Last Sunday afternoon the image of 21 Egyptian Christians on a rocky beach in Lybia came across my twitter feed. The caption at the bottom of the picture read, “The people of the cross, the followers of the hostile Egyptian church.” Subsequent photos communicated that these maniacal killers had beheaded the 21 men as their blood was washed away into the tide of the Mediterranean Sea. As these 21 men lived the last few moments of their lives they prayed, sang, and cried out, “Oh Jesus” before their heads were savagely torn from their shoulders. I have look at this picture all week. Some bowed their heads in quiet prayer, others stared into the distance with solemn acceptance of their fate, others recoiled at the cold touch of their hardened killers. I cursed the cowards who could perpetuate such evil to these men for simply being, “People of the Cross”. As this image sunk deep into my soul, the Holy Spirit laid Hebrews 11:38 on my heart, “They were…of whom the world was not worthy…” The death of these 21 men is incredibly significant. They were killed because of their desire to follow Christ and demonstrated it in the fact that they laid down their life to attain it. As they looked their murders in the eyes they did not plead for their freedom but called out to Christ because He was their only hope in life AND death.
The deaths of these men should serve as a sobering reminder of the value of following Christ. However, in a world 5,000 miles removed from ISIS, the pursuit of Christ looks very different in our cultural context. Rather than choosing between the desire to live and the desire to be faithful to Christ we are torn between the subtly attractions that our culture dangles in front of us; sports, news, leisure, money, entertainment, and health (to name a few). There is very real danger that the good things, which were meant to be reflections of God’s glory, become ultimate things replacing God’s glory. Without even realizing it we unconsciously renounce Christ by constantly choosing to follow the desires of the world rather than pursuing Christ. However, the death of these 21 men was a sobering wake-up call to reassess our priorities. When someone forces us to choose between the pleasures of this world and the pleasure of following Christ how will we respond? Will we cling to Christ or sheepishly tuck our tails and run? We don’t endure persecution, both large and small, for things that are meaningless. If something is of value than it is worth the struggle to attain. For example; Anna is willing to endure the pain of squats, sprints, and sore legs in exchange for the joy of playing volleyball. Andrew will endure the heat of August practices, the coach’s wrath, and physical fatigue because he loves the joy strapping on the pads and hitting someone. To both their desire to play overrides their desire for comfort. Their sport is shown to be more valuable than the desire for leisure or the desire for comfort because they chose to pursue it. In the same manner, we demonstrate the value of Christ when we choose to pursue Him rather than the desires of this world. May we, like the 21 Egyptians, have the courage to pursue Christ above all! Each day we are forced to choose between the desire of Christ and the desires of this world. I pray that we would answer as Peter did in John 6, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” rather than how he responded in Luke 22, “Woman, I do not know him.” I want to promise you this morning that Jesus is more valuable than anything that this world can offer; the vain things, the good things; even life itself.
A fisherman once told me that laziness when the sea is calm makes things deadly when the ocean sea is rough. I want to show you now when the waters of life are calm to be diligent to pursue Christ so that, when the thunderclouds of persecution pour down and sorrows like sea billows roll, your feet will stand firm on the rock of Jesus Christ. There is nothing like the strength that Christ provides, nor is there anything that can provide such satisfaction to our souls. This all comes because Jesus has brought us peace with God (Romans 5:1). We are no longer vessels of wrath following the passions of the world. We are chosen, called, converted, and united with Christ to the Father. The completed work of Christ is the means to peace with God. We cannot improve upon, add to, or change what Christ has accomplished. Hebrews 12:2 tells of the greatness of this work, “who for the joy set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” Jesus has finished the race, He has paid the price, He has won the victory, and now sits in the place of utmost honor. It is in this place of honor and authority that He calls us to follow him, to keep running, to keep holding on, and not to give up. When we pursue Christ we receive eternal satisfaction that even the most decadent pleasures of this world can never provide. Christ infuses every work, action, pursuit, and pleasure with God-glorifying significance that can be found nowhere else. Most of us will never have to choose between keeping your life and following Christ. However, you will be asked to choose between the desires of this life and the desire for Christ. As we run through the difficulties, struggles, and pains of this life, where do you look for strength? Who is it that you turn for salvation? Where is your strength and hope? Will you find significance in your career or Christ? Family or Christ? Leisure or Christ? Functional saviors like drugs, sex, alcohol, people or in Christ alone? or the good things in life like family, relationships, and community? Jesus Christ is more valuable than any of these because it brings us into fellowship and peace with God. Ocean Park, may we choose Christ above everything else. May we, like the 21 Egyptian Christians, be faithful to Jesus until the very end. May the dangers of this world cause us to put our faith in the hope of the Gospel and look to the value of peace with God that only Christ can bring.
Soli Deo Gloria