Okay, so according to Vanity Fair, the recently released trailer of Star Wars: The Force Awakens gave Disney stock a $2 billion boost. Not bad.
While some of us may not be into the whole Star Wars thing, most of us simply can’t get enough.
I mean, who would want to be Han Solo? I wouldn’t–at least not at first blush. His life is hard: an unpredictable job (smuggling is shady business, to say the least), plenty of enemies, no life partner (well, a prospect but no promises–until the very end, and both have serious issues), and his ride is always breaking down. Lots of bad things happen to this guy.
But as a kid I so wanted to be like him. I would pretend to be him for hours on end–all for one reason:
Because he joins the rebellion.
No longer just a smuggler, he joins something way bigger in order to fight something that is way bigger still: the Empire, of course.
He rebels against tyranny and oppression, against those who have set themselves up as absolute authority, feeling no need to answer to anyone for anything.
And here’s the thing: being part of a rebellion against tyranny and oppression means deprivation. It means that at times things are going to really suck. It just goes with the territory.
(Talk about deprivation: does Han look like he’s enjoying himself?)
You can’t have all the benefits of the Empire and be part of the rebellion. It’s one of the biggest reasons the Empire is so strong–why countless, nameless hordes bow their knees and live lives of mindless submission: the Empire has benefits (possibly even full medical).
So let’s get that straight in our minds: the really evil Empire offers really good things.
Recently in my family’s devotional time we finished 2 Samuel, and instead of going any further (we had been making our way straight through from Genesis), we decided to go back and do a “big picture” review from Genesis to 2 Samuel.
We were walking through Exodus, and we came to the explanation of the Passover (Exodus 12). After the various rituals and meal are explained, we read:
“…when your children ask you, ‘What does this ceremony mean to you?’ then tell them, ‘It is the Passover sacrifice to the LORD, who passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt.”
In the Passover the Israelites were celebrating the wondrous reality that the Creator was at long last bringing judgment upon Egypt–an empire marked by tyranny and oppression, while they were being spared of that judgment–all because of a little lamb, apparently.
Apparently (and soberly), even as they were the empire’s oppressed and enslaved, they were nevertheless a part of that system of oppression: even victims can victimize; the deprived can still be the depraved.
And so, even as the Passover reminded the Israelites of their own depravity, it reminded them of far, far more–of an empire that, in spite of all its enticing benefits, was a power structure utterly worth escaping.
Everything about how Moses commands the Israelites to eat the Passover speaks of urgency and, thus, an unreserved willingness to be deprived and uncomfortable.
They were to eat the meat “along with bitter herbs and bread made without yeast.”
The bitterness of these herbs were to remind the Israelites of the bitterness of life in the Egyptian empire.
The bread without yeast speaks of the urgency of their departure–as we said, escape now. The same can be said for how they ate the meal:
“This is how you are to eat it: with your cloak tucked into your belt, your sandals on your feet and your staff in your hand. Eat it in haste; it is the LORD’s Passover.”
It was not to be eaten in comfort and complacency; it was to be eaten on the go.
Consider: Why would God give Israel a meal with all this rich symbolism? Why would they need reminding? What does it say about the human heart that it needs to be reminded of the bitterness of tyranny and oppression? Hmmm…
For whatever reason–perhaps it is the influence of a highly individualistic Western self-identity–we North American followers of Jesus tend to think of human evil in almost exclusively individualistic terms and in specific, identifiable words or actions:
evil = I + transgressions
To be sure Scripture speaks of this, but it also speaks of human evil–or sin–in several other ways. Here are two:
(1) Sin as a mysterious power (not merely a transgression): Paul states, “We have already made the charge that….all are under the power of sin”, and exhorts, “Do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires.”;
(2) Sin as a systemic, demonically-influenced evil: throughout the Old Testament Egypt comes to be closely identified with a serpent, and various foreign powers are portrayed as ferocious beasts.
Revelation portrays the politico-military and economic power of Rome as a beast and, it seems, as a harlot. John’s visions, of course, critique not only Rome but any institutional power structure–economic, educational, cultural, including religious (!)–that would overstep its God-given place in the created order and claim an authority it simply does not have.
Once again, Rome as an Empire brought tremendous benefit to the world, boasting its “gospel” of the pax romana. (Indeed, had it not been for the pax romana, Paul simply could not have conducted his missionary travels–as arduous as they were.)
But at what cost? As with the enslaved Israelites in ancient Egypt, followers of the (Passover) Lamb that was slain (on a Roman cross) would have to choose between rebellion, with its unavoidable deprivation, or conformity with all its benefits.
Those were the options.
I have the undeserved privilege–and it is such a wonderful privilege–of serving the 20-somethings at my church. My heart and prayer for them is that together we can clearly identify “the empire”–both its very real, very shiny benefits and its very real, very dark tyranny and oppression. Every empire has its “dark side.”
But even more than that, I long for us to behold the slain Lamb–the One who is willing self-Deprivation and, therefore, who alone is “worthy to receive all power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise.”
Why? So that when we see the Empire for what it is and the Lamb for who He is, we willingly, joyfully, unreservedly–without any hint of disappointment–follow the Lamb wherever he goes–into rejection and willing self-deprivation.
Join the rebellion.