21 Coptic Christians: Calling on Yesua for Strength that Never Drains Away
by Abdu Murray
“I can do all things through him who gives me strength,” Paul writes in Philippians 4:13. The faithful cling to those words when hanging on the cliff of difficult circumstances or challenges. More than once I’ve prayed those words as I stood on the cusp of some anxiety-inducing situation.
They are comforting, empowering words. We’ve heard them preached hundreds of times. But there are times when someone’s living out Scripture penetrates the fog of our familiarity and illuminates a fuller meaning. Twenty-one men I have never met have done that for me.
By now, the video showing ISIS’s vicious murders of 21 Coptic Christians has burned itself into our consciousness. As the blades touched their necks, the victims shouted or mouthed the words Ya Rab Yesua!, “Oh, Lord Jesus!” They called out to the Light of the World as cowardly men robed in darkness brutalized them.
Consider the lives of those men—many of them appeared to be so young—just before that dark day. As youths, they played in dusty Middle Eastern streets with the carefree attitude that only children can display—even if only momentarily—amidst the tragedies their homeland endures. How far away those playful moments must have felt as they were faced with a terrible ultimatum. Did thoughts of those days rush through their heads? Did they wonder how much it would hurt before they would meet their Heavenly Father? Did they scan the horizon of the Mediterranean hoping for some angelic host or armed troupe to save them from such terror?
That’s what makes their sturdy faith in Yesua all the more astounding. We’ve seen journalists, foreign aid workers, and now 21 Christians beheaded while kneeling. In the embers of our outrage we might think that if we were in that situation, we’d face our death with William Wallace-style defiance, perhaps yelling out some profound statement that would tell our captors that they could not break us. But the reality is that such defiance is often illusory. An article some time back about how a certain country metes out capital punishment through public beheadings describes the surprising fact that the condemned tend not to fight even as they walk up to the spot where their lives will end. They simply kneel or lay there, surrendering to their fate. “Their strength drains away,” the country’s chief executioner said. They have no fight left in them. That’s why ISIS’s victims seem so strangely passive in the moments before the imminent brutality. Our hearts melt. Our knees buckle. Our “strength drains away.”
But appearances are deceiving. The strength of those 21 men did not drain away. Statistically, they should have melted before their captors’ ravenous barbarity. Such are the outcomes that result from mere human strength that drains away. But those Christians refused to renounce Christ and instead called on him. They did the remarkable for one reason…
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