In the past few days reports of ISIS beheading 21 Egyptians in Libya began to make its way through American news wires and social media outlets. As I began to read the accounts of the horror and evil being played out half a world away, my stomach was sickened. My heart broke. I was filled with anger. My flesh was raging.
Yet, that was precisely what was going on. My reaction was all in the flesh. This scene of persecution and depravity had unearthed a part of me that wanted to go to war. Yet, a gentle stirring of the Spirit prompted a different reaction. Go to prayer.
Bloody Ground Brings Bold Belief
Tertullian, an early Christian author from North African famously penned,
“The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.”
Those words ring incredibly true of the early New Testament church. As Stephen’s blood is spilled on the ground in Acts 6, that same ground would bear witness to the gospel taking root all around it. The church that we see as aliens and strangers while dispersed by persecution is the same church that is refined by fire to the glory of God in 1 Peter 1. Fast forward to the 21st century and we see the underground church oppressed by aggressive regimes in China and North Korea but the church is growing.
The beheadings of ISIS reveals the deep depravity of man, but we are also seeing the bold plan of God. The gospel is reaching those who hate it. Those in the deepest need of the hope of Christ are meeting His gospel face to face. ISIS is seeing Romans 5 fleshed out that, “while we were sinners Christ died.”
Christ died for His bride, even when she hated Him and ran from Him. There is no region that resists the gospel harder than North Africa and the Middle East but God is doing mighty things in these dark places. The gospel is spreading, even as evil lashes out against it.
From Persecutor to Proselyte
We must again go back to the scene in Acts 6. As the crowd begins to stone Stephen, they lay down their outer garments to keep them from being bloodied at the feet of a young man named Saul. A young persecutor that God would soon use as a Christian missionary and author to much of the New Testament. God takes Saul from blood thirsty to born again to being sent out.
So why not again? Who are any of us to say that the exact same thing isn’t happening again? As the martyrs are proclaiming the gospel with their dying breath, the seed of the gospel is carried into the darkest depths of ISIS. Before we burn with hate against these persecutors we must remind ourselves that these men may one day be our brothers in Christ.
Pause to Pray
As you think on this horrific scene, my plea to you is to pray in two ways:
1) Pray for the persecuted church – Specifically in Muslim states. The gospel is there and being shared, but pray for fertile soil, strength for the church and boldness for believers to share Jesus. The circumstances are tough, but the gospel is greater.
2) Pray for the persecutors of the church – Their own eyes and hands are often the last witness of God’s grace in the lives of these martyrs. May Christ become their everything, even through these horrible times.
Church now is the time to pray, not to go to war.