Willing to die for Jesus

Willing to Die for Their Faith

Johnnie MooreBy Johnnie Moore9 Minutes

Adapted from The New Book of Christian Martyrs: The Heroes of our Faith from the 1st to the 21st Century by Johnnie Moore & Jerry Pattengale.

Christians Are Being Killed

The last three decades bridging the twentieth century to the twenty-first have been some of the bloodiest in modern Christian history. On nearly every continent, Christians are being killed in grotesque ways for their faith. In what Pope Francis called “an ecumenism of blood,” those who come to kill Christians don’t ask first if they are evangelicals, Catholics, or anything else — they just look for a cross.

Perhaps no martyrdom in the modern era was as shocking or received more news coverage than the men now called “The 21.”

On February 15, 2015, twenty-one stouthearted men marched out on a Libyan beach, single file, in orange uniforms, hands behind their backs. They didn’t shout or strut as they walked. Each man’s face reflected grace and peace, the dignity of a champion with nothing to prove, all jaws set in determination to do what he had trained to do. Not one tried to draw attention to himself. Each man walked in humility and obedience in a steady rhythm, each step proof that they were ready to go all in on the beach that day.

The twenty-one men assumed the starting position, kneeling with their heads leaning forward, looking down at the earth for a final time, furtive eyes locking in quick sidelong glances as if congratulating each other ahead of their assured victory. The beach was hushed as masked handlers standing behind each man raised enormous swords. Then in unison, as a final act of what was in their collective spirit, the men let out a shout of song. Three words, three notes. The swords struck. The strains of the Coptic Christian refrain hung in the air, “Ya Rabbi Yassu,” “Oh my Lord Jesus.” Twenty-one heads toppled off the orange jumpsuits and tumbled to the ground.

Heaven let out a roar, angels shouted, the elders and creatures bowed before the throne. King Jesus stood and welcomed them home, looking each one in the eye and saying, “Well done, son, well done.” For the men, the mingled smell of the ocean, sweat, and blood was replaced by the fragrance of heaven, an aroma wafting off their own robes, a sacrifice that filled the nostrils of the living God as they lifted their eyes to behold Him. For the King of Kings, the death of these saints was precious, costly, invaluable, priceless, a treasure.

On earth, the scene was remarkably different. In the blue light of monitors, phones, and television screens in every nation, millions of hands flew over mouths that hung agape with horror. Tears squeezed out of a million squinted eyes that did not want to see what they were witnessing, but found it hard to look away. Millions of ears rejected the news. Surely, they’d heard an exaggeration. Throats choked with emotion. Minds brimmed with disbelief. Many wanted the video to be a hoax, doctored to make it look real.

A slow reality followed the sunrise around the earth on the morning of February 16, 2015, as the world came to realize that the Islamic State had really and truly beheaded twenty-one Christians on a Libyan beach. Worse, the terrorists recorded it and posted it online, where every phone, every computer, and every television could transmit this abomination across the world to shock, scare, and terrorize. But, their objective backfired.

Twenty-one men — twenty Coptic Orthodox Christians from Egypt and one Ghanaian. The Egyptians were all day laborers, very poor men who came to Libya in search of work. The Ghanaian, Matthew, was also a poor migrant worker. The kidnappers told Matthew that they would let him go because he was not Christian, but Matthew refused to leave his friends.

The 21, as they came to be called, were captured and held for a long time, during which their ISIS captors tried their very best to break them and make them convert to Islam. Instead, far from being broken, the young Egyptians led Matthew to Christ. Shortly, Matthew became such a believer that he was willing to die with them. Ultimately, believing was the crime that cost their lives. They vehemently refused to renounce their faith.

Coptic Archbishop Angaelos of London said the men displayed a “godly peace” moments before their deaths. After he watched the video, he prayed for the victims’ families on Twitter and added the hashtag, #FatherForgive. The news media picked it up. In interview after interview, the Archbishop testified of Christ’s forgiveness. “We will not hate. Our hearts cannot be changed by what we’re experiencing.”

Just like the Archbishop, the families of the martyrs publicly gave grace to the killers, honor to the fallen, and forgiveness to all. This outpouring of Christian forgiveness amazed the world. A German Catholic, Martin Mosebach, was so moved that he went to Egypt to meet the families.

Mosebach expected to see grief, mourning, and anger. He was surprised to find families that were proud of how their brave young men faced persecution with courage. He didn’t find any bitterness, talk of revenge or retaliation, nor any question of justice, but rather family members who claimed the video only reinforced their faith. A proud mother of one of The 21 said, “I never prayed during his captivity that he may come free. I prayed, ‘God, let him stay firm.’ And he stayed firm.”

Each year, Coptic Christians now celebrate all the church’s martyrs on the anniversary of the martyrdom of The 21.

The terrorists’ video, in short, was a spectacular failure. Perhaps no piece of propaganda has ever backfired so completely. The video did not show Islamic domination, but showed the power and strength, courage and honor, faith and peace of the Christian faith. In a moment that was supposed to show Christianity’s weakness, the only men who appeared weak were the masked executioners who were too ashamed or afraid to show their faces.

May we all sing “Ya Rabbi Yassu,” “Oh my Lord Jesus.” All praise to God.


Adapted from The New Book of Christian Martyrs: The Heroes of our Faith from the 1st to the 21st Century by Johnnie Moore & Jerry Pattengale. Copyright © 2023. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, a Division of Tyndale House Ministries. All rights reserved.

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