The three martyrs were buried in Turkey: Tilman Geske (46), Ugur Yuksel (32), and Necati Aydin (36). Necati (right) was the one reading the Bible when their martyrdom began. Reports say that he was stabbed multiple times during his three hour torture before his throat was finally cut. Necati was married and a father of two preschool aged children.
The letter from the Protestant Church in Turkey offers this description of Necati’s funeral:
“Necati’s funeral took place in his hometown of Izmir, the city where he came to faith. . . Necati’s funeral was a beautiful event. Like a glimpse of heaven, hundreds of Turkish and foreign Christians came to show their love for Christ, and their honor for this man chosen to die for Christ. Necati’s wife Shemsa told the world, ‘His death was full of meaning, because he died for Christ and he lived for Christâ€¦ Necati was a gift from God. I feel honored that he was in my life, I feel crowned with honor. I want to be worthy of that honor.’
“Boldly the believers took their stand at Necati’s funeral, facing the risks of being seen publicly and likewise becoming targets. . . The service took place outside at Buca Baptist church, and he was buried in a small Christian graveyard in the outskirts of Izmir.”
Several things are worth noting about this account:
(1) It is significant that Necati’s burial took place in the city where he came to faith, Izmir. Izmir is the site of the ancient city of Smyrna, which was a part of the Roman province of Asia in the first century. In John’s apocalypse, Jesus instructs the church in Smyrna how she should respond to persecution:
“9 ‘I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich), and the blasphemy by those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. 10 ‘Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to cast some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life. 11 ‘He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death.'” -Revelation 2:9-11
The motivation for endurance in the face of persecution comes right from this text. Death (even gruesome death) cannot touch the one who “overcomes” by faith in Christ. By the world’s reckoning, Necati lost everything when he was killed. But by God’s reckoning, Necati had everything to gain. Only the eyes of faith can see death as gain (Philippians 1:21; Mark 8:35), and thus only the eyes of faith can endure such suffering by looking past martyrdom to the promised reward (Hebrews 12:2).
(2) God determines who will don the honorable robe of martyrdom. Revelation 6:11 teaches that God has already set the “number” of the martyrs. That is why the Christians of the Protestant church in Turkey say that Necati was “chosen to die for Christ.” That Necati and his brothers died such gruesome deaths does not suggest that God was off-duty or letting the situation get out of hand. God was always in control, and He orchestrated the occasion of their martyrdom for His own purposes.
I wonder if those of us who are reading about Necati’s martyrdom share the perspective of his brothers and sisters in Turkey. Do we believe that God sovereignly orchestrates our suffering? Do we believe that martyrdom is an honor? Certainly Peter and the apostles considered it an honor to suffer for Christ. They considered their flogging an occasion for rejoicing (Acts 5:41). They were able to endure with joy because they knew suffering to be the norm for Christian experience, not the exception (Acts 14:22; Philippians 1:29) and because they were looking beyond the suffering to the reward.
(3) Believers in Turkey manifested the glory of Christ by risking everything to show up to Necati’s funeral. Their testimony was not unlike the Christians of Hebrews 10:34: “For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one.” The Christians in Hebrews 10:34 put themselves in jeopardy by ministering to the Christians in prison. So it is with those who identified themselves with Necati’s Savior by appearing publicly at his funeral. Their motivation to suffer was the same as Necati’s. They knew that if they were to lose everything, they still “had a better possession and an abiding one.” It’s not a risk to lose everything, even your own life, if you know that Christ will turn all of your losses into gain in the age to come.
God give us the grace to be faithful in suffering by having our eyes fixed on Jesus. Help us to know Christ’s glorious resurrection as the prototype of our own glory in the age to come. Gives us eyes to see our own suffering and death as gain. Amen.