January 9, 2009

The Answer

About the time the Apostle Paul's ministry was getting started - he hadn't even changed his name yet - the Apostle James was reaching the end of his. This is the same James that asked Jesus for some special props in Heaven, a special seat next to the King. The same James (along with his brother John, and Peter) that walked up a hillside and witnessed Jesus pull the veil back for just a moment, revealing a fraction of his glory. This is James, one of the "Sons of Thunder", son of Zebedee, one of the 12 disciples.

In Acts 12 it reaches a time when King Herod Agrippa decides he needs to impress some of the Jews who want this message of salvation in Christ silenced. Acts 12:2 tells us that Herod "had the apostle James killed with a sword." He was martyred for his faith and his boldness to speak the truth about Christ. I don't mean this crassly or insensitively, but for a moment I think James might have received that "special recognition" he had asked for, long before he really understood what he was asking. I'm sure he was met with the applause of Heaven and the arms of his Savior saying, "Well done, good and faithful servant". 

But here's what gets me about this story. One verse later something happens that thrusts us into the position (as we are so often in our relationship with our mysterious God) of asking "Why". Herod has James killed and then, for some reason, "he arrested Peter...and imprisoned him." Herod's intent was to drag Peter out during Passover, publicly try him and humiliate him, and then (most likely) execute him. But this never happened. The church prayed for Peter, an angel busted him out of jail, and he was free. If you don't know this story you truly need to read it (Acts 12:1-19). But this is not what has snagged my heart's attention this morning.

Here's the big question: Why did God allow James to be executed...and Peter to be saved? While I'm sure that everyone in the church praised God for His angelic intervention and Peter's freedom, I'm fairly certain there had to be someone close to James wondering, "Why not James? Why didn't God intervene on his behalf as well?" WHY?

Just weeks after my Dad's funeral (and reflecting on everything he went through the last 5 years of his life - brain injury, coma, rehab, cancer, surgery, chemo, and so on...) it would be very tempting for me to begin shaking my fist and demanding an answer to this question from the Lord. And many of you have been through these situations and circumstances that have left you blank and wondering. At some point, for some reason, we all want to ask "Why?". And my apologies, but I can't answer that question for you - no one can. But I think God's Word give us insight into how our heart moves to a place where we're not so hung up on asking this question or demanding an answer.

In Philippians 1:21-22, Paul says that "living is for Christ, and dying is even better. Yet if I live, that means fruitful service for Christ. I really don't know which is better." The NIV says that "to live is Christ, but to die is gain". Let's cut to the chase. I believe that when your heart finally arrives at a place where you can know and say with certainty that your life is meant for "fruitful service for Christ" and that your entire existence and breath is "for Christ", you begin to understand and embrace that death is not the enemy any longer. And you are definitely a whole lot less tempted to stomp your feet and demand some answers. I have a difficult time believing that James entered the gates of Eternity - reunited with Christ - and let everyone know that he really wasn't ready. And even though I miss my Dad, I know that when he finally saw Jesus face to face...one question he most certainly did not ask...was "Why?". 

It's OK sometimes to ask. Just know that if the One with the answers, the One, True, Holy, Sovereign Lord attempted to explain it to you - you would never be able to wrap your feeble mind around it. And if you could, He would not be God.

I encourage you, that when you want answers - when you just don't understand the "Why" - that you search to know the heart of God. Pursue Him. Search the depths of His Word. Stop searching for answers...and start searching for HIM! 
He is the answer you're looking for. 

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