Christian Martyrs and the Power of Forgiveness
If you are a follower of Jesus today, there is a very real chance – at least in many parts of the globe – that you will have to pay for your faith with your life. There have been more Christians killed in the past hundred years than throughout the previous nineteen hundred years of Christianity. Indeed, there are more than 200 million Christians today who do not have full religious freedom simply because they have confessed Jesus Christ as Lord.
The recent killing of three Christians in Turkey is one more example of this. Necati Aydin, Ugur Yuksel, and Tilmann Geske were the first Turkish martyrs since 1923. A detailed account of their martyrdom has just been released, and the story is worth recounting. Thanks to Elizabeth Kendal from the Religious Liberty Commission of the World Evangelical Alliance for passing it on.
(The following report from Martin Bucer Seminary (MBS) Bonn, Germany, was compiled by Titus Vogt, MBS Dean of International Programs. The English translation was done by Thomas K. Johnson, Ph.D., MBS Professor of Apologetics and Ethics.)
It seems their murderers first gained their trust some months ago. “Clearly the attack was planned well in advance. On the morning of 18 April, two of the murderers came to the office of Zirve Publishing House in Malatya. . . . Among other things, they discussed the Christian faith with Necati Aydin, as they had done frequently over the previous months. On this particular morning, in addition to Tilmann Geske, the bookkeeper, Emin M., was also in the office. Everything seemed to be completely normal. In the course of the morning, M. left the office, not suspecting that he would never see Aydin and Geske alive again.”
“Shortly thereafter the three other assassins arrived and tied up the first two victims, while they threatened them with pistols. As soon as the victims were tied up, the murderers began stabbing them with knives all over their bodies. A short time later Ugur Yuksel came into the office; he was immediately grabbed by the murderers and tied up.”
“When the police arrived a few minutes later, the victims were still alive. The police demanded that the criminals open the door, at which they slit the throats of the victims. When the police forced the door and stormed the office, they found Aydin and Geske already dead. Yuksel was still alive and was rushed to a local hospital. In spite of emergency surgery and 51 units of blood, he died of his numerous and massive knife wounds.”
“The autopsy reports lead to the following picture: The bodies were covered with about 156 knife wounds in the pelvis area, lower body, anus, abdomen, and back. Their fingertips had been sliced repeatedly; and they had massive slashes on their necks which severed the windpipe and oesophagus.”
“The distinctively ritual manner of the murder, particularly the slicing of fingertips, is convincing observers of the consciously religious motivation of the assassins. The perpetrators seem to have been following the instructions of Sura 8:12, from the Koran. There it says (in the Rudi Paret German translation of the Koran), ‘I will strike terror into the hearts of unbelievers. Flay their necks (with a sword) and strike every finger.’ The last half of the sentence is translated in even more striking terms in some versions. In the Rassoul and Zaidan translation it says, ‘chop off every finger;’ the Azhar and Ahmadeyya translation says, ‘chop off every finger tip’.”
A number of the attackers were quickly arrested by the police. Bear in mind the context of all this. Turkey is a secular state with a predominantly Muslim population. On Sunday a million Turks rallied in Istanbul demanding that democracy not be snatched away. They feared that an Islamist government will soon be set up. The military however wants the secular state to remain. So tensions are high in Turkey, and Christians there have always had great difficulty.
Yet out of this tragedy has been a positive outcome. “There has been an enormous media storm in Turkey following these events. Many Turks sent letters to the newspapers to express their deep disgust. The widow, Susanne Geske, earned tremendous admiration for her words in a TV interview the day after the massacre. She said she forgave the murderers of her husband, the way Christ forgave his murderers, citing Jesus’ prayer, ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.’ This is the reason why she wants to stay in Malatya with her children. Many letters to the newspapers are saying that now they really want to read the New Testament or even to describe themselves as Christians, since they no longer want to have anything to do with Islam.”
It has been said that the blood of the martyrs is the seedbed of the church. That is certainly true here. Two issues arise from this story for believers in the West. One, are we praying for our brothers and sisters in these nations where persecution is so widespread? They desperately need our prayers.
Two, how does our life stack up? Are we as dedicated to Jesus Christ as these three were? Many of us glibly say we are willing to die for Jesus. But the real issue is, are we willing to live for him? Are we totally sold out to Christ, and do we put him first in everything we do? Do we believe in radical discipleship? Have we really counted the cost of following Jesus?
The horrible deaths of these three believers reminds us of just what is really important in life. As martyred missionary Jim Elliot once said, “He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep, to gain that which he cannot lose.”