News broke yesterday of 147 Christians killed in Kenya by Al-Shabaab, the radical muslim group out of Somalia. According to an article here (http://news.sky.com/story/1457254) the gunmen singled out Christians and shot them on the spot. In hearing this terrible news we join our cry to that of the martyrs in Revelation 6, “How long, O Lord holy and true, before you judge and avenge our blood?” It is hard to hear about our brothers and sisters suffering around the world and in particular, in East Africa and in the Middle East. It is absolutely appropriate to pray that God would avenge their blood and judge these murderers and servants of the beast or convert them. However, God’s response to the martyrs and to us, is that we must wait a little longer until the full number of our brothers who are to be martyred is complete. He does not say that His avenging judgement will never come because He is a God of non-judging love. No! Judgement is coming and with it the vindication of God’s suffering saints. But...not yet.
In the meantime, He tells us that he is at work through that suffering and is building His kingdom. This is one of the great challenges and encouragements of the book of Revelation, namely, that the suffering of God’s people is not in vain, but has a role to play in the growth and victory of the church. It is, in fact, the primary instrument of victory over the beastly powers of our age. As Joseph Tson, the Romanian pastor who suffered greatly for his preaching in rebellion against the communist authorities, told his inquisitor who threatened him with execution, “Sir, your greatest weapon is killing me, but my greatest weapon is dying.” Tertullian, the second century church father, put it this way, “The blood of the martyrs will be the seed of the church.” Who could ever have imagined, as Christians were being dragged to the coliseum for execution, that one day the land comprising the Roman empire would be dominated by Christianity. Yet this is exactly what happened and it came not by might, but by common, everyday, faithful believers loving their neighbors and suffering for the gospel even to the point of death. It is equally impossible to imagine Christianity dominating the Middle East given what we have grown accustomed to seeing there. But the promise of the Scriptures is that the Middle East, along with all lands, will be filled with the knowledge and glory of God like the waters cover the sea. If Good Friday teaches us anything, it is that God’s strength is made perfect in weakness and His victory is secured in apparent defeat. So when we see the faithful being martyred in Kenya and elsewhere, our hearts hurt and we grieve, yet as Paul says, not like those who have no hope, for we see in their suffering the signs of certain victory.