The Natural Moral Law 3

If one thinks about it, this is an amazingly profound realization.

How is it that we agree so readily about the decision for duty, honor, and responsibility over the pursuit of personal happiness?  How can this natural moral law rise to elevated precedence over everything else, including our personal goals and wishes?

How can the natural moral law be that important?  How can there be values in life worth making sacrifices for, over and above our personal desires?

How can “doing the right thing” command our respect and loyalty to this degree of self-sacrifice?

Why does this theme repeat itself in so many great movies, achieving so much popular acceptance and acclaim, yet be so morally demanding?

No Christians today would in hindsight tell Noah to stop building his ark, or advise Abraham to stay in Haran, or advise Moses to refuse God’s difficult calling to go to Egypt and deliver the Israelites.

No Christians would tell David to forget about the absurd notion of attempting to kill Goliath using only a sling and a stone, or tell Peter to continue mending his nets rather than accept the invitation of Jesus to follow Him, or tell Paul he had better give up his missionary quest and return to the safety of being a Pharisee in Jerusalem…after being nearly stoned to death in Lystra.

Buried deep within our conscience, we know that doing the right thing is more important than doing what we might otherwise want to do, when the circumstances of life require us to make a choice.

This must have the clear bell-ring note of truth that resonates in our innermost being, otherwise the movie Roman Holiday would not have captured our imagination and maintained its longstanding popularity to reach the elevated status of being considered a “classic.”

Within the highly competitive marketplace of ideas filtered through the cultural medium of modern movie-making, the theme of this beautiful story has stood the test of time for a good reason.

There is an important lesson we can take away from this classic movie.

Even the supportive and affirming aspects of common romantic love, which God created, can change people for the better.

Before her one-day love affair in Rome with Joe Bradley…the Gregory Peck character in the movie, the Princess Anne is going through the perfunctory motions of acting like a princess, of doing what everyone around her tells her to do, because that is what is expected of her.  But after she discovers, even for a single day, that a handsome and charming man actually loves her for who she is rather than what she is, this supporting validation of her as a person sets her free to become her own person.

Not only does the love, value, and respect coming from the Gregory Peck character in the movie enable Anne to grow instantly into a mature woman capable of independent decision-making, but also enables Anne to make the difficult but elevated moral decision to continue in the responsible role as her country’s princess.

After her Roman Holiday, the Princess Anne will enter into her duties in the service of her family and her country out of her own volition and choosing, albeit at the high cost of a lost romance and a broken heart.  This one-day, eye-opening experience will make her a better person and a more committed public servant for all of the right reasons.  This one-day transformation came about through the respect and support that comes with being genuinely loved.

Likewise, the one-day romp through the city of Rome with the beautiful princess in the disguise of a commoner, creates in Joe Bradley a growing love and affection for this woman as the day progresses, that in the end produces the elevated nobility of character that sacrifices for her welfare, the sensational front-page reporter’s story of a lifetime.

While standing in the front row of the gallery of reporters at the next day’s press conference, Gregory Peck assures Audrey Hepburn that the scandalous nature of their day out-in-the-town in Rome will forever remain a secret between the two of them.  Joe Bradley tells the Princess Anne that her “faith in the relations between people will not be unjustified.”  And thus these two people discover together the elevated, self-sacrificing quality of character that their love for each other has created…seemingly out of nowhere.

Anne starts out her Roman Holiday wanting only the excitement of pursuing one day of total freedom to do just whatever she pleases, and Joe Bradley starts out pursuing the personally detached, coldly calculated news reporter’s front page feature article.  Both unknowingly start out the day in the natural realm of worldly conventional, self-centered plans and schemes, but through the day’s totally unique shared experiences they end up at the highest character realm of the natural moral law of self-sacrificing love.

So it is with a God-composed journey of faith following Jesus Christ.  Spending time with Jesus will change us forever.

Romantic love that contains genuine self-sacrifice motivates Hepburn and Peck, in the movie, to make the right decision and to do the right thing.

But it is the actual activities of the day spent together that creates the bond of love between them to make this possible.  This is where the “rubber meets the road” in the story.  Without their “Roman Holiday” there is no context for their shared experiences, growing love for each other, and subsequent elevated character growth.

Without their Roman Holiday experience, they both would remain just the same as they were the previous day, hopelessly stuck within their horizontally conventional realities.

Only God can craft the events and circumstances in our lives to create the singularly unique context for developing love for God and right actions consistent with the natural moral law.

Whenever Jesus Christ calls a person into a particular task, mission, or service as part of their journey of faith, the confidence that God places in us is a divine aspect of love that will inspire a response to rise to the occasion.

This supportive validation of us as a person, coming from no less than Almighty God Himself, will raise the bar to a new elevated level of character within us.  The value that God places upon us, and the trust He invests in our development, when divine love is in operation, will elevate people into the high character level of the natural moral law contained within a journey of faith, to match the beautiful stories of faith in the Bible.

The acceptance, confidence, and validation that are a part of the love of God that is shown in God’s willingness to interact with us on a personal level, will elevate us to become better people, again seemingly out of nowhere (Mk. 4:26-28).

Whether we consciously know it or not, when we place our trust completely in Jesus Christ through a God-composed journey of faith, we are subscribing wholeheartedly to the natural moral law.

A personalized adventure of faith patterned for us after the lives of faith portrayed in the Bible, is God’s ingenious method of establishing a relationship with us based upon mutual love.  This love will capture our voluntary willingness to climb any mountain, cross any sea, and bear any burden in response to the living God who loves us and cares for us.

This explains why Abraham, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, David, Ruth, Esther and Mordecai, Jeremiah, Elijah, Daniel, Peter, and Paul stay with God’s program through thick and thin.  They recognized God’s confident love for them and responded with fidelity and loyalty to God’s higher ways and plans.

This is the elevated, higher character realm of the natural moral law where God resides.

Princess Anne and Joe Bradley unintentionally fall in love as a result of their shared Roman Holiday experience, combined with their physical attraction and growing affection for each other.  This was not a consciously intellectual choice on their part, conferring merit on their creative wisdom to set all of this up in advance.  We simply have the God-given, innate capacity for experiencing love that will alter our lives for the better.

“For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast.  For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:8-10).

One theme of this book is that God sets up unimaginable life-scripts for us to walk in, individually tailored to His intentions when He originally created each of us.

Love will motivate people to voluntarily choose high moral actions in a truly genuine and fulfilling way.  Divine love is the dynamic force that energizes the journeys of faith recorded in the Bible.  The “that not of yourselves” part involves picking up our cross, listening in the Spirit, and following Jesus.  It is the love of God that actively intervenes in our lives that is the key for individual Christians and the Christian church in the last-days.

This is the part of the Christian experience that is infused with the most unselfish, loving intentions of God toward us, creating the space for God to insert a biblical version “Roman Holiday” of unique situations and circumstances into our lives.

The secondary theme of this wonderful movie Roman Holiday, where the cost of duty and honor is commendably chosen over the short-term gain of personal preference, is something that Christians can anticipate becoming more clearly defined in our journeys of faith as the last–days approach.

Love that produces and exhibits self-sacrifice is one of the basic spiritual realities of the Christian life.  It is one of the fundamental aspects of this natural moral law that is a part of the Almighty God that we worship and follow.

Amazingly, this natural moral law even shows up as a main theme in a classic movie produced out of Hollywood in 1953.

The Natural Moral Law 2

Without knowing it, this secular movie classic comes very close to touching upon an aspect of the high standards of God for all eternity.  C.S. Lewis called it the natural law.  Others have called it the moral law.  It is the independent standard by which all behavior is judged.

According to C.S. Lewis it goes something like this:

If you have written me a letter a month ago, and you unexpectedly run into me at the supermarket, and ask me why I have not written you back yet, I will respond with any number of quick excuses like “I hurt my wrist and can’t write” or “I ran out of my favorite stationery’ or “My wife has kept me incredibly busy lately painting the exterior of the house.”

But I will not say “why do you ask me that?” or “who says I have to write you back?”  We both know and agree, because you are my friend, that I owe you a return letter.  That is why I come up with a quickly fabricated explanation that will plausibly excuse my lack of good social conduct in this matter.

Unconsciously, we are both appealing to the same code of fair mindedness and expectations of right behavior.  My quickly fabricated fallback excuse is my way of getting around my poor performance, instead of just coming out and admitting to my friend that I “dropped the ball”, that I am sorry, and that I will return his letter shortly.

But if I come out and flatly say: “I am not going to write a return letter to you because I don’t want to” and thus discard the mutual expectations contained within the natural moral law regarding valued relationships, then I am in peril of losing a friend.

What neither of us is willing or capable of removing (consciously or unconsciously) is the natural moral law that forms the basis for our relationship as friends.

This right code of conduct, the natural moral law, is separate and distinct from us.  Like gravity, it just exists.  It is not a person like God, but it is at the upper limits of perfection like God.

The common everyday phrase “hey, nobody’s perfect” is a response to this natural moral law, because all of us fall short of it.  It is one of the strong proofs for the existence of God.  There is no philosophical explanation for its existence without acknowledging that there must be a higher being…who either created it…or is in perfect harmony with it.

Otherwise, how did it get here…in the psyche of the human race?

Continuing with the story, after the princess returns to the embassy palace, she is confronted by her three aides (a retired general, a countess, and an elderly man), who ask her to explain her absence for the benefit of the king and queen back in their home country.

One of these men solemnly reminds her of her duty.  But Princess Anne has grown up during this one-day escapade out into the real world.  Yesterday, she was a girl, controlled by her over-zealous aide the countess.  This night, as she stands before them, she is a mature woman, capable from now on of making her own decisions.  She responds in a firm tone:

“If I were not completely aware of my duty to my family and my country, I would not have come back tonight, nor indeed ever again.”

The movie viewing audience clearly understands this to mean that if she were free to have her way, she would run off with Gregory Peck.  After a pause to let this sink in, she politely gives them leave to withdraw for the evening.

The primary conflict of the movie, containing an element of entertaining good humor, is the character question of whether or not Gregory Peck will selfishly cash-in on his one-day romp with the princess through the city of Rome, and write a sensational news story, or whether he will take the noble and honorable route to protect the reputation of the woman he has fallen in love with.

At a press conference in the embassy reception hall the next day after their previous night’s parting…standing at the front of a greeting line…Gregory Peck assures the princess the secret of their Roman holiday is safe with him…and Eddie Albert humorously hands her the packet of photographs he secretly took of her all that previous day.

The final ending of the movie has Audrey Hepburn nodding her head slightly toward Gregory Peck in a gesture to say a last goodbye, with a radiantly beaming smile but an inwardly broken heart, then turning away with her entourage to go back into the interior of the palace, and Gregory Peck manfully but sadly walking alone out of the palace reception hall.

But the underlying, secondary theme of the movie has much more power.

The night before, after the princess dismisses her aides, she is standing alone in her room looking out the window at the city of Rome below, thinking about the life she will never enjoy there with Joe Bradley (Gregory Peck).

She has made the hard choice to return to being a princess.  She realizes she will never see Joe Bradley again (she still does not know until the following day’s press conference that he is a reporter), will never sit leisurely out on a sidewalk café sipping champagne, never ride through the city on the back of a motor scooter, and never again go dancing at night along the waterfront barges, as a regular person, as a non-princess.

In her large and opulently decorated embassy bedroom, she is again utterly alone.  She will take up her demanding duties the next day, attending the aforementioned press conference, a trade relations appearance, and a diplomatic reception.

The powerful thing about this secondary theme is that we agree with it.

The screenwriters and producers of this movie were not fools.  They would not write a bad ending to this movie that everyone would be disappointed with, on purpose.

Roman Holiday was nominated for ten Academy Awards©, including Best Picture (Audrey Hepburn won for Best Actress).

The enduring high acclaim and stature of this classic movie validates its theme.  Few movie viewers then or now would say that Audrey Hepburn’s character should have walked away from her duties and responsibilities as a royal princess and heir to the throne of her country, and gone off with Gregory Peck.

We agree with her choice…even though it cost her…the one love of her life.  Even the two main characters in the movie agree with her choice.  Both Princess Anne and Joe Bradley know deep down that if they had walked away from duty and right living, they would eventually regret it.

The Natural Moral Law 1

“For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.”                                                                                               (Rom. 8:14)

In the 1953 movie Roman Holiday, Audrey Hepburn plays a young princess on a demanding good-will tour of Europe, who toward the end of her whirlwind trip has a minor nervous breakdown one evening while being briefed for the next day’s activities.

She is given a slow-acting drug to calm her nerves and to help her to sleep.  But before the drug can take effect, she manages successfully to put into action a spur-of-the-moment idea she had earlier that evening…to escape that same night out of the embassy palace into the “carefree” outside world for some fun and adventure.

The other main actor in this movie, Gregory Peck, finds Princess Anne (Hepburn) about to fall asleep on a bench along a public street.

Not knowing what to do with the seemingly half-intoxicated, well-dressed, and beautiful young woman with no place to go, Peck plays the Good Samaritan and takes her to his studio apartment to safely sleep it off.

This sets the scene for the Roman “holiday” the next day that will dramatically change both their lives.

Briefly, the plot of the story is that Peck, a newspaper reporter, discovers the next morning that Anne is the visiting foreign princess who has supposedly taken ill and cancelled all public appearances, yet astoundingly is sound asleep in his apartment.

When Hepburn does finally wake up later that morning, she does not suspect that Peck knows that she is the Princess Anne.  Peck offers to show her the town as a ruse to create a front-page story, and they have fun all day getting in and out of minor trouble while visiting the tourist sites in Rome.

Audrey Hepburn does not know that Gregory Peck is a newspaper reporter out to get an exclusive story on the day in the life of a princess escaped incognito “out on the town,” who has seemingly dropped out of nowhere into his world.

Peck is helped in his scheme by his photographer friend in the movie, the actor Eddie Albert.

But the unexpected happens.  At an outdoor dance along a waterfront barge that evening with Gregory Peck and Eddie Albert, Hepburn is recognized by her country’s secret service.  In their attempt to pull her away toward a limousine to take her back to the embassy palace, Peck and Albert come to her rescue, a wonderful brawl ensues, and Peck and Hepburn jump into the water to escape, swimming to safety to a nearby shore while the police arrest the disguised in-plain-clothes secret service agents.

There they sit down to rest for a moment to catch their breath, and break into laughter about the excitement and adventure of their narrow escape.  Wet and cold, Peck puts his arm around Hepburn, they unexpectedly kiss, and while looking intently into each other’s eyes they discover through the course of the day’s events that they have somehow fallen in love.

Back at Peck’s apartment later to change clothes and dry off, Hepburn (Princess Anne) realizes she has fallen in love with this handsome man, and if she were free to have her way would like to explore the possibility of spending the rest of her life with him.

But they both know, for reasons that cannot be verbalized for the time being, that in reality their one-day romance can only last for a single day.

Peck cannot come out and reveal his intentions without ruining this journalistic opportunity, and Hepburn still thinks that Peck does not know who she really is (the movie script leaves out the obvious question that should have been asked by Peck after their narrow escape: “Why were those men attempting to abduct you?”).

Anne offers to cook something for them to eat and finds out that he does not have a kitchen.  He tells her that he always eats out.  She asks him: “Do you like that?”

He then utters a line that is the secondary theme of the movie: “Life isn’t always what we would like it to be.”  She answers: “No, it isn’t.”

Audrey Hepburn’s character is torn between her duty to continue being the princess and future sovereign in her country, and her personal desire to run off with Gregory Peck.

She chooses to return to the embassy palace.  Peck then drives her to within a short walking distance from the palace entrance, both still attempting to hide their true identities, and they tearfully part.

 

Not My Will, But Thine, Be Done

            If God tells Paul what great things he must suffer for Jesus and the gospel (Acts 9:16), and this results in one of the great adventures of faith of all time…one that we celebrate today…which culminates in the planting of new Christian churches throughout the Greco-Roman world and the inspired New Testament letters that are part of the foundation of our Christian faith and experience today, what if Jesus says to every Spirit-born, end-times Christian on the earth: “For I will show them how great things they must suffer for my name’s sake” (Acts 9:16)?

Will we view this as a blessed opportunity and a privileged calling?  Is this the final opportunity for the “small” Christian through the Holy Spirit “latter rain” to shine “as the brightness of the firmament” and as “stars for ever and ever” by turning many to righteousness (Dan. 12:3)?

If Paul sacrifices the comforts of a normal retirement in Jerusalem (Acts 23:11), and completes his missionary career in custody as a prisoner, to testify for Christ to those in Rome, to complete his New Testament “pastoral” epistles, and to suffer final martyrdom…what if God calls the last-days Christian church to a similar challenge?

What if the biblical-quality adventure of faith is a drama and a saga that soars far above worldly conventional normalcy into the danger zone of faith in God, which only intensifies within the events and circumstances of the final closing chapter of human redemptive history?

Finally, God-composed life-scripts are so creatively imaginative that God managed to write a life-script for the divine Son of God Jesus, on earth in a human body, which challenged His own divine character capacity.

This is sublime on a divine level that is ingenious.

Although already briefly covered in previous chapters, it merits one last final look in more detail.

In taking upon Himself in the form of the Second Person of the Trinity the mass of sin accumulated by mankind, Jesus the Son of God is pushed to the novel, unprecedented, and at least from our viewpoint the unpredicted limits of His own divine capacity (if this is theoretically possible).

In the Garden of Gethsemane, when Jesus prays saying: “Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me; nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done” and returns to pray in agony more earnestly, here the narrative story surely breaks from the creative capacity of human literary imagination.

A perfect God who can compose a life-script for Himself that challenges His own capacity to the limits…precisely at the exact point where we need the most help in picking up our cross in total surrender to God’s higher ways…is incredibly and unimaginably insightful in its pinpoint accuracy and sharp-edged truthfulness at the height of creative, inventive reality.

That God Himself can relate to us at this critical juncture of surrendering our way to a larger plan…a larger cause having eternal benefits to ourselves and to others…is again sublime at the highest level of creativity, thought, and moral reasoning.

If Jesus had difficulty in this area of the way of the cross, then so will we.  That Jesus is an overcomer who triumphed over all of this spiritual opposition, endured the cross, and defeated death by being raised from the dead…qualifies Jesus Christ to be our King, our Ruler, our Savior and Redeemer, and our God.

But if God is this good at leadership and management theory, this good at the top-down insertion of information-rich body plans of the creatures of the Cambrian Explosion, this good in the complex and specified information contained in DNA, RNA, and proteins in the microscopic world of living cells, then we can be confident that our God-composed journeys of faith will be equally well-crafted.

If God is this artistically creative in having built-in instructions in place during embryonic cell division, telling each cell where to go and what function to perform in all living body-plans, and is at this high level of precision in the insertion of all of the required information within the first split-seconds of the Big Bang to enable complex life to emerge billions of years later, then we can with confidence release our faith and trust in Him.

If God is this morally and philosophically creative in the brilliantly crafted life-script journeys of faith found in the narrative stories in the Bible…then Christians today can confidently follow Jesus Christ up into the highest mountaintops and down into the lowest valleys of the upcoming great tribulation, and then out into the secure restfulness of eternal life in heaven…the final, brave new world without end.

This is the picture I believe will come into clearer focus as people begin to understand the privileged and unparalleled value of an adventure-of-faith journey into The Christian Danger Zone of Faith.

Paul’s Private Discourse with Felix

During Paul’s imprisonment at Caesarea, Acts 24:24-25 reads:

“And after certain days, when Felix came with his wife Drusilla, which was a Jewess, he sent for Paul, and heard him concerning the faith in Christ.  And as he reasoned of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come, Felix trembled, and answered, Go thy way for this time; when I have a convenient season, I will call for thee.”

Over the years I have wondered about the exact words and the power of Paul’s speech that made Felix…a Roman ruler…a powerful and worldly successful man…tremble during this very private interview of Paul and “the faith in Christ.”

Paul was reasoning out of the natural moral law combined with the gospel message of salvation through Christ and the cross, in an elevated manner and through personal conviction that is not attainable by human intellect alone.

Saul (Paul) the young Pharisee speaking to Felix or someone like Felix decades earlier, about his zeal and enthusiasm for the religion of Judaism, would have produced genuine respect and admiration for Saul’s religious beliefs and erudition, but would never have brought Felix under Holy Spirit conviction for sin that an anointed discourse on righteousness, temperance, and judgment-to-come would produce in a politically powerful, worldly successful Roman governor.

The difference between Saul the young Pharisee and Paul the seasoned Christian missionary evangelist is that on the road to Damascus, God found Paul and Paul found God.

Saul the young Pharisee knew about God…Paul the apostle of the faith knows God personally.  Paul was able to draw-out from his own adventure of faith following Jesus Christ, the living words of truth that cut through the hard outer shell of the practical worldly thinking of a man like Felix, to reach his inner conscience.

The difference in Paul was produced through an adventure of faith following Jesus Christ in the danger zone of self-abandoned faith….according to a God-composed life-script of such original creativity that it was previously unimaginable to Saul (Paul) or anyone else at the time, before his conversion.

It was a God-composed adventure of faith life-script to be a missionary evangelist to the Greco-Roman world of the first-century that enabled Paul to write to the Corinthians:

Love suffereth long, and is kind; love envieth not; love vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up,    Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil;  Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth;  Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.                                                                            Love never faileth…                                (1 Corinthians 13:4-8)

It is my guess that some of these timeless truths entered into the discussion of Paul with Felix so many years ago.  Only in heaven will we know whether Felix eventually made the decision for Christ that would determine his eternal future.

In this discourse between Paul and Felix, Felix knows that Paul is a prisoner, knows all about the recent furor in Jerusalem involving Paul, and is fully aware that Paul has been rejected by the ruling Jews of Jerusalem.

Yet Felix initiates this private interview with Paul, making a point of including his wife Drusilla the Jewess as well.

The Christian church in the last days, if not raptured pretribulation, may be in a similar worldly disadvantaged condition like Paul in relation to Felix and the world at large (Mt. 24:9), yet likewise be filled with Holy Spirit wisdom, self-composure, grace, confidence in Christ, and divinely empowered love that will draw people to us to hear the gospel message.

In the heat of the end-times environment, only the polarized contrast of a journey-of-faith and a journey-of-self…may exist as options.

Multitudes of people disenchanted with the conventional worldly option will become interested in hearing the gospel message…really listening for the first time.  The piercing truth of the gospel message spoken through an anointed and inspired discourse will cause people to tremble over conviction of sin…as Felix trembled at the words of Paul so many years ago.

Christians today must rise above being merely “church Christians” where the sole experience of our faith occurs only within the four walls of our church building.

Our testimony must have more depth than merely telling people “how great” is our church service, our pastor, the worship music, and the youth program, without ever mentioning what Jesus Christ means to us.

Our lives and our testimony must begin to approximate and become in-line with what we read in the narrative stories of faith in the Bible, based upon our own biblical-quality adventure of faith.

This is not only achievable, but is the special work God intends to do through the new covenant relationship with all believers who exercise faith in Christ.

Everyone Missed the Cross

Listen to what people said about Jesus before the crucifixion and resurrection:

“Then said some of them of Jerusalem, Is not this he, whom they seek to kill?  But, lo, he speaketh boldly, and they say nothing unto him.  Do the rulers know indeed that this is the very Christ?  Howbeit we know this man whence he is: but when Christ cometh, no man knoweth whence he is” (Jn. 7:25-27).

“And many of the people believed on him, and said, When Christ cometh, will he do more miracles than these which this man hath done?” (Jn. 7:31).

“Many of the people therefore, when they heard this saying, said, Of a truth this is the Prophet.  Others said, This is the Christ.  But some said, Shall Christ come out of Galilee?  Hath not the scripture said, That Christ cometh of the seed of David, and out of the town of Bethlehem, where David was?  So there was a division among the people because of him” (Jn. 7:40-43).

At the time, everyone intellectually missed the cross and the resurrection.

The disciples scatter for fear of their lives at the arrest of Jesus, not realizing that Jesus alone was the sole target.

Peter weeps bitterly at his failure not to courageously stand alongside Jesus during the ordeal of His night trial, not realizing that in a few short days the blessed redemption and salvation of millions upon millions of current and future believers would be fully and forever procured through the cross and the resurrection.

Joseph of Arimathaea and Nicodemus wrap the dead body of Jesus in linen clothes with myrrh and aloes according to the Jewish practices for permanent burial.

Mary Magdalene and the other women come to the sepulcher early Sunday morning to also prepare the body of Jesus for permanent burial…being totally surprised to discover an empty tomb.

The two disciples walking towards the nearby city of Emmaus reveal their complete non-understanding of the cross and the resurrection foretold by Jesus.

Why did everyone at the time miss the cross and the resurrection?

Everyone missed this because the God-composed journey of faith life-script for Jesus Christ the Son of God…like all other biblical-quality journeys of faith…was so far above ordinary conventional wisdom that no one understood or accepted ahead of time what was to occur.

Like the complex information of the workings of the Big Bang, or the unimaginable complexity of DNA and molecular machines within living cells, discovered within the last 100 years of modern scientific research…Christians also may not be able to decipher all of the details of the upcoming end-times events far in advance of their occurrence.

Even though, like the Jews in first-century Israel, we have prophetic scriptures, and the clear promise that we will not walk in darkness (1 Th. 5:4-11), much of our understanding of the end-times scenario may come at the last minute by revelation through the prophecies of Joel 2:28-32.

Much of our understanding of the great end-times issues may become clear by personal revelation and illumination in the midst of the events and circumstances themselves as they occur.

I see a brief last-days period of time…however all of the fine details of the eschatological pieces fit together…of “small” Christians around the globe being filled with Holy Ghost fire, preaching the gospel and sharing their faith courageously in arenas and environments which would currently be considered out of the question.

Christians standing up in their workplaces, their families, their neighborhoods, in universities, in schools, on street corners, and yes…in spiritually dead churches…with Holy Ghost power boldly preaching the everlasting gospel message for the sake of the one, two, or three out of ten who have ears to hear and hearts to respond positively.

I see a correspondingly ferocious opposition of hostility, rejection, and undisguised hatred by worldly people towards those who have this liberated outreach of Christian evangelism that is the antithesis of their skeptical, anti-god worldview beliefs, reinforced somehow and at some point in time by the presence of the dark personage of the “son of perdition” of 2 Thessalonians 2:3, and alluded to in Daniel 7:20-25, 8:23-25, and 12:10.

I also see the dissolution of a comfortable middle-ground of fence-sitting indifference, when the heat of the conflict between self-sacrificing divine love exhibited in the last-days outreach message of Spirit-filled Christians, and the venomously hostile rejection of Christians by hate-filled skeptical unbelievers (Mt. 24:9), produces the polarized environment too hot for compromise to persist any longer in the middle-ground of uncommitted indecision (Acts 6:9-15; 7:51-59; 2 Th. 2:3).

Returning to the analogy of the small construction company caught unprepared in the middle of rapid business growth, the last-days radical change in the world environment will force upon everyone on the earth the corresponding need for “managerial” character growth that is not obtainable through the horizontally conventional, worldly mindset of self-reliance alone.

The stakes will be so high and the conditions so dire that only a secure hope in the salvation of God through a future eternal life in heaven will overcome the utter despair at the loss of the supposed “right” to the temporal dreams, hopes, and aspirations of worldly conventional normalcy (Heb. 11:13-16; Rev. 12:11).

The heat of persecution will purify the gold of faith and remove the dross of empty, worldly acceptance and short-term ambitions.

The “small” Christian energized by the latter rain of the Holy Spirit poured out upon the earth, transforming people now quietly going about their Christian lives into future roaring lions of the faith courageously proclaiming the gospel message of salvation and deliverance…will epitomize for one last final time the ability of God to reach in and rescue success from the apparent jaws of defeat.

This is the God of the Bible, and there is no other like Him.

To experience this power, grace, and divine love to the fullest maximum extent, at the close of time itself…come what may no matter how high the cost…is the controlling theme of liberated self-sacrifice I see over and over again in the biblical narrative stories of faith…and in the history of the church leading up to today (Est. 4:16).

The concept of people starting out thinking they are not up to the task, yet nonetheless rising to the occasion and overcoming triumphantly in the most difficult of circumstances, through the supernatural insertion of God-composed, ingeniously crafted life-scripts having top-down, information-rich plotlines ready to step courageously into from the outset, is unique to the Bible.

It is not only part of the key to understanding the upcoming end-times challenge, but part of the key to understanding all of the timeless reality of life itself.

A biblical-quality journey of faith following Jesus Christ, within the current context of this broken world environment, resides at the upper limits of all human pursuits and endeavors, because the creative heart and mind of God resides at the pinnacle of the natural moral law for all right thoughts, behavior, and actions.  It is here and here only that Holy Ghost fire energizes and purifies all things (Heb. 12:29).

In the light of these foregoing arguments, is it likely that the last-days Christian church will be raptured pretribulation before all of these critical issues can be played-out to their fullest?

Is it more likely that God has an end-times script already composed for the entire human race, involving the Christian church in the most determined and desperate struggle, against seemingly impossible outward appearances, to gather in the last remaining lost sheep at the last final moment for all time?

I cannot dogmatically say one way or the other.

If God does rapture the Christian church pretribulation, then like all of the works of God, this will be perfect in its outreach, message, and outcome.

But I hope people reading this book will include the worldview concept of the way of the cross into their biblical, end-times eschatological calculus from this time forward.

What Might the End-Times Look Like?

In my opinion, the tumultuous and chaotic end-times period prophesied in the Bible is the era in Christianity of the triumph of the “small” person on a universal scale.

There will of course be individual Christians who are larger-than-life characters…gifted movers-and-shakers…Spirit-filled prophets of God leading the way through a danger zone of faith characterized in Matthew 24:21…as being like no other in history.

But at the end of human redemptive history, when the dawn of eternal destinies awaits billions of people on earth, it is incumbent upon God to hold nothing back in His loving outreach to mankind.

With the definite end-point of time in sight, worldly conventional normalcy no longer has relevance.  Making long-range plans becomes an “exercise in futility.”

“Occupy till I come” (Lk. 19:13) has run out of time.  For believers and non-believers alike, God’s task of closing-out human redemptive history reaches a final crescendo.  Only God knows the time of the end.  Only God knows the magnitude of the shake-up that will be required.

Joel 2:28-29 reads: “And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions: And also upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out my spirit.”

In Genesis 17:18 Abraham says to God: “O that Ishmael might live before thee!” revealing that Abraham, after such a long wait in time, is on the verge of quitting on the promise of God.

In Genesis 40:14-15, Joseph attempts, quite understandably, to procure his own release from Pharaoh’s prison by an appeal to the Pharaoh’s butler and baker, revealing that Joseph was at the edge of giving up on his two divinely inspired dreams received years ago as a young man at home in Canaan.

Moses, at the burning bush, protests to God to find someone else for the daunting task of delivering the Israelites from Egypt (Ex. 3:11; 4:1, 10, 13).  Towards the end of the 40-year period of being a herdsman in the land of Midian, Moses as an older man probably gave up on the absurdity of the idea of himself still being the called-out person to deliver his people from bondage in Egypt, now seemingly a distant, long past, impossible reality.

God says to Joshua and to Israel: “Be strong and of good courage” (Dt. 31:6), and personally visits Joshua before the decisive battle to take the city of Jericho (Josh. 5:13-15).  The walls of Jericho seemed too high and too strong for any hope of success through a conventional, frontal assault.

Gideon protests to God that he is a “nobody” in Israel and even within his own family (Jud. 6:15), and therefore requires a supernatural sign from God to authenticate his calling against seemingly insurmountable odds (Jud. 6:17).

Elijah complained to God that the evil opposition of Ahab the king and Jezebel the queen in Israel was too strong for him (1 Ki. 19:10).

Jeremiah protested to God that he was too young in age to become an effective prophet to Israel…to be taken seriously by the leaders in Jerusalem (Jer. 1:6).

Peter said to Jesus: “Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord,” not seeing his future potential as a bold speaker and leader through the power of the Holy Spirit (Lk. 5:8).

Paul confesses that he is the chief of sinners, yet God crafts him into the finest and most accurate spokesman for the gospel message of forgiveness, grace, and redemption, to initially lost and misguided persons like himself, that the world has ever known (1 Tim. 1:15).

All of these people of faith recorded in the Bible, along with many more, are examples of a reality that could not have come solely from the horizontally conventional thinking of gifted and talented people carving out their own fame and fortune through self-directed efforts.

All of these people reached a point in time in their God-composed journey of faith life-scripts where a positive fulfillment of their mission seemed on the surface to be nearly hopeless.  Their faith in God and in themselves reached the end-point of the despair of the outward appearance of seeming impossibility in obtaining success in their life’s calling.

When all seems lost, futile, and hopeless, it is here that God steps-in and says: “Is any thing too hard for the Lord?” (Gen. 18:14; Jer. 32:27).

No one could make this up.  It is beyond humanistic or naturalistic invention.  It requires the actual presence and participation of the living God who created the heavens and the earth.

What is a miracle from God’s perspective…part of the masterworks that He alone can create?

Part of the answer is a transformed life that comes up to the potential that God created within a person (Jn. 4:23).

It is the fulfillment of a joint-venture of faith…which at times faces challenges that seem on the surface to be insurmountable.  It is the free-will response of people of faith to take up their cross and follow God when the way ahead appears narrow and difficult.  It is people of faith who allow God through the enabling power of the Holy Spirit…to love lost and broken people in the world through us…especially when this means the sacrificing of our supposed right to enjoy normalcy according to worldly conventional thinking.

There is no getting around this component of the biblical narrative stories of faith.  God authenticates His rightful authority to rule and to reign as a brilliant, loving, and righteous King for all time, through journeys of faith that reveal his unmistakable, overcoming presence when all hope and human confidence is lost.

Jesus says at the Last Supper: “This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you” (Lk. 22:20).

The seeming finality of Jesus’ death on the cross is an inseparable component of the hope-dashing despair of the disciple’s experience, despite Jesus foretelling of His death and resurrection to these disciples only days and weeks before.

Peter’s future eternal destiny, along with the destinies of all of the other disciples, rests in this improbable and almost unimaginable resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead (1 Pet. 1:3).