Are you with us or against us?
Joshua 5: “Whose side are you on — ours or our enemies’?” He said, “Neither, I’m commander of God’s army. I’ve just arrived.”
I confess that I love these mysterious passages of the Bible. As Joshua prepares for his first Canaan conquest battle he encounters a stranger who’s holding a drawn sword. Joshua asks his allegiance, and the answer is that this stranger is on neither side. He’s commander of God’s army and has only just arrived on the scene. What’s going on here? God has an army? He sends his commander to scout out the battlefield? There are more questions than answers here. Apparently, the commander of God’s army has come to give Joshua the heavenly battle plan. As I continue reading, the “March around the City” strategy is given to Joshua. In light of the abundance of unknown things in this little passage, I don’t want to go too far out in finding devotional material, but a few things come to mind. First, God’s ready to go to war on my behalf, even when I’m unaware of his presence. Second, God doesn’t claim allegiance to me; I claim allegiance to him. Third, God has a plan that may be very different than my own. Fourth, his plan is always the best one.
Take Away: It’s good to know God has an army, that he’s on my side, and that he has a sure fire, God-guaranteed plan.
Grab a plank and hang on for dear life
Acts 27: He gave orders for anyone who could swim to dive in and go for it, and for the rest to grab a plank.
Paul’s trip to Rome starts out peacefully enough but ends in shipwreck. The attempt to move the ship just a few miles to a better winter harbor results in disaster as a huge storm sweeps in, driving the ship out to sea. The sailors do all they can to save themselves and their passengers but it appears that their worst nightmare has come upon them and that all 276 on board will be lost. Then Paul reports that for a short time overnight there was not, 276 passengers, but 277 on board. The Lord sent an angel to encourage Paul and give him a message for the entire ship’s company. The ship will, indeed, be lost, but everyone will survive without a scratch. Soon, it’s “land-ho” as an island is spotted. The ship strikes a reef and is being torn apart and the order is given to “abandon ship.” Swimmers dive in and the land lubbers find bits and pieces of the ship and float to shore. As a person who isn’t much of a swimmer I can identify with those “plank grabbers.” No doubt, I would have been one of them. Spiritually speaking, we’re all, to some extent headed for shipwreck. After all, no one’s going to get out of this world alive. The only hope I have of surviving this shipwreck is to hold on to some wood that will get me to shore. That wood just happens to be in the shape of a cross.
Take Away: I’m holding on to that cross for “dear life.”
At the tomb
Mark 16: He’s been raised up; he’s here no longer.
The resurrection account in Mark is brief, to the point. The women go to the tomb to finish the burial tradition, find the tomb open and encounter a messenger of God who tells them “He’s been raised up.” It is thought provoking to realize that a message with such a huge impact can be stated so succinctly. This message reshapes the world and eternity. The horrible death of Jesus on the cross wasn’t a meaningless act of inhumanity. The resurrection transforms that awful event into the greatest good ever done. Rather than it being just another example of the inhumanity of humans it becomes the watershed event of history. The angel nails it all with “He’s been raised up; he’s here no longer.” Today, this event is both old and new. It’s old because it’s the old story I know so well. It’s new because, right now, even as I type these words, it’s real to me. My life – my forever – is changed because of it. The resurrection transforms the crucifixion and the crucifixion is the instrument used to transform me. And it’s all summed up with: “He’s been raised up.”
Take Away: My hope is founded in the resurrection of Jesus.
This angel got the job all the angels wanted
Matthew 28: He rolled back the stone and then sat on it.
This angel is pretty cool. He’s supernatural, coming down out of heaven. He’s majestic with shafts of light blazing out of him. He’s powerful, rolling away the stone. Then, what does he do? He has a seat on the stone he speaks calmly and reassuringly and matter-of-factly to the women. It’s almost as though they don’t know whether to bow down to him or invite him out for breakfast. Then the resurrected Jesus makes his appearance. It’s the same way. Here’s the victor over death, freshly raised from the grave; yet he greats them with a cheery “good morning” as though they are just old friends who happen to meet at the mall. The women, though, know just what to do in this case. They bow before him. Jesus, still in an apparent light hearted mood tells them not to be afraid, but to go and tell the disciples that “plan A” is still in order and they’re to meet him at the designated spot in Galilee. This first Easter morning is awesome — holy. It’s also happy, joyous, and just a little light hearted. It’s an interesting balance and the Church should do all it can to capture this wonderful mixture as it proclaims the resurrection of Jesus.
Take Away: It’s the resurrection that makes Christianity the happy, hope-filled religion that it is.
The unseen part of life
Daniel 10: I was waylaid by the angel-prince of the kingdom of Persia.
In general, I’m not a mystic person. That is, I don’t see the devil behind every bad thing that happens and I don’t think most of the events of life are being orchestrated by God. Still, I do believe there’s an entire part of our existence that’s very real yet mostly unseen. That isn’t really much of a stretch for us anyway. For instance, a person born blind can be fully convinced of the reality of color even though he’s never seen it. However, in that case the blind person has plenty of people around him who do see so he has an abundance of input concerning what is personally beyond his grasp. When it comes to the spiritual dimension there’s much less reliable information. We end up in passages like this one receiving just a fleeting glimpse of events beyond our normal sight. Even then, the purpose of the passage isn’t to explain all this anyway, so I have to tread very carefully here. Daniel has an encounter with a messenger of God, an angel. Others sense this being’s presence, but can’t see it. They flee. Daniel though, sees and faints at the sight! The angel is there to talk about future events, but in passing mentions that he was delayed by another angel for three weeks and also mentions he has to go back to fight against that same being when he’s finished with Daniel. I know that better educated people than I have worked through this passage, coming to various conclusions about the part of existence we cannot see (or concluded that this passage has nothing to do with that). For me, I accept the fact that there are realities that I can’t see. While I don’t think I go around with a little devil on one shoulder and a little angel on the other, I do believe that this part of existence is just as real as the coffee cup sitting here on the table. I also believe that there are times when the unseen is very close by and having a direct influence over me and what’s happening in my life. Finally, I realize that I am, in general, blind to all of this. I have to trust the Holy Spirit, who can see it all and who was sent to be my Guide to help me navigate through the unseen part of life.
Take Away: We should be thankful for the guidance of the Holy Spirit who sees what we cannot see and helps us avoid that which would do us harm.