Chris Harper Mercer launched a deadly rampage Thursday at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon, killing 10 and wounding seven more. According to initial reports, Mercer specifically targeted Christians during his shooting spree.
According to reports to national outlets, “They would stand up and he said, ‘Good, because you’re a Christian, you’re going to see God in just about one second’…and then he shot and killed them.” What does Scripture say about those who die for their faith?
Much can be learned from the martyrdom of the first Christian, Stephen. Acts 8:57-58 report, “They covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul.”
How did Stephen respond? The next verses share, “While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ Then he fell on his knees and cried out, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’ When he had said this, he fell asleep” (vv. 59-60).
Stephen’s death gives us several applications relevant to the Oregon campus shooting. First, when threatened with death he trusted in Christ. Stephen did not die a coward, but left as a hero. He focused his final moments on the One who would give Him eternal life.
Second, Stephen prayed for his enemies: “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” His last words communicate love for those who opposed him.
Third, Stephen’s death led to life for many others. We were told Saul witnessed and approved of Stephen’s martyrdom. Later we find Saul became a believer (Acts 9) and devoted his own life to telling others about Jesus. The persecutor Saul became the evangelist Paul, living the greatest missionary of the early church and serving as the author of more than half of the New Testament’s books.
The church father Tertullian wrote, “The blood of martyrs is the seed of the church.” By this, he meant the deaths of those who gave everything for their faith led to the salvation of many others. Though the Oregon shooting is a tragedy no one would ever desire, the impact of this event may be used by God to turn many hearts to him.
Joseph’s story also provides an appropriate biblical insight for this tragic shooting. He had been sold as a slave by his brothers and was wrongfully imprisoned for years before become a great leader in Egypt. In the end, he told his brothers, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (Genesis 50:20). God can use even the most difficult situations in our lives to ultimately change the lives of other people.
Our hearts and prayers go out to the family members and loved ones of those who died in the Oregon shooting. However, those who have died in the Lord have not died in vain. They are with our Lord. Their faithfulness will impact the lives of others for years to come.