Life of Christ, by N.E. Rhodes Jr.–  No. 16

FOLLOWING AFAR OFF AND WARMING BY STRANGE FIRES

We sleep at our prayers, follow afar off, sit down at strange fires, and then act surprised when we discover that people all around us are denying Christ.

In our last article we discussed how Simon went to sleep at his prayers in Gethsemane and then made matters worse by acting violently on his own authority. We pointed out however that we had little right to stand in judgment of Peter here for most of us have at some time been guilty of the same thing.

Using the Wrong Sword

We stand over bleeding Malchus and feel misused and full of self-pity because our efforts come to naught and are not even appreciated. And Jesus, doing what can be done to right the mess we make, touches the wound we made and says, “Put up your sword.” He has a sword for us that we do not use because it reflects no credit on us. The sword of the Spirit is neglected because of this and because we feel that to just swing only this sword is somehow to be narrow minded. The sword of the Spirit is a bit narrow at times but after all, any good cutting edge has to be. We are swinging various swords of our own forging today and boasting about how much broader the blade is. And then we wonder why we can no longer cut asunder the spirit of man and his carnal follies. We bemoan so much what we see happening about us without ever stopping to think that it didn’t just happen. It was caused. Finally, like Peter we find ourselves following afar off. We follow so far off in fact that when at last we reach the place where any real issue of life is decided the Lord and his cause have already passed on and we are left outside with the careless and indifferent.

Chill in the Courtyard

A coldness has begun to creep in. We are no longer warmed by the blaze of real charity. We feel lost and empty. Being cold, we look for somewhere to warm ourselves. It will be warm of course in there with Jesus. But it will also be dangerous. Oh, we could still probably get in; but if we do we shall most certainly have to bear the consequences. We can hammer on that closed door and lay our claim to discipleship. We can profess our faith in the Jesus on trial. No doubt the door will open. We can still get in. But to what? To Jesus of course, but what else? If only he would guarantee that we wouldn’t be embarrassed or ridiculed, or insulted, or injured. But he isn’t making any such guarantees tonight. And even if he did could we trust him? The world looks pretty strong this evening. The creed of the Pharisee, the philosophy of the Sadducee, the power and organization of Rome all look pretty powerful. What can this meek Jesus do against all that? Oh sure, he walked on water. But now did he really, or did we just imagine that one dark night? Well, at any rate, he isn’t walking on water tonight. He is letting truth go to the scaffold while wrong sits on the throne. The rich man hoards his money, one race exploits another, disciples argue among themselves, and if Jesus is really the Christ why doesn’t he do something about it? There is that grinning, ugly Malchus over there. Why doesn’t Jesus whack him one, or if he won’t why doesn’t he at least let me? Why, of all things, would Jesus stick up for him and heal his ear? I tried. God knows I’ve tried to do something really fine for Jesus. Look at the chances I have taken. But did Jesus appreciate it? All I got was a rebuke. I just got verbally slapped down for my trouble. And what has this Jesus offered? What is he doing now that will help himself or any of the rest of us? No, I’m sick, fed up. Call down legions of angels can he? Why doesn’t he? I’ll just bet he doesn’t. You wait and see. He won’t. So what good is it to go in there with Jesus? The right thing to do? Who knows what is right anymore? The brave and loving thing to do? I tried being brave once thank you. I was the only brave one in Gethsemane. And as for loving, that works two ways you know. After all who is concerned about me tonight? Who loves me? No, I won’t go in there with Jesus. It would be warm, sure. That’s the trouble. It will be extremely warm. It’s likely to get too hot to handle. This thing could boil over. Brrrrrr I’m cold.

Sitting by Strange Fires

No, I don’t say that I know all this went through the mind of Simon. But, to my shame, it has gone through my mind more than once. Tell me, dear brother, has it never gone through yours’?

This I do know. Peter at last winds up warming himself by the fires of the ungodly. Man is a social creature. When he finds that for any reason he can no longer warm himself beside the warm hearts of the converted, he is likely to seek the destroying heat from the strange fires of the ungodly. If the mystic personality finds no thrill in prayer he will seek it in evil fantasies. If the reading man becomes bored with his Bible and uplifting books he will turn to literary filth. If the fun loving man loses joy of fellowship with brethren he will turn to the revels of the worldling.

Kinds of Strange Fires

The amazing thing is that people think they can seek strange fires and not be burned. Samson still believes that he can sleep safely on the knees of Delilah. The prodigal still believes that he can spend his substance and avoid famine. We fail to see that every unloving thought, every careless word, every unkind or unclean act, leaves a mark on us. It prints itself into our characters and forever stains our souls with a stain only the precious blood of Christ’s agony can remove. Do we not know that if we let evil influences play on the mind, such seed will produce its own fruit? Do we think we can wade through swamps and come out clean? Do we think we can dip ourselves in murky waters and remain dry? Do we think we can draw sweet water from bitter foundations, or enjoy good fruit from evil trees?

Can we let our children watch any abomination that a loose censor will permit on TV and expect their minds to remain pure? Can we let them be subjected to a crushing load of temptation and then act surprised and hurt when they fall? Oh brethren, wake up and see what is going on around us. We sleep at our prayers, follow afar off, sit down at strange fires, and then act surprised when we discover that all around us people are denying Christ.

But still we may stop short. Still we may be spared the bitter tears, the awful memory that Peter carried with him the rest of his life. Perhaps we have not yet gone so far as to deny our wonderful Jesus. May we not still pray that such infamy will not be necessary to bring us at last to our senses? Of course we do not even know that this would. Peter came back but can we be absolutely sure that we would?

It is time that we realized the deadly danger of following afar off and then warming ourselves by strange fires. “Be not deceived, God is not mocked. For whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.”

 

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