Darth Vader Doesn’t Wear Gray
Dr. Jim Denison
As everyone in the so-called “civilized world” knows, the final Star Wars movie opened this week. The first Star Wars movie, made back in 1977, used 360 visual effects; the last episode has 2,151. The six movies have sold $9 billion in merchandise to date. Darth Vader even made the cover of Time magazine.
I’m not giving away any of the plot to tell you that in the world of Star Wars there is good and there is evil. The Emperor is bad; the Jedi are good. Darth Vader doesn’t wear gray. In the “real world,” of course, things aren’t so simple.
Last week, tattoo professionals attending their convention in New York City complained that tattoos have gone so mainstream that they have lost their “artistic value.” Individual expression rules the day.
A middle school girl in Oregon made the news after hugging her boyfriend in a hallway and getting detention for violating the school’s no-hugging rule. The parents of the students involved are the ones most upset–they don’t understand how school administrators have the right to force their ethics on their children.
In a world of gray, what are we to do with black-and-white passages such as this week’s text? In truth, if we cannot answer that question, we cannot understand the origin and essence of the Christian faith. Let me explain.
What Jesus claimed
The scene is one of the most dramatic locations on earth. Standing 1150 feet above sea level, the massive rock outcropping is the largest I’ve ever seen, gray with streaks of metallic brown, flat and imposing. I will never forget standing on that rock at Caesarea Philippi as long as I live.
As I stared in awe, I could feel the religious significance of the place.
Just a short distance away stood the brilliant white marble temple built by Herod the Great as an altar to the worship of Caesar, hence the name of the place, “Caesarea.”
Beneath our feet was that cavern where the Greeks said Pan, their god of nature, was born. And so I knew that Greek and Roman gods were worshiped here.
Scattered around the place were fourteen temples to Baal, the Canaanite fertility god, where the Syrians worshiped.
Somewhere below was one of the origins of the Jordan River, the holiest river in all the Jewish faith, the water Joshua and the people walked through to inherit the Promised Land. On this gigantic rock, standing in the midst of temples to every kind of god known to his culture, a Galilean carpenter asked, “Who do you say that I am?” And Peter declared, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” And the Galilean said, “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church.” What “rock”?
Was it Peter? No, Jesus said in the Greek language, “You are petros” [small pebble], “and on this petra [giant boulder] I will build my church.”
Was it Peter’s confession of faith? Many think so, but I don’t think Scripture teaches that God builds his church on our faith. Our faith is too fleeting, too weak, to be the foundation of his kingdom on earth.
I think Jesus pointed to himself when he said, “On this rock I will build my church.” 1 Corinthians 3:11 is clear: “no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.” The church, and this church, is built on the foundation which is Jesus himself. Our lives and eternal lives, our future destinies, all depend on him. Not on Caesar, or Roman gods, or Canaanite idols, or the Jewish traditions. On him alone.
Such is the consistent claim of God’s word:
When Jesus stood on trial for his life, the high priest challenged him: “I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God” (Matthew 26:63). His answer sealed his fate: “Yes, it is as you say” (v. 64).
Earlier he had told his opponents, “‘My Father is always at work to this very day, and I, too, am working.’ For this reason the Jews tried all the harder to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God” (John 5:17-18).
Later he claimed, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).
When Peter was threatened with his own execution if he did not stop preaching the gospel, he replied, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
Let there be no mistake: Jesus believed himself to be the only way to his Father. The apostolic Christians held the same conviction. They did not die by the multiplied thousands for announcing that Jesus was a great moral teacher, or that his message was but one of many ways to the same God, or that sincerity is spirituality. They died for the conviction that Jesus is the only rock upon which eternity stands.
Remember again the most famous words C. S. Lewis ever wrote:
“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.’ That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic–on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg–or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to” (Mere Christianity).