Young Sean died soon after he went into hospital. The cancer raged through him with lightning speed. The poor, worn out child made his departure from the world and the parents were beyond consolation. It must have been three weeks later that the preacher got a call from Sean’s father who just couldn’t bear to think that the last word had been said when they laid Sean in the ground. But he couldn’t pretend to believe what he felt he had no grounds for. The opening line was simple.
I’m Sean’s dad, Do you remember me?
“I do,” the man said. “Have been wondering how you were getting on.”
“I told you at the hospital that I thought Sean’s life was pointless.” There was a catch in his voice. “But I didn’t feel that. I only meant…I was only saying since there’s no God then this whole existence was unplanned. Sean meant everything to us and whether anyone planned him to be here or not he made our lives richer, and our hearts are broken. I needed you to know that.”
“I knew it,” said the man that had talked to the parents at the hospital. “Nobody with a grain of sense would have thought you were making little Sean. In any case, those were awful days and maybe not the best time for a discussion of world-views. I say ‘maybe’ because I’m not sure. In any case, here you are and I want to tell you I’m genuinely saddened by your loss.”
The grieving father said, “You said things I didn’t understand, things I wasn’t in the mood to wrestle with. But I knew you were saying that our son’s life and death had some profound meaning. It didn’t matter to me at the time for all I could think of was that he was suffering and going to die. I think I’m grasping at straws simply because I want to believe that there’s more to his life than a few happy years and a hard death. I’d like you to tell me what you meant, unless you were only saying stuff in an attempt to make us feel a bit better.”
They arranged to meet, met, sat a while, walked a while and then sat some more. And all the while they talked.
“I wanted to talk now,” said Danny, “because I think I’m more open now to being persuaded. I want to believe. As the months go by and the pain eases and I become adjusted to his being gone I’ll not feel the need as I feel it now. I know I’m vulnerable but I think I’ll recognize religious nonsense when I hear it.”
“All that makes sense,” the man said. “And I think you’re right in talking further about this while you feel this way. I hear a lot of talk about ‘rational argument’ and the fact that we shouldn’t discuss things while we’re emotional. Cool logic and rationality’s critically important but there are areas of life that don’t fit neatly into the realm of logic and rationality. Computers are marvelous things but they have their limitations; people are more than breathing computers. To battle injustice in society with nothing but rationality isn’t possible and there are things that human icicles can’t see. There are truths we can’t grasp until we experience love or driving passion. Not everything’s settled by the law of the excluded middle.”
“You said something about Sean and kids like him suffering for the world. If you meant that a child’s suffering might move some people to be more compassionate, I can see that. But it’s suspiciously like one of those empty pious remarks. It can equally make people bitter. Is that what you meant?”
“No, that’s not what I meant; and you’re right, a child’s suffering can work either way. We see that nearly every day, don’t we? Look, I told you that what I believe has nothing to support it if we can’t give Jesus Christ and the Judeo-Christian scriptures a fair hearing. And I do know that that is sometimes very difficult.”
“Do you mean I have to believe everything I read in the Bible before I can see Sean in a right way? If that’s it, we’re wasting our time here.”
“I don’t believe that at all, but the Bible does have a grand drift that comes to a climax in Jesus Christ. I’m one of those that believe God is the ultimate author of the Bible. I’m not interested here in theories of inspiration or exactly how He got that done, but I believe that in the final analysis we have the Bible we have because God wanted it that way. It’s like an historical drama that’s moving toward a finale of cosmic renewal, where all wrongs are righted and there’s a happy ending. Yes, I know, I know—. But it isn’t always wrong to want something to be true. The atheist H.J Blackham said the most powerful argument against atheism is that it’s too bad to be true.”
“So what is it you say we have to do, believe it before we can believe it?”
“I’m saying that to the degree that you’re able, give the Story a fair hearing. Do what you would do in so many other areas when someone is proposing something you don’t go along with—give it a good hearing. Nothing’s gained if we continue to reject it without really hearing it.”
“What if it’s stupid at every point? Should we pretend to be listening?”
“No, I think life’s too short to throw that much time away; but I’d hope that you wouldn’t think that the Christian faith is that far out of whack. I know you know people that are devoted Christians, people intellectually capable, maybe even brilliant, and practical too, so there must be something credible in it.
“Well, can we cut to the chase? I’ll just have to do my best and if I feel I’ve heard enough we’ll leave it at that. That okay with you?”
“Sure. But I need you to understand that ‘cutting to the chase’ doesn’t mean there’s a ten-minute presentation coming up. And you need to understand that to give it a fair hearing means you have to judge the Story within its own parameters. The blacksmith that proved iron ships couldn’t float by throwing a horseshoe into a barrel of water helped nobody.” And listen, Danny, what if it’s true? If he Story Jesus offers is true it changes the world, it changes our view of your beloved Sean; it changes things for you and Denise!
The biblical Story says that God created us out of love and joy. That he created us in His own image—that is, He created us to live in creative, joyful and holy reflection of Himself. So we didn’t arrive here by chance and our lives weren’t meant to be misery, a ceaseless brawl with disease and death.”
Sean’s dad stirred but said nothing.
“But the human family—our parents at that point—rebelled and ‘Sin’ entered. From there it spread throughout the human family, polluting and hurting everyone it touched. Sin enters people and it’s there it must be dealt with. God moved to deal with Sin and the curse that affected both the earth and the life on it. Death was part of that curse.”
“Spiteful, isn’t he!”
“I can see how you could view it that way, but that’s not the only option. The biblical claim is that God didn’t bring alienation from fullness of life—we did and He moved to redeem humanity from sin and mend the relationship—life was the end aim. He was and is the only source of fullness of life and we chose alienation and so chose abuse and hatred, hunger and illness and death. But God refused to dehumanize humans; He doesn’t work magic and He works within a world that has suffered from a moral collapse; He works with a human family that abuses its own and generates disease and deprivation. It’s humans He wants to redeem and He will not turn us into puppets or automata—He simply won’t obliterate humanness.”
“The final goal is life, so he brings death? Even to innocent children? If you’re saying that God put the guilty to death I’d even have some reservations about that, but when you talk about his punishing children…I think that’s obscene.”
“God doesn’t punish the innocent! To punish those you know are innocent is obscene! But yes, the Bible says that He has chosen to allow even children and good people to endure pain and loss—He doesn’t turn such people into bionic beings. He has chosen to allow children to suffer! But, again, motive matters supremely, doesn’t it? You watched doctors do things to Sean that were physically appalling. No, you didn’t just watch it; you asked for it and even paid to have it done. You couldn’t have done that unless you loved the boy supremely. This was no easy decision for you and Denise and it was nothing but your love and compassion for the child that drove you to say yes to it. The aim was life! If you can even begin to credit a God with love for the human family—the kind of love you and Denise felt and feel for Sean—you are on your way to the possibility of seeing Sean’s life and suffering in a different light—on your way to seeing them as having something truly in common with Jesus’ suffering.
“Well, I can see some point to that. But we did that only because Sean was desperately ill. We wouldn’t have done it to him if he’d been well. If you’re saying that God brought this on him that means God thought he was ill—I suppose you’d say with sin.”
“I’m making no suggestion that your child was a sinner! None! Nor do I say God was punishing him. GOD DOES NOT PUNISH THE INNOCENT! No, the point I want to make about paramedics and surgeons is that their motive is not spite, and it’s not to inflict pain. It’s to save life! Motive makes a difference to actions. And the more desperate the situation the more radical our loving response will be. Surgeons don’t amputate limbs to cure a cold.
To save your beloved from a killing bone cancer you subjected him to terrible trauma. If you’re able, give God the credit for wanting to bring life to a whole human family by dealing with the thing that devours it—Sin and its consequences and effects. I’m saying that your motive relative to Sean is God’s motive relative to His entire human family.”
“But how does Sean fit into this? I can make sense of my putting him to this because he was desperately ill, but are you saying God thought he was desperately ill and gave him bone cancer?”
“No, Sean was a member of a family that’s desperately ill and he suffered from the curse that was inevitable when God, the source of fullness of life, was rejected. GOD so created the human family that if it rejected Him curse would follow even though His response would be work to bring it back to life.”
“But why should an innocent child be punished for the crimes of the family? That stinks!”
“Listen, and listen to this carefully, God doesn’t punish the innocent! Punishment is only for the guilty. Sean’s suffering was not punishment for wrong that he did! He’s a sweet child but he’s a human child and because he is a human he shares in the suffering triggered by a God-rejecting human family. The biblical Story says that Jesus became a boy like your boy and that he suffered on behalf of the human family. Jesus and Sean have some things in common. God wouldn’t exempt His unique Son who was part of the human family—a family under God’s redeeming judgment—and He wouldn’t dehumanize Sean. I’m not suggesting that Sean and Jesus are altogether alike—Christ alone is the world’s Redeemer! The way in which God has moved to redeem the world comes to its highest point in Jesus Christ—a place no other can share. But the truth of vicarious suffering is at the heart of that process and it didn’t begin with Jesus on the cross and it didn’t end there.”
“But why should Sean suffer for anyone? Why him? How does his pain affect anything? Why should God pick on him? His suffering is so senseless!”
“It would be if atheism is true! It would all come down to ‘bad luck’. All life and death would turn out to be sheer chance. At some point you came to believe that, and it brings you no comfort. There’s a choice to make. Believe that death is another pointless inevitability in a pointless universe or believe that it’s an inevitable part of alienation from God. God made the choice to create humans to be humans and to be utterly dependent on Him for complete and unending well-being. God’s Son suffered and died as your son did. Christ rose from the dead and lives immortal now. His claim is that death is not the final word about Sean.”
“So, I’m to find comfort in the fact that Sean will live again?”
“Yes! That’s part of it. It’s the claim of the living Lord Jesus Christ over against the theory that the only future is the vast death of the universe, eternal darkness and unimaginable cold. All heat and light exhausted, all life extinguished and no possibility of it ever returning.”
“If that’s the truth, it’s the truth and there’s nothing we can do about it.”
“Of course! I’m just pointing out that facing a future of unyielding despair should make anyone want something better. I’m saying that Jesus Christ says we don’t have to believe that about Sean or anyone else like him. He isn’t gone forever and the life he lived here was not without significance. The Christ’s life, suffering and death give meaning to Sean’s. In the light of Jesus Christ we can’t look at suffering and death and simply damn it as pointless in a pointless universe. In the light of Jesus Christ we can’t look at Sean’s suffering and death and reduce it to nothing more than something to weep about thought it’s that. The glory of God was seen here! Mary mourned at the cross of her Son as you and Denise mourn at the death of yours—that makes perfect sense. But there’s more there than something to mourn! I don’t want to suppress your grief. I say that innocent children suffer because humanity turned to moral insanity and God is using them to bring it back to sanity and life.
“Using them sounds like they expendable—used paper plates and plastic forks.”
“No! No! God loves Sean even more than you do. Your son will live again. The entire story about your son will be told, along with the stories of millions of other innocents that have borne the burden of humanity’s guilt. Atheism might offer the view that we’re organisms that just happened to grow like fungus on the face of a tiny planet in the middle of nowhere. Christ knows Sean personally and they have shared some things in common.”
They agreed to meet again.
Imagine this foreigner daring to approach this Jewish Messiah (Matthew 15:21-28).
How do we explain the broad spectrum of people that dared—facing one obstacle or another—to approach and speak to Jesus? A commander in the conqueror’s army; a woman in public, part of a hostile people and religion, a member of the Jewish Supreme Court or this Sidonian (Greek) woman with a severely troubled child. All of them experiencing great trouble and yet all believing they could speak to Him. There was some rivalry between the disciples of John and Jesus (John 3:25-30) and yet (Matthew 14:12) when John is killed his disciples “go and tell Jesus.” What was it about Him that led the high and low to feel they could speak to Him?
It’s said of Albert Dürer that he sharpened the wit and talent of all he met. He brought out the best that was in them. You’ve met people I hope who made you feel you had something worth saying, an opinion worthy of a hearing or an insight that added something to the matter under consideration. Don’t you love such people? The way they carry themselves, the way they treat people; the very way they look at people as they listen to them—all of that makes us dare to speak to them. They bring it out of us in part because they build no walls of self-importance around themselves. They bring it out of us because they make themselves available to us, as though they leaned over to us in a crowd and asked us, “And what do you think about all that?” And then they listen with sincere interest.
Though I never had the privilege of being around him much I always experienced that sense of things in the company of Everett Ferguson, a noted Church Historian. In his field he is truly light years ahead of the rest of us, being a learned scholar, but I always believed he listened to us as though he truly believed our opinions were worth expressing and worth hearing. There was no hint that he thought of himself as Mr. Wonderful. (How unlike some other professors I’m slightly acquainted with.) There was/is no pretense on his part, no feigned humility; just a gracious openness to others. There’s something immensely liberating in that and we thank God for such people.
Whatever his flaws I saw the magnificent tenor Pavarotti reveal that spirit. In a television program they followed the famous man around places in Italy and in Naples he went to a club/café and listened to a tenor who sang there.
It was clear even to me that the man wasn’t anywhere nearly as gifted as Pavarotti but when he was done the singer came to the world-renowned singer and he rose and greeted the club-singer graciously and with obvious sincerity. Sitting back down with his company he discussed with them the Naples singer’s presentation saying it differed from his own only in point of view of how the piece might be sung and he concluded by saying something to this effect, “But the Neapolitan interpretation of it may be the correct one.” I’ll always remember that. You know what I mean—you could tell such stories from your own experience.
This Sidonian-Greek woman had heard of Israel’s Messiah, the son of David, and the stories she heard about Him were such that she followed Him and His group calling out to Him for pity and help. Do you suppose that would have happened to Hitler or Stalin? (I’ll never forget if I live to be 900 seeing, in a documentary, Jews arriving (I think) in the death-camps when a woman (maybe in her fifties) approached a Nazi officer to ask if she could remain with her aged and feeble father rather than be separated. He turned, looked at her for a second or two and ferociously lashed her across the face with the riding-crop he was carrying. The pain must have been excruciating but it was the look on her face that stuck with me—a look of astonished and frightened protest as if she had said, “Please, I was only asking if……”
“And what made you so daring that you just kept following this now famous Jesus and His company, and shouting over and over and over again? Why would you not be intimidated into silence?” Someone that didn’t really know Jesus might have asked her that. She probably would have said. “It was the stories I heard about Him. They all had a number of things in common and one of them was that He really liked people like me and wanted to help them.” But she would have said more than that. I know that’s true because it was her faith that Jesus was happily startled at (Matthew 15:28 and context). “Oh woman, how great is your faith…”
Mark Rutherford said, “I wish to add a beatitude. Blessed are those who give us back our self-respect.” God’s blessings continue on those that help to free us from crushing shyness or a crippling sense of unworthiness (many more of us suffer from those debilitating senses that we think. They hide it well and fool us in public.)
God bless all those that make us believe our concerns matter to them or that our words are welcome even if we know we aren’t in their league or that we don’t have a lot to offer. In this they image the Lord Jesus and He images God and that’s what keeps hope and assurance alive and the Story worth telling everywhere we go and everywhere we are allowed by our critics or superiors to tell it.
Holy One, thank you for allowing us to speak truth about you and to speak to you despite our unworthiness and our clumsiness in thought and speech. Give those who by your grace are our betters and more gifted also the grace to let us speak and engage in honorable enterprises that bring you glory and blessing to others. So many of us want to feel useful; we die a little when we are silenced or made to feel we should sit idle in a corner because we are weak or perhaps have shamed ourselves. This prayer in the name of the living and gracious Lord Jesus.)
One good deed, one genuinely good deed done with honor, especially if it is done at great personal cost defies a world of evil!
It claims our attention and we look at one another and believe—if we’re blessed with a heart still sensitive—we believe and we realize that God has not abandoned us to evil and gloom.
We believe that evil is not invincible, we believe it should not be thought invincible, we believe it should be defied and in every way available to us we will oppose it and live with brave, even gallant, hearts in a war against it.
The gallant Lord Jesus having joined us in the war and took the lead in it went to the cross believing that this was where His Father’s heart and purpose led Him and though it troubled His soul He gladly pushed His way past friends and family who stood in His way toward it knowing that what He had been doing and was about to do was to destroy an alien world and its alien tyrant to glorify His Holy Father and liberate prisoners from that tyranny.
And more than that, astonishing as it is, He believed that there were thousands and more thousands that would follow Him into that war when they saw what He was doing. “And, I, if I am lifted up I will win the hearts of men and women, girls and boys from everywhere and in every age.”
We talk much, we who speak, about the evil in the world. We tell no lie when we say with John that the entire world lies in the evil one but we’re not to over-read John’s statement. God has ceaselessly been at work in the hearts of the human family and has kept goodness alive even in the hearts of those who don’t know to credit their health, their friends, kindness, gallantry, patience and self-giving to the one true God who is the source of all and anything that is good in this world.
Christ knows well the nature and extent of the evil and heartless spirit that has usurped God’s place in the hearts of humans and yet He still walks up to people busy with their own affairs in life and tells them that if they really want to live they should get up and follow Him. This He says believing that they will–and they did and they do! “Crucify me, He said, and that won’t be the end of Me, people will see and hear of it and they will come flocking to me in their millions–and they have done and they do!”
To His first disciples Jesus said, “You didn’t choose me; I chose you.” There’s something about that call, that being “chosen” and the sense that “this is my destiny to which I have been called.”
During the wars many have told us of those they saw who were picked for a very dangerous mission. Before setting out, they tell us, the chosen would scribble notes or whisper some message to be sent to a mother or someone beloved in case the worst should happen. Usually there was a certain strain and nervousness showing on their face and yet, they say, there was something of a light and sparkle in their eyes, their heads were held high, sometimes there was laughter and a dismissal of the danger ahead. Chosen! And willing to be chosen and with it a thrill, edged with some sense of pride that they were chosen! We hear such stories and think them wonderful. We believe then that there is more in the world than crass selfishness and heartlessness.
Paul in Ephesians 1 says, ”He chose us…” Never that He coerced us, bullied us, forced us or shanghaied us! God comes seeking and finding and believing that if only His call is made known that people would flock to Him. And they do it, men and women, girls and boys, entire families, sometimes entire villages. But they flock to God only when it is the call of God they hear. They’re called out of their fear, their boredom, their daily grind and life without adventure into His presence, chosen for a peculiar exploit. They’re already burdened with so much and yet they’re asked to make a commitment to a God whose heart is saddened by the anguish of His human family and He wants them to be assured that He sees all and that He will right all wrongs. And the astonishing things is, that in each generation there are millions who already greatly burdened still say, “Count me in! What will I say to them?”
And the God whose eyes shine in admiration for them says, “Tell them this,” He says, “tell them I’m coming, tell them I want them to join Me in spreading the word to their friends and enemies that I am coming to right all wrongs.”
Chosen to engage in “war” in the most glorious fashion, they come; the wounded, the hurt, the people somewhat afraid of showing themselves cowards and yet showing up on the line; chosen to proclaim freedom from Sin and guilt and lifeless life, chosen to proclaim a Message from God to all the nations, a warning to all the impenitent servants of the prince of this world and a message to all the abused and plundered that One is coming and He is coming with love and fairness. There’s a new world coming! And those currently “chosen” by the Gospel bear witness to that—they are the visible expression of “the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).
Today we look at some honorable business and we’re thrilled. Sometimes we picture ourselves as doing some brave thing against tough opposition and we can’t help feeling good—shouldn’t regret feeling good. Now and then we engage with a group in a lovely enterprise, we toil at it long, patiently, returning to it when we for a while were too weary to stay with it—we return to it, determined not to leave it until it’s finished. It’s done! There are happy smiles all around, there’s a sense of fulfillment, other things we failed at, failures that left us a bit ashamed because we now think we ended it too soon, didn’t give it enough. But that is now pushed into the background. This well was dug, this house was built, this project was completed! The muscle ache, the body is weary, the days have slipped by but the vision became a finished reality.
Such lovely things happen in countless lives and they will happen in yours. But there’s a day coming when you will finish the race of your entire life, they will take you to a hospital ward or a home where people go to be treated well when they can no longer help themselves and you will remember (perhaps with difficulty sometimes) the day you dreamed a dream and that you have now finished the course. And you for all your pain or your awareness that you can no longer contribute to life and living as once you could you will know you finished you journey and adventure with Jesus Christ. You’ll remember the day when He walked up to you and called your name, asking you to join Him in a lifelong war against all that was anti-God, anti-life and anti-human and you put your hand in His and said yes. You’ll remember days when you were bone weary and found the commitment demanding or frustrating or for a while beyond your strength, and even when you were being helped, it felt that way. But still, aware of all the bumps and gullies, all the clinging undergrowth on the way, in your own fashion and in your own life’s circumstances you were there at the end and you’ll smile and repeat Paul’s words. “I fought a good fight, a ran a good race and I finished the course.”
You will finish this adventure and you’ll finish it on your feet! By God’s sustaining grace you will do it for the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit and for the world!
(Holy One if you had not shown yourself in and as Jesus Christ we could not believe or speak this way.! If you did not continue to show yourself this way in brave wounded and bleeding people like Him we could not believe or speak this way. But we have seen! Count us in. This prayer and commitment in the name of the Lord Jesus.)
There are numerous reasons why some of us go back to “the world” tragic though it is. 2 Peter 2:1 speaks of those who bring destruction on themselves by—“denying the Lord that bought them.” For some it’s the backward call of an old environment (Demas, Paul’s friend and colleague in the gospel, was one like that). For others it’s the heavy burden of a tough life (see Christ’s parable of the sower, and Paul in Romans 8 lists life as one of the threats to our relationship with God). Some I have personally known, despairing of growth in Christlikeness, hemmed in by sins that clung to them despite all their tears and prayers and efforts until misery, shame and fear of public exposure overwhelmed them (we see that illustrated in the young preacher in Hawthorne’s brilliant, Scarlet Letter). * There are many among us very sensitive of our sins and in light of the Bible’s opposition to Sin and 1 John’s strong denunciation of sins we find our hearts condemn us. John is aware that his speech might trouble the hearts of repentant sinners and assures them that their hearts (mind and conscience etc.) don’t have the last word—their Savior does (1 John 3:20 and context)!
We’re not going back! Not ever! Not for any reason!
What follows is profoundly helpful in many ways. Please read thoughtfully.
Christian, John Bunyan tells us in his Pilgrim’s Progress, is on his way to Zion when he meets one of Satan’s right-hand men. Here’s what happened.
“So Christian went on, and Apollyon met him. Now the monster was hideous to behold: he was clothed with scales like a fish, and they are his pride; he had wings like a dragon, and feet like a bear, and out of his belly came fire and smoke; and his mouth was as the mouth of a lion. When he was come up to Christian, he glared at him with a disdainful look and began to question him.
Apollyon: Where did you come from and where are you going?
Christian: I am come from the city of Destruction, which is the place of all evil, and I am going to the city of Zion.
Apollyon: Ah, that means you are one of my subjects; for all that country is mine; I am the prince and god of it. How is it, then, that you have run away from thy king? If I were not sure that you did it so that you could do me more service I would strike you to the ground now with just one blow.
Christian: I was, indeed, born in your dominions but your service was hard, and our wages such as a man could not live on; for the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). So when I was come to years, I did, as otherwise thinking persons do, I took stock to see how I could do better for myself.
Apollyon: There is no prince that will so easily lose his subjects and neither will I as yet lose you; but since thou complain of your service and wages, be content to go back, and what my country will afford I do here promise to give you.
Christian: But I have let myself to another, even to the King of princes; and how can I with fairness go back to you?
Apollyon: Hah, in doing this you have fulfilled the proverb, you exchanged a bad for a worse; but it is ordinary for those that have professed themselves his servants, after a while to give him the slip, and return again to me. You do the same thing and all will be well.
Christian: I have given him my faith, and sworn my allegiance to him; how then can I go back from this, and not be hanged as a traitor?
Apollyon: Thou did the same by me, and yet I am willing to pass by all, if now you will yet turn again and go back.
Christian: What I promised you was in the days when I wasn’t old enough to have sense; and besides, I count that the Prince, under whose banner I now stand, is able to absolve me, yes, and to pardon also what I did while I served you. And besides, O destroying Apollyon, to tell the truth, I like his service, his wages, his servants, his government, his company, and country, better than yours so you can stop trying to persuade me: I am his servant, and I will follow him.
Apollyon: Consider again, when thou are in cool blood, what thou are likely to meet with in the way that you choose to go. Thou know that for the most part his servants come to an ill end, because they are transgressors against me and my ways. How many of them have been put to shameful deaths! And besides, thou count his service better than mine and yet he has never yet come from where he is to deliver any that served him out of their enemies hands. But as for me, how many times, as all the world very well knows, have I delivered from him and his servants, either by power or fraud, those that have faithfully served me; I delivered them right out of his hands! And so will I deliver you too.
Christian: The reason He doesn’t deliver them at present has a purpose: to test and enrich their love, whether they will cleave to him to the end; and as for the bad end you say they come to, they think and call it glory! They don’t much expect present deliverance and they are happy and content to wait for their glory; and then they shall have it, when their Prince comes in his and the glory of the angels.
Apollyon: You have already been unfaithful in your service to him so what makes you think you will receive wages of him?
Christian: In what way, O Apollyon, have I been unfaithful to him?
Apollyon: You fainted at first setting out, when you were almost choked in the gulf of Despond. You attempted wrong ways to be rid of your burden when you should have waited patiently till thy Prince had taken it off. You sinfully slept and lost your choice things and you were almost persuaded to go back at the sight of the lions. And when thou talk of your journey and of what you have seen and heard you inwardly desire vainglory in all you say or do.
Christian: All this is true, and much more which you have left out; but the Prince whom I serve and honor is merciful and ready to forgive. But besides, these infirmities possessed me in your country for there I greedily sucked them in but I have groaned under them, been sorry for them, and have obtained pardon of my Prince.
Apollyon: Then Apollyon broke out into a grievous rage, saying, I am an enemy to this Prince; I hate his person, his laws, and people: I have come here with only one purpose: to stand against you!
Christian: Apollyon, beware what you do, for I am in the King’s highway, the way of holiness so take heed to yourself.
Apollyon: Then Apollyon straddled quite over the whole breadth of the way, and said, I am void of fear in this matter. Prepare yourself to die; for I swear by my infernal den, that you will go no farther: here will I spill your soul.
And with that he threw a flaming dart at his breast but Christian had a shield in his hand, with which he caught it, and so prevented the danger of that. Then did Christian focus his mind for he saw it was time to bestir him and Apollyon, just as determined, made at him, throwing darts as thick as hail, by which, in spite of all that Christian could do to avoid it, Apollyon wounded him in his head, his hand, and foot. This drove Christian back a little so Apollyon pressed after him even more strongly but Christian again took courage and resisted as manfully as he could. This sore combat lasted for above half a day and by this time Christian was almost quite spent for you must know, that Christian, by reason of his wounds, was bound to grow weaker and weaker.
Then Apollyon, seeing his opportunity, began to gather up close to Christian, and wrestling with him slammed him down in a dreadful fall and Christian’s sword flew out of his hand. Then said Apollyon, “I am sure of you now!” and with that he had almost pressed him to death, so that Christian began to despair of life. But, as God would have it, while Apollyon was just about to deliver the killing blow, to make a full end of this good man, Christian reached out his hand for his sword, and caught it, saying, “Rejoice not against me, O mine enemy: when I fall, I shall arise,” (Micah 7:8) and with that he gave him a deadly thrust, which made him recoil as one that had indeed received his mortal wound. Seeing that, Christian made at him again, saying, “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors, through Him that loved us.” (Romans 8:37) Hearing that, Apollyon spread his dragon wings and flapped away and Christian saw him no more. (James 4:7). In this combat no man can imagine, unless he had seen and heard, as I did, what yelling and hideous roaring Apollyon made all through the fight; he spoke like a dragon while and on the other side, what sighs and groans burst from Christian’s heart.
During that whole time I never saw him give so much as one pleasant look until he saw he had wounded Apollyon with his two-edged sword; and then he really did smile, and look upward! But it was the most dreadful sight that ever I saw. So when the battle was over, Christian said, “I will here give thanks to him that has delivered me out of the mouth of the lion, to him that did sustain me against Apollyon.” And so he did!
Then there came to him a hand with some of the leaves of the tree of life, which Christian took and applied to the wounds he had received in the battle and was healed immediately. He also sat down in that place to eat bread, and to drink of the bottle that was given him to him earlier so, being refreshed, he got ready to journey on with his sword drawn in his hand; for he said, “I know not but some other enemy may be at hand.” But he met with no other affront from Apollyon.“
We’re never going back, not for any reason! If He loved us and came to save us when we cared nothing for Him; if He with wondrous patience works to enrich us and complete the glorious purpose He has begun, we’re staying. He will never leave us nor will He ever forsake us. We came at His call in our ones and twos, in our little groups, in our large congregations and gave Him our word. We’re not leaving—we’re not going back!
* I’ve modernized the Scarlet Letter and made it so much easier to read. I’m certain I haven’t hurt it. It’s a “must read” so to speak. God did us a favor through Hawthorne. The revision is available on Amazon.
”For everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.” 1 John 5:4-5
And what is it that has overcome the world? Not the wisdom of proto-Gnostics or the moral excellence that some might claim but “our faith”. And what is it that has overcome the world? Not God’s faith in Jesus Christ—that’s another all- encompassing truth, but it’s not the truth John mentions here. And what is it that has overcome the world? Not Jesus’ faith in his Holy Father—that’s another massive truth hammered home in other texts, but it’s not the truth John mentions here.
And what is it that has overcome the world? “Our” faith, said John. The faith of the Christian community that is seen expressed in each Christian. “Our” faith—our personal subjective experience, something that happens within us, something we are glad to say is part of us, an expression of us, the inner reality that has restructured our inner world; that is the center of all our convictions and hopes and commitments. It’s “ours”—because we are organically part of the body of Christ and cannot otherwise exist as Christians; it’s “ours”. It isn’t God’s faith in us or Christ’s faith in us—it’s our faith in them!
Yes, but what is this faith. This faith is many things that we can look at from many angles. For those confronted by the gospel it is a condition to be met if we wish to avoid dying in our sins (John 8:24 and Mark 16:16b, for example). For those confronted by the gospel it is a gift of God through the gospel to those God has called not only to salvation but to be part of his elect community (2 Thessalonians 2:13; Romans 10:17; Philippians 1:29, for example). It is what assures us that salvation and life is not confined to any ethnic or social category (Romans 4:13 and Galatians 3:26-28. for example). It is the proof that God has entered our lives via the gospel and taken us back to his heart (John 6:44-45 and 1 Peter 1:5, for example). It’s many things, but here I’d like to stress that it is an inner moral transformation, a moral realignment of the heart with the Holy Father.
I don’t mean it leads to moral transformation though that is true. I don’t mean it leads to a moral realignment of the heart with the Holy Father though that is true. I mean it IS these things already. Faith, in the name of Jesus Christ, is the definitive rejection of the world. The person who loves the world does not and cannot at the same time love the Holy Father or have faith in Jesus Christ (compare 1 John 2:15-16). Those who have placed their faith in Jesus Christ have judged, denounced and renounced the world (compare John 12:31). Faith in Jesus Christ is a moral reality experienced by a moral being that no longer belongs to or submits to the world!
When the Spirit of God has generated in a man or woman faith in Jesus Christ by the gospel (see Romans 10:13-15 and 1 Corinthians 1:21; Acts 16:13-14) Jesus Christ is in such people. Jesus has become an indwelling presence at the center of them by faith—Ephesians 3:16-17. “I pray that…you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love.” (NRSV)
Faith that conquers “the world” is the believer’s personal experience but it isn’t faith in the believer—it is faith in someone other than the believer, faith in Jesus Christ! Faith in Jesus Christ is the glad acceptance of who and what Jesus is and what His purpose is. No extra Gnostic wisdom is needed. Nothing beyond Him is needed (1 John 2:20-21). Having come to Him in a commitment of faith, John says the believer has conquered the world; conquered that mass of anti-God, anti-life, anti-holiness feelings, agendas, convictions and practices that has been organized into “a world” without God.
It isn’t just immorality or foul language or war-mongering or sharp business practices or family abuse or arrogance or gossip that the believer has stood up against; it’s more than specific sins! By saying, “I believe in Him!” the believer has said No! to the entire sinful restructuring of reality that the NT calls “the world” (see 1 John 2:15-16; John 12:31). By saying, “I believe in Him!” the believer says, “I do not and cannot and will not trust in me nor will I accept the evil that still clings to me and shows itself in various ways. I condemn that as I condemned some evils that by God’s empowering I’ve outgrown!”
Such a one is born again (see John 3:3-5; Titus 3:4-5 and 1 Peter 1:3).
This is more than a commitment to certain truths about Jesus though it is not and cannot be less! It is a commitment to an actual Person and the commitment is a personal relationship that is experienced along with all those who have committed to Jesus by faith (Galatians 3:26-29).
The relationship is more than feeling and it is not to be defined by the degree of moral excellence we attain (though the pursuit of holiness in the image of Jesus is an intrinsic pursuit)!
NT faith is not about my level of moral achievement!
It is a heartfelt surrendering of oneself to Jesus as the One who stands over against the world for the Holy Father in the Holy Spirit and for us. That is what the NT calls “faith” in Jesus and that conquerors the world, now and in the future!
It is wrong, absolutely wrong to say that one who is in the Lord Jesus can live as they wish; it is a sin-hating, sin-destroying, sin-forgiving Lord Jesus they have been baptized into (Romans 6:1-11). It is wrong, absolutely wrong to say that one who is in Christ will not continue to wrestle with sin (1 John 1:5—2:2). The presence of sin in the lives of those who have turned to the Lord Jesus in faith does not mean the believer has been overcome by the world! John is writing to sinners who are world-conquerors in the Lord Jesus. He uses all the grammatical forms (perfect tenses, aorists in the indicative, present tenses and present participles) to proclaim the truth that his sinning brothers and sisters who confess they are sinners have overcome the Evil One and “the world” over which we made him prince (John 12:31; 2 Corinthians 4:4; Galatians 1:4).
Tell that to believers! Tell them that when they go down in baptism they are proclaiming that they believe in God who, to rescue us, became incarnate as Jesus of Nazareth, that He lived against Sin, that He died to destroy it and when they come up out of the water they proclaim that He rose again Conqueror of Death by which Sin reigned (Romans 5:12, 21) and so showed Himself as the conqueror of Sin (Hebrews 2:14-15 Romans 4:25; 1 Peter 3:21—saved by the resurrection). Tell them that by faith they have become one with the Conqueror of the World (John 16:33 and so share in His triumph).
Urge them to tell “the world,” that seething, breeding mass of evil that like a massive crawling parasite feeds on and poisons a vulnerable human family—”We know you’re still there, we experience your presence and we see you everywhere we look. But we know you’ve been conquered and we know the One who has done it for us. We’ve denounced you and renounce you. We’ve been freed from you, brought out of you into a new creation, a different world (2 Corinthians 5:17). And we’re glad! We’re not going back to you. We’re never going back to you! We hate it that we still have ulcers on us that are the marks of our having lived so long in you but we’re free, the ulcers are healing, some of them need sustained treatment but we have a Great Physician and He has assured us that there’s a day coming when all signs that you ever existed will be gone. Sometimes we can hardly wait, but we will wait, certain that you and all that goes with you will be obliterated and that we’ll happily look in a mirror one day and see someone beautiful looking back at us. And if it is the case that when we look and see some scars they will remind us of a wondrous salvation and a wonderful Savior!
We have conquered you. We have! You can sneer all you want when you hear us say such a thing but the Lord Jesus had and has your number. In Him we’re free and glad of it. We’re not going back to you—You hear? We’re never going back to you; it’s too lovely out here!
(Holy One, thank you for coming and for liberating us from such a death camp.)