Saturday, May 19, 2007

Jesus our hero

For my final six weeks in Turkey (how sad!), I'll be helping to lead a group of U.S. university students who've come to learn the culture and share with others about Jesus Christ. Here is the text of a short talk I'll be giving to them on Wednesday morning:

Jesus Our Hero

This summer, and especially during longer-term service in church planting and evangelism, you might come up against times during which you'll ponder the question, "Is all of this really worth it? No one is responding, no one is embracing Jesus, and I'm getting sick and tired of this." The stark truth is that for as much as we can pray for others, preach the full force of God's law, and share the news of God's grace, we cannot make anyone repent and follow the Lord Jesus. What, then, must we ask ourselves in such times? It's this: "Even if no one responds, is Jesus Christ worthy of being preached and proclaimed?" I hope that both now, and especially at the summer's end, your answer will be a resounding "Yes!"

Everywhere you go in Turkey, you'll see Mustafa Kemal Atatürk
--statues in parks, photographs in public businesses, and even in family homes. People are crazy about this guy. He's a true hero to the Turkish people. But why? What's so great about him? We don't, after all, go nuts about George Washington.

Here's a brief Turkish history lesson, a story of salvation and leadership: In 1915 Mustafa Kemal became known as Gazi Paşa
Mustafa Kemal--"war hero general"--for his foresight and strategy that allowed the Ottoman army to defeat the ANZAC (Australia and New Zealand Army Corps) soldiers at Gallipoli, not far from here. Then, after the Ottoman Empire lost World War I and Turkey became occupied by the British, French, Greeks, Italians, and Russians, life became somewhat oppressive. The country was cut up into zones of foreign occupation, and even mighty Istanbul itself was set up into different zones requring a passport for travel. (Think like East and West Germany and the divided city of Berlin after World War II.) The economy was unstable, many people were radically poor, and hope for the future was uncertain. What would become of Turkey and its people?

But Mustafa Kemal and the Turkish people wouldn't stand for this. Beginning in 1919, Kemal led the three-year War of Independence (Turkish Kurtuluş Savaşı
, "salvation/liberation war") and defeated the foreign occupants, forcing their retreat. In the following years as the newly independent country's leader, he ushered in a new era for the Turkish people in which a democratic constitution was drawn up for the new Republic of Turkey. Public schools were funded, the alphabet was switched from awkward Arabic characters to the more functional Latin ones, thus increasing literacy, and Western, secular ideals were embraced. In his eyes, Turkey was moving forward into a new age. The parliament gave him the surname Atatürk, meaning "father of the Turks." In other words, the Turks wanted to say, "He has delivered us and made our new life possible; we find our identity in this hero; we are his people."

There's a word we find used in ancient Greek that fits
Atatürk pretty well: archegos. This word generally has a threefold connocation: (a) a trailblazer or pioneer who opens the way for others, (b) a source or founder, and (c) a leader-ruler. According to J. Julius Scott, it refers to "an individual who opened the way for others to follow, founded the city in which they dwelt, gave his name to the community, fought its battles and secured the victory, and then remained as leader-ruler-hero of the people." [1]

Four times in the New Testament we see this unique word archegos used in reference to Jesus Christ:

Acts 3:15 "You killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we all are witnesses."

Acts 5:31 "God exalted him at his right hand as Leader [NIV Prince] and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins."

Hebrews 2:10 "For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder [NRSV pioneer] of their salvation perfect through suffering."

Hebrews 12:2 ". . . fixing our eyes on Jesus, the founder [NRSV pioneer] and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God."

Elsewhere in Hebrews are two closely related words, "source" and "forerunner":

Hebrews 5:8-10 "Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the source [aitios] of eternal salvation to all who obey him, being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek."

Hebrews 6:19-20 "We have this [hope] as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner [prodromos] on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek."

In a country that so readily embraces as its hero, I offer that we have a far more worthy hero to proclaim and worship: Jesus the Messiah, who, through his sufferings upon the Cross and his bodily resurrection from the dead unto the Father's seat of honor, has paved the way to God's presence, brought us to glory as God's favored children, and secured our citizenship in God's kingdom. Here are but a few of the reasons from the Epistle to the Hebrews why the crucified and risen Christ is worthy of praise and proclamation as a hero far above anything any earthly leader can accomplish:

1. Through his sufferings and death, he has tasted death for everyone as their substitute, sparing us from the wrath of God as a sacrifice of propitiation (2:9-10, 17).

2. By fulfilling his Father's will and dying to bring God's chosen people back to him, Jesus was crowned with greatness of glory and honor (2:7-10; also 1:13; 3:3-6).

3. Through him we are made his brothers and therefore God's beloved sons, who will share in the glory to come (2:10-13).

4. Jesus is a faithful leader over us and a servant for us, God's house (3:1-6).

5. His death has destroyed the one who has the power of death, the devil, and has freed us from the slavery to fear of death (2:14-15). Satan's ability to accuse us with the Law has been broken, because in his perfect obedience Jesus fulfilled the Law for us (5:8; also Matthew 5:17; Romans 10:4; Colossians 2:14-15).

6. He has rendered completely obsolete all forms of fearfully making insufficient sacrifices to God as a way of covering our sins and extending our hopes of receiving his blessing (7:18--10:18). Rather, he has pioneered a new way to God and secured the way there, washing us perfectly clean (9:13-14) and giving us good hope (6:19-20), so that with confidence and full assurance we can approach the holy God as our Father (4:16; 10:19-23).

7. The salvation he has wrought and brought us into is an eternal salvation, never to be done away with, weakened, discarded by God, or broken by other powers (5:9; 7:25).

8. He will return again at the end of this age to save those who are eagerly waiting for him (9:28) and bring them to into glory.

9. He has secured for us all that we need for entrance into the new age of God's rest (4:8-10) and has given us all the promises of life and blessing that he himself inherited through his own obedient sonship (9:15-17). Now through him we have citizenship in the homeland of God (11:14-16), the heavenly Jerusalem (12:22-24). We have been given a permanent city with foundations (11:10) and a kingdom that cannot be shaken (12:28).

10. He has set an example for us to imitate and has shown us the way to salvation: a way that must pass through the shame and pains of rejection, death to self, and the cross, but breaks through to the joy set before us. He shows us it's a possible race, since he himself ran the race with endurance, both beginning and finishing it (12:1-2; also 6:12); and even now he is interceding for us, that we might finish the race (7:25).

11. He is not a haughty or prideful ruler, but rather he is a compassionate Savior who is able to help us when we are tempted by sin and rocked by doubt (2:18; 4:15).

This is the Jesus we are to proclaim, who is worthy of being told no matter what anyone else thinks! This is our Hero-King! Throughout your summer here, whenever you see a picture or statue of
Atatürk, think about Jesus and his liberation far greater than the Kurtuluş Savaşı, the "so great a salvation" he has achieved for us upon the Cross.

[1] J. Julius Scott, Jr., Archegos in the Salvation History of the Epistle to the Hebrews;; last accessed 18 May, 2007.

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