Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

Christian Martyrs and the Power of Forgiveness

May 1, 2007

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.”

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8 Responses to Christian Martyrs and the Power of Forgiveness

  • I don’t think we Western Christians have any idea what may be in store for us someday. Perhaps those whom managed to survive the Nazi death camps could give us an inkling. Let us remember as Paul said, our true enemies are not flesh and blood, but the powers and principalities that rule over those whom do not know Christ. Peace be unto them whom have given up their lives for Him!
    M.E. Huffmaster

  • Surely Christian martyrs end up in heaven right? Isn’t that a good thing?
    Chris Mayer

  • M.E. Huffmaster said:
    Let us remember as Paul said, our true enemies are not flesh and blood, but the powers and principalities that rule over those whom do not know Christ.

    Well said, but let us also remember that the enemy works through people just as our God does, and we should take care, being alert to the wiles of that prowling lion, expressed through the people he uses.

    John Angelico

  • True, but let’s also remember Jesus told us to hate the sin, but love the sinner. Trust me, I am careful! I live near the largest population of Arabs in the U.S., some Muslim/some (Lebanese) Christian. Many are from Iraq and our local news stations spotlighted them going to the polls for the first free Iraqi election.

    What I think we need to remember as Christians is to not demonize an entire population for the actions of a few. The martyred missionaires would not have us do so. Two of those killed were Muslim converts to Christ. They died serving their countrymen, human beings Christ loves as passionately as any Western child kneeling down by his/her bed to say nightly prayers. Their sacrifice is already bearing fruit. The Turkish people are realizing that an Islamist state will end their freedom and that Islam is not the religion of peace they were brainwashed to believe it was. We whine and cry about the state of the Western church while God is opening doors and hearts in the least expected places. I mourn for those lost and yet praise God for their faithfulness unto death. Would that we all had the faith and courage to live as they did.


  • Thanks Chris

    No, it is never a good thing to savagely torture and kill innocent people, regardless of where one’s eternal destiny will be. Remarks like yours simply reveal the callous and cold-hearted nature of atheism.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • There seems to be a continual playoff between the East and West Church. The Greek word for martyr (μαρτυρία , 1 John 5:9) means: to bear witness or testify. Henceforth, one of the most self evident ways to determine whether or not we in the West are truly living for God, should be measured by the words we speak and if we have the strength to live by, and defend those words.

    These three martyrs died because of their confession in Christ. Is it not possible that the only logical conclusion to radical discipleship is martyrdom, if not physically, then at the least spiritually? For, as Christ himself taught, “Let everyman take up his own cross and die to self” (Luke 9:23, author’s emphasis).

    Though the Western church does not face the same intensity of physical persecution, we do testify of Christ and, as a result, suffer spiritual abuse everyday.

    A more contextualized question for the West may emphasize, not whether or not we are willing to die for Christ, but; are we willing to live for him. Can we not be ‘living’ martyrs through an unwavering conviction and publication of Christ and his deeds?

    Chris Trodden

  • I thank God for their courage, and truely hope that if I ever ended up in a situation like theirs, that God was also grant me the strength and courage to face such oppression.
    What an example of what is it to live for Christ. As paul says, we should revel and delight in our sufferings, for it shows we belong to God. Jesus also says in John:

    18″If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. 19If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.
    and also…
    21They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the One who sent me. 22If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin. Now, however, they have no excuse for their sin. 23He who hates me hates my Father as well. 24If I had not done among them what no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin. But now they have seen these miracles, and yet they have hated both me and my Father. 25But this is to fulfill what is written in their Law: ‘They hated me without reason.

    john chapter 16 vs’ 2+3 also say:
    2They will put you out of the synagogue; in fact, a time is coming when anyone who kills you will think he is offering a service to God. 3They will do such things because they have not known the Father or me.

    May we not be afraid of what happened to them. on the contrary, may we as believers be filled with hope and be insprired by the bravery and commitment of these 3 men, and aim to follow in their footsteps if necessary.
    Peter said to Jesus; “To where else would we go?” Jesus is the one with the words of eternal life and there is no other way to the father other than through him. The bible says “do not be afraid of those who can only destroy the flesh, but fear the Lord, who can destroy flesh and then has the authority to throw the soul into hell”.
    I know who’s side i’d rather be on!
    My amazing brothers & sisters in Christ; Do not fear. Be filled with courage and I pray the Lord will fill you with his beautiful spirit, which is a spirit of power, love, purity and of a sound mind.
    May you continue to be filled with the holy fire that comes from God and be stengthened every day in your walk with him who gave it all for you. You are so dearly loved, keep walking in that love.
    Yours in Christ
    John Mainwaring, UK

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