“This was an act of terror, and a particularly cowardly act of terror,” New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said after a man drove a truck into a Manhattan crowd yesterday. Eight were killed and eleven were wounded in the deadliest terror attack in New York City since 9/11.
This morning, Police Commissioner William J. Bratton asked, “Could it have been prevented? The New York Police Department works very hard to try to prevent terror attacks. And so many attacks have been prevented. But you can’t prevent them all. Yesterday was a very clear example of that.”
This is the sixty-seventh terror attack in America since 9/11. Where do we find the courage to face such unpredictable tragedy?
The video that shocked the world
On February 15, 2015, ISIS released a five-minute film showing the beheading of twenty-one Coptic Christians on a Mediterranean beach. The image of their deaths made global headlines. Their last words were “Lord Jesus Christ,” repeated at the moment of their deaths.
Now we’re learning that Libyan police recently found their bodies.
One of the twenty-one was an African man named Mathew Ayairga. He was not a Christian when he was forced to join the other kidnapped men on the beach. He was then asked to follow Islam or die. After witnessing the courageous faith of other Christians, he decided to become a follower of Jesus himself.
On camera, one of the terrorists could be seen asking, “Do you reject Christ?” Mathew responded boldly, “Their God is my God.” He then became a martyr for his new faith.
The next time you have an opportunity to stand boldly for Jesus, will Mathew’s courage encourage you?
What is All Saints Day?
Lemuria was a feast in ancient Rome during which the Romans performed rites to exorcise ghosts of the dead from their homes. On May 13, 609, Pope Boniface IV instituted All Saints Day, apparently intending the day to replace this pagan ritual. In the eighth century, Pope Gregory I moved the day to November 1.
All Saints Day is intended to focus our attention on the saints of Christian history. A “saint” has been defined as “a person of remarkable holiness who lived a life of heroic virtue, assisted by the Church, during their pilgrimage on earth.”
Why are saints relevant?
Hebrews 11 has been called the “Hall of Faith.” The writer begins with Abel and continues through the Hebrew prophets, describing godly men and women “of whom the world was not worthy” (v. 38).
The next chapter begins: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us” (v. 1).
According to God, you and I are surrounded right now by a great “cloud of witnesses.” “Cloud” was a common figure of speech for a large multitude. “Witnesses” translates martyron, from which we get “martyrs.”
The text places us in a Roman arena, preparing to run a long and arduous race. Seated in the stands are all those who have already completed the course now before us. Their presence testifies that we can finish the race as well, drawing strength from their strength and courage from their courage.
When our son was being treated for cancer, those who survived cancer were our greatest encouragers. When my father died while I was in college, other college students who had lost a parent were my greatest support.
That’s the purpose behind All Saints Day—to focus our attention on women and men whose faithfulness encourages our faith. Whatever we’re going through, we are likely to find a saint who went through similar challenges.
For instance, yesterday’s Saint of the Day was Saint Wolfgang of Regensburg (c. AD 924–994). Like me, he struggled to balance his desire for study and contemplation with the need for reform within his church and culture. His faithfulness encourages me in my calling today.
We don’t need to adopt Roman Catholic theology regarding canonization and sainthood to recognize the value of positive role models for faith in these challenging times. I’ve begun checking the calendar of the saints each day for such encouragement.
And I’ve renewed my commitment to living in a way that God can use to encourage others. Research shows that modeling positive behavior is a powerful way to influence others. When they see your faith in action, they are drawn to its Source and “give glory to your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).
Please take a moment this morning to pray for all those affected by the tragedy in Manhattan. Then step into an uncertain future with the faith of Mathew Ayairga. He is in heaven because of the courageous Christians who surrounded him. I have no doubt that many will be in heaven because of Mathew’s bold faithfulness.
Here’s a question we might ask ourselves on this All Saints Day: Who will be in heaven because of us?