What If It Were Me

What If It Were Me?

The images are difficult to shake. Twenty-one bound men clothed in orange jumpsuits being paraded along the beach by masked fighters dressed in black. Some are fearful. Some are praying. All are about to have their heads severed from their bodies by members of the brutal Islamic State.

All of those executed were Coptic Christians from Egypt who had been kidnapped while seeking employment in Libya. The men weren’t pastors or priests, but simply ordinary guys just trying to feed their families. Their one transgression (in the eyes of their captors)? They were “people of the cross”—followers of Jesus Christ.

Understandably, Christians all over the world reacted with outrage, dismay, and perhaps a measure of fear. Seeing brutal beheadings take place in the Middle East is one thing, but what if militant groups like ISIS were to gain a foothold in our homeland?

Persecution Is Nothing New

Many years ago, I read a fascinating, albeit unsettling, work titled, Foxes Book of Martyrs. The book made one reality painfully clear—not only did Jesus “promise” that His followers would be persecuted (John 15:18-21), but ever since the birth of the church, Christians have been tortured and killed for their faith.

Many of the accounts provided in Foxes Book of Martyrs are nothing short of disturbing. History records that Peter was crucified upside down. Ignatius was thrown to wild beasts. Rhais, Marcella, and their mother all had boiled pitch poured upon their heads after which they were burnt. The gruesome list goes on and on.

Fox penned the following about a period of persecution under Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius Antonius in the second century after Christ:

The cruelties used in this persecution were such that many of the spectators shuddered with horror at the sight, and were astonished at the intrepidity of the sufferers. Some of the martyrs were obliged to pass, with their already wounded feet, over thorns, nails, sharp shells, etc. upon their points, others were scourged until their sinews and veins laid bare, and after suffering the most excruciating tortures that could be devised, they were destroyed by the most terrible deaths.

The Islamic State, it seems, does not own the market on human cruelty; and followers of Christ have often been the victims of barbaric persecution. While the video beheading of twenty-one Coptic Christians undoubtedly has shock value, untold numbers of Christians have been tortured and murdered—especially in the past century—simply for being “people of the cross.”

The Grace to Overcome

When I first read Fox’s Book of Martyrs, I understood that early Christians considered it an honor to suffer in the name of Christ (Acts 5:40-42; Philippians 1:27-29), but still found myself beset by a nagging question—“If I were the one being brutally tortured for my faith, how could I possibly stay true to Jesus?” Then, somewhere in one of the many martyrdom accounts, I found my answer—grace.

Those who triumphed over fear and suffering had learned to draw upon the grace of God as a way of life. They were people who walked with God on a daily basis, who learned to abide in His presence, and who set their hearts to love Him above all that this world has to offer.

When their day of greatest need dawned, God’s grace was there to help them through. Some never even felt pain. Others sensed God’s presence in a way that made their sufferings seem immaterial. In the end, each one overcame unspeakable agony because he or she had learned the way of grace.

I really don’t know how our current global crisis will play out, but I do know this—NOW is the time to walk with God, to cultivate our full love for Him, and to learn the way of grace. For those who learn to abide in grace as a way of life, the power to overcome any adversity is guaranteed, and the eternal rewards will far surpass any glory we could ever imagine.

Foxes Book of Martyrs, pp. 8-9

Photo is a You Tube Screen Shot

Bob Santos is the author of The Divine Progression of Grace – Blazing a Trail to Fruitful Living.