Then Jeremiah said to Zedekiah, “This is what the Lord God Almighty, the God of Israel, says: ‘If you surrender to the officers of the king of Babylon, your life will be spared and this city will not be burned down; you and your family will live. Jeremiah 38:17
23 Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. Luke 9:23
When I was 11 years old I attended a church summer camp for a week in the San Bernardino mountains of Southern California. I remember daily various outdoor games we played and being divided up into teams that competed throughout the week. Specifically I remember the tug of war that took place between the combined cabins representing one region and the other side represented by the rival group of cabins. It was a fierce competition, neither side wanting to give up ground to the opposing force. But with time our side began to give way just a little. I had the brilliant idea of tying my leg to the end of the rope in a last ditch effort to hold our ground, but alas, the other team was superior in their pulling power and I began to be dragged across the concrete staging area. Will and stubbornness caused me to foolishly ignore the pleas of my friends to let go and surrender to the other side, but I would not have any of it. The humiliation of defeat and the prospect of surrendering bragging rights just kept me tied to something that was just dragging me down. I ended up with a pretty significant road rash from the ordeal and ultimately had to admit defeat. I hated to lose and surrender to the forces dragging me along and the longer I resisted the more damage my body incurred; all for the sake of something that was so temporal and fleeting.
There is something about surrender that I find difficult. Surrender never seems to come easy to me. But it often represents the counter-intuitive way of God, though not always the most welcome message or way. In the story of Jeremiah one of the primary themes Jeremiah spoke in the name of the Lord was about surrender. As the forces of the Babylonian empire were invading the land of Judah, his message to the king of Judah, the officials and the people was surrender and you will live. Jeremiah was a contrary voice in the midst of the many voices assuring the people of the time that all would be okay if they just held on, continued to resist and stand their ground. The truth of God’s word was traded for the comfortable, yet misleading messages of the false prophets of the time.
It was not easy to speak a word that was the exact opposite of what everyone else was saying and everyone else wanted to hear. The king, the officials, the religious leaders and the people all wanted to believe that they would be victorious over the Babylonians. Surrender meant humiliation. Surrender meant a loss of territory. Surrender meant subjugation to someone else’s control and agenda. Though the word of the Lord was to surrender, they chose to not listen to that word but instead take the counsel of false prophets. It did not end well for the king of Judah, his officials, the people or the city of Jerusalem.
When Jesus was proclaiming the kingdom of God, those listening expected something quite different than the message He spoke. While they expected a message of resistance and overthrow of the Roman occupation, Jesus described His purpose as surrendering His life, suffering death and then rising on the third day. The Messiah was not expected to surrender His life, but to overcome, if needs be by force, the occupying enemy. This message of surrender did not sit well with the religious elite and eventually it cost Jesus His life. But it was His life that He willingly surrendered for the sake of love, forgiveness and redemption. As N.T. Wright explained Jesus, in obedience to His Father, embraced the pain of the cross to then receive the glory of the crown. The way of the king has proven different than we might imagine.
He has now called those who would follow in His way to surrender daily their lives and follow Him. It seems that to truly experience the new life of the kingdom over which Jesus reigns one cannot escape surrender. It is the very thing we are reminded to practice in the Lenten season. It is still a hard message to receive and fortunately we are aided in our efforts to surrender by the promise and presence of the Spirit of Christ.
I still struggle with the practice and possibly the stigma of surrendering. I still want to win the game and not face the humiliation of losing. But possibly the way to truly win is to let go and surrender to the One who loves me enough to surrender and give His life for me and lead the way to His eternal kingdom. I am learning this lesson daily and seeking to listen more closely to His voice as He points out every opportunity to surrender to His way.
As you continue in this Lenten season, may you hear the message of surrender that invites you to let go of those false gods and hopes to which you have tied yourself. These false gods and false hopes will ultimately drag you down. Instead embrace the opportunity to surrender to the love and grace of Jesus and His way that leads to the glorious outcomes God intends for you.