We live in a country where we can still freely worship God without having to worry about losing our physical life, unlike the early Christians and many Christians across the Globe.
In Nigeria, having the courage and fortitude to proclaim the Christian faith means one may ultimately pay with his or her life for such proclamation, especially during major Christian holidays. Such was the case for two Christmas seasons now. Last year 44 Christians were killed while attending church service (report), and two days ago 12 Christians were massacred in two separate church attacks (report). Muslim extremists have made it their life mission and service to their god to accomplish such carnage as directed by their scripture:
9:123 “Believers, fight the unbelievers who are near you. Let them find firmness in you.”
2:193-“Fight against them (unbelievers) until there is no dissension, and the religion is for Allah. Fight until no other religion exists but Islam.”
These facts stand uncontested and we cannot understand their gravity until we put ourselves in the position of these Christian martyrs and their families. Can you imagine singing “Silent Night” during the Christmas Eve service, and all of a sudden having full automatic fire ravaging the audience of worshipers? Or a car bomb blowing up the church? These are daily fears for Nigerian Christians. When they confess Christ as God Incarnate, and His death and resurrection as the only way to salvation, they understand they signed up for possible martyrdom.
They read, understand, and take God’s Word at face value in John 16:2 “a time is coming when anyone who kills you will think he is offering a service to God.” They understand this verse as none of us can because their neighbors are killing them as a service to Allah.
They understand martyrdom just like Peter understood his upcoming martyrdom. The Lord hinted at this in John 21 when He told Peter:
18 Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” 19 (This he said to show by what kind of death he [Peter] was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.”
Just like Peter glorified God with his death by upside down crucifixion, so these Nigerian martyrs glorify God with their last breath. And so year after year, Christmas after Christmas, Easter after Easter, they continue to go to church and worship the God of their salvation despite the threats and possibility of death.
These stories will not make the front page on CNN or Fox News sites. This become the norm in many African and South East Asian countries… it is not extraordinary enough to be worthy of prime time coverage and discussion.
But we know about them. We pray for them and the families left behind. We know they are now with the Lord “and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” (Rev 7:17)
In our season of joy, we must pray for these Christian martyrs and their families.