It could have been the New England coast.
Beautiful, tranquil, quiet.
The waves calmly lap the shore under cloudy skies.
The peaceful scene makes the graphic and gruesomely violent video all the more shockingly surreal.
Soldiers dressed in black march a line of men, clad in orange jumpsuits, along the shoreline.
They stop. The men are forced to their knees. Then a masked and hooded man from behind brandishes a knife and begins his diatribe into the camera. Only his dark steely eyes are visible.
When he is finished speaking, the men on their knees are pushed to the ground and summarily beheaded with knives.
All 21 of them.
ISIS has struck again. The professional video. The ceremonial butchery. The cold and stomach-churning orchestration designed to strike fear into the viewers.
These are sickeningly familiar to the world.
This time was different.
The 21 executed men were Egyptian Christians.
The place was different too: not in the desert but on a beach in Libya.
The video had an introductory caption:
“A Message signed with blood to the Nation of the Cross”
As the victims were lined up on their knees, the words above them read:
“The people of the cross, the followers of the hostile Egyptian church.”
The men were Coptic Christians – members of the oldest Christian sect in Egypt. Like you and me, “people of the cross.”
As in everything else they viciously do, the militants invoked the name of Allah. They vowed to storm Rome and promised to turn the sea behind them red with the blood of “the crusaders.”
In its statement denouncing the beheadings, the White House carefully avoided calling the victims Christians. Instead, they were described as “Egyptian citizens.” This inexplicable omission was less than a fortnight following President Obama’s controversial assertion that holy crusaders had done much evil in the name of Christianity a thousand years ago.
It didn’t change the fact that these martyrs were slaughtered like sheep because of their faith in Jesus Christ.
They were “people of the cross.”
Even CNN called them Christians.
It fell to Pope Francis to eloquently express the moral outrage and solidarity of believers everywhere.
“They were executed for nothing more than the fact that they were Christian,” the Pope said. “The blood of our Christian sisters and brothers is testimony that cries out.”
Declared Pope Francis:
“Be they Catholics, Orthodox, Copts, or Lutherans, it does not matter. They are Christians, their blood is the same; their blood confesses Christ.”
Speaking of “an ecumenism of blood,” Francis said “the martyrs belong to all Christians.”
Indeed it seems in a situation like this that doctrinal and denominational differences – even substantive differences of theology – pale in comparison to standing in global solidarity with “the people of the cross.”
In a time of evil persecution, dare we not care?
How many of us will stand? How many of us – like these 21 – would be willing to die for our faith?
As I saw the water turned to red with the blood of our brothers that day, I thought of the water and blood that poured from our Savior’s side on the cross as he died for us.
This is the true message signed with blood – the message from God signed with the blood of his Son.
It is a message not of hate, but of love; a message not of vengeance, but of forgiveness; a message not of violence, but of peace.
It is the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and it has the power – the sole power – to defeat hatred and transform lives. Our brave colleagues in the Middle East have told Haggai Institute to continue to train leaders for evangelism so that they may return and make a difference in their own nations, troubled and wracked as those countries are by the chaos and hate fomented by the evil one.
They too are people of the cross. They know its power. They will die for Christ if it comes to that.
What can you do?
Then ask your pastor to pray – publicly before the whole church – for our brothers and sisters in the Middle East. Ask him to speak out in his preaching. It’s time now for the leaders of our local churches to rise above the immediate concerns that too easily dominate our conversations.
It’s time for them to speak out.
We need preaching from America’s pulpits that is both biblical and contemporary. Preaching fit for the challenges of these difficult days.
“The storm is coming,” says Rev. Franklin Graham. We must be fortified now to take our stand.
From his prison cell, Paul told the Philippians, “For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake”(Philippians 1:29, KJV).
To be, to the end, “people of the cross.”
Those Egyptian Christians left the Libyan seashore that day to be welcomed into heaven by the multitudes of saints, prophets and apostles who had also given their lives for the cause of Christ.
“Faith of our fathers, holy faith! We will be true to thee till death.”