Monday, June 30, 2008

One More Time

by Mark Gagnon

I remember it distinctly. It was early in my Christian experience. The evangelist who stood in the pulpit made a reference to “God’s Hall of Fame.” His choice of words piqued my interest, having been involved in sports for most of my life. The speaker proceeded to talk about some of the greats in Hebrews chapter 11 and how “by faith” they “subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises” (Hebrews 11:33) and are given to us as examples to emulate. Let me focus on one we find there, because at first glance, we might be tempted to question if perhaps the inspired writer made a mistake by including his name.

Certainly no one can doubt the list of accomplishments on Samson’s resume. He was a leader, a judge, and a deliverer in Israel. His feats of strength in killing a lion, using a jawbone to slay the Lord’s enemies and ripping the gates of a city off their hinges with his bare hands, are no doubt impressive. Yes, Samson had times when the Spirit of the Lord came upon him in a powerful way, but it was not for any of these reasons that we find his name listed in the pantheon of Bible greats. As a matter of fact, his many failures seem to disqualify him from admittance to Hebrews 11. There can be no doubt that this Nazarene, dedicated to God from birth, never fulfilled the destiny God had for him. He fell far short of making the glory of God paramount in his life to the point where we are told this about Samson: “God had borne long with him, but he had so yielded himself to the power of sin . . . [that] the Lord departed from him.”[i]

But the darker the night, the brighter the stars shine. Likewise, the redemptive grace of God comes shining through in the darkest chapters of human experience. We find such a moment in Judges 16.

Now the rulers of the Philistines assembled to offer a great sacrifice to Dagon their god and to celebrate, saying, “Our god has delivered our enemy into our hands, the one who laid waste our land and multiplied our slain.” While they were in high spirits, they shouted, “Bring out Samson to entertain us.” So they called Samson out of the prison, and he performed for them. When they stood him among the pillars, Samson said to the servant who held his hand, “Put me where I can feel the pillars that support the temple, so that I may lean against them.” (Judges 16:23-26)[ii]

What a scene to contemplate! The champion of Israel degraded and humiliated. Weak, blinded and bound in chains, he is led out to be mocked by those he had at one time vanquished under the mighty hand of God. But now he is reduced to a mere beast, his remaining strength used to grind grain in a pagan prison. Could there have been any lower point in Samson’s life than this? Was he not tempted to feel that God had left him, and that because of his sin his case was hopeless? It must have seemed so to him in that dark hour.

But then we read this, “In suffering and humiliation, a sport for the Philistines, Samson learned more of his own weakness than he had ever known before; and his afflictions led him to repentance.”[iii] It was a repentance which God in His goodness had led him to. And now we see this former giant of a man, bowed and broken through life’s defeats, discovering perhaps for the first time the mighty weapons of prayer and faith. Samson wields these into words that reach to the throne of One who can save to the uttermost. “Lord, remember me again. O God, please strengthen me one more time” (Judges 16:28, NLT). And as we see Samson reaching out his arms to take hold of those pillars to bring down the temple of his enemies, we see one “whose weakness was turned to strength” (Hebrews 11:34) and who “by faith” secured his place alongside God’s greatest heroes.

What an inspiration Samson’s story is to God’s people today, especially as we fast forward to another scene. As we look to the future, do we not see in the prophetic portrait a remnant “captured” by their enemies? Do we not see them reviled and covered with infamy as well? Satan presses in with his fierce temptations, causing them to think their cases are hopeless and that their past failings have separated them from God forever. Yet like Samson, they learn, in suffering and humiliation, the power of prayer and faith. In that dark hour they reach out and grasp two pillars of truth, the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus.[iv] And with faith that works by love, like Samson, they triumph and see their enemies fall.

As I think of that soon-to-be-played-out-scene, I call to mind conversations I’ve had with believers who wonder if they will be found standing with those faithful ones we read about in Hebrews 11. I’m not immune from these thoughts either. Instead of the confidence and assurance I know I should have, I find myself asking the question, “Who shall be able to stand?” But in those moments looking to the future, I find myself looking back and drawing strength and courage from another scene.

It’s dark and foreboding, but there we see another Champion, led out to be publicly humiliated by His enemies. Like Samson, He too is mocked and degraded. He is weak and burdened with the transgressions of a guilty race. He, too, is blind, for He cannot see the reality of His Father’s presence or the assurance of hope beyond the grave, “For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him” (2 Corinthians 5:21, KJV). As Samson’s arms reached out, we see two wounded hands and Another’s mighty arms outstretched. With one, He takes hold of a lost and dying world, and with the other He lays hold of the throne of God. Knowing full well the cost of man’s redemption, He relinquishes His divine right to eternal life. In silent agony, apparently forsaken by His own Father, I hear a prayer arise, “Oh, Lord, remember Me, help Me . . . one more time!” With strength born of undying love, He raises on two nailed pierced feet the weight of that bruised and bleeding form. From the depths of a broken heart, we hear, “Let me die!” And with the “faith of Jesus,” the kingdom of His enemy comes crashing down. Not only is the prince of this world cast out, but for God’s people in these last days, so is all fear. In their darkest hour, they will prevail. They, too, will triumph gloriously, “one more time.”

[i] Ellen White, Patriarchs and Prophets (Washington: Review and Herald, 1890), 566.

[ii] All scriptures, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New International Version.

[iii] Ibid.

[iv] See Revelation 14:12.

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