IF I PERISH, I PERISH…2500 years ago, on the 23rd day of God’s 3rd month, June 27 on our 2019 Gregorian calendar, His people were warned of an impending attack meant to annihilate the entire nation. One woman stepped forward in faith and changed the course of history. Esther not only became the savior of her people, but she became queen of the largest empire on earth.
Just how did she do it? Consider these scriptures: “So I will go to the king, which is against the law; and if I perish, I perish! (Esther 4:16).
The Kings’s reply says it all. "What do you wish, Queen Esther? What is your request? It shall be given to you—up to half my kingdom!" (Esther 5:3).
Though she certainly had the opportunity to benefit, for Esther there was only one course of action: to submit to the will of God Almighty, whatever that might be. She began her fight to save her nation by being willing to sacrifice her own life.
It seems this is the common thread for the faithful believer. According to traditions and the Bible, Stephen was stoned, Paul was beheaded in Rome, and eight of the Apostles died as Christian martyrs. At least two of the Apostles, Peter and Andrew, were crucified.
Indeed, last week’s lesson on Pentecost revealed that the very foundation of the Church as we know it today rests on the sacrifice of Christian lives.
According to Acts 2:9-11, “Parthians, Medes, and Elamites, those dwelling in Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya adjoining Cyrene, visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs", were “declaring the wonders of God” in one tongue during the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost over 2000 years ago in Jerusalem. These true followers of Christ laid down their lives continuously across the centuries for His glory.
Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia were districts in Asia Minor, known today as Turkey. Followers of Jesus were first referred to as Christians in Antioch, Turkey (Acts 11:26). Indeed, the archaeological site of the ancient biblical church of Philadelphia has been found in the modern town of Alasehir in western Turkey. Even though the nation suffered a massive genocide of 3 million Christians following World War I and continues to be attacked, murdered or threatened daily, they remain faithful to the Word of God. A Christian from Turkey wrote this when he came to America. “The joy I felt when I saw a church around every corner in America stemmed from the misguided feeling that things were easier for followers of Christ here. In Turkey, the sense of “otherness” pushes you to reach for more fellowship, more prayer time, and more awareness of this world’s fleetingness. Whereas in America, I find that the comforts offered by the wealthiest nation in the world are distracting. Having a house to live in, a car to drive, and endless entertainment to distract from the things that matter can make one lukewarm.”
For 30 years following Pentecost, Paul traveled 10,000 miles across the Roman Empire: to places like Ephesus, Philippi, Corinth and Athens. When the Emperor Nero came into power, feeding Christians to the lions became a form of national entertainment in Rome. He had the Disciple, Peter, crucified upside down, and beheaded Paul. In spite of the persecutions, or perhaps BECAUSE of them, by the 5th century AD, Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire.
Until 1453, thanks to the ministry of the Disciple Mark, most of Egypt were Christians. But much has changed. The Egyptian government declared a three-month state of emergency following the 2017 Palm Sunday bombings of two churches in northern Egypt. Naseem Faheem was the guard at St. Mark’s Cathedral. Suspicious of a man, he redirected him through the perimeter metal detector where the terrorist detonated the bomb he was carrying, killing them both. Though Naseem Faheem saved the lives of many, he martyred himself. Just hours after the bombing, his widow shocked the world when she stated unequivocally, “I’m not angry at the one who did this, I’m telling him, ‘May God forgive you, and we also forgive you. Believe me, we forgive you. You put my husband in a place I couldn’t have dreamed of.’”
The Islamic State in Libya kidnapped and beheaded 21 mostly Egyptian Coptic Christians in February 2015. These martyrs called out to Jesus in their moment of death. “Since then, there has been a paradigm shift,” said the president of the Bible society of Egypt. “Our ancestors lived and believed this message, but we never had to…Martyrdom is linked to the Christian life…Since we are united to Christ, in this life we are his image... As He forgave, so must we.” said Bishop Thomas of Quisia Egypt. https://www.facebook.com/fontanacommunitychurch/posts/1373049856108533
Libya, Africa once had a vibrant Christian community, also founded by the Disciple Mark. Today, following mass beheadings and firing squad executions, only 150 Libyan nationals are Christians, and they belong to underground “house” churches. According to a new report by Open Doors International, Libya is “one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a Christian”.
In 1572, 100,000 French Protestant Christians, called Huguenots, were slaughtered in France. They were asked to recant their Calvinist faith or suffer the consequences. Few recanted, and whole families had their property confiscated, and were executed, usually by being burnt at the stake. Many fled to the New Americas and became some of the earliest settlers of our country.
Today, statistics on Christian martyrdom are staggering. In 2014, Voice of the Martyrs USA estimated 70 million Christians have been martyred since the days of Jesus. Christian Freedom International, who assists Christians in escaping persecution and helps rebuild their lives, reports that more Christians have been martyred for their faith in the 20th and 21st centuries alone than during the previous 19 centuries combined. In 2019, Open Door Worldwide Watch List, an in-depth investigative report focusing on global Christian persecution, reported 11 Christians are killed every single day for their decision to follow Jesus.
All this is totally foreign to us here in America. We read about it on Facebook or news reports, and it’s as though we can’t identify with contemporary Christian martyrs at all. Could it be that we are so consumed with preserving our own way of life, and in fact, our very lives, that we have lost sight of what it truly means to be a Christian and glorify the Almighty? Could it be that, to save our nation, first WE must be willing to LAY DOWN our lives, just like the biblical Esther did? Once she made that commitment, the King stood behind Esther and her people, granting permission to them to protect themselves in any way they needed, paving the way for the defeat of their enemy.
Shortly after 9/11, Osama bin Laden told a reporter: “We love death. The U.S. loves life. That is the big difference between us.” Even though there is a huge difference between the death wish of a Muslim martyr, dying to exalt himself by killing others, and a Christian being willing to lay down his life to join Jesus in saving others from damnation, this statement from one of the most feared Muslims of all time is not far off base when it comes to us Christians here in America.
What did Jesus say about losing our lives and being killed for His sake? “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 10:39) “…Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. (Matthew 10:28)
“IF I PERISH, I PERISH…”