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During the prevalence of kidnapping and abduction in the Niger Delta area of Nigeria a gang of kidnappers raided an oil field with the hope of getting some foreign expatriates they would exchange for a ransom. During the raid only one Whiteman was kidnapped as the kidnappers had a tough gun battle that evening with the security men on the ground.
The kidnappers eventually left with the Whiteman and one of their men who sustained a severe bullet injury. On reaching their hideout they tied up the Whiteman on a stake and went on to attending to their injured partner. It was after sometime that they had time to talk to their captive in view of negotiating the ransom for his release. While interrogating the Whiteman something devastating happened when the Whiteman replied to their first question! Guess what? He spoke their native language. They actually picked a Nigerian albino who was employed from one of the local communities in the area to serve as a mail runner for the foreign expatriates. His captors became very confused and disappointed because they got the wrong person and their effort had been useless because the albino for them would not fetch them anything. It was with anger and excruciating torture that they drove the young man away and dropped him somewhere with blindfolded eyes.
Reminiscing on this story I remembered one of the legendary statements of Chinua Achebe which says: “Do not judge a man until he has spoken”. Evidently there is power in words (especially spoken words) but there is more power in the WORD OF GOD. The first impact of the word of God could be seen from the book of Genesis where we are told that God created the world out of nothing but the words of His mouth “And God said let there be light and there was light” (Gen.1:3).
There is power in the word of God because God is His word (John 1:1) and God’s word is His bond that does not change (Malachi 3:6).Today we are positioned to reflect on THE POWER AND SEVERITY OF THE WORD OF GOD.
The first reading from the prophecy of Jeremiah (38:4-6.8-10) is very much like a drama. We are told that the princes (perhaps the governing council) after consulting among themselves approached Zedekiah the king and requested that Jeremiah be put to death. The accusation was that Jeremiah was weakening the hands of the soldiers and the people by the kind of words he was speaking to them. However the real situation was that Jeremiah told them about the destruction that was coming against them on account of their rebellion against the word of God and that was the simple truth.
Thus says the Lord: This city shall surely be given into the hand of the King of Babylon’s army, which shall take it.(Jer.28:3)
We can say that the power and severity of the word of God which Jeremiah proclaimed was unsettling for them. The word of God is not always sweet and filled with flowery language of prosperity. It is often severe and like a two-edged sword cuts with power. The King’s response to the request showed that he either did not understand them or he was under some influence as he granted them the permission to kill Jeremiah him without further inquiry.
The next episode was the execution of the plot against Jeremiah which involved throwing him into a cistern that belonged to the King’s son. The cistern had mire; no water and Jeremiah was stuck in the mire. However something amazing happened! God will never fail those who speak in his name. In the book of Psalm (50:15) the word of God says “Call upon me in the day of trouble and I shall deliver you and you will honour me”. So it happened that God brought forth another person, this time Ebed-melech, an Ethiopia Eunuch to speak the word of God to the king in favour of Jeremiah. For those who abide by the word of God, He will raise people to speak on their behalf. Ebed-melech spoke thus:
My Lord the King, these men have done evil in all that they did to Jeremiah the prophet by casting him into the cistern and he will die there of hunger because there is no bread in the city. (Jer.28:9)
The simple fact here is that Ebed-melech did not speak on his own accord. It is still the word of God coming from his mouth. God can actually orchestrate things for those who believe in him in so many amazing ways. The power in the word of God turned the situation around; of course the word of God is something alive and active (Heb.4:12).The King gave a more detailed directive for the rescue than he gave for killing : “Take three men with you from here and lift Jeremiah the prophet out of the cistern before he dies”. We can sense the urgency in the statement of the King as well as his directive for three men to effect the rescue (which significantly points to the trinity of persons in one God); simply put the power of the word of God was working.
Launching into the gospel reading today (Luke 13:22-30) one gets somewhat “scandalized” by the severity of the words of our Lord Jesus Christ whom we know also as the prince of peace (Isaiah 9:6). Three important statements are primary in the gospel periscope:
· I came to cast fire upon the earth; and would that it were already kindled.
· I have a baptism to be baptised with; and how I am constrained until it is accomplished.
· Do you think I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division…
a) The Fire: In the bible we have several places where fire signified the presence of God. Moses encountered God by the burning bush (Ex.3:2). God went with the Israelites by the pillar of cloud by day and pillar of fire by night (Ex.13:21). The real God (of Elijah) is the one that answers by fire (I Kings 18:24). The word of God is like fire (Jer.23:29). God is a consuming fire (Heb.12:29). On the day of Pentecost God the Holy Spirit came in form of fire on (Acts 2:3).
There is another sense wherein fire signifies God’s judgement. Adam and eve were driven away from the garden by the angels carrying flaming swords (Gen.3:24). The cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed with brimstone and fire (Gen.19:24).Our Lord Jesus Christ described hell as the place of unquenchable fire (Mark 9:43) and the Rich man who suffered Lazarus got the reward of hell fire (Luke 16:24).
The fire our Lord Jesus spoke about has still to do with God’s word which will commend those who accept it but will condemn those who reject it. It will come to justify and to judge.
b) The Baptism: Original understanding of baptism sees it as immersion; the imagery is in form of being buried and rising up again. The most apt presentation of this can be seen in the letter of St. Paul to the Romans (6:4): “Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life”.
When our Lord Jesus Christ was talking about the baptism he was longing for, he was referring to his passion, death and resurrection which will set a new platform for humanity. His death and resurrection brought about the expiration of the old and the introduction of a new phase of life with God.
c) The Division: The word of God was nicely described in the Letter to the Hebrews (4:12) as being alive and active and sharper than any double-edged sword. With this imagery division is ponderable. When Jesus said that he did not come to bring peace but division we should understand the text within a context otherwise it will become a pretext.
The mission of the messiah was generally seen by the Jewish people as political. Hence in their estimation when the messiah comes he will overcome all the political enemies of the people and give them respite, if you like political peace. Our Lord made them to understand that his message is not going to bring that kind of peace (political) but division. This division will arise because the power and severity of the word of God will be acceptable to some people and for others it will be unacceptable. To this end there will be a clash of interest for the accepting and the unaccepting beginning from the family.
From the time of the ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ on earth through the era of the apostles and afterwards the good news had been a source of battle and antagonism both among Christian themselves and their neighbours.
Our Lord Jesus Christ made it clear to us that heaven and earth must pass away but his words will not pass away (Matt.24:35). The word of God must be spoken in season and out of season no matter whom or what it affects; that is the spirit of Jeremiah. For those who hear the word of God there is need to accept it and put it into action (Luke 11:28). This is specifically because there is reward for accepting and not accepting the word of God as it comes with power and severity. Jeremiah would also add: “Please obey the word of God which I speak to you. So it shall be well with you, and your souls shall live” (Jer.38:20).
Do have a happy Sunday and a wonderful week ahead.