I looked at the pictures. I saw my Ethiopian brothers, and my Egyptian brothers before them in February, being marched single file along a beautiful beach, each followed by his captor in military fatigues and a black mask, carrying a blade that would be used to decapitate each man.
It was an awful paradox. The peaceful and unparalleled beauty of sandy beaches massaged by crystal blue waters. And the hideous brutality of religious extremists slaughtering men made in the image of the Creator.
They were being led like sheep to their slaughter. And in moments, they would die a grisly death for bearing the name of Christ, for being what ISIS refers to as “the people of the Cross.”
As I looked at the photos and into the eyes of each man, I saw men no different than us. They are men with families. Men with sons and daughters who love them and who can’t wait for them to come home. Men with wives hoping and praying for their safe return home for dinner that evening. They are men with hopes and dreams and purpose.
Yet, because of their faithfulness to Jesus Christ and their great commission to share the good news of Jesus Christ and God’s kingdom to their brothers and sisters within their communities, they would not be returning home to see their families again.
Each man was lain prostrate, his executioner standing behind with a handful of hair in one hand and death in the other. Judgment was pronounced and executed from ear to ear, taking off each man’s head and placing it triumphantly on the back of his headless corpse.
My Lord and my God.
Father, give their families the comfort and peace to know that their lives have not been taken in vain but given as a world-wide testimony to your love.
This macabre spectacle is very real and ever-present reminder that the Body of Christ will always go to the greatest extremes, even in the face of terrible hostility and gruesome death, to peacefully demonstrate the love of God.
As did Christ in the past, so shall his body in the present.
With the stakes so high, death by beheading, these men did not choose to war with their enemies. They did not choose to fight back with a strong hand, despite knowing their fate.
They did not even utter a curse to their executioners as the shear edge of the blade was placed against their necks. No, they were men of profound peace, men of profound love, men counted worthy to suffer disgrace for the name of Jesus until their very end. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they are the sons of God.
And they were like sheep before the shearers for their witness and their testimony. They became martyrs for the greatest of all acts — following in the humble, submissive, self-sacrificial love of Jesus Christ.
But can you hear their testimony?
Or was the footage of their execution too much to bear?
Or have we become so desensitized to heinous atrocities that we no longer feel empathy or compassion?
Or have our lives become so busy and cluttered with information that this was just “another news story?”
Or have we insulated ourselves in so much comfort that we have become detached from the plight of our brothers and sisters who are suffering greatly?
Can you hear their anthem? Can you hear their victorious proclamation in the face of death, “Hallelujah! Death is beaten. Christ has risen from the grave!”
Can you hear their voices in unison cry as their blood began to flow, “Hallelujah! It is finished! All to You the highest praise!”
Can you hear the chorus of the saints, the testimony of the martyrs, as their message grows louder and louder, as all of creation joins together in heaven’s refrain announcing to the deliverers of death, “To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever! Amen!”
We, as followers of Jesus Christ around the world, join them in their declaration.
Hear our testimony, ISIS…
With every life taken, there is a proclamation of the good news of Jesus Christ.
With every drop of blood that is shed, there is the proclamation of the blood that forgives and atones.
With every body cut, mangled, and broken, there is the proclamation of love overpowering hate, life defeating death.
With every threat and act of terror, the proclamation of Christ and the invitation into his kingdom of grace, peace, and love is amplified so that all may hear.
With every gunshot to our head. With every knife to our throat. With every destructive act that takes our lives, hear me in this … Christ will be proclaimed louder and louder and louder.
Though you kill, a body is resurrecting to life that does not wage war with a sword. Worldwide, followers of Jesus are awakening at this very hour and we are putting down our arms.
For our victory is won and there is no battle to fight, no war to wage. We will line the streets and surround our communities in prayer and peace, for the victory is ours … love has won. Christ is victorious.
And our testimony will grow only louder and louder as more people join this chorus and wave our white flags of peace and surrender. We will not fight back. We will serve. We will love. We will even love you.
And if it is our blood that must be poured out, turning the seas to crimson, for the world to know the life-giving, cross-like love of Christ, then let the waves wash over this land in forgiveness for what you have done. For even in the face of death, our own blood will cry out and give testimony.
The power you wield is death, but you are powerless. For it is precisely death that Christ has defeated.
Can you now hear the testimony given by these men who gave their lives for Jesus Christ?
Do you now have ears to hear their message of forgiveness and hope?
Jesus has rescued each of us from the dominion of darkness, and brought us into his kingdom of light and love, where we have redemption, the forgiveness of our sins.
Columbus’ Brandon Andress is a former local church leader and a contributor to the online Outside the Walls blog. He can be reached at his website andthentheendwillcome.com or brandonandress.com.