Tragedies and Heroes

My wife Emily, is a fantastic person, I really out kicked my coverage, if you know what I mean. It’s funny though, when you spend as much time around someone as you do your spouse, you begin to notice some tendencies in their life. Some drive you nuts, but some of them are absolutely adorable. One really charming thing that my wife does, it always makes me smile, is explain herself. I mean, even the smallest most trivial things she will offer you a long explanation for. If you spent some time in our house you would be likely to hear a conversation that went something like this: She would say “Honey we need some milk, we are almost out could you grab some on your way home from work today?” I would of course do just that and say “Sure thing.”  But that’s where the explanation kicks in. Emily tends to come back with something like “We’ve just been using a lot of milk this week, I guess I’ve used a little more than normal on my cereal, and you have to have that glass of milk every night before bed to appease the 8 year old hiding inside you, oh and I made cookies Friday night…” The list may go on for a while, for such a simple thing. It’s one of the things I love about her and it always brings a smile to my face.  I think it’s rooted in a need for justification, she needs you to know why her thought/opinion/request is valid.

It’s something we all do in our own way; we all seek justification and validation. With the little things like a trip for milk it’s easy to justify within ourselves. With the bigger things we are asked how it makes us feel, and somehow what’s wrong with each of us can fundamentally be blamed on our mothers. Sorry moms, at least the shrinks all blame you first. The church though has a different explanation for what ails us all, our sin. Bright side of the argument though is it looks to another place to fix that problem, besides repairing the relationship with our mother.

Look with me at 1 Timothy 1. Something really unique happens in the first verse of chapter one, that’s easy to miss. For most of us the tendency is to look past what we consider simple introduction or greetings. But if you dig in to this verse you see Paul dealing with some things going on in Timothy’s life. V.1: “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by command of God our Savior and of Christ Jesus our hope…” Did you catch what just happened? Paul referenced the members of the Holy Trinity individually here, and he does so in very unique language. We will deal with the other persons in a minute but let us look first at the phrase: “God our Savior”

The word for God used here, it can represent the Trinity as a whole, or it can speak to a specific person of the Trinity. But Paul speaks specifically of the person of Jesus in the same breath; I have to believe he is speaking about the Father when he says “God our savior” here.

Odds are that hearing Paul say that doesn’t catch anyone off guard, we have that same basic reference, and we will typically even forgive it if we think this is a little bit of word confusion on Paul’s part. But the language “God our Savior” is very unique, appearing only six times in the ESV, only showing up in Paul’s letters to Timothy and Titus and in the book of Jude. The Spirit through Paul is making a point with the language that is used here. Oddly enough all three of these letters where the language “God our savior” appears were written in 64-65 AD. Just using context clues here, but I think something was going down around that time that led Paul to address his letters in this way, wouldn’t you say?

If you go back throughout literary history you’ll see these little clues to what was going on in the world or region based on the language written into publications around that time, it’s incredibly easy to find now with our news media archives being so easily accessed. If you look at what has been written the last 15 years you see clues about tragedies such as 9/11, Katrina, Sandy, Sandy Hook, and the Boston Marathon bombing. You’ll also see articles about the heroes that came out of those tragedies to aid others, the men and women who caught the bad guys, and even the folks who went out of their way to understandably save a dog or unexplainably save a cat. Because really one thing this world needs less of are cats.

The point is we love to celebrate a hero, and we dwell on tragedy. If you saw the opening of the New York City Marathon this year on television you would have watched a long opening montage about what the city and its people have been through dating back to Super Storm Sandy, and how they’ve all rose from the ashes, it’s a story of human triumph, which makes the way we’ve vilified Nero all the more confusing. We love to celebrate heroes, not typically to vilify them. And we aren’t talking about the burning software that came with your computer, I mean the Roman emperor from 54-68AD, although the fact we have a “burning” software named after him now adds to the dialogue. Sure, there was the whole burning Christians alive for entertainment during his garden parties incidents, I would guess even Nero would admit it wasn’t his finest moment. But that’s not the confusing dialogue around Nero, the refrain that surrounds him that’s problematic has to do with fire.

In June of 64AD something happened in Rome, a fire. We’ve seen events like this in the modern world, with the Great Chicago Fire even if it was in 1871, but what we’ve never seen is one man vilified for an event that destroyed almost half a city. Ancient Rome was divided into 14 districts and the fire totally destroyed 5 of them and did extensive damage to two more. Common thought suggests that Nero was actually responsible for starting the fire, an arsonist, to clear room to build his palace. Rome, however, was not a city immune to large scale accidental fires with others occurring in 69 and 80 AD. But Nero has something in common with Billy Joel, both sing “I didn’t start the fire.”

Unlike a modern disaster we don’t have a lot of information written about the fire in Rome, but we do have an extensive account by Roman Senator and Historian Tacitus who was alive at the time of the fire. Tacitus account actually has Nero in another part of the Roman Empire when the fire began, and states that the idea “Nero played the fiddle while Rome burned” was merely rumor. Not only that but Tacitus reports that Nero rushed back to Rome, and spear headed the relief effort, using his home as a Red Cross center, building a new palace to serve as head quarters for FEMA, and actually digging through rubble to find survivors by himself ordering his personal body guards to do the same in other areas. Tacitus paints a picture of a genuinely good guy and beloved Emperor when speaking about Nero.

Perhaps that’s why Nero began to refer to himself as the Greek word “σωτηρ (soter)” or “savior” the same word Paul in writing to Timothy in 64-65AD uses in verse 1 to describe the person and character of God the Father. Timothy was pastoring the church in Ephesus at the time, part of the Roman Empire, they had undoubtedly heard of all that Nero was doing to save his people. But Paul uses this opening to his letter to Timothy to remind him who our true savior is. He takes the opportunity to put to rest any doubt, any questioning, and to address the reality of what the church in Ephesus was hearing and experiencing.

There is a poorly kept secret about human nature that we are all looking for a savior. Sure we don’t always term it that, we call them heroes, hobbies, and goals. We are all looking for more from this life, because functionally we all understand this life isn’t quite as good as it seems it should be. So we rush out to super hero movies and cheer heroic actions, we pick up books about Seal Team 6 and how they caught up with Bin Laden, we get a Roomba so we don’t have to work so hard cleaning our floors; we want that new car like the neighbors got so that they will think differently of us. It’s in the way we dress, the politicians we vote for, how proudly we fly our flags, and how loud we cheer at the football game. For all of us there is a deep and quiet admission that this life hasn’t been what we’ve hoped for. So we look for a savior and blame anything we can for why life isn’t what we want. We gripe about politicians and pine for the next guy to be better, but he won’t. We get the new car, the new house, the better job, or maybe even the new boyfriend/girlfriend/spouse knowing that what is wrong with us is that the last savior we put our hope in, just like Nero, isn’t savior enough to fix what is broken inside of us.

What savior didn’t pan out for you? What gripes do you have about where life ended up? Are you fed up with the direction the government of this temporary earthly home is leading? What Paul is saying to Timothy in verse 1 is: “Brother don’t look anywhere else for a savior, they simply can’t do a good enough job.” Whatever you think you need to fix you, new job, new car, sex, alcohol, new friends, it won’t fix what is wrong with you. Because God is our only true Savior, and Jesus Christ is our hope.

If you want a hero to look up to, you don’t need to look any farther than Jesus Christ. What Jesus offers is so much greater than the fleeting temporal things we look to for a savior, the things we put our hope in. In fact, Paul, in one of his earlier letters, explained it this way in Romans 8:28-30: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.” Our hope is in this truth church! Our savior pursued us to the cross, sacrificing his son that we could be offered Jesus righteousness for our salvation! But he won’t stop there with us! He has called and justified us through the blood of Christ and he promises that glorification comes with that!

This life may not offer you everything you’ve hoped for in this meager temporary state. Life more often than not is hard, we all face tragedies. Anyone who tells you they haven’t suffered personal loss and tragedy is either lying to you or stupid. There is absolutely no way that we ever live our best life now if we are in Christ, because the promise of the life to come through Christ, the promise of glorification with Christ far exceeds everything you’re looking for in that temporal earthly savior. What are you looking to for a savior and what hope does it offer you?  It’s no savior at all, for in all that this life lacks, in our pain and suffering, in our sin, and in our depravity, there is only “God our savior and…Christ Jesus our Hope.”

We all know tragedy. I know my family certainly does. My mother had a cousin who was murdered while seeking help for mental illness, my Aunt was still born I never met her, my wife and I are expecting the birth of our first child in the spring but its only our first because we lost our first pregnancy. My family has tasted murder, hatred, death, and loss. We’ve been unsuccessful, seen business plans fail, been riddled with debt, and had friends turn their back on us. Tell me that is the better life you signed up for when you trusted Jesus. It is not. If your hope is in what I better now those are the types of things that break you. That’s why we have such a high suicide rate in this country, that’s why we have such a high divorce rate, that’s why we don’t see sweeping movements of the Spirit like is being experienced in places like China today.

If we keep looking for any other savior then our problem is just going to continue to get worse, our churches are going to continue to dwindle, and our heresy is going to further undermine the Gospel. I know some of you are undoubtedly unhappy right now, you think I’ve severely underestimated your faith, you think this isn’t a message that the church needs to hear, maybe a group of non-believers but not the church. You would tell me right now that what the church needs week in and week out is life application from the Bible. I’ll tell you this right now, if you’re looking to myself, or another minister for a life coach, you’re in the wrong place. I don’t know what certification a life coach is required to have but I don’t have those. All I can tell you with absolute certainty is this: day in and day out in your life, and in the Christian walk, there is absolutely no greater life application than the life that is applied to you when you believe in the death, burial, and resurrection of the Son of God Jesus Christ. There is no other life application that matters. If you’re walking with Jesus today it’s this truth that should allow you to sleep at night. It is the place you find rest, it’s the joy in the suffering, it’s all that is good about this life, it is the hope that is only in Jesus. We cannot move on from this truth, we have to dwell on it, we have to ruminate in it, and it should be the marinade that flavors our very soul and our every word.

If you don’t know Jesus today, I don’t know how you’ve made it this far. I commend you for that, but know this: it only gets worse from here. You see all the bad stuff, all the pain, all the suffering, and all the tragedy we face is the product of a thing called sin. I do it, you do it, we all sin, and we’ve ruined everything this world was meant to be in the process. But the great news is that when everything you turn to for savior fails you, there is both a savior and a hope waiting for you. His name is Jesus Christ. What you turn to now be it spouse, child, job, car, government, or something else, it will fail you just like Nero failed to be Rome’s savior so long ago. But the hope that Jesus offers, the promise of eternal salvation and glorification as an adopted child of the one true God, it is all that will bring you through this life with hope for anything getting better in the next.

Dwell in it, let it marinate your soul, and enjoy the hope that only Christ offers. In the midst of your pain and suffering find the joy that only comes from “God our Savior…and Christ Jesus our hope.”

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