“All this I have told you so that you will not fall away. They will put you out of the synagogue; in fact, the time is coming when anyone who kills you will think they are offering a service to God. They will do such things because they have not known the Father or me. I have told you this, so that when their time comes you will remember that I warned you about them. I did not tell you this from the beginning because I was with you, but now I am going to him who sent me. None of you asks me, `Where are you going?’ Rather, you are filled with grief because I have said these things. But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. (John 16: 1 – 7 NIV)
All of the men that Jesus was addressing with these words died as martyrs except John, who penned the words. John was boiled in oil during persecution for his faith. John also wrote the book of Revelation while imprisoned on the island of Patmos: “I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.” (Revelation 1: 9 NIV) After recovery from this imprisonment and suffering John was carried on a blanket to the church in Ephesus and while being carried would constantly repeat, “Love one another.”
These men were able to grasp the vision that giving one’s life or suffering for the gospel was really a very small thing. What really matters is love. The coming of the Holy Spirit made it possible for us to do what Jesus had taught and lived. We are now able to love one another. We are now able to follow what would be the last command of Jesus: “This is my command: Love each other.” (John 15: 17 NIV)
Kayla Mueller, Peter Kassig, and James Foley were long held hostages by Islamic State and died while in their hands. In today’s MSN news letters home from them have been published. They all expressed that their greatest sadness in captivity was the suffering that their loved ones back home were experiencing. They all expressed the gratefulness they felt knowing they were being prayed for and they all expressed that they were praying for those back home. They expressed hope and expectation of eventually being released because others in captivity with them were released. They expressed no regret in the good they had done or in the fact that they had dedicated their lives to relieving in some way the suffering in the world.
Jesus did not die to bring peace. He knew that we would face persecution and opposition to attempting to bring love into the world just as He had. We all know that if all in the world lived as Jesus lived there would be no more turmoil and no more suffering. But we all also know that it will never happen. What we are living is a reality that is both cruel and harsh but at the very same time is full of wonder and glory beyond description. We who follow God the Father, through Jesus Christ, His Son, in the power of the Holy Spirit are living eternal life right now. Of course, we will go to heaven. We will go to heaven because we are already connected to God. We will go to heaven because we have a love relationship with God. We will go to heaven because God has provided that we will always be with Him and heaven is where He is.
But, heaven is really not the point. Living on earth in this fragile community all around us is really what it is all about. These recent martyrs who have joined the myriad thousand who have gone before them will rule and reign now and forever with Jesus Christ in heaven and, eventually, on earth when it is transformed. Yes, that transformation is actually in the process of happening all around us.
There are two kinds of reactions to the events of these martyrdoms. Kayla Mueller, Peter Kassig, and James Foley have not died in vain. Many more will lift up the cause of loving others and continue to live as Jesus lived.
Others will use their deaths to advocate war and revenge. This would be exactly the opposite of their desires; but it will happen none the less.
There is also another kind of event that is happening in our fragile community. This is illustrated by the three deaths of university aged Muslims in North Carolina. The family of these students are asking that these murders be investigated and prosecuted as hate crimes because the three were Muslims. We agree that such an investigation is warranted. However, from reading the background material of the alleged perpetrator it would seem that the motive was simply a dispute over a parking space by a constantly angry individual. One report quoted a person as saying of him that he was an equal opportunity angry man who was angry at everyone regardless of race, color, or religion.
Let us set aside the anger, the hatred, and the violence and become equal opportunity lovers as Jesus taught.