I read a post this morning by Peter Enns, written earlier this week, and it was so much something that I wished I’d written, I’m tempted to just throw in the towel this week, and quote it here.
But there have been a number of thoughts tumbling around my brain recently, and Enns’ perspective on our upcoming election has helped to bring those thoughts together…whether they produce a giant dust bunny, or a snowball bound for Haiti, or something more nourishing and lasting–remains to be seen.
Our theater company is preparing to open our first play of the new season. Unless you actually live in Fort Wayne, Indiana, that probably means little to you. But this play, A Peculiar People, which hasn’t been produced anywhere in over 20 years, is a lovely comic drama which examines the paradox of free men who are slaves, and slaves who are truly free. Working on this piece for the last month has gotten me thinking about this paradox more than I had in a long time.
We had a very powerful church service last Sunday. Our pastor preached on the centrality of the cross and Christ’s crucifixion to our faith. He reminded us that crucifixion was a slave’s penalty, seldom ever carried out on a Roman citizen. Christ became the world’s slave, in order to buy our freedom. The price was His own bloody death.
He canceled the record of the charges against us and took it away by nailing it to the cross. (Colossians 2:14 NLT)
At the end of Pastor Bob’s sermon, each member of the congregation wrote on an index card to represent his or her own sins (e.g., “Godsbooklover’s Sins”). Then we walked to the front of the church where a sturdy wooden cross had been erected. There were hammers and nails, and we were each to nail his own card to the cross, signifying what Christ did for us. After that, we took communion.
Stay with me, I really am going somewhere with this. Being a theater person, I am a big fan of showing rather than telling, of symbolic actions which speak as loudly as words–or more so. The sound of hammering went on for 15 or 20 minutes, as one or two at a time, we gave several sharp blows to a small nail head. As I approached the cross, it was already quite covered with little white cards. Someone behind me murmured, “We’re going to run out of room.” And just as quickly, I thought, “No, we’re not. That’s the whole point.” I began to imagine what it would be like to hear every hammer blow on behalf of every believer’s sins, in the entire history of Christianity…I was overwhelmed by the thought that even then, there was room for more. Our perfect God offered a perfect sacrifice, whose infinite worth was sufficient to pay for all of us.
The slave in Rome was allowed to keep a a sum of money called the peculium, their own personal wages. In both the Old and the New Testaments, God refers to His ‘peculiar‘ people, not in the sense of odd, but meaning His own specific, exclusive possession. The Roman slave’s peculium could be accumulated until he had enough to buy his freedom. Christ’s purchase, when He was a slave, made us all the exclusive possession of God.
Don’t you realize that you become the slave of whatever you choose to obey? You can be a slave to sin, which leads to death, or you can choose to obey God, which leads to righteous living. Thank God! Once you were slaves of sin, but now you wholeheartedly obey this teaching we have given you. Now you are free from your slavery to sin, and you have become slaves to righteous living.
Romans 6:16 – 18, NLT
Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.
Titus 2:14 KJV
And what about that election-related post I mentioned at the top of this post? Here’s the title: “Dear Christian: If the Thought of Either Romney or Obama Getting Elected Makes You Fearful, Angry or Depressed, You have What We Call a Theological Problem.” I do hope you’ll go and read this entire post, which calls Christians to realize that:
There is a huge difference between saying, “That person would make a horrible president for the following reasons,” and “If he is elected, I just don’t know what I will do, where I will go–how we can carry on.”
This is what the first Christians were taught about the Roman Empire, which promised its citizens peace, grace, justice, protection from enemies–all of which was called “salvation” (that’s the word that was used at the time). The Gospel offered an “alternate eschatology,” where the goods were delivered, not though the power of the state but through suffering and enthronement of King Jesus.
Yes, as I said here two weeks ago, Christians may well be called to vote, to campaign, give to a political cause or party, or even run for office. But neither the best nor the worst candidate being elected can thwart God’s plans for this age. And not one of them is immortal or eternal. If a president does good and we prosper, the good times won’t last. If a wicked president creates havoc, even a reign of terror does not last for all time. Each one of them will run out of room. Our ultimate vote, allegiance, and trust have to stay with the One who paid the ultimate price.
Whether we are slaves or free men in this world, as Christians we are called to do one thing: to serve our Master.