The bead of sweat rolls down your brow and your eyes squint as the setting sun’s glare hinders your vision. Somewhere, out there in the underbrush, the man-eater is resting from her afternoon meal. Her satisfied purr carries through the sparse vegetation and your blood runs cold as you hear the bones crunch between her massive teeth. The tension of the moment and the pain from the earlier attack begin to overcome the adrenaline rush and you pause to catch your breath, listening to the guide’s constantly whispered instruction.
“Watch out,” He breathes, “this beast is never satisfied. It can gorge itself on the flesh of any number of individuals and still have room to consume more.” “Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.”
Your pulse quickens as the guide continues: “These brutes are bold and willful, they do not tremble. They are irrational animals, creatures of instinct, born to be caught and destroyed. They count it pleasure to revel in the daytime. They are blots and blemishes, reveling in their deceptions, while they feast on you. They have eyes full of adultery, insatiable for sin. They entice unsteady souls. They have hearts trained in greed. These are waterless springs and mists driven by a storm. For them the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved.”
“THIS thing was born to be caught and destroyed?” you wonder to yourself, “this thing almost destroyed me!”
You feel the dull ache along the top of your shoulders and down your back as the wounds begin their incessant throbbing once again. You cringe as you see even worse wounds upon the back of your guide and you marvel that he is even able to continue in the lead. It had been much earlier this morning when the fiend had made her attack on you and the blood is still seeping from the gashes.
There you were, rising early as is your custom, walking down to the market for the day’s provision. The peaceful rest of the night before had dulled your senses and the festive sounds of the waking village always caused you to think of the wonderful trinkets offered along the way. The colorful textiles and the gleaming metal of the shop keepers’ wares often lured you into their stalls and enticed you to satisfy your desires. It’s an age old story, ‘I do not do the good I want, but the evil that I do not want is what I keep on doing.’ I want to place the blame on someone else but it is always me, tempted when I am lured and enticed by my own desire. Then desire, when it has conceived, gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.
How often have you fallen victim to this monster’s claws and yet, like before, you enter into her domain? The scars of past attacks line your flesh just as the fruits of them line your closet and your shelves. Once more you felt yourself drawn into her lair, here again you failed to heed the warning signs and gave in to temptation. Fresh guilt pours from your newly damaged flesh and shame fills your heart with regret.
Your reverie is broken by the careful gestures of your guide, Joshua. He points to the ground and his fingers reveal the tracks of the man-eater and the bright red blood of its prey as it was dragged helplessly through the dirt. By its tracks, this devil is larger than any one you have ever trailed. Your wounds seem to recognize their creator and scream at you for relief but you know there will be no relief until the phantom is dead.
Joshua is a guide who is as single-minded as they come. His faithfulness knows no bounds and his recommendations exceed any that you’ve ever heard of! He has risked his life, time and again, to rescue you from the painful consequences of your actions – always putting himself in your place and taking the brutal punishment for your transgressions. You remember the surprise that you experienced the first time you saw the results of your punishment on his back. “Joshua!” You cried! “What in the world happened to you?” “I was wounded for another’s sin and bruised for their iniquity” He gently replied and you remember the anger that welled up in your soul as you asked him for the name of the guilty party: “Who did this to you?”
The answer remained unspoken as the forest suddenly becomes silent and your thoughts are forgotten as you almost yell in fright when your guide firmly shakes your shoulder and clamps his solid hand over your mouth. How much more of this pressure can you take?
“Quiet!” He whispers forcefully. “She is moving up ahead!”
Impatiently you shrug off his grip but you fail to notice the glint in the faithful guide’s eyes as you wonder to yourself what you ought to do. Without waiting for any instruction and despite the guide’s warnings you begin to advance on the cursed beast. You will end this once and for all. This creature has committed the last attack it will ever make. You will make certain of that. You check your weapon and shrug to settle your equipment comfortably on your shoulders and begin to slip through into the darkness. The tension builds, Joshua has moved into the shadows on your left and disappeared into the stillness. You struggle to keep him in your peripheral vision but the light through the canopy is playing tricks on your eyes. You do your best impression of your skillful guide as you try to follow the signs on the ground but it doesn’t take long for you to feel the haunting realization that it is quite possible that the hunter has become the hunted and that the beast is closing in on you again.
Everything is silent, minutes stretch into hours – there is no more movement in the undergrowth ahead. Every now and then, as if to draw you on, you see evidence of the damaged prey. Blood smeared on that leaf, drips of it on the dark earth, and crimson shadows on the bark. “How in the blazes did he know she was moving?” you ask yourself. “I thought she was right over there.” Your ears strain to make out something, ANYTHING that will reveal your quarry’s location but the silence refuses to give up it’s secrets. The frantic tension, almost exploding behind your eyes, the regret and the shame of what caused you to continue this pursuit drives you onward – step after step, yard by yard, you make your way through the thickness. Suddenly, as your gaze drifts across the clearing, a crumpled carcass draws your attention. Something vaguely familiar about it piques your interest and for a moment you forget where you are. You gasp in terror as recognition finally dawns on you.
“What is this?” you want to scream but panic holds your tongue! You turn to find your faithful guide. “Joshua!” you hiss, but to no avail. That broken body, that flesh which once held life, that blood that you have trailed most of the day is that of your guide!
Throwing caution to the wind you approach and see, not one carcass… but two. There, in the clearing, amidst the shredded underbrush, scattered clothing, and more blood than you can imagine, lies the brute and your guide. She is dead. Her life finally extinguished. Her reign of terror has ended. But oh what a cost! Joshua, in the very act of saving you, his love for you expressed in the most powerful way ever, while you were still pursuing this beast, he died so that you would live!
How can this be?
What started out as another harmless transgression has turned into the death of someone who has always and only been your greatest friend. You fall to you knees and gently touch his battered cheek. You tremble as you remove, not one, but several long sharp thorns from his brow. His beard has been ripped out and there is a gaping hole in his side. What a battle! What a struggle. You softly cry as you take his hand in yours, not caring that the blood from his wounded wrists are covering yours. The horror of the wounds and the dread of his death settle on you. “Now where do I go? Who will deliver me from this body of death?” you plead…
Suddenly, as you look through tears at the body you notice that the chest slowly rises and falls. He is alive! How can this be? How can it be that this terribly broken body could live? Relief floods your heart as tears flood your eyes and you stare in wonder as he opens his eyes and whispers: “I will never leave you, nor forsake you!”
This month I have been reading and meditating on Colossians. What a heart-lifting expression of the Gospel of our Guide – Jesus Christ! I have been convicted by the phrase in chapter three, verse five: “put to death therefore what is earthly in you.” How often do we realize the living reality of sin? How often do we aggressively counter attack sin’s devastation in our own lives? How come we cannot come to grips with the violent war that we are each engaged in every day?
How do we accomplish this? Paul gives us three things in this chapter.
1. Keep our eyes on our Guide! Seek the things that are above, where our Guide is! Set our minds on His life!
2. Put on our Guide’s life! Put on the things that He has given us! Love as He does!
3. Let our Guide guide! Get out of the way and rest in His work! Be thankful for His peace and His Word!
The wages of sin IS death! He who knows to do good and doesn’t, to him it IS sin. Anything that is done apart from faith IS sin! Sin destroys. Sin hardens. Sin kills and yet we pass it off as though it were nothing much to think about.
Our apathy to this saps our understanding of the truth: He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.
When we forget about sin’s vile accomplishments we cheapen the gospel and tarnish God’s worship, but we have a Faithful Guide! We have One who has taken our place. We have Jesus Christ!
Have you gone hunting lately? For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ (2 Corinthians 10:3-5).
… as you sit by his cot in the bush hospital, waiting for your guide to wake up from his recovery, you wonder how to tell him that, as you walked about the outskirts of the compound this morning, you noticed the cutest little tracks in the dust. Joshua won’t miss you for a couple hours, you softly justify, maybe I can just take a quick look, what can it hurt…..