Sequoia & the Sword
Seeing the giant General Sherman even from a distance has a way of making you feel small. The General Sherman is the largest tree in the world. Even its biggest branch is larger than most trees in the U.S. east of the Mississippi. At an estimated 2,300 years old, it was living before Jesus was born and has since grown to a height equal to the Statue of Liberty. Needless to say, walking through this forest of giants leaves you feeling awestruck.
I was hopeful for the day ahead despite the cold sleepless night before and the interesting encounter with our camping neighbor (who, “not meaning to be rude” politely told us that our crying 1 ½ year old was ruining his vacation) in the morning that left my wife in tears. This is what we had been hoping for – getting the kids out for a hike in nature and standing in awe of the Giant Sequoia trees of God’s beautiful creation. This is the stuff of lifelong memories. Yet, not even an hour later I found myself angry at my independently minded son, frustrated at my hungry and tired daughter, and overwhelmed by the “bulk effect” of our needy youngest. Not yet a quarter of the way through the Congress Trail, I quickly and firmly had the family marching back toward the van.
What happened?!? This wasn’t the vacation I had planned. Where was the awestruck wonder from my kids and the beautiful family memories? I had lost control of the moment and lashed out in anger and frustration as a result. I was reminded of the sermon Pastor Tim had preached just a couple of days previous from Mark 14:43-50. In it he had asked, “Why does Peter grab his sword?” He went on to explain that in the moment when Jesus was betrayed Peter felt like he was losing control and grabbed for his sword in a futile attempt to regain it. His first instinct was not to cling to Jesus or trust in God, but instead he went for his sword in order to regain control. Anger, frustration, harsh words were simply the weapons I chose in order to grasp for control of my family vacation. This is not a new struggle for me. Often my first instinct when things get difficult at work is to simply bear down and work harder fueled by frustration in order to regain a sense of control over the chaos. Perhaps you can relate in the chaos and overwhelming circumstances of your life as things begin to spin out of control. Do you grab for your sword?
Trials reveal what our hearts truly desire. Mark 14:50 ends this passage with the summation, “And they all left him and fled.” The most faithful followers of Jesus betrayed and abandoned him. We are no different. My Pastor’s words echoed in my ears, “There is no faithful follower of Jesus that we can pretend to relate to.” We all choose control, comfort, self-righteousness, etc. over Jesus. I did it on a family vacation.
The good news is that Jesus remained faithful. He allowed himself to be betrayed and abandoned in order to forgive us for all the times we have been unfaithful. He was patient with Peter’s impulsive sword grabbing just as he is with us every time we have raised our voice at our kids, became frustrated at a co-worker, or grasped for control and comfort in a myriad of other ways. He conquered sin, death, and evil in his resurrection from the dead and sent his Holy Spirit in order to give us power over sin so that the next time we are tempted to grab for our sword we cling to Jesus instead.
The following day on our long hike out to Tokopah Falls our daughter begins to fade again. I pick her up and carry her on my back the rest of the way. Physically more difficult but with much more peace and joy in my heart. We are all amazed by the beauty of the falls and God’s creation. Our trip to Sequoia National Park was a great reminder that God’s creation is certainly awe-inspiring. However, I was also reminded that we only know God’s love, forgiveness, and deepest peace and joy at another even more awe-inspiring tree – the cross that Jesus bore to heal and forgive sinners like you and me. – Joshua Moffit
“He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.” - 1 Peter 2:24