I recently finished the book The Sword of Shannara by Terry Brooks. This is a quest story with magic and trolls and elves, an unlikely hero and his band of friends. Evil is taking over the earth and the only defense is our hero and the sword that he and a motley crew of equally unlikely companions search for. The quest is dangerous and they run into all kinds of problems, are separated, wounded, and think that all is lost, only to be reunited in the end when good, of course, triumphs.
The hero, Shea, is a half elf who is adopted and does not know until told by a stranger, that he is the last of a royal elf bloodline and according to legend, he is the only one who can use the magic sword to defeat the evil. His companions are not like him and as the journey goes on, people who begin as enemies become friends and growth happens in the process. Shea is not brave and is filled with doubts that constantly surface. He is not even sure that he believes the legend. He is uncertain that even if the legend of the sword is real, that he could be the one to use it and he doesn’t have a clue HOW to use it if he lives to find it. He feels guilty that others have put themselves in danger to protect him and help him find the sword. He feels unequal to the huge responsibility of all the people who are depending on him and who will die if he fails. Again and again he wishes to just return to his old peaceful life but continues on his difficult and frightening path because he feels he cannot quit when so many are willing to sacrifice their own comfort and even lives to help him.
At one point he actually has the sword in his grasp and it disappears again because he does not recognize it. He expected something grand and so did not know the plain sword for what it was.
Now let us switch gears. I recently was part of a bible study where the theme of the readings for the week was reconciliation. If you look up the word “reconcile” there are several definitions. One is to restore friendly relations between. A second is to cause to coexist in harmony; make or show to be compatible. A third pertains to financial accounts – make (one account) consistent with another, especially by allowing for transactions begun but not yet completed, a reconciled bank transaction means that it has been cleared. I started thinking about the book I had just read.
We too are adopted as sons and daughters of God. We are reconciled to God by the sacrifice made by an unlikely (in human terms) hero. A carpenter who the world had difficulty recognizing as the messiah. Instead of being a royally attired king who would lead his people to a worldly victory over those who oppressed them, he healed and fed and preached and taught those the world would not recognize as worthy, and sacrificed himself so that all of our accounts would be cleared. No matter how big our debits column, Jesus would fill in the credit column for each and every person who would receive him and make them sinless and restore them to God. Our debt is cleared and we are free to be unlikely heroes to others by imitating a humble savior who rather than give in to what people wanted, walked a difficult path to give them what they needed.
The ending of the Sword of Shannara found Shea clutching the sword and learning the hard way that the sword reflects the person holding back to themselves, not as they would see themselves but as they truly are. It was a painful experience for the hero. All of his faults were made clear to him and he wanted very much to thrust the sword away but he held on and allowed the truth to wash over him. In the process he realized how to use the sword. The evil warlord was there with him and all of a sudden, he did not look as tough and scary. The scary bad magic guy tries to flee but Shea hits him with the sword and when the sword touches him he recoils and screams. There are more gory details but in the end, the evil guy who would kill anyone who opposed him and rule the world through violence and might, is unable to stand what the sword reflects back at him about himself and turns to ash. The humble and frightened Shea triumphs and saves the people.
Now most of us, if asked, would say that we are pretty good people. We can at least look around us and say to ourselves, “well..at least I am better than this or that one, or yes I slip sometimes but I don’t do the things that person does..”
But what if the mirror we look into is Jesus Christ? How do we measure up then? Would I be be willing to take the hand of a leper? Sit and eat with and minister to people I deem worse sinners than myself? Die on a cross, naked and in pain for those same people? Live out every moment of every day of my life for others in obedience to God? Can I look at someone who has been mean and unfeeling towards me and see what God sees? A brother or sister who Jesus died to save?
1 Corinthians 6:11 “And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”
“Justification is the work of God where the righteousness of Jesus is reckoned to the sinner, so the sinner is declared by God as being righteous under the Law.”
In other words, the minute we accept Jesus is our savior, we are set apart and our account is clear. We still have a long path to walk and as we stumble down that path, God works in us and we respond as we are being sanctified or made more like Christ. That is our work, our path. To learn what is the will of God and do it and in so doing become more and more like Christ until the very end of our lives. That is the process of sanctification.
Shea was the chosen one in the story. No matter what doubts or temporary setbacks he dealt with, that never changed. He was always the chosen one. The terrible things that he went through on the journey, the pitfalls and disasters and losses, while often giving him the desire to just forget the whole thing, never caused him to keep walking the path. He stumbled often, but he kept walking and grew and in the end, his humility and refusal to give up was what saved the day.
He was “justified” – chosen. He continued to be obedient and walk the path even when he was scared, felt lost, was tired, angry, resentful for being ripped out of his simple, peaceful life and in the process, he became who he was meant to be (sanctified).
You may be shaking your head about now, if you are reading this at all, and thinking that my comparisons are pretty thin. I have no idea if the author had any of this in mind as he wrote the story. I only know that God is good to let me have this perspective and see these themes in a story. If I look into the mirror of Jesus Christ there is a part of me that wants to melt into a pile of ash because I see how great my faults are but another part of me is so very grateful that Jesus took care of my account and freed me to keep trying to find the path God wants me to walk and given me hope that all will be well in the end.