but the cross can’t be erased in the eyes of our enemies. It never will. That’s why we witnessed 21 Coptic Christians being massacred this week. They bore the same suffering that their Savior did. We expected suffering on this earth, “provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.” (Rom. 8:17) To share in Christ’s sufferings is to share in his glory. It’s hard to see that in the midst of such horror, but American Christians would do well to remind themselves of the cross the next time they witness a martyr’s death. It’s not a death that pays for sin, but it can certainly be a gift. As ludicrous as that sounds, let’s read Scripture:
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. (1 Cor. 13:1-3)
Notice Paul’s sequence: (1) speaking in tongues, (2) prophetic power, (3) martyrdom. Why in the world would Paul place martyrdom in the same breath as tongues and prophecy? The answer: the gift of martyrdom was also a gift of the Holy Spirit! (charismata) Given to the people of God to build up the church of Jesus Christ. How many times do we think of dying for Jesus as a spiritual gifting? This week, in their gruesome video, ISIS declared, “we will conquer Rome” as they looked across the Mediterranean. In the 2nd century, Ignatius of Antioch set his eyes upon Rome as well. But he sought to conquer Rome not with the blood of his enemies, but with the blood of His Savior. Ignatius didn’t come to Rome to kill…but to die. And his words are powerful:
To what end have I given myself up to perish by fire or sword or savage beasts? Simply because when I am close to the sword I am close to God, and when I am surrounded by lions, I am surrounded by God. But it is only in the name of Jesus Christ, and for the sake of sharing his sufferings, that I could face all this; for he, the perfect Man, gives me strength to do so.
When Ignatius suffered and died, he was never closer to the Lord Jesus Christ. His Savior. Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna, records that Ignatius eventually died for his faith in Rome, no doubt thrown inside the Coliseum. During his life, Ignatius fought an ancient heresy known as ‘Docetism.’ This was the belief that, although Jesus ‘seemed’ human, he was in fact not. (dokew means ‘to seem’ in Greek) This was a catastrophic faith to Ignatius. To deny that Christ was human was to deny that He suffered. And to deny that Christ suffered was to deny that Christ understood our own sufferings and afflictions. A human Christ was a comfort and joy to Ignatius. And He should be to us. To Ignatius, the chance to die for Christ meant 3 things: (1) to show the world how valuable Christ is, (2) to imitate Christ in his sufferings, (3) and to renounce the world in its fleshly, temporary pursuits.
Have we learned what suffering really means in the church today? Do we look on martyrs with pity instead of awe? In an age of prosperity Gospel and pastors so eager to “speak blessings over your life,” it’s time to re-capture the art of suffering. A nation that looks upon 21 martyrs in bewilderment and hate is a nation that, to large degree, has become blind to exactly what glory looks like. It’s almost safe to say that American Christianity is allergic to the kind of faith we witnessed on the coast of Libya this week. There’s no earthly glory in it. Only the heavenly kind. When we tell others that it’s ‘stupid’ or ‘foolish’ to die peacefully for Christ, we do the same thing that Peter did when he commanded Christ not to go to the cross. (Rom. 8:32) What Christ understood is what those twenty-one Coptic Christian men did seconds before a knife was put to their throats: without suffering, there can be no glory on this earth. That’s not because we seek out suffering. It’s because we know that Christ has conquered the world through suffering, and so shall we…not with tanks and drones. Christians are called to bear the sufferings of Christ. There’s no other way out on this earth if you bear the name of Jesus. (2 Tim. 3:12) To die for your King isn’t just a tragedy. It’s a gift. And a chance to declare to the world the treasures of the Gospel. Is Jesus worth that much to you? If the glory of the Father was worth the life of His Son, it’s definitely worth more than yours.
On June 28th of the year 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria was assassinated by a small group of Serbians, an event which would begin Europe’s spiral into what was to be deemed “the war to end wars,” otherwise called The Great War or World War I.
In his book The Appetite of Tyranny, G.K. Chesterton endeavors to assess the events which followed the assassination, primarily the psyche of Prussia as it sought to wrest control of Europe and bring upon the world the ‘progress’ of the ‘superior’ Teutonic race.
Chesterton’s main goal is to argue what is that made for the incoherence and barbarism of the Prussian philosophy of that era, where ‘barbaric is defined as “one who is hostile to civilisation, not one who is insufficient in it.”
Chesterton begins with a description of the details leading up the war: the assassination of the Archduke, the first hostilities of the Prussians, here making it a point to discuss what it is that marks the difference in the Prussian mindset from the rest of Europe, or what it is that makes the Prussians more properly ‘barbaric’ than the Russians. These differences primary include – as Chesterton sees it – that the Prussians do not value or uphold the promises they had made to others, but then expected the others to value and uphold promises made to the Prussians; thus, “his limited but very sincere lunacy concentrates chiefly in a desire to destroy two ideas, the twin root ideas of rational society. The first is the idea of record and promise: the second is the idea of reciprocity.”
This lack of care for the idea of a promise is then coupled with – or perhaps supposedly justified by – the Prussian idea that they themselves (or at least those of Teuton heritage) – were a superior race to all others, that progress consisted of them claiming establishing that superiority. In establishing this superiority Chesterton argues that the Prussians felt that “victory was a necessity and honour was a scrap of paper” which was then coupled with “the idea that glory consists in holding the steel, and not in facing it.” Hence the Prussian “will explain, in serious official documents, that the difference between him and us is a difference between ‘the master-race and the inferior-race.'”
The majority of this text is spent elaborating these ideas, of analyzing what it is that set the Prussian mindset at odds with the rest of Europe. In this Chesterton is at times lucid, and at other times hard to follow (though that may partially be due the great amount of specificity that he goes into and my own not being fully aware of the issues), this was especially true in the letters addressed to Italy that make up the final portion of the text.
Finally, Chesterton is aware that the English were not perfect, and this then is where he draws another distinction (in feeling that the Prussians felt they themselves could do no wrong), thus: “I am that Englishman who has tortured Ireland, who has been tortured by South Africa; who knows all his mistakes, who is heavy with all his sins. And he tells you, Faultless Being, with a truth as deep as his own guilt, and as deathless as his own remembrance, that you shall not pass this way.”
Overall, this was a good read, and provides great insight into the events and philosophies surrounding the events of World War I, which is if nothing else good for any attempt to see similar trends in the contemporary world.
-“The definition of the true savage is that he laughs when he hurts you; and howls when you hurt him.”
-“[T]he essence of every game is that the rules are the same on both sides.”
-“But the truth is that all that they call evolution should rather be called evasion. They tell us they are opening windows of enlightenment and doors of progress. The truth is that they are breaking up the whole house of the human intellect, that they may abscond in any direction. There is an ominous and almost monstrous parallel between the position of their over-rated philosophers and of their comparatively under-rated soldiers. For what their professors call roads of progress are really routes of escape.”
-“The cockney and incomplete civilisation always sets itself up to be copied. And in the case here considered, the German thinks that it is not only his business to spread education, but to spread compulsory education. “Science combined with organisation,” says Professor Ostwald of Berlin University, “makes us terrible to our opponents and ensures a German future for Europe.” That is, as shortly as it can be put, what we are fighting about.”
-“It is vital in a discussion like this, that we should make sure we are going by meanings and not by mere words. It is not necessary in any argument to settle what a word means or ought to mean. But it is necessary in every argument to settle what we propose to mean by the word. So long as our opponent understands what is the _thing_ of which we are talking, it does not matter to the argument whether the word is or is not the one he would have chosen… A soldier does not say “We were ordered to go to Mechlin; but I would rather go to Malines.” He may discuss the etymology and archæology of the difference on the march; but the point is that he knows where to go. So long as we know what a given word is to mean in a given discussion, it does not even matter if it means something else in some other and quite distinct discussion”
-“I wish to tell these people that they are wrong; that they are wrong upon all principles of human justice and historic continuity: but that they are specially and supremely wrong upon their own principles of arbitration and international peace. These sincere and high-minded peace-lovers are always telling us that citizens no longer settle their quarrels by private violence; and that nations should no longer settle theirs by public violence. They are always telling us that we no longer fight duels; and need no longer wage wars. In short, they perpetually base their peace proposals on the fact that an ordinary citizen no longer avenges himself with an axe. But how is he prevented from revenging himself with an axe? If he hits his neighbour on the head with the kitchen chopper, what do we do? Do we all join hands, like children playing Mulberry Bush, and say “We are all responsible for this; but let us hope it will not spread. Let us hope for the happy day when he shall leave off chopping at the man’s head; and when nobody shall ever chop anything for ever and ever.” Do we say “Let byegones be byegones; why go back to all the dull details with which the business began; who can tell with what sinister motives the man was standing there within reach of the hatchet?” We do not.”
-“The vow is to the man what the song is to the bird, or the bark to the dog; his voice, whereby he is known. Just as a man who cannot keep an appointment is not fit even to fight a duel, so the man who cannot keep an appointment with himself is not sane enough even for suicide. It is not easy to mention anything on which the enormous apparatus of human life can be said to depend. But if it depends on anything, it is on this frail cord, flung from the forgotten hills of yesterday to the invisible mountains of to-morrow. On that solitary string hangs everything from Armageddon to an almanac, from a successful revolution to a return ticket.”
-“For instance, no man of the world believes all he sees in the newspapers; and no journalist believes a quarter of it. We should, therefore, be quite ready in the ordinary way to take a great deal off the tales of German atrocities; to doubt this story or deny that. But there is one thing that we cannot doubt or deny: the seal and authority of the Emperor. In the Imperial proclamation the fact that certain “frightful” things have been done is admitted; and justified on the ground of their frightfulness.”
Chesterton’s full argument of what defines ‘barbaric':
“If the German calls the Russian barbarous he presumably means imperfectly civilised. There is a certain path along which Western nations have proceeded in recent times; and it is tenable that Russia has not proceeded so far as the others: that she has less of the special modern system in science, commerce, machinery, travel or political constitution. The Russ ploughs with an old plough; he wears a wild beard; he adores relics; his life is as rude and hard as that of a subject of Alfred the Great. Therefore he is, in the German sense, a barbarian. Poor fellows like Gorky and Dostoieffsky have to form their own reflections on the scenery, without the assistance of large quotations from Schiller on garden seats; or inscriptions directing them to pause and thank the All-Father for the finest view in Hesse-Pumpernickel. The Russians, having nothing but their faith, their fields, their great courage, and their self-governing communes, are quite cut off from what is called (in the fashionable street in Frankfort) The True, The Beautiful and The Good. There is a real sense in which one can call such backwardness barbaric; by comparison with the Kaiserstrasse; and in that sense it is true of Russia.
Now we, the French and English, do not mean this when we call the Prussians barbarians. If their cities soared higher than their flying ships, if their trains travelled faster than their bullets, we should still call them barbarians. We should know exactly what we meant by it; and we should know that it is true. For we do not mean anything that is an imperfect civilisation by accident. We mean something that is the enemy of civilisation by design. We mean something that is wilfully at war with the principles by which human society has been made possible hitherto. Of course it must be partly civilised even to destroy civilisation. Such ruin could not be wrought by the savages that are merely undeveloped or inert. You could not have even Huns without horses; or horses without horsemanship. You could not have even Danish pirates without ships, or ships without seamanship. This person, whom I may call the Positive Barbarian, must be rather more superficially up-to-date than what I may call the Negative Barbarian. Alaric was an officer in the Roman legions: but for all that he destroyed Rome. Nobody supposes that Eskimos could have done it at all neatly. But (in our meaning) barbarism is not a matter of methods but of aims. We say that these veneered vandals have the perfectly serious aim of destroying certain ideas which, as they think, the world has outgrown; without which, as we think, the world will die.”
Remember back this past summer when that American journalist was beheaded by ISIS? Remember how Bobo Obama addressed the media, how mournful and sad he was…just before he got into his golf cart for his tee time? Didn’t really bother him all that much, he was still about to tee off without as much as a whimper.
Well, he’s at it again. The day that he announced to the world that Kayla Mueller, the 26-year-old aid worker from just up the road from me here in Arizona was indeed dead, as ISIS had claimed, he then proceeded to do his Buzzfeed.com interview, and have himself photographed taking selfies of himself and mugging for the camera.
Now, he didn’t know either the journalist or the aid worker. But he put on a hell of a good show like he did. Of course, as he has now demonstrated, it was all an act. He can shed a tear for a fallen victim of his failure to defeat a little 40,000 troop army on minute and then the next be sticking his tongue out as he plays with a selfie-stick. Frankly, I thought he would show a little more maturity than he did. I thought he’d be a little more remorseful at his failure. I guess I gave him too much credit.
Of course, it was probably an act when he tore into Staples too. Oh, you didn’t hear about that? He tried to nail the office supply giant for scaling back the hours of its workers to 25 hours a week so they could get around Obamacare. What he failed to understand was that Staples had done that 10 years ago…long before Bobo decided to run for president. It had nothing to do with his healthcare plan. He just thinks it did because he thinks everything is about him. Sorry Bobo…time to get out of the clown suit and become a real boy! My question is this: Obama, are you ripping in to Staples to get around Obamacare like the rest of the nation should be ripping into you for issuing executive orders to get around Congress? Yeah…I thought so.
The world is getting tired of this act. My question is when will it hit him that people’s lives hang in the balance of his decisions? Of course, he feels that they hang in the balance when congress doesn’t do what he wants…like a clean funding of DHS at the end of the month. But that’s a different tune, because that’s his opposition…and the one thing we all should know by now is that Bobo does things with only politics in mind. Once the camera is over…once the vote is taken, once the scheme is over, it’s over and it’s on to the next round of golf.
I only hope he would be able to change his mind if it were one of his own family that ended up being the victim of his policies, not some pretty little 26-year-old who’s just trying to make the world a better place. Shame on you Mr. President. You’ve got a lot to answer for on judgement day.
Carry on world…you’re dismissed!