Saturday, March 26, 2005

Dead or Alive

I can't think of the Wild West of the late 1800's without calling to mind a yellowed sheet of paper hanging from a tree or nailed to a wall. Across the top in big, bold letters is the word, "WANTED" followed by the words, "Dead or Alive." The posters I imagine always seem to have photographs of the ornery hombre on the page as well -- always with a sneer on his face as if he is defying you to try to catch him and collect that reward. The message is clear: We want this nasty cuss out of the way and if you have to kill him to stop him, then shoot to kill. It would have to be a pretty dangerous outlaw to merit "dead or alive" status. Or else a pretty major lack of secure jail space!

I've always wanted to make one of those posters which reads, "WANTED, dead or alive, Jesus of Nazareth. Reward - Thirty pieces of silver. Wanted for Unlawful Healing, Disrespect of a Pharisee, Blasphemy and Leading a Gang of Outlaw Galileans." Then I'd tack on a couple of those well-known pictures of Jesus, but I'd change the peaceful look on His face to a scowl. I'm not sure what I'd do with it. Maybe that's why I've never gotten around to making one.

Maybe if Jesus had come to Deadwood, South Dakota instead of Jerusalem, there would have been some posters like that tacked up around the surrounding territory. That was certainly the attitude that the Pharisees had toward Him. They wanted Jesus out of the way. And they would kill Him themselves if they could figure out a way to do it without inciting a riot. Eventually they got their way. Judas Iscariot took them to an out-of-the-way place to arrest Him. They found some trumped-up charge to prosecute Him for, and craftily weaseled the Romans into performing an extremely painful execution. It was finally over. His followers would scatter like rats from a sinking ship. He was dead.

Or was He? Better guard the tomb in case those hick Galileans try to pull a fast one. And with that, every base was covered. He was dead.

With anyone else, that would have been the end of it. But Jesus Christ wasn't your average political revolutionary. He possessed power -- power over death itself.

Even the disciples weren't expecting it. Jesus was dead to them also. He had led them down the path and deserted them. He hadn't even put up a fight. It was almost like He wanted to die. Now they were alone and lost, like sheep without a shepherd. What good is a dead leader? What good is a dead messiah? What good is a dead savior? When the women came Sunday morning with their wild story, it just made the wounds that much deeper. Foolish women! Did they realize what they were saying? It was impossible! Some of the eleven had seen the spear shoved into his side and saw the last of His blood fall to the earth. He was surely dead. Wasn't He?

I can only imagine the looks on their faces when, as they sat in a locked room, all of a sudden there He was. They knew it couldn't be real. But He was. He was alive! Thomas declared it outright the next week, falling to his knees and declaring, "My Lord and My God!" No longer were they followers of a dead teacher. The details of some of those mysterious things He had said started flooding back into their consciousness. "Destroy this temple and I will raise it again in three days!" "The Son of Man must die and then be raised to life again." It was starting to make some sense now. Well, not much sense just yet. but that didn't matter. Jesus was not dead, He was alive!

Even though over the next forty days their experiences with the risen Lord were few and far between, the attitudes of the remaining eleven disciples changed. They knew that Jesus was alive. All was not lost. The Master was back. But then one day as He was speaking to them, He started to elevate in a way that Michael Jordan would have been put to shame. He ascended out of sight. He was gone. But He was still alive; of that they were sure. And once the Holy Spirit hit them ten days later, the world would never be the same. The disciples were serving a living Lord by preaching His Good News all over town, and eventually all over the region and to the ends of the known earth.

Today there are times when we treat Jesus as though He were still dead. We try to plow through our daily problems by taking them on with our own strength. We don't bother Him for the things we're sure we can handle. Or at least we think we can handle it. But no matter. We press on, confident in ourselves; proud that we aren't so weak that we need to lean on Jesus for everything. Jesus may as well be dead to us at those times. We deny Him the opportunity to work in our lives. We ignore the shepherd and follow the other sheep into dangerous grazing lands.

Occasionally we give a token prayer toward Him. But deep down we don't expect anything. "How could one lousy prayer make a difference? Jesus? Yeah, I'll see Him in heaven, but until then I'm pretty much on my own." Foolish child. You're missing out on what a living Savior is all about.

Why do we deny the presence of a living Christ? Why are we so afraid to call on Him? Why does the Bible sit idly on the table for days while the TV remote is used so much the letters are wearing off the thing? Why are we so intimidated by the One who was put to death so we could be with Him forever? Not just in eternity, but in the here and now as well!

Jesus is alive, indeed. That means He not only conquered death, but He also lives to direct us, protect us, encourage us, teach us and give us incomparable peace. He doesn't want to be treated like a dead Savior. He doesn't want us wandering around, following the same echoes that other sheep are chasing. He wants us to relish His presence. He wants us to live for Him because He knows what is best for us. He wants to be our living Lord.

How do you see Jesus? Is He the One you turn to as a last resort or as your steady companion? Do you allow Him to show Himself to you? Do you lean on Him instead of depending upon your own understanding and your own earthly strength? Is Jesus alive to you?

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