"Hazed and Confused"#89-20
Presented on The Lutheran Hour on January 16, 2022
By Rev. Dr. Michael Zeigler, Lutheran Hour Speaker
Copyright 2022 Lutheran Hour Ministries
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Text: Luke 4:1-37
The first year as a cadet at the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado includes activities that some might consider hazing such as being yelled at by upper-class Cadets, doing exercises to the point of exhaustion, and being forced to memorize impossible amounts of tedious military knowledge. Most of what I experienced as a cadet at the Air Force Academy was not what I would consider hazing. It was a rite of passage that forged bonds between classmates and made us all a little bit more resilient.
But there was one activity in which I participated that was something different. At the end of that first year, all the new cadets face a final week—a week of grueling physical and mental tests and trials: "Hell Week." And if we made it through together, we'd each receive an insignia, a badge, a small metal pendant to signify our accomplishment. It was a tiny silver airplane propeller overlaid on a set of wings, the Prop and Wings badge.
Now, at the beginning of that week, an older cadet pulls me aside and says that he selected me for a special honor, a secret honor, to prove I was superior to my classmates. I could have my Prop and Wings badge early, but that whole week I would have to wear it under my shirt, pinned to my chest. Literally. With the little butterfly fasteners removed, and the two metal pins on the back exposed and pounded into my flesh. He made the whole thing sound very selective and prestigious. And I agreed. He takes me into a dimly lit room, tells me to take off my shirt. Ceremoniously punches the unsanitized pins into my chest, gives me a piece of athletic tape to cover it, and tells me to go back to my room and get ready for Hell Week.
For what proved to be the worst two days of my life, I secretly wore that badge under my shirt. I ate with it. Ran with it. Went to bed with it, like a festering, unforgiving splinter from hell. On the third day, we're in our room changing and my roommate sees the reddening skin under the grimy piece of athletic tape on my chest, and he says to me, "What is that?" I explained to him the secret honor that I had been chosen for, thinking he'd be impressed. And he says to me, "That's dumb."
And just like that, his words shattered the harrowing house of mirrors that I'd been living in, and the truth set me free. There are positive, productive, formative rites of passage that people go through to join a group. And there are other things that are just dumb. They are what author Hank Nuwer calls, "wrongs of passage," or hazing.
Hazing is as old as sin, and it hasn't changed much over the centuries. The appeal of hazing has always been prestige and power. The prestige of exercising power over someone below you. The practice of hazing has always been parasitic. Like a tick or a tape worm, it latches onto a larger body, leaching the life blood, threatening its health. And if left unchecked, the parasite will dominate that body, exploit it for its own self-serving purpose. And what is hazing's purpose? Like a cancer, it just wants to make more of itself, to pass on its practices, to form others into its own distorted image.
On this program, I've been inviting you to listen with me to the ancient biography of Jesus of Nazareth, known as the Gospel according to Luke. In Luke's account, Jesus is called "Savior." His mission is to save us, to save you, to save me, to save everyone. To save us from what? Well, among other things, to save us from hazing. Now, I don't mean hazing on a merely human scale, the cruel initiations that people inflict on others when they're trying to join the in group, that's a symptom. A symptom of a deeper problem, a spiritual problem. There is hazing, domineering, parasitic, self-replicating practice on a deeper level. And Jesus came to save us from that.
The supernatural being behind hazing, in all its forms, the Bible calls the "devil." The Bible doesn't try to prove the existence of the devil, it just states it as a fact. And if you're becoming a follower of Jesus, you have to come to terms with the fact that Jesus believes the devil is for real, and that Jesus has come to destroy his dominion, to turn the world right side up again.
When we first meet the devil in the Bible, the serpent described in Genesis 3, he's in that dimly lit space, ceremoniously promising secret honors. He's hazing. He's latched himself like a tick on God's good creation, leaching its life, propagating his practices. And the badge of honor the devil promises, the little pendant he pounds into our flesh, is pride.
Pride isn't satisfied with being good. Pride wants to be God. Pride doesn't just want to be praised by others, that's vanity. And vanity is a vice in its own right, but vanity, like all vices, is just a slave of pride. Pride wants to be above others. It wants to be in its own class: a self-satisfied, cheap knockoff of God. Pride brands you with assumed superiority, and it shows. It shows in your petty criticism of other people, displayed like unsanitized metals pinned to your chest. It infects you with self-justifying excuses. It is the parasite in all of us, festering metal splinter from hell. And Jesus has come to pull it out, to shatter the house of mirrors and set you free.
Listen to how the Gospel according to Luke says it in chapter 4. The story picks up after Jesus has been baptized in the Jordan River and led by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness to face that old satanic foe.
Now Jesus returned from the Jordan River, filled with the Holy Spirit. And He was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where for 40 dadys He was being tempted by the evil. And Jesus ate nothing during those days, and when they were ended, He was hungry. Now the devil said to Him, "If You are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread."
Jesus answered him, "It is written: 'Man will not live by bread alone.'"
Then the devil took Him up and showed Him all the kingdoms of the inhabited world, in a moment of time, and said to Him, "I will give you all this authority and their glory because it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I wish. So, if You will bow down before me, it will all be Yours."
And Jesus, answering, said, "It is written: 'You will bow down before the Lord, your God. And Him only will you serve.'"
And he took Him to Jerusalem and set Him on the pinnacle of the temple and told Him, "If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down from here. Because it is written, 'He will command His angels concerning You, to guard You, and on their hands they will bear You up lest You strike Your foot against the stone.'"
Jesus answered, "It is said, 'You will not put the Lord your God to the test.'"
And when he had completed every temptation, the devil left Him until an opportune time. And Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit. And a report about Him went out into all the surrounding country, and He was teaching in their synagogues and being glorified by all.
Then He went to Nazareth where He had been brought up. And as was His custom, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath Day. He stood up to read. And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to Him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it is written, "'The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim liberty to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind. To set free those who are oppressed, and to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.'" Then He rolled up the scroll, handed it back to the attendant, and sat down. And all the eyes in the synagogue were fixed on Him. And He began to say to them, "Today, this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing."
And everyone was talking about Him, and marveling at the gracious words that were coming from His mouth. And they were saying, "Isn't this the son of Joseph?"
And He said to them, "You will certainly quote to Me this proverb, 'Physician, heal yourself. What we heard You did in Capernaum, do here in Your hometown as well.'" And He said, "But I tell you the truth. No prophet is acceptable in his hometown. And in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel during the days of Elijah, when the heavens were closed for three years and six months, and a great famine fell upon all the land. And Elijah was sent to none of them. But only to Zarephath in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow there. And in the time of the prophet Elisha, there were many people with leprosy in Israel. And none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian."
And when they heard these things, everyone in the synagogue was filled with wrath. And they rose up and drove Him out of the town. And they brought Him to the brow of the hill, the hill on which their town was built, in order to throw Him off the cliff. But He passed through their midst and went on His way. Then He went down to Capernaum, a city in Galilee, and He was teaching them on the Sabbath. And they were amazed at His teaching because His word had authority.
Now there was, in their synagogue, a man with a spirit of a demon, an unclean spirit. And he cried out in a loud voice, "Ah-ha! What have You to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have You come to destroy us? I know who You are—the Holy One of God."
But Jesus rebuked him, saying, "Be silent and come out of him." And the demon, after throwing him down in their midst, came out, having done him no harm. And astonishment came upon all of them, and they were saying to one another, "What is this word? Because with authority and power He commands the unclean spirits and they come out." And reports about Him went out into every place of the surrounding region.
C.S. Lewis, in his book, Mere Christianity, wrote, "There is one vice of which no man in the world is free, yet everyone in the world loathes it when he sees it in someone else. There is no fault which makes a man more unpopular, and no fault which we are more unconscious of in ourselves. And the more we have it in ourselves, the more we dislike it in others." He's talking about pride. "Pride is a spiritual cancer," Lewis says. "It eats up the very possibility of love, contentment, or even common sense." Pride is what drives the devil, and pride is what the devil wants to haze into us.
But Lewis helps us not to be confused about what pride is and isn't. Pleasure and pleasing another person, a person whom someone in your station in life should please, that's not pride. Warm admiration for something well done, and for the person who does it, that's not pride either. Pride is the devil's pendant pounded in our flesh that makes us believe we are better than others. And it sticks in us most sorely when we see ourselves as good, as moral and religious.
Remember that it wasn't the godless pagans who wanted to kill Jesus. It was the people in the religious institution. Good, religious people like me, people who love good Bible teaching on the radio. Those are the ones who hated Jesus enough to kill Him, because He poked and He prodded at their pride. He said that they are no better than the godless pagans. And on the cross, He proved it, that we, His own people, aren't better. But He died for us anyhow. And when He died, our pride died with Him. And on the third day, He rose to set us free.
On the third day of Hell Week, when my roommate said that to me, it was a revelation. Like scales falling from my eyes, chains broken, the distorted house of mirrors came crashing down. Truth descended into hell and set me free. I cannot adequately communicate to you the relief I felt in that moment, to have that pin pulled out of my chest. It was like being born again. We've been told that pride, acting as if I'm the center of my own universe, is a virtue, something to aspire to. But it's just a ridiculous pendant that someone pounded into your flesh.
The reason God is opposed to pride is not because He's afraid someone might steal His glory. God doesn't need. God doesn't want to protect His prestige. And His voluntary, shameful, humiliating death on the cross is proof of it. On the cross, Jesus chose love over glory, because God's love is His glory. God is against your pride, not because He's in competition with you. God is against your pride because He wants to give Himself to you. And pride is the thing that will keep you from seeing how desperately you need Him. When Jesus pokes and prods at your pride, like He did for the people in His hometown, He's not rubbing it in. He's pulling it out.
Would you pray with me? Dear Father, God, as You did in Your Son, and by Your Spirit, for my sake, use this life to form and refine me. Let it forge bonds with the people around me, and with You. And protect me from pride. In Jesus' Name. Amen.
Reflections for January 16, 2022
Title: Hazed and Confused
Mark Eischer: You're listening to The Lutheran Hour. At lutheranhour.org, you'll find FREE online resources, archived audio, our mobile app, and information about this program and its speakers. Go to lutheranhour.org. Now back to our Speaker, Dr. Michael Zeigler.
Michael Zeigler: Thank you, Mark. Today, I'm visiting again with Dr. Jeff Gibbs. He's been teaching people about the Bible for about as long as I've been alive, this is about 40-plus years.
Jeff Gibbs: I became a pastor 42 years ago.
Michael Zeigler: All right, so one year longer; I've been alive than that. But thank you for being here.
Jeff Gibbs: It's a pleasure, Mike.
Michael Zeigler: Many people today, even non-Christians, are going to grant that Jesus is a wise Teacher, influential and, of course, that's true. However, when you listen to these accounts of Jesus' life in the New Testament, especially the Gospel of Luke, what really stands out is all the supernatural things ...
Jeff Gibbs: Yes.
Michael Zeigler: He's doing. He's driving out demons with the Word, stilling a storm with the Word, healing people with the Word, even raising them from the dead—all with the Word. So, what's the significance of these supernatural dealings of Jesus? Are they essential to his life story?
Jeff Gibbs: The answer is yes. And it's commonly suggested that the miracles, if we just lump them all together, different kinds of miracles, it's commonly suggested that the miracles, most importantly, tell us who Jesus is. So, people commonly say that the miracles prove that He's true God. But when you recall just how important the theme of the Kingdom or the reign of God is in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, and we're talking about Luke now, I think you could sharpen that focus. So, the miracles actually show what's wrong with the world and they show what it will look like when God decides to put things right.
So, what's wrong with the world is that behind all the evil is this evil one. The Satan, the opponent, the devil. In some ways, and Luther talked, I don't think he was the only one, he talked about the unholy trinity. There's the flesh. And I think we talk about that a lot. That's my own sin. Even as a believer, I'm still sinful. Okay, that's right. But what about the world? Okay, we talk about that some, that there's forces and ideas and people out in the world, other human beings that oppose Christ and His ways.
But then there's the devil. And I think we could probably regain a little bit more of that emphasis, and it's certainly in the ministry of Jesus. And so that means that ultimately, I want to speak carefully here, sickness, physical sickness, is a manifestation of evil. Now I'm not saying that you get sick because you did something wrong. I'm not saying that at all.
But sickness and death has a spiritual dimension. It's not just a physical reality. It's a sign that our world is still broken. The only kind of people who get sick and die, Mike, are sinners. Well, that's all of us. And that's why Jesus died actually because He became a sinner. He didn't have any sin of His own, but He took our sin on Himself. And part of that meant that He would die. Because "the wages of sin is death." So, it puts a spiritual interpretation on the problems of the world that I think we do well—it's not just natural. Sickness, again, is not just a phenomenon of molecules and viruses and bacteria, although it is that as well.
Now, nothing can separate a believer from the love of God which is his or hers in Christ Jesus. Not life or death or angels or anything. But that doesn't change the fact that death is an enemy and it's an evil, it's a mitigated, it's a softened evil, but it's still evil. Just like sickness. Physical sickness is a sign of our not yet perfected, not yet turned right side up world.
Michael Zeigler: To use the language of Jesus, the strong man has been stripped of his power and is being plundered. The evil one is being plundered.
Jeff Gibbs: I really like that image actually.
Michael Zeigler: Yes. But again,
Jeff Gibbs: Jesus is stronger than the devil. I really like that image.
Michael Zeigler: We can fit in a miraculous healing into our present modern technological worldview, but it's this devil, this evil one that makes us uncomfortable, or we just don't quite know how to understand who he is and what he does. But these spiritual beings that are hostile to God's kingdom coming, that seems like it's a pretty important thing to understand when looking at Jesus' life and ministry in the Gospel according to Luke.
Jeff Gibbs: It is. I kind of feel ashamed to admit, but I don't think I'm alone here, that I go for long stretches of time without kind of pondering this dimension of the world in which I still live. So, this is where the Scripture simply calls me back. And says, "Oh yeah. You've forgotten about this." As an example, Mike, I tend to be kind of a worrier, and I'll wake up in the night and I'll worry about this and that and the other. And sometimes I just can't shake it. I just can't shake it. And Renee, you know Renee, she sometimes says to me, "Well, you just need to rebuke Satan."
And so sometimes, fairly often actually, during the night, when I find myself plagued by these worries, I just pray the Agnus Dei over and over again. "Lamb of God, You take away the sin of the world. Have mercy on us. Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world. Grant us your peace." And I don't know, I wouldn't say it works every time, but if you're going to be awake during the night, it's not a bad thing to be pondering.
Michael Zeigler: I love the way Jesus, in the book of Acts 26, he characterizes the whole life of the Christian, of the follower, is turning from the power of Satan to God. That's what he says the mission of Paul is—and through him the church—is turning from one power to another.
Jeff Gibbs: Yeah. And it is a battle. There's a modern Christian hymn that I quite like. It's called "O Church Arise." And there's a line in there that says, "Our call to war ... against the captor" strong. That's Satan, not to rage against the captives." Those are unbelievers. And now again, evil people do evil things. And unbelievers sometimes act very much like the enemies of God. But I like the primary emphasis of that, is that the real enemy is Satan here. And I don't think we're ever called to love Satan. But we are called to love our enemies because they're Satan's captives. And I just love that. And then it goes on, it shows this different way, this is St. Paul's language now, but the different way of being king and doing Kingdom and reigning. So, our call to war against the captor strong, not to rage against the captives, and wield "the sword that makes the wounded whole."
Michael Zeigler: Sword of the Spirit.
Jeff Gibbs: Yeah, exactly. Isn't that beautiful?
Michael Zeigler: Is the Word of God.
Jeff Gibbs: It's the sword, but it doesn't wound. It makes the wounded whole. I thought, boy, that songwriter was having a good day when he came up with that lyric.
Michael Zeigler: Thank you for sitting down with us and making time to help us take up this sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.
Jeff Gibbs: You're very welcome, Mike. It's a pleasure to be here.
Music Selections for this program:
"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.
"The Only Son from Heaven" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)