Our Refuge and Strength

By Jim Allen

Earlier this year on a sandy shoreline of the Mediterranean Sea, IS extremists martyred 21 young Christian men. As members of Egypt's Coptic Christian minority in Libya, these young men were no stranger to mistreatment and persecution including endless terror. Taken from their families, homes, and jobs, they were paraded in orange jumpsuits to a remote shoreline. On the way they were heard calling out to Jesus for strength.

But, one of the captives amazed everyone by what he said in response to a question from a captor. As reported by Mission Network:
...Matthew Ayairga was not a Christian. However, when moments before his death the IS extremists demanded that he follow Islam, Mathew turned them down. After reportedly witnessing the 'immense faith' of the Egyptian believers, he decided to become a follower of Christ.

On camera, one of the terrorists asked Matthew, 'Do you reject Christ?' 'Their God is my God,' he responded, and he became one of the 21 men laying down their lives for their faith in Christ. (Source)
In the scheme of things, these young men lived believing and hoping each day of their life would be better than the one before. They were young and filled with the wonder of living, learning and discovering the beautiful things in life. But instead they found themselves kneeling on a sandy shoreline wondering how such a fate could have overtaken them.

The Apostle Paul might have thought the same. On many occasions Paul endured countless hardships and learned many lessons. He was inspired to write: "We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed" (2 Corinthians 4:8-9).

The unforeseen quandary of the 21 was indeed surreal and inescapable. They knew evil existed but never imagine it could be so dark and come for them as it did.

Like believers martyred before them, they broke no law. They did no harm. They loved God and loved people. Though innocent in the eyes of their Creator, they were guilty in the eyes of those who would have no part of their Jesus. Like the faithful from all ages who went before them, these 21 were filled with the Light of the world (Matthew 5:14); and, their captors filled with a deep darkness.

The Bible says God is sovereign and capable of preventing evil, but allows it for purposes far transcending our ability to understand. So then, what hard lessons did these young men learn from life before they were struck down? And for us, what can we take away from their unfaltering witness?

Arthur W. Pink writes:
"Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints." These words intimate that a dying saint is an object of special notice unto the Lord, for mark the words "in the sight of." It is true that the eyes of the Lord are ever upon us, for He never slumbers nor sleeps. It is true that we may say at all times "Thou God sees me." But it appears from Scripture that there are occasions when He notices and cares for us in a special manner. "God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble" (Psalm 46:1). "When thou pass through the waters, I will be with thee" (Isaiah 43:2). (Source)
The first lesson was "death could not separate them from the love of Christ" (Romans 8:38-39). He was with them (Matthew 28:20). Although we cannot imagine the moment of their passing or look beyond their veil, the Bible hints they did not experience the full sting of their demise.

While the Bible does not say precisely, I believe their souls were taken in an instant before these assassins could do their dastardly deed. I cannot imagine Jesus allowing a single one to endure the fullness of the moment. Why would he and for what gain? The apostle Paul wrote, "Death has been swallowed up in victory! Where, O death is your victory? Where, O death is your sting?" (1 Corinthians 15:55).

The second lesson was their captor's grip could not hold them. When the moment came, the chains of this world fell away as the 21 young men ascended from their earthen vessels into an eternity amassed with glorious beings. This experience for them must have been like coming out of a dark tunnel into the fullness of daylight.

God is sovereign in all matters and especially those who bear his name. He allowed them to be struck down in body but not destroyed in spirit. In this is a greater lesson. The IS extremists were never really in control, though they may have thought so. These murderers did not have the last word, for that belongs to the Lord (Proverbs 16:1).

Try as they may, these evildoers failed to make the 21 recant their faith. They could not discourage Matthew from converting. And, they could not douse the inner burning flame of faith (Colossians 1:27). Most amazingly, their act of faith spread from a remote spot near the Mediterranean Sea into the hearts of millions around the world.

Was this the greater purpose of God? I think so.

In closing, the 21 perished but not in the way we think and certainly not in the way the evildoers intended. To the world their passing was horrific. But, to all near and far and to you and me their faithful witness was bold, notable, and for the cause of Christ.


Note: Today, there is a small population of Coptic Christians remaining in Alexandria, but most are located elsewhere. Estimates of the current population of the Coptic Church range from 10 million to 60 million members worldwide. Theologically, Coptic Christianity is very similar to Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy. They profess to be genuine followers of Jesus Christ and a part of His worldwide Church. But, as with Catholicism, they tend to emphasize meritorious works in salvation along with liturgical ritual rather than salvation through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. (Source)

As a footnote to the above, there are many evangelical churches that lean on meritorious works for salvation. But even within these assemblies there are remnants of genuine believers. That aside, there is no way of knowing if all 21 young men had their theology in perfect alignment with the Bible. I would suspect none did but then we too would quickly concede none of us have it perfectly right.

That they cried out to Jesus in the waning moments of their lives is no different from the thief on the cross who did the same. God will save to the uttermost (Hebrews 7:25).

Image courtesty of "Voice of the Martyrs
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TagsBiblical-Truth  | Christian-Life  | Current-Issues  | Hardships

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Published 6-3-2015