Why Standing Stones?

Why Standing Stones?

In ancient Israel, people stood stones on their end to commemorate a powerful move of God in their lives. It was a memorial to something God spoke or revealed or did. Often these standing stones became reference points in their lives. Today, we can find reference points in the written Word of God. Any scripture or sermon can speak something powerful into our lives, or reveal something of the nature of God. In this blog I offer, what can become a reference point for Christians, taken from God's ancient word and applied to today's world.

Monday, May 30, 2011

The Hero

The author Vladimir Nabakov, best known for his novel “Lolita,” once stayed with family friends in the rural area of Alta, Utah. He was an avid butterfly collector and took advantage of the time the to increase the size of his butterfly and moth collection. This was his passion he was difficult to distract when engaged in this hobby.

One day he returned to the house and told the family he was staying with, that while he was down by the stream chasing a particular butterfly, he heard someone moaning terribly. Alarmed, the family asked him if he stopped t render assistance to whoever was in need at the stream. Nabakov replied, “No, I had to get the butterfly.” The next morning they found the corpse of an old prospector, in the area described by Nabakov.

As he was engaged in his own pursuits a man died. Hoew many times have you felt like Nabakov? Too busy with your own business to reach into someone else’s life? Consider this:

James 1:15
15 Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death
So if we think about this in this way, then those who are lost in sin are like the prospector, they are in the midst of the throes of death. It is up to us to not be like Nabakov, but to offer any help we can. We can’t give them salvation but we can lead them to the one who can. It’s up to them to accept or reject Jesus but it is our responsibility to give them the opportunity to make that choice. If not then we are no better than Nabakov who allowed a man to die because it would interfere with his hunt for butterflies. What are our priorities as Christians? Is it the salvation of other people? Or are butterflies the priority? 

Today I have entitled my post “The Hero.” It’s taken from the scriptures surrounding Jesus’ death. It’s a look at the men who crucified Him and the willingness of only one to offer aid to Jesus as he died.

Matthew 27:37-50
37 And they put up over His head the accusation written against Him: THIS IS JESUS THE KING OF THE JEWS.38 Then two robbers were crucified with Him, one on the right and another on the left.39 And those who passed by blasphemed Him, wagging their heads40 and saying, “You who destroy the temple and build it in three days, save Yourself! If You are the Son of God, come down from the cross.”41 Likewise the chief priests also, mocking with the scribes and elders, said,42 “He saved others; Himself He cannot save. If He is the King of Israel, let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe Him.43 “He trusted in God; let Him deliver Him now if He will have Him; for He said, ‘I am the Son of God.’ ”44 Even the robbers who were crucified with Him reviled Him with the same thing. 45 Now from the sixth hour until the ninth hour there was darkness over all the land.46 And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” that is, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”47 Some of those who stood there, when they heard that, said, “This Man is calling for Elijah!”48 Immediately one of them ran and took a sponge, filled it with sour wine and put it on a reed, and offered it to Him to drink.49 The rest said, “Let Him alone; let us see if Elijah will come to save Him.”50 And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit.
The Men Who Crucified Him
Let’s look at what is happening in this moment. The soldiers have finished their work. It’s their job to get those who will be crucified from the garrison to Golgotha, nail them to the cross and then basically, wait for them to die. Crucifixion was a slow and gruesome death. The soldiers, after bringing them to the hill of death, were left to while away the time until those who were crucified died.

We know from the scriptures that some of them spent their time gambling for the seamless tunic that Jesus wore, but after that there was a long time spent just waiting. The soldiers were somewhat disconnected from Jesus’ crucifixion. To them, this was just a “Jewish thing.” They weren’t Jews; they didn’t understand the religious significance of what was happening. So they made no judgments about whether it was right or wrong. They were only following orders.

As theywere waiting jesus cries out, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani.” I’ve always wondered about this. He cries out and the people standing around assume he is calling for Elijah. The people didn’t understand what he was saying, but he was crying out in the language of the Jews. They should have understood in their own language. But perhaps, the men were not Jews but Roman soldiers. They didn’t understand the words because they didn’t speak that language. But they all recognize this cry as a cry of anguish; a cry of suffering.

When they heard the cry they were immediately broken up into two groups of people: Those that recognized the cry of suffering and wanted to help, and those who recognized it for what it was but chose not to do anything.

In the late 1960s, a young woman was brutally murdered in the streets of her apartment complex. This was a murder that took place over a period of time. It was not to quick shots from a gun. She was chased up and down the street, beaten and stabbed to death. She screamed and fought for her life for a full twenty minutes. But no one came to help her. There were hundreds of people within earshot of this murder. They heard the screams; they shut their windows; they tried not to look at her. No one called the police, thinking that surely someone else already had. People recognized her screams for what they were. No one came to offer help. While Jesus’ cries were only for that moment and that time, there are cries of suffering that we hear today.

What Jesus cried out, “Eli, eli lama sabachthani” is translated as, “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?” Why have you turned your back on me? I wonder if you’ve ever felt the same way. I know that I did. As I wallowed in the sin and bondage that was my life before salvation, I wondered why God seemed to not know or care about me. We hear this cry from other people all the time as we rub shoulders with those still lost in sin. We hear it in our workplace; we hear it in our school, wherever we may be. People aren’t always wearing their misery on their sleeves, but we can see it in the emptiness of their lifestyles. We can see their loneliness and need and we recognize it because we have experienced it, ourselves. The question then, is what are we going to do about it. That’s where we see the division of thought; those that won’t offer help and those that will.

Why We Can't Answer the Call
Most of the men in our text were willing to ignore the cries of anguish. If we could project ourselves back in time to that moment, I’m sure if we asked them they would have reasons; logical, well thought out reasons why it was impossible to help, in the same way that we have reasons when we don’t help.

One reason might be that they thought the call was for Elijah. If the call is for Elijah, then it’s none of their business. But this is wrong thinking.

There is law that governs ocean-going vessels; it’s called Maritime Law. In Maritime Law it’s illegal to disregard a distress call. You cannot see or receive a radio call of a vessel in distress and not try to render assistance. If you do then you are held morally and legally responsible for any loss of life. It isn’t enough to say they weren’t calling me so it wasn’t my business. There is a requirement that aid be offered. This same thing is true in other circumstances as well. If a house is burning and you know people are inside, you can’t just walk away and say, “I’m not a fireman, so it’s not my business.” Drivers are required to help the injured if they pass a traffic accident, they can’t say, “I’m not a policeman.” We can’t ignore a crime victim bleeding in the street by saying, “I’m not a doctor.” It is no excuse for our behavior; we are to render assistance as we see the need. Recognition of need is a cry unto itself.

Another reason might be that they heard the cry but figured someone else would help. Surely someone else will do something. This is the thinking of those who left that young woman to be murdered in the street while they closed their windows to her screams. Christians do that as well: The others will cover outreach today. That brother will pray with that sinner, “He likes to do that.” Other people will be evangelists, they always do.

Have you ever hung back, when you know God is speaking to you to witness to someone, thinking, “I really don’t know what to say so if I stay back, someone else will step up and do it.”

Or probably the most compelling reason is that maybe they wanted to help but ti all seemed so hopeless. The man is being crucified, what good can a drink of water do? What can I really do, anyway? Will anything I do change the outcome? If I make an emotional investment in helping and things don’t change I may be disappointed or hurt. So rather than face disappointment we would rather suffer the paralysis of hopelessness.

We face that all the time, don’t we? The Gospel has been preached for two thousand years and look around you, most of the world remains unconverted. Even in your own community, most people aren’t Christians. I live in Taiwan and the vast majority of the people in my community are not Christian. There are so many people that aren’t converted, “What can I do on my own?”

In the book, “The Fall of the Fortresses” the author writes about the heroics of the pilots and crews of the B-17 “Flying Fortress” bombers during World War II. In one story a B-17 takes a hit from a 20mm shell that lodges in the fuel tank and remains unexploded. The pilot is able to safely land the plane with no losses. Had that shell exploded the bomber would have also exploded killing the entire crew. So the pilot asked the repair men if he could have that unexploded shell, as a souvenir of his incredible luck on that day. The repair man told him, there were 11 unexploded shells in the fuel tank that the bomb squad had to dislodge and defuse. Amazed the pilot then went to the bomb squad and asked for the shells. But the bomb squad leader told him the shells had been turned over to military intelligence, because every one of the shells was empty. There was no explosive in any of the shells. They weren’t completely empty, though, because inside one of the shells was a handwritten note. The note was in Czechoslovakian and it read, “This is all we can do for now.” The man who wrote this jt was no doubt a prisoner, forced to do slave labor after the Nazis overran that country. It must have seemed to futile to those prisoners, that this effort at risk of their lives, could change the course of the war. But for that one crew it made an incredible difference.

How many times have we met people and thought, “What can I say that is any different from what they’ve heard before?” Maybe nothing, but that doesn’t mean we don’t try. We don’t know how God is going to work in their circumstances. We only know that we’re called to reach out to the lost.

The One Who Responds

There is one man who responds. He hears the cry of anguish and he responds:

He doesn’t worry that he’s not the one called on:
He doesn’t wait to see if someone will respond first:
He doesn’t stop to analyze the outcome of the only effort he can make…He just responds.

He responds like we are to respond; with what he can do. He knows that giving Jesus sour wine he’s not going to save his life. He knows he can’t save Jesus from the Roman Empire. He can only offer what he can and hope that it helps. That’s what we can do. We can only offer what we can; an opportunity to respond to the Gospel. We can’t save them, we can’t forgive their sin; we can only bring them to a place where they can accept Jesus.

This nameless man, this Roman soldier is a role model for you and I. He did what he could do. We can only do what we can do, we can witness, testify, preach and pray. Sometimes it seems like so little but it’s what we can do.

So what happened to the soldiers at the crucifixion, what happened to the soldier who gave Jesus a drink? We don’t know, the Bible doesn’t mention them again. But I do know what the Bible does tell us:

Matthew 25:34-40
34 “Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:35 ‘for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in;36 ‘I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’37 “Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink?38 ‘When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You?39 ‘Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’40 “And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.
We are called to reach the lost and we will find a reward. It may not be before men. It may not be in this world, but the Bible does promise reward.

2 Timothy 4:8
8 Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing.
God desires that we will answer his call and in answering the call we will find a reward. We may not find that reward in this world but we will have a reward.

A number of years ago a missionary and his wife returned from Africa on the same ship as US President Theodore Roosevelt. They had given their lives to missionary service in Africa. They had given up their homeland, their friends and family and were on their way back to their homeland. President Roosevelt had been in Africa on a vacation. He had gone to go hunting. And as they returned there were hundreds of people at the docks to welcome the president back home. But the missionary and his wife had no one to meet them. They picked up their bags and walked to a cheap hotel near the docks.

As the msissionary watched the crowd cheering for the president he thought to himself, “My wife and I have given our lives to God’s service. We have made many sacrifices, this man has returned from a hunting trip, he has made no sacrifice and given no service. Why does he receive all for this and for us there is no one.”

When he arrives at his hoetel room he goes in to the room and prays. He laid it all out to God, he wept and repented of his bitterness and envy, and came out of the prayer with a changed countenance. He told his wife, “I complained to God. I told him my every thought. I told of my bitterness and envy at the great reward the president when he arrived at home, but for us there was nothing. God answered me with four simple words, “You’re not home, yet.”

There will be treasure for us in heaven if we are obedient here on eart. We think of Billy Graham and the thousands f people he has won to Jesus and we think, “I could never be that fruitful.” But the Bible tells us that there is rejoicing in heaven over one soul that is saved. The impact thatwe make is every bit as great as the impact that Billy Graham makes, especially for that one soul that’s saved. One last illustration:

There is a young boy walking a long the beach. The night before there had been a great storm at sea and on the beach were thousands of starfish that had been washed ashore. As he walks along he is picking up starfish and hurriedly throwing them back into the sea the to keep them from drying up on the beach. The child meets up with a man who has been watching throw the starfish into the sea and ask\s him what he’s doing. The child replies I’m throwing these starfish back to save their lives. The man looks up and down the beach and says, “There are too many of them you can’t possibly make a difference, throwing them one by one into the sea.” The child looks down at the starfish in his hand and throws it back into the sea. I made a difference in that one’s life.

We’re not called to change the whole world ourselves. We are called to make a difference in the lives of individuals, one heart at a time. We are called to render assistance when we hear the cry of anguish, just like that nameless hero.

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