Sunday, December 29, 2013

Knowing Your Limitations

He firmly grasps the wooden handle with both hands and stretches the sharpened ax out in front of him, learning its weight before he fulfills his task. With the crowd watching in curiosity and horror, the offender is brought forward and made to kneel down with her bare neck lying exposed on the block.

Then, like a golfer practicing before his putt, he tentatively raises the ax over his head before slowly lowering it until it hovers over his intended target, perhaps even slightly brushing the tiny hairs atop the woman's skin. One practice swing, maybe two. Until suddenly, with arms fully extended, he mightily swings the ax heavenward and then back down in a rapid arc, slicing clean through life to rest on the dead wooden block beneath.

This is the chief image associated with England's Henry VIII and his time period's penchant for beheading those who crossed them.

The ax and the wooden block.

My heart pounds at these scenes. I close my eyes, knowing I would never have been a willing part of the crowd that watched such an execution.

Imagine my surprise when God showed me a similar image in Scripture.

In Matthew's gospel, John the Baptist was in the desert, the "voice in the wilderness," calling all to repent of their sin and then baptizing the repentant in the Jordan River. Throngs of people came from around the region to see this prophet in camel's hair who subsisted on locusts and honey.

Then along came the Pharisees and Sadducees, two sight-seeing groups who had apparently come out of curiosity more than for the heart-changing message.

When John saw them, he criticized their evil hearts and warned them of God's judgment to come if they remain unrepentant: "Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire" (Matt. 3:7-8, 10).

My heart dropped when I read verse 10: "The ax is already at the root of the trees."

God--holy judge and executioner--isn't just giving an empty warning to these fruitless tree-men. He's taken the ax in hand.

And what's more? What gives me chills?

He isn't just holding the ax.

He's already taken his practice swing, bringing it down to rest on the root of the trees. All that remains is the moment when He says "enough"and arcs the weapon heavenward before it crashes down, exacting His perfect judgment.

It's one thing to think of God's judgment as coming in that ever-vague "one day." It's quite another to see an image of God preparing for that judgment to the point where His holy hands are gripping the instrument, just waiting.

As Christians, we must seriously consider our efforts to proclaim Jesus to those lost souls around us.

James says, "Now listen, you who say, 'Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.' Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes" (Jas. 4:13-14).

With 2014 upon us, we who know Him as Lord and Savior must pause to reevaluate our commitment to sharing the gospel with others around us.  The time is now.

No comments:

Post a Comment