Light in the Shadow of Death

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History is full of stories about men and women who have put their lives on the line for a great cause. It is widely accepted that President Lincoln anticipated his role during the Civil War would lead to his death, and yet he plodded forward believing that freedom for all was a cause worth dying for. In his final speech, titled I’ve been to the Mountaintop, Martin Luther King Jr. ruminated about his death, saying, “Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now.” These brave men stood boldly for their cause when faced with the threat of death. They felt the shadow of the Reaper close in on them and yet they moved forward believing their cause was worth dying for.

The Scriptures tell us that Jesus Christ knew that his death was necessary to accomplish his mission. He said, “The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again” (Luke 24:7).

LUKE: 9:51-62

As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. And he sent messengers on ahead, who went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for him; but the people there did not welcome him, because he was heading for Jerusalem. When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?” But Jesus turned and rebuked them. Then he and his disciples went to another village.

As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”

He said to another man, “Follow me.” But he replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”

Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.” Jesus replied, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”

There is a difference between believing that your cause might get you killed and knowing that your death is necessary. Our text tells us that Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. Another translations reads that he set his face toward the great city. This was the moment that Jesus set himself on a path of humiliation, of suffering that would lead to his crucifixion and death. You can sense the despair in his words… “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” This is Christ the King, Lord of lords, God of gods, the one who rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” (Mark 4:39), the one who spoke into the tomb, “Lazarus, come out!” (John 11:43). This is the Word of God in the flesh, entering into the valley of the shadow of death, putting his hand to the plow, turning his face toward the cross, and not looking away.

When Martin Luther King Jr. gave his final speech he referred to Moses standing on the mountaintop looking out over the Promised Land and he said, “God has allowed me to go up to the mountain, and I’ve looked over. I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you, but I want you to know that we as a people will get to the Promised Land.”

As Jesus sat upon a colt, descending into Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives to chants of “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord,” he looked out over the great city and he wept (Luke 19:41). Jesus knew that in five short days the chants would change to “Crucify him!” and it would be his blood that he would shed instead of his tears.

As the celebration ensues, imagine the sight, Jesus weeping, and yet he pushes forward, knowing that the only thing that can open the doors to the Promised Land is his blood. The only thing that can set his people free is his death.

As we desire to climb the mountain, to see the Promised Land for ourselves, Jesus descends from the heavens, puts his hand to the plow, and cries out “It is finished!” giving himself over to death and opening the door to paradise for all who believe.

History may be full of stories of men and women who have died for a cause. But there is only One whom the Angel of Death could not hold. There is only One who rose again. Believe in him, and you will not only see the Promised Land, you will enter into it for all eternity.

Rev. Troy Tysdal is Director of Communication and Prayer for the Church of the Lutheran Brethren.

A Place of Prayer
Merciless and the Humility of Jesus