The Fear of God and Survival

Luke 23: 39. And one of the malefactors which were hanged railed on him, saying, If thou be Christ, save thyself and us. 40. But the other answering rebuked him, saying, Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation? 41. And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss. 42. And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom. 43. And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise.Bible Offline

The above episode reveals the only answer, provided for the redemption of humanity. Throughout the ages, humanity has sought the simplest of all formulas, in pursuit of existence—SURVIVAL. The origin of any human being, seen walking on the streets, does not matter. Human, as that person would appear to be, needs survival. Jesus alone provided the legendary answer, sought by the entire humanity, since creation.

The activities of humanity, whether criminal or ethical, carry the simplest of all objectives, applicable in desiring to survive. A criminal caught in his nefarious activities, seeks to survive, just as those engaged in ethical conduct need survival. In the midst of the crucifixion story, Jesus is captured providing the legendary answer to the survival question. The question was posed by one of the two criminals, crucified with Him.

Having possibly become assured that Jesus was the Christ; the first Criminal leapt onto the opportunity to receive deliverance. How else, except getting it from the only Man with answers for survival, for the entire humanity? Another meaning of “Messiah” is Redeemer, translated in Greek as the Christ. Whether justified or not, the first criminal rightly directed his pleading to the right person. Jesus did not respond, possibly as He considered the communication to be misdirected.

To ordinary people, there was no survival for those three men, condemned to die on their respective crosses. However, the survival answer to redemption remains inscribed in that portion of the Scripture. Unfortunately, it remains mysterious that this simplest of all answers remains unnoticed, seemingly, by the entire humanity. Blessed are the few, having been able and those yet to spot the riddle. My duty is to simplify the riddle for the few, who are yet to be added onto the fold. “If you are the Christ save yourself and us.”

Apparently, that criminal knew that the term “Christ” was preserved for the anticipated redeemer of humanity. Here they were, facing the most excruciating experiences of the damning cross. As criminals, they were paradoxically sharing this excruciating experience with a misunderstood man called Jesus. Both criminals longed for deliverance from the damning cross. But Jesus knew that the painful experiences of the cross were just, but a passing phase. Such painful experiences could not impede the significance of survival.

Desperate, as the first criminal may have desired survival, the opposite was akin to his anti-survival activities. The wishes of that criminal could not be regarded as communication to Jesus who, precariously, did not even spend time answering Him. The appropriate rejoinder came from the second criminal, rebuking his counterpart for his inconsiderate request. Driven by his sincere objectionable disapproval of his counterpart’s remark, the second criminal  directed his petition to Jesus:

“Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Interestingly, the second criminal had not made this request before the first criminal made his derogatory remark. Apparently, his request was motivated by the unsavoury remark from his counterpart, who may have also genuinely desired survival. The majority of people in this world, pursue survival, only to ironically reap the opposite of survival.

Jesus did not hesitate to grant the second criminal what he requested. This second criminal had not, necessarily, been one of Jesus’ followers. He may obviously, all along, have observed the developments, leading to Jesus’ crucifixion. The publicity of Jesus had been far and wide. Ordinary people drew their own conclusions on what was happening to Jesus. Others hurled insults and mockery at him. However, others had consciences that were parallel to the second criminal.

This universe is governed by dichotomies. The viewpoints of humanity are also drawn between dichotomies represented in good and evil. Standing for goodness is often faced with stiffer resistance. Hence, Jesus declared: Matthew 7: 13. Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat:Bible Offline

The most popular view is the one that was projected by the first criminal. In their common pursuit of survival, ordinary humans are caught on their trajectory towards destruction. The way of survival appears threatening to most ordinary people. This comes from the general comfort, commonly derived from the environment. When used to stay in darkness, light can be regarded as projecting discomfort. Similarly, when used to stay where there is light, staying in darkness becomes undesirable. The winner is the one unchanging on either of the two conditions.

Ordinary humans are commonly caught up in between the two extremities of light and darkness, represented in grey. Similarly, when considering the dichotomy of the conditions of hot and cold, ordinary humans prefer lukewarmness. The extreme heat can be threatening, just as the extreme cold is threatening. Understandably, lukewarmness grants desirable comfort to ordinary people.

One might consider the first criminal as having opted for lukewarmness. That criminal sought the easy way of attaining redemption, without having to confront his sinful condition. His viewpoint represented the majority of people in this world, as highlighted by Jesus in Matthew 7:13. Christianity is caught up in the myriad of lukewarmness phenomena.

Revelation 3: 14. And unto the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write; These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God; 15. I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. 16. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth. 17. Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked: 18. I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness does not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see. 19. As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent.Bible Offline

Did the first criminal identify Jesus as Christ? Clearly, there was some doubt in his mind. Hence, stating: “‘If’ you are the Christ, save yourself and us!” This criminal displayed that he was unsure of Jesus being Christ. His second thought viewed Jesus as a fake. However, nothing else could have changed Jesus into being what He was not. The sentiment that the criminal held, concerning Jesus, confirmed the reality of what was reserved for his destruction; but not his co-accused.

Both those criminals had been condemned to die, because of their criminal activities. Jesus granted deliverance to the second criminal, although undeserving to be in paradise with Him. The writer, Luke, observed and recorded this abnormal occurrence. How could Jesus grant paradise assurance to a known and convicted criminal of that time? Jesus gave His first-ever declaratory promise, directed at an individual. This ought to be regarded as the most irregular promise for survival, ever granted to an individual.

That criminal had not been tested to prove that he could sustain his righteous conduct. Why did Jesus not hesitate to grant him paradise? The answer was right there, provided in the miracle of His crucifixion, yet Jesus had not committed any crime. Jesus was the sacrificial lamb for sinful humanity, represented by those two convicts. However, those two criminals were divided into two mindsets.

The first criminal assumed that life was circumscribed by the idea of personal salvation. Yet the second one appreciated the fact that salvation was possible only when driven by personal ethics, in caring for other fellow humans. By rebuking his counterpart, the second criminal displayed an opposite mindset. He then felt inclined to ask Jesus for deliverance. He had been convicted of criminality, but that did not mean he did not fear God.

The justice system of this world does not take into consideration whether a person fears God or not. The judiciary officers limit themselves to the power of evidence, guided by statutory regulations. It is commonly known that many people get incarcerated in prison, based on false testimonies. The crucifixion of Jesus represented the innumerable people who get wrongly incarcerated. This is just as the second criminal had been convicted and sentenced to death. Such a conclusion was arrived at, without considering whether the same criminal feared God or not.

The advent of Jesus reveals that prisoners should not be bothered about unfair outcomes of the justice systems of this world. Fearing or not fearing God ought to be the only determining factor in delivering justice. A person may not even necessarily be an ardent Bible reader, to be familiar with God’s existence. A God-fearing person seeks to avoid harming his fellow men. He may be found on the wrong side of the law but would be willing to take full responsibility for his wrongdoing.

Those who are not God-fearing are often known to seek to avoid incarceration, at all costs, even when aware of their wrongdoing. Many people often display being aware of God’s existence. But they get overcome in the area of desiring personal salvation. They find what is normal being their desire to attain salvation, even at the expense of those whose rights they would have violated.

The entire humanity is, therefore, represented in the dichotomous behaviour of the two criminals on the cross with Jesus. The most undesirable condition of humanity is to live in the physical body. That which was created in God’s image does not require a physical body, which is a condition of slavery. The element of assuming being better than any other person in one’s environment is what condemns one.

The aspect of fearing God is not possible in physical humans, unless aware of the fact that another person was created in God’s image. The authoritarian culture among humans can be considered the first cause of that carelessness. If Jesus was misunderstood, it was in the area of categorizing humans according to rank. It is impossible to fear God, as long as one invalidates other fellow humans, one way or the other. The greatness of Jesus is simply found in the area of degrading His own physical life, for our sake.

“Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others. Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name”: (Philippians 2:4-9 KJV)

Interestingly, good people are known to spend years in theological colleges, seeking to be enhanced spiritually. As they come out of those colleges, they feel superior to those who would not have gone through such studies. They may scan through such Scriptures as the one above. However, applying such Scriptures is most difficult.

Even during that time with His disciples, the Scriptures show that this principle may have been the most difficult for Jesus to teach to His disciples. As human as those disciples were, they could not entertain the idea that humans could be treated equally. At one stage John and his brother James sought personal favors that would grant them positions of higher authority. Jesus had to take time to lecture them, as they were expected to conduct their lives, differently, in applying this novel concept.

“But Jesus called them unto him, and said, Ye, know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them. But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant: Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:25-28 KJV).

John and his brother James were the two brothers who had triggered the above teaching by Jesus. But the same John was later inspired to write about the invalidity of considering oneself as better than others. This was after John had received the Holy Spirit, making him a new creation.

And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love, and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God and God in him. Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the Day of Judgment: because as he is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love. We love him because he first loved us. If a man says, I love God and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen? And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also” (1 John 4:16-21 KJV).

In the above passage of Scripture, John reveals that it is impossible to claim to love God, as long as despising one’s brother. Fearing God does not mean fearing other fellow humans, necessarily. It simply means treating them, with the same reverence of God, committing oneself in the same way that Jesus committed Himself to us (1 John 3:16). One does so, without losing the consideration that those people represent God’s image. It is impossible to respect a person that one considers to be inferior.  John makes it perfectly clear that one cannot love the unseen God before showing one’s love to one’s brother whom he sees.

Andrew Masuku is the author of Dimensions of a New Civilization, laying down standards for uplifting Zimbabwe from the current state of economic depression into a model for other nations worldwide. A decaying tree provides an opportunity for a blossoming sprout. Written from a Christian perspective, the book is a product of inspiration, bringing relief to those having witnessed the strings of unworkable solutions––leading to the current economic and social decay. Most Zimbabweans should find the book as a long-awaited providential oasis of hope, in a simple conversational tone.

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