"Take to heart all the words I have solemnly declared to you this day, . . . They are not
just idle words for you-- they are your life" (Deuteronomy 32:46-47).

Monday, February 28, 2011

The Impact of a Good Soldier's Legacy

“They charge like warriors; they scale walls like soldiers. They all march in line, not swerving from their course” (Joel 2:7).

In today’s news, we read that Frank Buckles, the last surviving U. S. veteran of World War I, died peacefully in his sleep yesterday, February 27, 2011, at his home in West Virginia. He was 110 years old. Born in Missouri in 1901, Buckles went from one recruiting station to another after the war broke out trying to join the military and defend his country. Finally, an army recruiter signed him up in August 1917 even though he was only 16 years old and sent him overseas to serve as an ambulance driver. During World War II, Buckles was on business in the Philippines when he was captured by the Japanese. He spent 42 months in prison camps as a civilian POW before being released. Recently, Buckles said in an interview, “I knew there'd be only one (survivor) one day. I didn't think it would be me” (msnbc.com news services, 2/28/2011).

This brave old soldier’s life should rightly be honored by all. His love for America caused him to lie about his age to get into the battle that was coined “the war to end all wars.” Being the last World War I survivor is a powerful reminder to all of us that it really does matter how our lives end; especially, the memory that we leave behind. Buckles left an impressive legacy of love and selfless service to his country.

As followers of Jesus Christ, we could learn a lot from Buckles’s story if we’d pay attention. We represent America too, but we are also soldiers and ambassadors of another country called the Kingdom of God. Our war is spiritual in nature with the goal of seeing as many people out of this world receive God’s gracious gift of salvation through faith in Christ and spend their lives in service to him. Our commanding officer, Jesus, has charged us to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20). This is our supreme duty and privilege as soldiers of heaven’s kingdom. We should perform our duty with bravery and valor.

Our status as Christ’s representatives is unmistakable: “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us” (2 Corinthians 5:20). Since we represent the King of this heavenly kingdom, it is our duty to image his character and speak his message with the utmost integrity and honor. The apostle Paul represented his Lord with great poise and commitment and left a great challenge for every Christian when he said, “I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death” (Philippians 1:20).

All of us will one day come to end of our life. Our legacies will already be formed and will live on in unalterable shape. In other words, they will be what they are whether good or bad, positive or negative, helpful or hurtful. Therefore, what we do right now with each day matters more than we imagine. Our moments of prayer and Bible study are indispensable. Our extended sessions of silence and solitude before God listening for his instruction are life-altering. Our experiences of worship, fellowship, and service can impact heaven’s kingdom for good. When we faithfully and obediently herald the message of the gospel, our efforts carry the potential to reflect our Lord’s own life and work.

Will it be said of you that you charged forward like a warrior for Jesus? Will your legacy include news of you scaling walls of opposition like a soldier? Will you be remembered for never swerving off the course of strong and steady faith in God? Let these words from an old soldier rally your heart: “Endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 2:3).

Paul died a heroic, old soldier in Christ’s army. Among his last words to his protege, Timothy, are some I definitely want to be able to say with assurance at the close of my life: “The time has come for my departure. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day–and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:6-8). Friend, live the Christian life with truth and honor; serve the Lord Jesus with passion and obedience; fight the war of faith with tenacity and hope–it matters that you do this; it matters more than you know.

Prayer: Father in Heaven, thank you for the example in the Bible of others who have lived and served you faithfully. These valiant old soldiers are an inspiration to me to follow in their footsteps. I do want to give my life in service to Jesus Christ who gave his life for me. Strengthen me in every way necessary to follow through. Grant me courage, boldness, endurance, desire, and wisdom to fulfill your will for my life, to leave a lasting legacy of meaningful Christian service, and then, when my life is over here on earth, receive me into your presence in heaven where I shall serve you with equal passion for all eternity. In Jesus' name, amen.

Monday, February 21, 2011

It Should Have Been Me!

"With this he (Pilate) went out again to the Jews and said, 'I find no basis for a charge against him (Jesus). But it is your custom for me to release to you one prisoner at the time of the Passover. Do you want me to release 'the king of the Jews'?' They shouted back, 'No, not him! Give us Barabbas!'" (John 19:38-40, NIV).

The biblical term atonement, though it does not get much attention from the average contemporary churchgoer, is critically important to understanding the true meaning of the relationship of the death of Christ to the promise of heaven. In the original language of the Old Testament, atonement is the word kaphar, found some eighty times, meaning to cancel, to cleanse, to forgive, to pardon, to pitch or purge away, to put off, to reconcile. Atonement appears once in the New Testament in Romans 5:11 where it carries the meaning of reconciliation: "We also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement" (KJV).

Furthermore, we need the biblical concept of substitution to understand the connection between the death of Christ and the promise of heaven. The sacrificial system of the Old Testament was based on an animal being killed or punished in the place of a person who was guilty of sin. For example: "Aaron shall bring the bull for his own sin offering to make atonement for himself and his household, and he is to slaughter the bull for his own sin offering. . . . He is to lay both on the head of the live goat and confess over it all the wickedness and rebellion of the Israelites--all their sins--and put them on the goat's head. He shall send the goat away into the desert in the care of a man appointed for the task. The goat will carry on itself all their sins to a solitary place" (Leviticus 16:11, 21-22). In the first case, the bull's life was substituted for the life of the sinning person or people, and, in the second case, the goat became the scapegoat that bore upon himself the sins of the people and carried them away.

God told Abraham to take his first-born son, Isaac, up on a mountain and sacrifice him as a burnt offering. Abraham immediately went about the preparations to obey. On the way to the mountain, Isaac recognized that an offering was about to be made, saw the wood for the burnt offering, but puzzled over the absence of a lamb to kill as the sacrifice. When he asked his father why there was no lamb, Abraham said, "God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son" (Genesis 22:8). On the mountain, Abraham built the wooden altar, tied up his son, and laid the boy on the altar. When Abraham was about to kill his son with a knife, God, being fully satisfied with his display of faith, stopped him. Then "Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son" (Genesis 22:13). In this case, the ram's life was substituted for the life of Aaron.

The ultimate sacrifice for sins is prophesied in the Old Testament. At least 700 years beforehand, God foretold of one man's sacrifice for all men's sins: "Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. but he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us preace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed" (Isaiah 53:4-6). This prophesy was fulfilled in the New Testament in the person of Jesus Christ: "He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls" (1 Peter 2:24-25). 

Paul said, "God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Corinthians 5:21). So Jesus Christ bore our sins and took our punishment upon himself as our substitute so that we could be forgiven and receive new life (eternal life). Through his punishment and death on the cross, Jesus was literally and is lastingly the substitute for every man, woman, boy, and girl who will believe and trust their whole lives to Him by faith. Jesus is our atonement through whom we have received atonement: through Christ, the believer's multitude of sins is pitched away, purged out, and put off; the believer's debt of sin is forgiven; the believer's sin-stained life is cleansed; the believer's promised sentence of death is cancelled and pardoned; and the believer is reconciled to God.

All believers should feel the full impact of what it means that Jesus substituted Himself for them so they could receive atonement for their sins. Perhaps if we consider the one person who knew this reality up-close-and-personal we might feel a greater respect and thankfulness. Jesus was being tried by Pilate for false charges. The Jewish crowd was unrelenting in their demand for His execution. After interrogating his prisoner, Pilate found no basis for the charges brought against Jesus and wanted to have Him released.

The custom was to release one Jewish prisoner during Passover week as an act of goodwill by the Roman government. Pilate offered to set Jesus free; however, the Jewish crowd demanded that a convicted criminal named Barabbas be released instead of Jesus. Three times Pilate tried to get the crowd to choose Jesus, but each time they demanded Jesus to be crucified. Now, crawl into the skin of Barabbas as his chains are taken off and he walks by, perhaps even brushing shoulders with Jesus, the innocent man who would be his substitute in death.

Picture yourself as Barabbas, the guilty murderer, as he melts into the hostile crowd and walks through the streets of Jerusalem watching Jesus carrying His own cross barely alive from the horrific beating that should have been yours to endure. From atop Calvary's hill, imagine yourself as Barabbas hearing the scream of horrow as nails are driven into His hands that should have been your hands, and into His feet that should have been your feet.

See Jesus hoisted up on the cross that should have been your cross, suffering the shame that should have been your shame, bearing the blame that should have been your blame, dying the death that should have been your death. There you are standing in the skin of Barabbas just as guilty as Barabbas. Have you got the picture in bright vivid color firmly planted in your mind's eye? Now, say these words outloud that most certainly rang out so loudly in Barabbas's mind that he covered his ears to stop the repeating, piercing, deafening cadence: "IT SHOULD HAVE BEEN ME!; IT SHOULD HAVE BEEN ME!; IT SHOULD HAVE BEEN ME! . . ."