Sunday, April 4, 2021

ALOFT IN A BODY BAG - Isaiah 61 Devotional #5

 
"...The LORD has anointed Me ... to proclaim ... release from darkness for the prisoners.."
– Isaiah 61:1e (NIV)
 
As the curtain lifts on Chapter 20 of The Count of Monte Cristo (Alexandre Dumas, 1844), the protagonist, Edmond Dantès, has been imprisoned fourteen years in the darkest dungeons of the Chateau D'If (a 16th-century French Alcatraz ... on steroids!) after having been framed for a political crime he did not commit.  And now, the pious Abbé Faria -- Dantès' only dungeon companion, and the only glimmer of hope in his desperate plight -- has died, and is lying still in a body bag waiting for the prison guards to come haul him off.

"They will forget me here," laments Dantès in his despair, "and I shall die in my dungeon like Faria.... None but the dead pass freely from this dungeon ...”

At which moment, our hero has an epiphany.  Why not bring on death forthwith?  And so, he drags his friend's corpse away through a tunnel and stuffs himself into the body bag instead.  When the guards show up, they carry him out and launch him off the cliff on which Chateau D'If is perched, and into the sea below -- their standard method of burying their hapless dead.  Dantès, naturally, had provisioned himself with a knife, so he promptly cut his way out of the body bag and swam off to start his new life as the fabulously rich Count of Monte Cristo.  (As for how he came by such fabulous riches ... you will have to read the book.)

By happy accident, our monthly trek through Isaiah 61 brings us on Easter Day to the end of verse one: "The LORD has anointed Me ... to proclaim ... release from darkness for the prisoners..."

In previous weeks, we have sounded the depths of this verse truth by truth, the latest having been "...to proclaim freedom for the captives."  We explored various means by which the great enemy of our soul holds his captives in bondage, such as:  comfort, entertainment, wealth, security, and the fear of man.  

However, it is important to note that our Lord, Whose every word is carefully chosen -- He is not given to pointless redundancy -- says that He not only came to proclaim "freedom for the captives," but also "release from darkness for the prisoners."  Because, not only are there satanic powers that hold us captive to vice, but there are those that would further imprison the soul in the deep darkness of despair.  Think of it this way.... If Captivity is a landslide that blocks our path toward the "life in abundance" our Savior came to gift us, Dark Despair is a Mount Everest landed squarely on top of us, ending all hope of getting there.  It is the Chateau D'If, from which dungeon the only way out is in a body bag.

But, just as Abbé Faria provided the only means of escape for Dantès -- with his own body bag -- our Lord Jesus Christ descended into the grave in order that, through His resurrection, He would set us free from the power of death.  And, not only death -- which is the ultimate dungeon indeed -- but all other dark prisons that confine us.  This is, of course, the miracle of Easter.

But what shall we do with this glorious freedom?  

Certainly not to imitate Edmond Dantès, who devotes the remainder of his life to exacting revenge from those who sent him to prison those fourteen years.  (The Count of Monte Cristo is a bittersweet tale for, without fail, whenever he executes one of his seemingly flawless plots of vengeance, it has the unintended effect of also bringing down sorrow upon those he holds dear ... and, ultimately, on himself.)

What, then?

"As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you,” Jesus said. (John 20:21)  Which means, among other things, that He is sending us "to proclaim ... release from darkness for the prisoners..."  

Jesus never hesitated to go where He could find people bound in darkness.  He left the multitudes behind and made a special journey to the country of the Gadarenes just to free a single wretched soul held in prison by a legion of devils.  And, that is not the only one-on-one house call our Lord made.  There was the Samaritan woman, a lonely outcast of five shipwrecked marriages.  And the widow of Nain, who had lost her only son and hope of provision.

As we reflect on our Lord's incomprehensible love, which sprung us from Satan's dungeon by means of His own body bag, to the glorious new life of Easter morning, let us not lose sight of His compelling commission in Isaiah 61.  "As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you."

Why not pray ...  

"Dear Father, thank you for Jesus. Thank you for His death and resurrection that set me free, not only from the darkness of sin and death, but also from the many dark prisons in which the enemy would confine me. Please give me a passion to continue Jesus' ministry of setting free those who are oppressed by the devil. And, by Your power I shall!
In Jesus' name. Amen"

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Originally published as a “Bradstix” devotional on the National Minute of Prayer Facebook page 4/4/2021.