“But I tell you love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:44-45
First of all I rightly admit that I write this post from the safety and comfort of my couch in my warm home. I do not deny that I have not known persecution on the level that many of my brothers and sisters across the world do. I also have no desire to belittle the death of these 21 men, nor anyone else persecuted for claiming the name of Jesus. I admire and honor their sacrifice and only pray that I will be so strong when/if my day comes.
Like many others, I saw the video of ISIS beheading 21 Christians on a beach near Tripoli. I was disgusted. I was angered. I was convicted. I chose to watch the video because I needed to be wrestled from my complacency and I needed to see what so many of my brothers and sisters face on a daily basis in other areas of the world. I needed to understand afresh how I “have not resisted to the point of shedding blood.” (Hebrews 12:4). I needed to understand what it means to love Jesus more than my own life.
With that said, after watching the video and seeing the images, I strangely couldn’t help but be struck with a weird sadness. My heart broke not only for the 21 men clad in orange, but for the 21 black-clad men standing behind them. I couldn’t help but think of the Apostle Paul. He was one of those 21 men. Wow, how the story of Acts comes alive. I couldn’t help but think that just as I was repulsed and angered by what these men did, I did the same to the sinless Son of God. My sin put Him through a much more grueling death than these men endured.
And then the words of Jesus reminded me, “…pray for those who persecute you.” Never has that been a more difficult teaching than in the light of this video. What?! Jesus, did you see what they did? They HATE You and they HATE Your people! How can I do that? How can their families do that?
But, as I look inward I see that we were all no different than these 21 black-clad men. Their evilness repulsed me, as well it should. But we mustn’t forget that our sin was just as repulsive to God (Habakuk 1:13). And what did He do? He sent His most precious gift to make a way for mercy. Because of Jesus mercy was extended to me. And, as hard as it may be to think about, because of this same Jesus, mercy is extended to those 21 executioners. The same offer of salvation that was extended to me is extended to them. And Jesus teaches that, while anger against sin and evil is a right response, I should pray for them and for their ultimate good, the salvation of their souls.
So what do we do? Do we brush evil under the rug? Absolutely not. Should we be angry? Yes. Should we mourn? Yes. Should we desire justice? Yes.
But we must balance our anger and also remember that all men are woven from the same cloth. We all stand condemned before God, every one of us. We deserve justice for our evil deeds. But as believers our justice was poured out on Jesus. And the same free gift of grace is available to these men. Thanks be to God He extended it to Paul. Thanks be to God He extended it to me. Thanks be to God He extends it to you. Thanks be to God He extends it to 21 black-clad men on a beach near Tripoli.
Father, we know that you are a God of justice. We know that you are angered by the events on that beach. We thank you for the courage of those brothers who were killed and we rejoice that they now stand physically at Your feet in Your kingdom. We lift up the families of these men killed as “people of the cross.” Comfort them. Console them. Be near them, please.
Then, Father, in your justice would You see this evil annihilated. And even more, though we do not understand, we lovingly follow Your command and pray that, in Your mercy, You would bring to repentance, reconcile to Yourself, and draw as many of those 21 executioners and their comrades as possible to saving faith in Jesus Christ. Forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
“…pray for those who persecute you.”