By Caitlin Choveaux
I was immediately sick to the stomach when I saw the beheading of 21 Egyptian Christians in Libya recently.
This sort of evil is nothing new I remind myself, as if somehow this will lessen the impact, which it does not.
Over the centuries, millions of Christians have died for affirming their faith in Jesus Christ – from facing gladiators and animals in the ancient Roman arena to this recent jihadist execution-style killing.
Christians are the world's most persecuted religious group with around 7-10,000 Christians killed every year for their faith, according to Professor Thomas Schirrmacher of the International Society for Human Rights.
With the increasing threat of violence, some have argued that terrorist bombings and Christian martyrdom are the same and that dying for one's religious faith is illogical and perhaps downright stupid.
In response to this, well-known Christian pastor and author John Piper clarified the Christian view of death:
"Christians do not love death. They love Christ. If He bids them come and die, they count it an honor to suffer and die for the sake of the Name [of Jesus] (Acts 5:41). Jesus showed Peter "by what kind of death he was to glorify God" (John 21:19). And He promised His disciples, "some of you they will put to death" (Luke 21:16).
The Bible describes Christians as those who proclaim that Jesus is Lord over the Universe and who will never deny His love, goodness, and supremacy above all powers, even under threat of death.
In many countries, leaving your family's religion and identifying as a Christian can result in the death penalty or, at least, being completely ostracized from one's family and community. Syria, Pakistan, Iraq, Nigeria and Saudi Arabia (to name a few) carry some of the heaviest penalties for Christians today.
Countries that operate under extreme dictatorship, namely North Korea, will imprison anyone found with a Bible in their hands and send them to "re-education" camps.
With such penalties, why are Christians in these places prepared to risk death to proclaim their faith in Jesus?
They sacrifice their lives because Jesus sacrificed His life for them on the cross and asked them to proclaim God's love and salvation offered to all mankind through Him.
"Love your enemies," Jesus said, "bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven (Matthew 5:44)."
The Apostle Paul, who wrote many books of the Bible's New Testament, changed from being a persecutor of Christians to a Christian missionary who blessed his persecutors after encountering the resurrected Jesus Christ. After beatings, many whippings and years in jail Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans, "Bless those who persecute you, bless and do not curse." Many of those who guarded Paul in the Roman jail also trusted in Jesus due to his influence.
According to historical record, Paul was eventually tortured then beheaded for his faith in Christ by Roman Emperor Nero in 67 A.D.
Before His death and resurrection, Jesus warned people saying, "Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of [God] who can destroy both soul and body in hell ... Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven (Matthew chapter 10)."
Jesus Christ warned people that life would not be easy if they followed Him but it would be worth it. He died to bring people life – not this life as we know it but eternal life with Him in heaven.
In the USA we do not face the kind of persecution others experience but let us not take things lightly. If you are afraid of what others may think if you decided to become a Christian, consider the weight of eternal consequences. This life is just the beginning of eternity – your eternal destiny is your choice. What would you die for? •