The World’s Trouble: Chapter 13

And it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment: - Hebrews 9:27

And it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment:
– Hebrews 9:27

Chapter 13

On April 4, 2010, a 300,000 ton oil tanker carrying crude oil, worth $170 million, from Iraq en route to Louisiana was hijacked in the Indian Ocean about 690 miles north of the Somali coast. Somali pirates held the tanker and the 24 crewmen hostage for 217 days while release terms were negotiated. The pirates initially demanded $20 million for the release, but settled for about $9 million. On November 6, 2010, the tanker and crew were released after the payment had been airdropped. The cargo and crew were intact and unharmed.

Five South Koreans and 19 Filipinos were captive for about seven months. The price, or the cost, of their freedom was about $9 million. We typically refer to that price as the ransom. If we talk about a ransom today, we usually think of it as the price paid to release hostages or prisoners of war. In books and movies we are used to phrases such as, “We don’t negotiate with terrorists, hijackers, kidnappers, etc.” The reality is quite different and sometimes such ransoms are paid.

The ransom of hostages is an example of an illegal cause of ransom and one where we typically view the victims as innocents being used as pawns. Biblical law speaks of other types of legal ransom. In the Bible, the ransom is a redemption price that is paid in order to free a captive slave or to deliver a convicted lawbreaker from a stricter penalty of sin. In some capital cases it was possible to ransom the guilty from the death penalty (Exodus 21:30). The ransom applied to various situations in the Old Testament, but the common link is that ransom refers to the redemption price that is paid.

Romans 6:23 states, “the wages of sin is death.” Our sins have broken God’s law and received a death sentence penalty. We live and breathe with condemnation over us (John 3:36). Further, we live in what Jesus described as slavery to sin. “Jesus answered them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin” (John 8:34). We are born into bondage to sin and owe a debt we must pay with our lives in death.

God has provided for release from bondage and canceling the condemnation against us. The terms are non-negotiable. The price of redemption could only be paid in one way and only one price was acceptable.

The Old Testament law taught the necessity of a blood sacrifice to forgive sins, “and without shedding of blood is no remission” (Hebrews 9:22). The Old Testament law had a system of offerings and sacrifices for the purging of sins. But, the writer of Hebrews recognized that system was only a shadow of what was to come (Hebrews 10:1-4). The repetitive cycle of sacrifices for sins required by the law shows that those same sacrifices didn’t actually pay for sins. The blood of animals is insufficient to pay for the sins of people (Hebrews 10:4).

If we are talking about our own bank accounts, $9 million is a lot of money, and maybe more than most of us can imagine. If we are talking about the wealth of a nation or the wealth of the entire world, it is a trifling amount. If we piled up the wealth of the world to pay the ransom for our soul, it would not be enough.

They that trust in their wealth, and boast themselves in the multitude of their riches; None of them can by any means redeem his brother, nor give to God a ransom for him: (For the redemption of their soul is precious, and it ceaseth for ever:) That he should still live for ever, and not see corruption.
– Psalm 49:6-10

The psalmist wrote of the fact that riches cannot ransom a soul from the grave. Many have confidence in their riches (Psalm 49:11), but fail to understand that death is a boundary their money cannot cross (Psalm 49:17). They will live in luxury, but die just like a beast in the field. This is the ultimate foolishness (Psalm 49:12-14). The psalmist would point us to true wisdom that is hope in God who “will redeem my soul from the power of the grave” (Psalm 49:15).

So what is the acceptable ransom price and to whom is it paid? The writer of Hebrews showed the blood of animals was not enough, but he also wrote that blood was the “shadow of good things to come” (Hebrews 10:1). The price is blood, but not that of animals. The only blood price accepted is the blood of the Son of God, Jesus Christ (Hebrews 9:11-14). Jesus testified before his death, he had come “to give his life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). Peter later wrote of redemption that it did not come through things like “silver and gold,” but “with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot” (1 Peter 1:18-19). The cost of redemption was the blood of the sinless Son of God.

We are left with the question: Who received the ransom payment? Some think Satan had to paid. Satan, or the Devil, and his army of pirate demons do participate in the captivity of human beings. He roams freely throughout the world, terrorizing and deceiving the nations to enslave them and blind them to the glorious freedom in Jesus Christ through his blood (2 Corinthians 4:3-4; 2 Timothy 2:26).

God does not negotiate with terrorist hijackers. Jesus Christ came to “destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; And deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage” (Hebrews 2:14-15). Satan was not paid. He will be judged (Revelation 20:1-3, 7-10).

It is not Satan’s wrath we most need delivered from. We need delivered from the wrath of God who can condemn us eternally to the lake of fire (Matthew 10:28; Romans 2:2; Revelation 14:7). It is God we have sinned against and fallen short of his glory (Romans 3:23). Christ paid the ransom price of his own blood for the redemption of all who believe in him to God (Ephesians 5:1; Hebrews 9:14). Jesus testified that he willingly paid this price (John 10:18).

217 days is a long time to be every moment in danger of dying, hoping the hijackers demands will be met. A swat team might be sent to free the captives, but some could also die in the crossfire. Instead, $9 million was airdropped and the ship was on its way with all on board accounted for. We are born into sin and captivity. We live every moment of our lives under condemnation and in danger of dying in that condemnation, which puts us into eternal punishment for our sins. Eternity is infinitely longer than 217 days without any hope or possibility of deliverance. All our money, or all the money in the world, cannot save us. The price is infinitely higher than that, but Jesus Christ came into the world and died to pay that price no one else could. Our redemption is secured through faith in him apart from any contribution of our own.

This is a portion of a book that I have been writing. I have decided to post it here in serial form. It is intended to be evangelistic. If the book has merit, I may seek to publish it in some form. Please feel free to share it and I welcome any feedback.

If you wish to read all the chapters in order you may do so here.

Oranges and Apples

But he said unto them, I have meat to eat that ye know not of.
~ John 4:32

A modern parable. He who has ears to hear …

A knock and the door opened.

“See-mus Nielson. I’m Dr. Young.”

“It’s pronounced ‘shay-mus’. Seamus is an Irish name, but call me ‘Sham.’ That’s been my name since I was little.”

“Interesting, Mr. Nielson. What seems to be the trouble today?”

Sham’s first impression of the doc was unfavorable. At least his name was truth in advertising. Sham guessed he couldn’t be more than 35-years-old.

“I don’t know what’s wrong. I am exhausted all the time. Everything hurts. A small cut and I bleed like a stuck hog. Then it takes forever to heal up.”

Dr. Young stood up and began going through usual physical exam. “What are these bruises on your arm?”

Sham looked down at his arm. “Must’ve been the other day. I had to crawl under my car to get something I dropped.”

“Mr. Nielson, a nurse will be in in a minute to take some blood. We’re going to do some tests and I will be back in a little while.”

Sham knew the drill. The nurse would draw blood and he would be sitting in the little room for a long time. Events unfolded as expected and the doctor eventually came back in.

“Mr. Nielson, tell me about your diet.”

“I’m not on a diet.”

“No, I mean what you eat regularly. Just give me a general rundown of what you typically eat.”

Sham scratched his chin and thought. “Well, just the usual stuff really. I might open up a pack of breakfast buns for breakfast. Candy bars, snack cakes, potato chips during the day. Occasionally I go out and get a burger and fries. I drink coffee and soda and sometimes water, but I tell you, I never much liked drinking water.”

Dr. Young looked up from his iPad. “Do you eat any fresh fruits and vegetables?”

“No, they go bad too quick, so I quit buying them a long time ago.”

“Mr. Nielson, do you cook any of your meals?”

Sham laughed. “Cook? No I don’t cook. Look, I’m busy and don’t have time for all that. I prefer to just grab something quick and easy that tastes good. You’re talking about taking time and work. You doctors are always giving the diet-and-exercise routine as if that’s the answer to everything. What’s all this got to do with anything?”

“Mr. Nielson, you have scurvy.”

“Scurvy? You mean like a pirate.”

“Well, yes. It’s a vitamin C deficiency, but it’s treatable.”

Sham leaned back in his chair. “How could this happen?”

“Mr. Nielson, you only eat processed and packaged foods. You’ve been depriving your body of the nutrients it needs for a long time and that’s why you’re experiencing the symptoms you are. Your body is telling you it’s not right and trying to get your attention. Again, it’s treatable, but untreated it’s fatal. I’m going to get you set up with some vitamin C supplements and you will begin feeling better pretty soon, though it usually takes a couple months or so to fully recover. But, Mr. Nielson, you have to change your diet to a balanced and healthy diet so your body gets the full nutrition it needs. I’m including a reference to a nutritionist, Dr. McLawson. He’s very good at this sort of thing and he has an Irish name too. Or, maybe it’s Scottish. Anyway, you need a plan and you need to stick to it.”

Sham stared at Dr. Young. “I don’t see how this could happen. I’m the spitting image of my dad. He was fit and healthy his whole life until he died. He played pro ball. Everybody’s always said I look just like him and sound just like him.”

“Mr. Nielson, it sounds like your dad was disciplined and balanced and took care of his health. Did he teach you anything about diet and exercise?”

You would have thought Dr. Young had just asked Sham to explain the theory of relativity. “I don’t know. I learned everything I know from him. I even got his sense of humor.”

“Mr. Nielson, you have a lot of love and respect for your dad. That’s great. You’ve inherited a lot from him genetically. But, Mr. Nielson, you can’t inherit good health really. You have to do the work and focus on the right things, like your dad did apparently, if you want to be healthy like he was.”

Sham thought for a minute and almost laughed. “Boy, you doctors think you know everything.”

Stretch

The secret things belong unto the LORD our God
~ Deuteronomy 29:29

A modern parable

Jim bobbed along in the sea of humanity outside the Smithsonian Castle. Plenty of lights still flashed and plenty of people still milled. He examined the notebook in his hand and aside from travel memorandum, to-do lists, and a tally of his weekly grocery needs, he had to admit he didn’t have much. He stuck the dot grid with heavy boards in his jacket pocket and capped and deposited his pen in the same.

He walked north across The Mall and spotted a cafe. Coffee was what he needed. He ordered a black coffee and moved to the end of the counter. A man stepped up to the counter.

“I’ll have a large cup of milk.”

The woman behind the counter looked up from the register.

“What? Like, just milk?”

“That’s right, though I would like it in a cup.”

This orderer of milk looked to be late fifties, early sixties. He wore a sport coat and white shirt, but no tie. His trousers were neatly pressed and creased and he was wearing comfortable walking shoes.

“COffee, black, and, uh, a milk.”

They both grabbed their cups and headed for the high round tables. Jim sat his cup on an open table, unslung his bag from his shoulder and slung it on the chair. As he settled in his seat, a large cup of milk came to rest in front of him. Connected to the milk was a hand, which was connected to an arm, which was connected to a shoulder … and you know how this goes with the leg bone connected to the knee bone and whatnot. Forthwith, the whole man was deposited in the chair directly across from Jim.

“New York.”

“Pardon,” said Jim.

“You from New York?”

“Well, yes I am.”

“Mind if I sit here?”

“You already are.”

“You’re observant. Reporter?”

Jim wondered if the mostly monosyllabic line of questioning was going anywhere. “Yes, trying to be.”

“What brought you to The Castle today?”

Jim became interested. “I’m not the only observer of facts of here.”

The man laughed like he meant it.

“Yes, I saw you at The Castle. I followed your dejected trek here, even to this very table.”

“Why?”

The embracer of the produce of cows took a large drink. “What brought you to The Castle? Assignment?”

Jim wasn’t quite ready to submit to the inquisition, nor to give up his own line of questions. “How did you know I was a reporter and from New York?”

A grin formed and the right corner of the man’s mouth maintained form admirably. “I’ve spent many years observing and studying people. It’s been my life’s work.”

“Are you a reporter then?”

“No.”

Jim was still interested but a bit frustrated that he couldn’t manage to properly prime the pump of conversation. He was only getting fits and spurts. “I am not on assignment. I took a short leave and came here on my own to follow a lead.”

“Looking to break your first big story?”

“Something like that,” and Jim resumed his own flow of information. “I came to The Castle for the Arthur Sterling presentation. I wasn’t able to get inside no matter the methods I employed. Security was serious and, to not a few, I must have had an ill-favored look because none seemed willing to even open negotiations. The thing had hardly gotten started when the lights and cars came up and I barely got a glimpse of the top of Sterling’s head as he was whisked away. After that, it was just a lot of the old, ‘Move along,’ and ‘Nothing to see here,’ business. I couldn’t get at the right sort for information, so I’ve given up.”

“Why Sterling?”

Jim sat his cup down. “What do you mean, why Sterling?”

“Why are you interested in Sterling?”

Jim laid the notebook and pen on the table. “A guy I know put me onto him about a year ago. I saw him a few months ago when he presented in New York at the museum. Something didn’t add up with him. I know he’s the darling of the academics, but I’m not sure. He’s risen to fame and a lot of money in a short time. He’s been presenting at conferences all over the world. He seemed impeccable. At the event today, it looked like he was being escorted, but I think he was being arrested, or at least going to be. But I don’t know why.”

The man across from Jim took a long drink of his milk. “Interesting.”

Jim was hoping for a little more. He drank some more coffee. His companion sat his cup down and shifted to a more relaxed position in his chair. “You said he seemed impeccable but something didn’t add up.”

Question or comment, Jim couldn’t decide. “It’s just … he has all these wild theories and far-flung ideas no historian has ever conceived before. He has discovered items at sites the best and brightest archeologists have combed and yet never found. His presentations are dramatic and just when disbelief is at its height, lo and behold, he produces the artifact to the praise and admiration of all. It’s hard to argue with the evidence in his hands. I don’t know what happened today. He must have been spirited away to some undisclosed site for another extraordinary discovery.”

“What’s your name?”

“Jim.”

“Ah, short for James?”

“No, actually. It’s Jiminy.”

“Interesting. How do you suppose Sterling does it? These miraculous discoveries, I mean.”

“I don’t know. That’s what I’m trying to figure. I’ve heard a few theories. Some think he has a supernatural ability.”

The man laughed good and hard again.

Jim continued, “His stories are incredible, just about unbelievable. But it’s hard to argue when he brings out the goods.”

The man tilted his head to the right. “Jim, you’ve done some good work. You have a head on your shoulders all right. Let me ask you something. If a man approaches you on the street in New York having some authentic and valuable piece in his hands and tells you a moving story of his great need and the necessity to sacrifice what he says is a precious family heirloom that’s passed from father to son for ages in his family, do you believe him?”

Jim laughed. “No, the more likely the thing is real means the more likely it is stolen and he’s trying to drive the price with the waterworks story.”

The man laughed again. “Jim, you are a reporter. You’re looking for a story and you have a lot of spade work done. I’m going to give you a clue and you should be able to put the pieces into a mosaic. Sterling, as you call him, is not his real name.”

“What? What is his name?”

“No one knows for sure. We call him Stretch.”

“Stretch?”

The man stood up, and Jim asked, “What is your name, sir?”

“Why do you ask my name? See you around, Jiminy. I shall be reading the papers with interest.”

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