Thursday, May 17, 2012

Has Jesus Fallen Through the Cracks?

Jesus said, "Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13). I remember, as if it were yesterday, selecting this verse to serve as the inscription for the plaque, in the newly constructed Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff's Station Memorial Garden. I was honored that day, as the station chaplain, to provide the invocation and a message of encouragement to my law enforcement brethren, during the garden's dedication ceremony.

Whenever I hear of a brother or sister behind the badge, or one of our military's finest, making the ultimate sacrifice--laying down their life so that others might live--John 15:13 immediately comes to mind. And so was the case, yesterday, when I read the story of Army Specialist Leslie H. Sabo Jr..

Our nation's fallen heroes--whether they served in the military, law enforcement, or fire--should never be forgotten. Far better to create more holidays to commemorate acts of true heroism than to celebrate some of the silly holidays people in the United States and around the world celebrate--holidays such as: Fruitcake Toss Day (Jan.3); Umbrella Day (Feb. 10); National Yo-Yo Day (Jun. 6); and Talk Like A Pirate Day (Sept. 19).

The Fox News Story, by Justin Fishel, reads in part:
It was May 10, 1970, in Se San, Cambodia. Spc. Leslie H. Sabo Jr. and his platoon were ambushed by a large enemy force. The 22-year-old rifleman from Ellwood City, Pa., charged the enemy position, killing several soldiers, and then attacked an enemy flanking force, drawing fire away from his comrades.

As the enemy retreated, a grenade landed near Sabo and a wounded American soldier. Sabo picked it up and threw it, while shielding his comrade with his own body. The grenade blast badly injured Sabo, but he continued to charge the bunker.

Crawling toward the enemy stronghold, Sabo was shot multiple times by automatic weapons fire. When he managed to reach the opening of the bunker, he tossed in a grenade, silencing all enemy fire. That same grenade also ended Sabo's life.
It was this act of selfless, sacrificial heroism that warranted, albeit forty-two years after his death, Sabo being awarded our nation's highest military honor--the Congressional Medal of Honor (CMOH).

While it's wonderful Specialist Sabo is finally being recognized for his valor, I was disheartened to read why it took more than four decades for the recognition to happen. The last sentence of the Fox News story says it all.
"The Army admits the reason the award is being given four decades later is because Sabo's story 'more or less fell through the cracks.'"
Thirty years after his act of life-saving heroism, another Army veteran discovered the written records of Sabo's day of valor and the recommendations by various officers for Sabo to receive the CMOH. They were found in a box--a box that had been tucked away and forgotten in the National Archives.

"Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends." Yet Specialist Leslie H. Sabo Jr. fell through the cracks.

Why did this happen? Was it the result of the inherently procrastinative bureaucracy of the military and the federal government? Did those whom Sabo saved that fateful day eventually move on with their lives, never completely forgetting about Sabo's sacrifice, but simply replaced thoughts of Sabo's heroism with thoughts of everyday life? There's no question that the inaccurate report of Sabo's death slowed the process of his recognition for valor. The Fox News article indicated that Sabo's widow was initially told that he was killed by a sniper while on guard duty.

What is the scene in the above photo and what does it have to do with this article. Well, if you've been to this location, you will recognize it right away. If you haven't been to this location, it is unlikely you will guess where this picture was taken.

The picture is of Golgotha, "The Place of the Skull," the location where it is believed Jesus was crucified. Today, it is but a dirty, rocky hill that serves as the backdrop for a very busy bus station in Jerusalem. As a side note, it is unlikely Jesus was crucified at the top of the hill, as most artist renditions depict the scene. He was more likely crucified at the base of the hill, along the road. Typically, the Romans crucified people along roads so that people coming into Jerusalem (or other cities under Roman rule) would receive a very clear message. "Don't mess up while you are in this city, or Rome will do this to you!"

I took this photo a year ago, as I stood in the garden--the garden in which is located a tomb--the now-empty tomb of Jesus Christ my Lord. I remember looking at Golgotha with very intense yet mixed emotions. It was the last day of a long and extraordinary trip. I was in the last historic site we would visit. While blessed beyond words every day of the trip, I was overwhelmed and sickened by the idolatry of other religions that had claimed various traditional biblical sites as their own. Relics, icons, and the visible manifestations of man-centered traditions were everywhere; and they were all for sale, in one way or another.

But not Golgotha. There it stood, weathered and eroded more than 2,000 years after that great and terrible day when it pleased the Father to crush His Son. There it stood, once stained by the murder of the Lamb of God who had come to take away the sins of the world, now stained by years of exhaust from diesel bus engines. By all appearances, Golgotha had fallen through the cracks--the cracks of time, indifference, and scorn.

While I was not there when they crucified my Lord, a year ago I stood there looking at the place where they crucified my Lord. Anger and awe; weeping and worship; disdain and devotion; pity and praise; loathing and love. My emotions regarding sinful man and my sovereign Savior were all over the map. I will never forget that day when I looked upon the place where my Lord died for my sins and then stepped into His empty tomb--empty because He is risen; He is risen, indeed!

Sadly, in the lives of many, Golgotha and the empty tomb have fallen through the cracks. They have fallen through the cracks of depravity, indifference, pride, arrogance, and unbelief in the lives of the unsaved. But, sadder still, they have fallen through the cracks of the lives of many who profess to know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.

While the Bride of Christ is beautiful, the evangelical church in America (as an institution) is not so pleasing to the Lord's eye. Sadly there are many churches that name the name of Christ but exist not to further His gospel, but to keep the church alive--to keep the lights on, the seats filled, and the salaries paid. In order to do this, churches must water-down the gospel and allow the worship of Christ to take a back seat to the pleasing of man. Like the bureaucracy of the military and the government who for thirty years relegated the sacrificial death of Specialist Sabo to a dusty box in an obscure area of the National Archives, so too have some churches in America relegated Jesus to the dusty corners of places of worship. They remember His sacrifice, but they do not give Him the honor and recognition He deserves. The bureaucracy of churches make God's people too busy to give God honor and glory. The church is so busy trying to serve the Lord with ministries and infrastructures not seen in Scripture, the church has very little time to worship Him as King.

In some churches, Jesus has fallen through the cracks.

Did Sabo's story fall through the cracks because his comrades eventually stopped fighting to have his story told and his sacrifice recognized? Certainly, this is speculative. But the reality is that Sabo's story returned to the nation's attention and consciousness as a result of one man's effort to tell his story. Sabo receiving the CMOH was not the result of thousands of Vietnam veterans or supporters of our nation's military telling his story. Yes, each and every one of the before-mentioned would likely say they appreciate, admire, and respect Sabo for his heroism; but not enough to knock on congress's or the media's door, or to take to the streets heralding the message of Sabo's sacrifice, to demand Sabo's act of valor be recognized and properly appreciated. Specialist Leslie Sabo fell through the cracks.

Sadly, the above is all-too-analogous of professing Christians in America. They live as though they have outgrown the gospel of Jesus Christ. How often (too often) I have heard the self-indicting quips of believers when I mention in conversation that I am an evangelist. "Ahh." They say with a somewhat patronizing, even sympathetic look on their face. "I used to do that in college." Or, "I remember as a new believer being on fire to share the gospel." They make the comments as if to say, "Don't worry, Tony. You'll outgrow it. You'll mature in your faith to the point where you won't have to be so vocal about what you believe."

Most professing Christians, by-and-large, do not talk about Jesus Christ. They do not extol and proclaim His wondrous and finished work on the cross. Nor do they herald His magnificent, powerful, and glorious resurrection. They are comfortable, sinfully comfortable, leaving the extolling, proclaiming, and heralding to others. Besides, they are now too mature in their faith to be bothered with something as elementary and uncomfortable as telling others about the heroism, valor, and sacrifice of Jesus Christ. They are, in every practical sense, like a soldier saved by a comrade who has lost interest in telling others of their comrade's heroism. Tragically, some Christians go as far (as seen and heard in their "testimonies") as to say, "Yes, my comrade saved my life when he jumped on the grenade meant for me. But did you hear about the way I dove into the foxhole? Had I not dove into that foxhole, I don't know if my comrade's sacrifice would have been enough to save me."

Translation: if you listen to the testimonies of many professing Christians, you hear much more about their life history and their journey toward Christ than you hear about what Jesus did to save them from sin, death, and Hell.

In the lives and testimonies of many professing Christians, Jesus has fallen through the cracks.

As I previously stated, there's no question that the inaccurate report of Sabo's death slowed the process of him receiving recognition for valor. The Fox News article indicated that Sabo's widow was initially told that he was killed by a sniper while on guard duty. The world was not made aware of Sabo's sacrificial death and heroism because the reports of his death did not reflect what really happened that day; and they did not reflect the exceptional character of the man. Specialist Sabo fell through the cracks.

Inaccurate reporting--not only by the unbelieving world by professing Christians--regarding the deity, humanity, death, propitiation, and the resurrection of Jesus Christ has led to misrepresentations about who Jesus was/is, what He came to do, and why He came to do it.

Certainly the intentional inaccuracies regarding the story of Jesus Christ as told by Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, the Word of Faith and Prosperity Movements, and people like Oprah Winfrey have led to millions upon millions of people being led astray to believe in a false, non-existent Jesus. But the responsibility does not rest solely on the shoulders of unsaved cultists and personalities. American evangelicalism must also shoulder the blame--even more so than our unsaved counterparts. We should expect no more and no less than lies from those who are controlled by the father of lies (Satan). But those who profess to know the real Jesus Christ (the Word became flesh; fully-God and fully-Man, without sin) as Lord and Savior, and then put themselves forward as people who speak for and in the name of Jesus Christ, have a greater, more solemn, and more consequential responsibility--the responsibility to speak the truth.

Sadly, there are many churches within American Evangelicalism that are not speaking the truth. They are inaccurately telling the story of Jesus Christ. They are inaccurately portraying Jesus as someone He is not. They are not portraying His true character--electing to emphasize the more seemingly palatable traits of love and mercy, while distorting those same traits and, instead, opting to completely ignore equally-perfect traits such as His holiness, wrath, righteousness, judgment, and goodness. They errantly and sinfully present a Jesus born out of the idolatry of their minds, fashioning a Jesus in their minds to suit themselves--a Jesus with whom they can be more comfortable. They are quick to speak of His love, but without context. They speak of His love in a way to make the unrepentant sinner the main character in the story. The presentation might go something like this:
"Jesus loves you. He loves you just the way you are. He longs to have a relationship with you. He is just waiting for you to accept Him. He is standing outside the door of your heart, knocking, and just waiting for you to answer. Won't you let Him in? What have you got to lose? Try Jesus on for size. He will not disappoint you. Ask Jesus into your heart, right now, and He will bless you beyond your wildest dreams. He doesn't want you to be sick. He doesn't want you to be poor. He doesn't want your marriage to suffer. He wants you to be the best you can be. He's waiting for you. Come to him, now, and let Him be your Savior."
Wow. That was hard to write. But it's stuff like this that is being said in churches, today. No mention of the deity of Christ. No mention of the perfect humanity of Christ. No mention of the vicarious and penal substitutionary atonement of Christ. No mention of the imputed righteousness of Christ. No mention of the character, power, and accomplishment of the risen King. No mention of the sinfulness of sin. No mention of the good and just wrath of God against sin. No mention of the righteous judgment that will befall every unrepentant, unredeemed human being.

The story that's told in many churches, today, is a love story--a story that focuses on how lovable humans are (a delusion) and how worthy those same humans are of God's love (another delusion). The stories told in many churches today are akin to one of Sabo's comrades telling his story this way:
"I was with Leslie Sabo that day. When he took off after the enemy, I thought he was crazy. Of course I'm glad he did it. If he hadn't of done it, then I wouldn't be here talking to you, today. I wouldn't have the wife, family, job, and toys I enjoy, today. I'm not perfect, but Sabo must have seen something in me worth saving to allow himself to be killed by his own grenade so that I might live. And I have felt better of myself ever since. Oh, and did I mention how well I jumped in the foxhole to avoid the blast?"
I would not expect anyone who was with Sabo that fateful day to tell the story that way. I would fully expect to hear much about Sabo and little about the one telling the story. But, because the military report the story of Sabo's death inaccurately, the world spent forty years thinking little-to-nothing about his death. He was just one of more than 50,000 nameless Americans killed in another bloody and brutal war. Specialist Leslie Sabo fell through the cracks.

Likewise, because of the many false gospels propagated throughout the world--because of the many false stories told about Jesus's life, death, and resurrection--by people inside and outside the Christian community, in the hearts and minds of too many people Jesus has fallen through the cracks.

But He has only fallen through the cracks in the minds of the disobedient and unsaved.

"Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends."

Specialist Leslie Sabo's heroic and sacrificial death is indeed illustrative of the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ. "For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Corinthians 5:21). Jesus bore the full force of God's wrath against sin. He took the grenade rightfully meant for every sinful human being. No greater act of love will ever be done. No greater love will ever be shown. For Jesus Christ is the "Pearl of Great Price" (Matthew 13:45-46). His value to the Father is infinitely greater than the value of all humanity put together. That is why His sacrifice is sufficient to make payment for the sins of any individual (John 3:16) and for the sins of the world (1 John 2:2). And those who repent (Mark 1:15; Luke 13:1-5) and believe the gospel (Romans 10:9) will be the recipients of so great and priceless a salvation.

No Jesus has not fallen through the cracks for those who truly know Him--for those who are redeemed by His shed blood (Hebrews 9:22). If he has in any way fallen through the cracks in your life, then you must examine yourself to see if you are even in the faith (2 Corinthians 13:5). And you must repent of your sins of forgetfulness, complacency, and silence. If you truly know Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, then you will want to talk about Him, and talk about Him often; just as those who know now of the love, valor, and sacrifice of Congressional Medal of Honor recipient, Leslie H. Sabo Jr. are doing.