I want to show you the heart of the Gospel, by recounting a story I read many years ago. The novel was titled, Secret Battle, which Winston Churchill prefaced by saying, “is the story of a young man tested to destruction.” The setting is World War I, and England’s finest are falling at the rate of 70,000 per week. The story follows the exploits and heroics of a man called Harry Primrose, who time and time again escaped battle unharmed, and who would in fact lead others through months of bravery. But in the end, he was seen running from the front, an officer, and so faced court marital, and sentenced to death by firing squad. In summary, the author says, “that is the gist of it, that my friend Harry was shot for cowardice, and he was one of the bravest men I ever knew.”
When it comes to falling in love with, and following this Consuming fire we call Abba, we are at best a divided heart. For one moment of lost nerve, Harry was shot by firing squad. What if the creed we follow had that in the small print? What if God shot everyone found heading in the wrong direction? I agree, there wouldn’t be a man standing among us. In Galatians chapter one, Paul tells his audience, ‘I am amazed you have deserted the gospel I had proclaimed to you!’ The word used here means one who deserts his post. They were following what Paul said was a different gospel all together than what he originally proclaimed. It was a shifting and drifting away from a pure message that in it’s very essence shouted to the world a radical love, a radical grace and a departure from the fear of condemnation.
The law was attempted and failed at for centuries. Now Paul and his small band of fearless followers of Jesus Christ were telling the world, you will not be shot for infractions, but brought to the medical tent, and evaluated, given an arm around the shoulder and a cup of cold water. Instead of being put before a firing squad, you will be reminded that your Captain has already been executed for that trespass; He had anticipated all along your desertion. Go in peace. Go and sin no more, but do not fear retribution, because all is well between you and your Commanding Officer.
(Please don’t shoot me for irreverence), but the Coward of the World, Jesus Christ, the most courageous and noble among us, has taken our place before the firing squad. The guns have blazed, and He has slumped in death, so that on the hills of every fight you and I face for our lifetime we can have the power for courage, or if nerves fail retreat with dignity intact. “There is therefore now no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus.” The cross took care of the loss of nerve, and the cross will take care of the power we need to take the hill. Either way, we out maneuver the enemy of our souls, who wants us to believe we deserve punishment, when God all along screams in our ear, ‘nothing you can do, or not do will ever change your standing.’ In Christ, all will be honorably discharged after following their duty until death. And when the soldier, gritty and grimy from the fight wakes up, he will know that every decision made for or against, whether bravery or not, has been consumed in the fury and majesty of a thousand suns called the resurrection.
The Gospel is a living testament to God who knows our truest condition, and still extends a pardon for the moments we lose nerve in the fight against sin. The grace of God reminds the hard-pressed man or woman that to take the hill brings pleasure to his Captain. And it reminds us that when we find ourselves, like Harry, going the wrong way, that though he leads the fight still, he will circle back and find us, and restore our heart to full once again. No one has to tell us we are capable of great sin. But we all need a reminder that to the extent we fall is how far love will go to restore. And to the extent we are raised again, how far love goes to pour back into us a kind of startled joy, which is our birthright.
Isn’t that the Gospel’s finest hour?