by David Phelps
“Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person.” – Mother Teresa
British children’s book author Anthony Horowitz did not have a happy childhood. School was especially difficult, particularly the boarding school he was sent to by his parents. Any time he showed any interest in or aptitude for some subject, he was told to stop wasting his time and pursue something else. His time at the school was so miserable and his memories of it so negative that, years later, when he heard that the former headmaster of the school was dying, he visited his former tormentor in the hospital to see for himself.
We all have things we would like to get away from, things we would like to escape. Moses fled after he killed an Egyptian who was beating a Hebrew (Exod. 2:11-15). Isaiah called himself “‘a man of unclean lips,’” (Isa. 6:5 ESV).
In the New Testament, a woman had been suffering from a bleeding condition for twelve years (Mark 5:25-28). There was a Samaritan woman who had a long history of broken relationships (John 4:16-19). There was another woman who had been caught committing adultery (John 8:3-11). And of course there was Peter, who denied even knowing Jesus mere hours after swearing that he would die first (John 13:37; 18:15-18, 25-27).
Each of them had a need to escape the past; each of them was “haunted,” as surely as any house of legend or folktale. Each needed release and redemption. And each had an encounter with the transforming, redeeming, cleansing power of the living God.
Among the Midianites, Moses found a new family, a renewed faith, and a sense of purpose (Exod. 2:15-3:22). In a vision, Isaiah found forgiveness, purification, and atonement (Isa. 6:6-8). Through her encounter with Christ, the woman who had been bleeding found healing and peace (Mark 5:29-34). The Samaritan woman found “living water,” the spirit of true worship, and release from her past (John 4:10, 23-24, 39). Likewise, the woman who had been caught committing adultery found release from condemnation and a challenge to begin a new life (John 8:10-11). And of course Peter received the commission “‘Feed my sheep’” (John 21:17b) and went on to become one of the great leaders of the early church (Acts 2:14-21), along with John and, later, Paul. Each of these people, three men and three women, found release and reassurance, pardon and purification.
Anthony Horowitz needed reassurance that his past, represented by the cruel former headmaster, was dying. He needed to know that, in some way, the memories that haunted him were losing their hold. Of course, it would have been better if he could have found release without the need to see the headmaster on his death bed.
Our release is also the result of a man’s death, not that of a cruel headmaster but of a loving savior. Just as Horowitz was “haunted” by the memory of his years in boarding school, we too are “haunted”—by rejection, by regret, by loneliness—and by sin. Paul told the Christians in Rome,
“. . . ifby the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” (Rom. 8:13b ESV). We are called to life in Christ and only the death of everything unspiritual within us will allow us to embrace that life. He also told the Colossians to eliminate “anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk ” (Col. 3:5a ESV). Horowitz suffered from anger and wrath, and personally I can identify with him. Others of us are trapped by other sins.
Christ died so that we might put to death the things that hold onto us. And we’re not alone. There are others who are “haunted” by things they can’t forget, things that won’t die, things that won’t let go. They need what we already have. We can let them know that there is hope, deliverance, and salvation through Christ. A relationship with Christ can help them live with their past and put their sin to death.
“Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: . . . anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.” (Col. 3:5a, 8b-10 ESV.)