Wednesday’s Column: Third’s Words
I have been to the Ankgor Wat temple complex, near Siem Reap, four times. It’s a fascinating tourist attraction, but there is one carving, among literally thousands, that stands out above the rest. It is found at Ta Prohm Temple. The temple was built between the late-1100s to early-1200s by King Jayavarman VII and dedicated to his mother. Today, it is “shrouded in dense jungle” and “fig, banyan, and kapok trees spread their gigantic roots over stones, probing walls and terraces” (tourismcambodia.com). “It took 79,365 people to maintain the temple including 18 great priests, 2,740 officials, 2,202 assistants, and 615 dancers” (ibid.). But it’s that stone carving that it most unforgettable. One particular trip, which I made in 2009 with two elders, three deacons, and my oldest son, Gary, stands out in my mind.
I asked our guide, hired out by the Kazna Hotel in Siem Reap and of the Buddhist faith, what he thought this particular creature was. He said he had no idea what it was and added, “They must have had a really good imagination.” The question such a response raises is, “How did they know to imagine that?!”
Well, a group from Canada was following close behind our group of seven from Denver, Colorado. A son asked his father for an explanation of the carvings on the pillar, and dad replied with some authority, “Son, that was their version of a geological timetable.” Of course, it begs the follow up, “How did 12th-Century Khmer people, well before Darwin and others planted their geological seeds, know of such a timetable?” Furthermore, this “timetable” looks nothing like anything you will ever see in a textbook–a man above it and a monkey below it. Based upon what fossil evidence did they create their carving? There must have been hundreds of fellow “explorers” viewing these temple ruins with us in the few hours we were there. Some of the fascinated people spoke in languages I cannot understand, but body language was pretty telling. Others, Americans, British, Australians, and Canadians, all seemed to see that carving for what it most apparently was. No one said, “That’s a rhino or pig.” They called it a Stegosaurus.
How many other similar discoveries await reclamation from jungle vegetation, archaeological excavation, and geographic exploration? In the different disciplines of science and history, man uncovers gems like Angkor Wat’s Ta Prohm from time to time. Such clear, incontrovertible evidence from a time before our modern “war” between evolutionists and creationists begs to be examined with unprejudiced eyes. While some may never change their mind regardless of how many items are offered into evidence, I believe that there are a great number of people out there who are honestly, objectively looking for truth. The Stegosaurus at Ta Prohm near Siem Reap, Cambodia, might be the item that convinces many!
A rich detail in the study of the gospel of Mark is the testimony of the unclean spirits about Jesus.
In addition to these encounters, the gospel repeatedly shows Jesus’ power over the unclean spirits—He gave authority to the apostles over the unclean spirits (Mark 6:7), He healed the little girl with the unclean spirit (Mark 7:25), and He cast out the unclean “deaf and mute” spirit from the man’s son (Mark 9:25). Reading just those few accounts of Jesus’ power over them, no wonder they testified about Him! Who knows what they had seen of Him in the spirit realm that people on earth had not seen?
Consider a few observations about these believing, confessing evil spirits we read about in the gospel record.
—Their faith exceeded the faith of the apostles, disciples, and religious leaders. Jesus rebukes the absence and littleness of faith in the people who encounter Him, even those who were His closest followers. In Mark 8:28, so many were wrong about who He was. The disciples showed fear instead of faith or they missed the point on occasions where faith would have made things clear. How humbling for them that unclean spirits were crystal clear in their knowledge about Jesus.
—Their faith did not benefit them. James’ epistle drives this point home. He writes, “You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder” (2:19). These unclean spirits were working against Christ. Just knowing who Jesus was did not save them nor did it make them submissive to Him.
—Their faith is presented as a prominent proof of Jesus’ identity. The miracles, wonders, and signs performed by Jesus help the apostles and disciples ultimately figure out who Jesus is. Peter would preach this (Acts 2:22ff). John would write this (John 20:30-31). Reading about this in the Bible, countless men and women through the centuries have believed based on the record about Jesus that includes His power over the spirit world. Mark presents these encounters to establish the fact confessed by Peter: “You are the Christ” (8:29).
How does this apply to us today? First, let’s not let the world live with greater faith and understanding than we do. Second, let’s understand that merely understanding and believing the identity of Jesus will not save us. Faith must be accompanied by works. Third, may we allow the various proofs about Jesus to build and grow our faith and trust in Him, and by this yield a foundation which stands up to the fiercest storms (cf. Matt. 7:24-25). Let’s not merely say to Jesus, “I know who You are!” Let’s show Him!
Good deeds don’t make the nightly news. When a person serves or is nice to others, it rarely goes beyond the circle of occurrence. That’s OK, because Jesus urges us, “Be careful not to do your acts of righteousness before me, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven” (Mat. 6:1).
That probably wasn’t a problem for Titus, since the Cretans weren’t renowned for doing good deeds. In fact, a Cretan prophet said of his fellow-citizens, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons” (Ti. 1:12). How would you like to live in a neighborhood or work on your job with such charming people as that? Paul calls them lying, wild, evil animals and slaves to their stomachs.
So, Paul spends some significant time in his letter talking about good deeds. There were some on Crete, particularly Jews, who by their deeds denied God and were “worthless for any good deed” (1:16). Thus, he urges Titus to show himself a pattern of good deeds (2:7). These deeds were not to earn salvation (3:5), but instead to please God. Notice how Paul emphasizes deeds in this letter.
The old adage is true. “Actions speak louder than words.” Paul writes of some who profess to know God, but in works deny Him. What a reminder that the Lord will not say, “Well said,” but “well done!” Dorcas was a woman “full of good works and charitable deeds” (Acts 9:36). The woman with the Alabaster box did what she could (Mark 14:8). What about us? What will be said about our deeds?