Ravi Zacharias - Chariots of Fire
My message is called "Chariots of Fire" and, in fact, Danielle, who's a runner on our staff, wanted to know if I'd really do the honors and run up onto the platform. But I'd save you that agony. You can enjoy Vangelis' music in the privacy of your own home sometime, but that was an award winning film taken literally from the Book of Kings and the story of Elijah and Elisha where this motif of chariots of fire comes in, first in the glimpse that Elisha gets as he sees his teacher in Elijah being lifted up into the heavens.
Elijah had given him the condition that "If you're there looking while I'm lifted up into the heavens, you will indeed receive what you have asked for, which is a very hard thing. You've asked for a double portion of the spirit with which God has endowed me". If you go back to 1 Kings 19, that conversation takes place. Elijah walks into this family home and the farming setting where this young Elisha is plowing. And in a very ceremonial and metaphorical sense, he passes on the mantle because Elijah knows the end is coming for him and he goes and looks for Elisha, who's plowing with the oxen. And he takes his cloak and throws it onto the younger man.
The young man knew exactly what the implications were and he ran after Elijah and wanted to know if he could just go back and talk to his parents a while before he left. And Elijah just told him to go and do what he felt he needed to do and he said, "You can then follow me". Elisha goes back, offers a sacrifice with the oxen, and the next scene is Elisha following Elijah wherever he went, from Gilgal to Jericho to Jordan and Bethel. All of these places where there were divine visitations to remind him of all of the implications of those encounters. He saw the power of God, he witnessed the presence of God, he saw the sovereignty of God: all of these truths that Elijah was passing on to him in these geographical locations.
And finally, when he said, "I want a double portion of your spirit". Elijah said, "You have asked a hard thing: but if you will see me when I am lifted up, God will honor that". And if you track the lives of these two men, you will see numerically and functionally Elisha, in many, many ways, eclipsed that of this thundering prophet we know as Elijah, who'd stood before the prophets of Baal, who'd stood before Ahab and Jezebel and now as his time had come to go on, the next time you see Elijah really, after he's lifted up by the chariots that God sends for him, is when he sits his foot in the Promised Land on the Mount of Transfiguration when he comes with Moses and Peter is just overwhelmed by the presence of the two people for whom God himself was the undertaker: Moses and Elijah, who were just lifted up into the heavens.
But what happens here is a remarkable story in 2 Kings 6. I'll just read it for you. What's happening is that the band of attackers are coming from Aram constantly. The Aramians were the enemies that were doing away. We heard that the Amalakites yesterday, the Aramians were amongst those also who gave the Israelites a hard time. And the king of Aram is puzzled that every time he makes a plan, the king of Israel seems to know it. And so he's looking at his confidants and he says, "Who of you is a betrayer? Which of you is going around and telling him or telling them all that's going to happen". They said, "It's not any one of us, king. The fact of the matter is he's got a man by the name of Elisha, the servant of the Lord, and he seems to know in secret whatever you plan in secret for yourself". And the king rather foolishly says, "We're going to get him. Let's make a secret plan and go and get Elisha".
Now, this is the very man who knows all that's planned secretly, so here's what happens in verse 27 when he finishes saying, "None of us, my Lord," and then in verse 13 it says, after verse 12 of 2 kings 6, "Go and find out where he is", the king ordered, "And so I can capture him". Then he sent horses and chariots and a strong force there. They went by night and surrounded the city. When the servant of the man of God got up and went out early in the morning (this is Elisha's right hand man) and went out early in the morning, an army with horses and chariots had surrounded the city. "O my Lord," he said, "What shall we do," the servant asked. "Don't be afraid," the prophet answered. "Those who are with us are more than those who are with them". And Elisha prayed, "O Lord, open his eyes so that he may see". Then the Lord opened the servant's eyes and he looked and he saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.
It was my privilege a couple of years ago, when speaking at the prayer breakfast for the House of Lords to be at the same table with David Puttnam, who actually produced the great film chariots of fire, and he is a member of the House of Lords. And when they introduced me as David Puttnam and I said, "You're the one who really did chariots of fire. He said, "Oh, you've heard about it, have you"? And very humbly, he tried to dodge it, but it's a remarkable story of how he had studied the life of Eric Liddell who sort of envisioned the strength from above over against as he was running against his competitor all the time, competing against him and ultimately when he won the event that he was not used to running because he was not here. He was not wanting to run even the heat on the Lord's day. And Eric Liddell went on to become a missionary in China, seeing always those chariots of fire that were around him.
We discussed that film a bit and I told him what it meant to me. I want to talk to you tonight on that theme. Let me begin by reading for you a British Theologian's Comment on why people turn away from the church. I won't name him, and I have reasons for that, but let me read what he says.
Tell me, what is your image of Christianity? Is it old ladies in hats perhaps, a Sunday school of six year olds singing, "I am h-a-p-p-y", a couple of nervous, spindly students offering you an invitation to a coffee party at the college Christian union. Is that what puts you off Christianity? That it is all too wet and effeminate? Or is it the showy professionalism or mass evangelism that antagonizes you? That gleaming transatlantic smile that beams down at you from the video relay, the oily sincerity of the soloist as she croons her Gospel entertainment, the unscrupulous emotionalism of the appeal fanned by the humming choirs and tear-stained faces? Is that what turns you off Christianity? Maybe it's the mass evangelistic spectacular with its glossy advertising and its razzmatazz. Perhaps it is the respectable image of the church that you dislike: those rows of new cars parked outside each Sunday, those terribly nice people in their frightfully chic outfits you meet inside, the vicar who talks as if he's got a plum in his mouth, and those delicate cucumber sandwiches his wife offers you at a tea party. Is it all too conventional, too middle class for you maybe?
You know, there's plenty of so-called Christianity in this world that it's pathetically fashionable, superficially showy, and boringly trite. It turns my stomach as well as it turns yours, and I don't mind it the least if you tell me how much it turns yours. But the existence of 1.000 fakes does not mean there is no such thing as a genuine diamond, and the Christianity I'm writing to you about, says he, is what Jesus talks about in the Bible and that's what interests me. Listen to the description: pathetically fashionable, superficially showy, and boringly trite. That's the way Christianity is often viewed by the skeptic.
Listening to that professor, you really believe that Jesus turned water into wine and so on? How ridiculous can all of this be that you actually subscribe to that kind of a worldview. But what really is tearing this country apart at its core are philosophical and ideological issues that at their core are morally decided. Can you really live beyond your means? Can you desacrilize life, sexuality, the home? Can all of these things really be treated on purely naturalistic terms and then be moved forward on the wings of some psychedelic fancy or some imaginary goal that we want to pursue because after all, we're a great nation. That's what we seem to keep reminding ourselves. We can do it anyway.
When you go back to the Book of Kings, you see this constant encounter between the religiously minded, prophetically minded, God's revelation minded individual who stands over against the leader and the people with the reminder that there is a perspective and a counter perspective, a calling and a counter call that ultimately the Kingdom of God must reign supreme, in your life individually, in our lives as family members in the community and the nation at large.
And so when Elijah goes off the scene, you begin to see how important it is that he has a successor because Elijah had encountered Jezebel and Ahab, and when Ahab died and Elijah is about to leave, the first Book of Kings ends and the second Book of Kings begins. And that second Book of Kings begins with a farewell to Elijah and now comes, all of a sudden, Elisha and he's going to be dealing with the successor of Ahab. And I want to take for you the motifs that are addressed, to mention at least a couple of things here.
Number one, God is intimately involved in nations. He' intimately involved in individual decision making. And he cares how the people of God respond to the issues of their time. It is thoroughly pervasive, intentionally penetrating and with a message and a call to a higher order. So I want to look at five different places in which the message speaks so clearly. First, I want to speak to you on the place of history. And ironically, in the film chariots of fire, this very chapter is quoted. After I wrote those verses down, I remembered when I saw the movie reading from Isaiah 40.
Do you not know... Have you not heard... Has it not been told to you from the beginning... Have you not understood since the earth was founded? He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth and his people are like grasshoppers. He brings princes to naught and reduces the rulers of this world to nothing. No sooner are they planted, no sooner are they sown, no sooner do they take root in the ground than he blows them away and they wither. And a whirlwind sweeps them away like chaff. Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary and his understanding no one can fathom.
He will not grow tired or weary and his understanding no one can fathom. "Even youths grow tired and weary and young men stumble and fall, but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not be faint". Listen to that last verse again. "...Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength". Why does it say that? Because sometimes our strength is going. You're not going to be able to make it if it's not renewed in some way. "They will soar on wings like eagles". Why is it important for us to do that? Because sometimes we can get so bound into a narrower vision, we don't see the total picture and the higher view of what God is doing across the world and what God is doing across history.
"They will run not grow weary". It's easy to get tired when you're running and give it up and say, "I'm not going to continue anymore". "They will walk and not be faint". Your daily directions, step by step: it's easy for you to sometimes say, "Is this all really worth it"? And what I find is that stunning next verse that begins in Isaiah 41. It says in these words, "Be silent before me, you islands. Be silent before me".
So I want to talk to you about what God tells us about history. It is remarkable that we understand it. Of all the definitions of histories that I've read, one of them stands out the most, and it is this: history is nothing more than a compilation of innumerable biographies. History is nothing more than a compilation of innumerable biographies. It's individual lives writ large, how it makes a change for better or for evil. Martin Luther talked about history and he said, "It's like a drunken man reeling from one wall to the other, knocking itself senseless by every hit". Like a drunken man reeling from one wall to the other, knocking itself senseless with every hit.
When will we ever learn that we can't live profane lifestyles in a nation? When will we ever learn that our leaders need to know how to honor God and not think that they are super men or super women and can do it all in their own strength? I see three implications of understanding the nature of history. The first is this: when the sacred trust of God is abandoned, the web of evil gets more complex. When the sacred trust of God is abandoned, the web of evil gets more complex. It doesn't get simpler. It only gets more entangling and more puzzling and more convoluted to find your way out of this mess.
My good and dear friend Peter Sorenson, he's been a blessing to my life over many, many years: Peter and Victoria... They're here. You saw Peter briefly this morning as the treasurer of our organization. Peter and Victoria, Peter has been a very successful businessman on Wall Street and so on, but he gave up his career in business some years ago to go and work amongst the prisoners in Africa. He's following the footsteps of his mother, who had a great passion. And they moved to South Africa for three years just to get behind prison walls and work with prisoners in those dark settings.
Some months ago, he asked me if I would like to come and visit Angola prison in baton rouge. And you know, in a busy life, you say yes to things because you know the people are asking you, and yes, I will do that. Just a week before we went to Angola, we were together at the United Nations prayer breakfast where I was delivering a brief talk. And Peter just looked at me afterwards. He said, "Are you prepared for this"? He said, "Be prepared for a life-changing experience".
It is very hard for me to still process what happened that day. You get off the plane. The chaplain receives you. You drive for about an hour. The last 20 mile stretch is a narrow single road with nothing around you 'til you arrive in this massive acreage which is larger than Manhattan Island and you've got 5.300 prisoners in Angola prison, 85% of whom are on life without parole. We had the opportunity to speak to the staff and the leadership. We had the opportunity to minister to individuals on death row and then to do a plenary session where the message was piped into all of the cells where the prisoners could listen to the message at night.
And when you think of 5.300 of them there, over 4.000 of them who will never walk out of those prison walls, and just to be sure, there's somewhere between 50 and 100 hound dogs. Some of them are a special crossbreed between a wolf and a dog because the wolf has a seven times more intensity, capacity of smell so that if they ever escape and have to run that 20 mile road all alone, those hounds will get a hold of them before they will ever escape. A few years ago when this chaplain, Burl Cain, came there, it was such a blood-spilling prison that every prisoner checked in was given a knife along with his bedding to go into his cell because they were told "You will never survive without this".
And one of the chaplains told us, blood splattered on the walls, on the ceiling, on the carpet, and there was so much of murder and strife going on in there 'til this one man came and decided to change it — the man who I just mentioned to you by the name of Burl Cain. And I remember, as I walked past death row, and I know I say this tongue in cheek, but there's a seriousness to it. You know, if you have to sit in a plane that's not going to open its doors for 40 minutes because there's no Jetway available, we start complaining: or if a door gets, the elevator door gets jammed or whatever... Think of being a young man in your 20s and 30s and you're never going to walk out of that prison the rest of your life.
And as I walked along death row and we put our hands between the bars, Peter with his buddies and I, one by one, we'd shake hands with them. One guy from Argentina reached my hand and said, "I listen to your radio program every day, as much as I can do it. Will you please sign one of your books for me"? He's there on death row. And after we visited death row and spoke to them, I remember going... We went into the death chamber. I have my ideas on these things and I was not prepared for the emotions that swirled within me. You walk into the room where they have their last meal and see where it is served. Then you walk into the room where they are strapped in and where the injection is going to be given to them.
And beside that are two tiny little booths for the members of the family and the victim's family and one observing member of the law to see when this injection is going to be put in and properly done and that lethal dose is given and they are gone within seconds once that injection is given in. And the chaplain told us the last time he was there, he saw the man who had raped his daughter and murdered her and the mother was sitting there behind glass, watching the execution about to take place. And there happened to be a political leader was a mess himself at that time, a lawless man. And on the wall hangs a phone and that phone is there so that the governor of the state can call seconds before the execution and call a stay for this.
And he said a minute or two before the execution, the phone rang. The guy releases, thinking he's going to get a stay. And the politician calls just to say, "How's it going"? How's it going? The web of evil, the web of evil is our own corrupt hearts and our inability to even change these lives. You walk away from there, there was a six foot six guy with us who is a chaplain to the University of Virginia, basketball and football teams - a good friend of Peter: giant of a man. And he phoned Peter the next day and Peter said he just sobbed and sobbed on the phone, recollecting the emotions of the previous day.
Ladies and gentlemen, the web of evil just gets deeper and deeper and deeper in history. And sometimes it can be in the highest offices and most corrupt settings and the world desperately needs historical leaders whose lives can get us out of this web of evil. But before looking into that web of evil, I want you to back up for just a moment and ask yourself where the church is in all of this. How do we address these issues?
It was the poet Bacon who said, "There are three stages", Byron, "In the declination of religion". Listen very carefully, please: three stages in the declinations of religion, how religion declines. I want you to hear carefully. This is what Byron said. The first is heresy, when true God is worshipped with false worship: when the true God is worshipped with false worship. I ask you to look around the landscape of the church today and ask yourself how much heresy really dominates worship today. Number two, it's idolatry, where false Gods are worshipped while we suppose them to be true. Think of all that happened in the new age movement that came about, from heresy to idolatry. And the third he calls witchcraft, when we adore false Gods. Knowing them to be wicked, we still worship those false Gods.
From heresy to idolatry to witchcraft: this is actually Romans 1, professing ourselves to be wise, we become fools. Think of the celebratory way in which we now see evil getting more and more heinous. But then there is a second status. Not only do we see history and how evil gets more complex, but how every generation needs to be won each time over. This is so critical for us to understand in our ministry: how every generation needs to be won on its own terms.
You know, I was raised in a very comfortable home and all was well by Indian standards and so on. But my parents had absolutely no clue, no clue what was going on inside my heart, none. They had no idea how desperately I was moving towards self-destruction: not really their fault, but probably they just made the assumption they were okay, they came through all right, why can't my children just be all right as well. One of the saddest books I have ever read is a book called "Father and son", written by Edmund Gosse. These were two brilliant people, the father... The father was a marine biologist, Edmund Gosse, and the son, the brilliant guy who ended up as the curator of the library at the House of Lords. He was a professor at Trinity College, Cambridge: was knighted before he passed away.
And at the age of 58, he wrote a book about his father's faith and his faith and how he walked away from it. On the last two pages, you read this, his father writing to him, "Son, when you came to us in the summer the heavy flow fell upon me, I discovered how very far you had departed from God. It was not that you had yielded to the strong tide of youthful blood and had fallen a victim to fleshly lusts. In that case, however sad your enlightened conscious would have spoken loudly and you'd have found your way back to the blood which cleanses us from all sin to humble confession and self abasement to forgiveness to recommunion with God. It was not this. It was worse. It was horrid. It was insidious infidelity, which had already worked in your mind and heart with terrible energy, far worse because this was sapping the very foundations of your faith and all true Godliness. But you know, son, nothing seemed left to which I could appeal to you anymore. I found no common ground with you. The holy scriptures no longer had any authority and you had taught yourself to evade their inspiration. Any particular oracle of God which pressed you, you could easily explain away".
And he goes on and on. He said, "Please don't think I'm speaking to you in passion and using unanswerable strength of words, but if the written Word of God is not absolutely authoritative, what do we know of God? What more can we infer from Plato and Socrates and Cicero and all of that"? And he goes to this. "This dreadful conduct of yours I had intended after much prayer to pass by in entire silence, but your insincere inquiries after the cause of my sorrow have led me to go to the root of the matter and I could not stop short of the development contained in this letter. Son, it is with pain and not with anger that I send it to you, hoping that you may be induced to review the whole course of your life and that this is only a stage. If grace were ever granted to you in this, how joyfully should I bury all the past and again have this sweet fellowship with my son, my beloved son, as of old".
This is the son's closing paragraph after that letter in the book.
"The reader who has done me the favor to follow this record of the clash of two temperaments will not fail to perceive the crowning importance of this letter from which I have just made a long quotation. It sums up for me the closer logic of the whole history of the situation and I may leave it to form the epigraph for this little book. All that I need further to say is to point out that when such defiance is offered to the intelligence of a thoughtful and honest young man like myself with the normal impulses of my 21 years, there are only two alternatives: either I must cease to think for myself or my individualism or I must be instantly confirmed and the necessity of religious independence must be emphasized. No compromise is seen. No compromise was offered. No proposal of a truce would have been acceptable. It was a case of everything and nothing, and thus desperately challenged, I threw away my conscious once and for all and the yolk of this dedication and as respectfully as I could, without parade or remonstrance, I took upon myself a human being's privilege to fashion my inner life for myself". Pretty heavy stuff.
God is sovereign over history. And whatever happens, let us win this generation and put them into the places where they can reach their own, and let us know for a certainty, that as they reach their own we must find the involvement and the engagement. Let us not become cynical and apathetic, and leave the whims of others who take the people astray to another calling, and let them lead the whole nation in wrong directions. We can't do that. We must be involved. Place of history. Secondly, it's the place of the leader. And the place of history is efluctuation: in the place of the leader you see politicization.
I found out one thing, that those in politics who stay the course with a high character are so rare and absolutely indispensable to the ongoing flow of the leadership of nations. This man in Angola prison, Burl Cain, we've had lunch with him. Two politicians came to attend a closing meeting that I was speaking at, I won't even name what parties they were representing. But as we were walking away, we were driving in the same car together, and one of them was a prominent senator in the state, looked at me and he said, "We love this guy. The reason we've got him here is because he saved a hellish place in our city, and what he has done here in this prison. And these two men, one was the mayor: one was a senator, men of God, battling it out in a tough arena.
Sometime back I was speaking at one of the opening sessions of the senate in one state, and the senator who hosted us took us out for lunch afterwards, Crin was with me at that time, we went and had lunch together. And he wrote me a beautiful letter after that, and I sent it to my entire board for them to read it. And in that he pours his heart out, how frustrating it gets, how lonely it gets, how discouraging it gets, but they are there in a place because they need to be a light in a dark world.
I remember one member of parliament in Ottawa, I've tried to address their member, their breakfast, taking us out afterwards and talking to Margi and me. He says, "You'll know how many times I wanted to walk away from this position: it's very hard, very hard and very lonely". He said, "But I'm only here because I'm called in my nation to serve God here, and I will continue to remain here". One of our previous presidents, when I was alone with him before I went to speak at the prayer breakfast, he just said to me in that room how dreadfully lonely life had become for him. Dreadfully lonely, but he elacerated from every direction, attacked from every direction, and if your conscience is calling you in a certain direction, right or wrong, you make the blunder, or you do the right thing. The fact of the matter is, somebody will always want to take you to task.
Leadership is critical, but I want to point out something for you that is indispensable in leadership. In India there is a very well-known film actor, his name is Shahrukh Khan, they call him Srk. He's one of these good looking guys, and every actress' dream is to be costarring with Shahrukh Khan. He's the big name there, they are the Bollywood icons. I remember one young actress I met, and she was very happy to tell me that she was about to be starring in a movie opposite Shahrukh Khan: it didn't matter one wit to me but it meant the world to her. Shahrukh Khan's fame has started to plummet and he's behaving in an unseemly way in the public eye, and only an Indian journalist could have written an article like this. Listen to what he says, "Shahrukh Khan and the case of the imploding star".
And the journalist is called Avirook Sen, and he says this, "Out there in the cosmos stars that shine much brighter than the sun dies spectacular deaths that are caused by the heavy hearts. Their core possesses such a great mass, that gravity fuses gases into increasingly weightier elements. Sulfur, magnesium, silicon... And finally iron. Iron of the core of a star means death for a star, because the energy consumed infusing the elements into iron is greater than the energy released during the fusion process. With no energy radiating outwards the gravity of iron at its center results in the rest of the star collapsing upon itself at tremendous velocity".
As one website puts it in astronomy, "The star starts consuming itself from the inside out". And the journalist says this, "Are these the kinds of cosmic forces that are causing the implosion of Bollywood superstar Shahrukh Khan"? Ego, iron at the center, the heavy sense of who you really think you are. I've often talked to my team, and I say this to them again as I say it to myself, if in any one moment any one of us thinks we're the cat's whiskers, and thinks we've got all the intellect going and all the education going, and we're some pretty big deal, that's iron at the core beginning to bring about your implosion. Humility is the Hallmark, it is the Hallmark of a great leader, who being in the form of God thought it not robbery to be equal with God, but made himself of no reputation, and took upon himself the form of a servant. Being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross, therefore, God also has exalted him and given to him a name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow and every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the father.
I have been in this work for 40 years, and sometimes when I have stepped behind the pulpit with the greatest sense of certainty that the message is well organized and well outlined, I've made the biggest blunders in those messages. At other times where I've walked in there terrified that I don't have this thing together at all, you walk out and you say to yourself God was there. Michael told me when he came back from speaking in Lison, he felt totally confused while he was delivering his message, he got his beginning in the end and the end in the beginning. And you know, all over the world that I've traveled, people have mentioned the message to me, how anointed and how rich and how powerful it was, and the response that he actually got from it.
I'll never forget when I was in McGill University recently: it's a liberal university in Montreal, Canada. I had just literally come from the U.N. Speaking that morning, flying out that afternoon, doing an open forum that night, doing a faculty lunch on the next day, and my final message on why Jesus, to this packed audience at McGill, I walked in there totally exhausted: totally exhausted just from flying and the intensity of just one U.N. engagement, trying to do this.
I want you to know that at half way through that message (after 40 years I can say things like this) in the middle of that message I sensed God saying to me at that moment, "I'm with you. I'm on you. I'm anointing this, you are preaching my tRuth. Keep doing it. Keep preaching" — there was a sense in which your body was responding to the intensity of God's presence. I wish I could tell you you always sense that. But I can tell you this, out of the four talks there, when I was at my weakest, God gave the richest anointing. There is no reason for self or ego in the calling in this work or any other work, and if politicians are so exalted in themselves, beware of them, they are dangerous to themselves, to their family, and to the nation. It is only the humble that God has promised to exalt. And the wisdom that comes from above is the wisdom that God wants us to have.
Humility: the place of history, fluctuation: the place of the leader, politicization: the place of the prophet, which is proclamation: that's what we are called to do. And I want to point out three things to you, very quickly, before I move to the final thought here. There is a cost in preparing, and the cost goes way beyond ourselves. I often wonder, even when my mother didn't know Christ, how much time she actually spent on her knees asking God to intervene in my life. I think of Hannah going to the temple and using the words, "God, remember me, remember me". You go through the Bible and look at the "Remember mes" and you'll find how crucial they are.
Samson, when he walked away from God, walks into public and says "Lord, remember me". The thief on the cross about to die, Lord, remember me. And here's Hannah saying, "Please remember me". And God blessed her with that son, Samuel. Hannah was behind it. Susanna Wesley was behind John Wesley. History tells us little. Eternity will tell us wherein lay the real powers before the anointing and the calling of people, people whose names we will never know, who prayed and who called upon God, and who coveted God's work on an individual's life.
I want to talk to you, three things very quickly on the calling of a prophet. Number one is the cost. The cost. When I look at some of my younger colleagues, sometimes I really feel like shedding a tear for them as I say to myself do they really know what all could lie ahead? It's great when you start out and it's wonderful. Cost of it, the expression of it, you can't have duplicity, you can't have distortion, you can't have deception, you cannot preach yourself, that's Paul's 2 Corinthians 4. And I'll move on. And you have to see the unseen and the chariots of fire that God is going to provide for you wherever you go. The place of the miracle: affirmation. History: fluctuation. Leadership: politicization. Prophetic voice: proclamation. Place of the miracle, affirmation.
I have so much to tell you here, but this is a sermon all in itself, the place of the miracle. But I won't go into details: I've got two pages of scientific facts here that I want to give to you. I'll leave it all out for now. Maybe it will be a talk for Wheaton or something, when I'm with you, Stuart. But I want to conclude in the miracle section with just this: when you look at the full laws of nature as they talk about it, you've got the law of gravity, you've got electromagnetism, you've got the strong and the weak nuclear forces, and you take those and multiply them into all the contingencies that need to be exact and precise of such extraordinary magnitude that scientists themselves will tell you, those who think water into wine is tough, this is ten time tougher.
They believe in a miracle. Listen, for example, to what it is that sir Frederick Hoyle talked about in protein formation. He says this, "It is an outrageously small possibility", he goes on to say that he calculated the odds that all the functional proteins necessary for life might form in one place by random events, and he and Chandra Wickramasinghe, who is a professor of mathematics from Cardigan Wales, professor Hoyle, at that time, in Cambridge of astronomy, they calculated the odds of this happening in a random setting is greater than 1 in 10th to the 40.000th power. That means one followed by forty thousand zeroes.
And then he goes on to say this, "Since there are only 10th to the 80th power atoms in the entire universe", here's what Frederick Hoyle says, "It is an outrageously small probability that simply cannot be faced, even if the whole universe at its beginning consisted of merely organic soup". Then he goes on to say this, and I quote, "Life could not have originated here on earth". Did you hear what he's saying? It could not have originated here on earth. Nor does it look as though biological evolution can be explained from within an earthbound theory of life. Genes from outside the earth are needed to drive the evolutionary process, this much can be consolidated by strictly scientific means by experiment, by observation, and calculation.
What is he saying? The panspermia theory: seeds had to be brought from another planet in order to make it possible for earth to breed life. That's what he went with. That's what he went with. And then you listen to this comment here, Steven Hawking, "Why did the universe start out with so nearly the critical rate of expansion that separates models that we collapse from those that go on expanding forever. So that even now ten thousand million years later", (that's U.S. 10 billion), "It is still expanding nearly at the precise critical rate. If the rate of expansion one second after the big bang had been smaller by even one part in a thousand, million, million", (that's a U.S. Quintillion, by the way), "If it had changed one second after the big bang by even a smaller part than one in a quintillion, the universe would have re-collapsed before it ever reached the present state".
And then he makes this comment, "Even if there is only one possible unified theory, it is just a set of rules and equations, that's all it is. My question," says he, "What is it that breaths fire into the equations and makes a universe for then us to describe. The usual approach of science of constructing a mathematical model cannot answer these questions of why this should be a universe for the model that we have to describe, and why the universe goes to all the bother of existing". So Francis Crick comes in and says this, "An honest man with all the knowledge available to us now could only state that in some sense the origin of life appears at the moment to be almost a miracle. So many other conditions which would have to have been so strictly followed".
I want to leave you with this application and then close my final thought here. And it is this: a miracle, I believe that the average naturalist doesn't go with the miracle because he doesn't like where it's going to lead him. If they would observe the simple sublimity of life... You know, I've become a grandfather in the last year, and you take a tiny little baby in your arms and you actually see them very differently to, even in a way you saw your own children, and I have a theory on that. But you see this tiny little one, and you watch the crawling start, the attempt to walk, the laughter, the smile, the tears, the names, the reaching out of the arms.
And, you know, when you're married as long as I have been married, my wife knows everything I'm going to say. And I've noticed of late, whenever I think I've come up with anything profound, and I want to back up and smile and think that was a great thought, she'll say, "Well, it's not just that," and then she'll come up with something else. So I call it that "Not just that" moment. But recently I gave her my theory of why grandchildren are seen the way they are. I said, you know, when you're a parent you're expending so much of energy just taking care of them, and if you have an X amount of energy locked up within you, it's all expanded in just giving and taking care and sleepless nights, and all of that, you don't have a chance just to sit back and marvel at all of this grandeur until you are in your old years and then came the "Yeah, but not just that".
I said here it comes. And this is not just one of those "Not just that's" and I think it was very well done: I have to admit it in public. She said to me it's not just that, I think. She said, you know, maybe when we're older we know what really lies ahead in life, and your heart reaches out with this sense of joy, but also a little bit of apprehension of what may lie ahead of them. The world knows this. The world knows this. And the ultimate battle is between good the evil. If the battle is ultimately between good and evil, then let me end by saying to you, what is the answer?
A rock musician said, "Why do we never get an answer when we're knocking at the door? There's a thousand, million questions about hate and death and war. Because when we stop and look around us, there's nothing that we need in a world of persecution that is whirling in its greed. Why do we never get an answer when we're knocking at the door"? And then he says this, "I'm looking for a miracle in my life. I'm looking for someone to change my life".
The rock musician says that. Why do we never get an answer? I'm looking for a miracle. That's the greatest miracle you and I can witness and spread to the world: that God can change the heart of a person bent towards wickedness and evil, and transform that individual for good and the glory of God: that's why this ministry exists.
I will close by giving you this simple little illustration and closing it with a piece of poetry. Please follow me, I want to pull it all together now. I know we wandered a lot in a place of politics, place of history, the place of the prophet, and the place of now, we come, rightly, ultimately, in the miracle, and now to the place of the message. When I arrived at Angola prison, just as soon as I got off my plane, turned my blackberry on, there was a message from Nancy, she's on our staff. Nancy, as you know, has been with me for about 27, 28 years. She said, "Ravi, a lady just got on our website and found out that you're going to be in Angola prison, and her son Melvin is in prison. She's hoping and praying you might be able to see him".
So as soon as I got into the car I talked to the chaplain, I said here's a name and here's a number, is there any way I can see this young man before I left, and I left it with him. The day went and I never heard anything. And then we come to the moment when I'm about to speak, and as we're about to speak, this guy walks in. But let me back up to two scenes before that. The one scene is I'm speaking to 90 students who are studying theology in the prison: they are never going to get out, but they're studying to become pastors to the prisoners. In that prison today no profanity's allowed by staff or inmate. The place has been cleaned up by this Godly man who had a passion to come and make a difference and become one of the safest prisons in the country. And they've got a theological institution, 90 students enrolled.
And as I'd finished speaking, one young man came up to me and he said, "I want to thank you". He said your books, and this and that, we were talking. I said, "Are you here for life"? He said, "Yes, sir". I said, "How do you cope"? He said, "The only thing that really makes me uncomfortable, two things," he said. He said, "I used to belong to a cult," and he names the cult, and he says, "And the other thing is Sunday morning when I watch the prosperity Gospel people on television and I say to myself look at the lies. The prisoners here are never going to get out of here, and they're giving them all kinds of false hope".
He said, "It really bothers me". He said, "But the thing that bothers me most is not that I'm in here for my life sentence, I can live because I've now found Jesus Christ in my life, but my parents are still locked up in this cult and I'm wishing desperately somebody will take the Gospel of Jesus Christ to them". That evening he was in the musical group singing before I spoke, and then when I went to the death row place and about the place of execution, I saw two paintings on the wall. One painting on the wall was Daniel in the lion's den, to intimate to the person about to be executed as he's kneeling, that you can still be rescued, maybe, and you pray. But if you're not rescued you look at the other wall and there's a chariot of fire taking Elijah up into the heavens, if you're not rescued this way, you'll be rescued that way: painted by the prisoners.
The evening begins and a man, I'm about to speak and a man comes hat in hand like this, and the chaplain comes and says this is Melvin. He says, "How are you, sir"? I said, "You're Melvin"? He said, "Yes". I said, "Please sit down". He said, "I can't, I should sit in the back". I said, "No, you sit down here. The warden is here, it's okay". He said, "Are you sure"? I said, "Yeah". Sat down like this and I said, "Melvin, I got a letter from your mother. She's praying for you. She's hurting over what's happened to you". And his eyes lifted, and he's going like this.
I finished preaching, gave the invitation, several came forward, I walked back to Melvin, he's standing there hat in hand, I put my hand on his shoulders, I said, "Do you have a Bible"? He said, "Yes". "In your room"? He said, "Yes". I said, "Do you read it"? He said, "No, sir". I said, "I hear you used to go to church. One time you said you believed all this". He said, "Yes, sir". I said, "Why aren't you reading it now"? He said, "I don't know". I said, "Are you please with what brought you here"? We chatted. At the end of it, as his tears rolled down the face, I had the privilege of leading him to Jesus Christ. You should see the letter his mother wrote to us afterwards. She said I just jumped into the air when I heard this and found out what's happened to my boy at Angola prison.
Oscar Wilde wrote this when he was in prison, and with this I close. He talks about a man who's condemned to die.
He did not wear his scarlet coat,
For blood and wine are red,
And blood and wine were on his hands
When they found him with the dead,
The poor dead woman whom he loved,
And murdered in her bed.
He walked amongst the Trial Men
In a suit of shabby grey;
A cricket cap was on his head,
And his step seemed light and gay;
But I never saw a man who looked
So wistfully at the day.
I never saw a man who looked
With such a wistful eye
Upon that little tent of blue
Which prisoners call the sky,
And at every drifting cloud that went
With sails of silver by.
I walked, with other souls in pain,
Within another ring,
And was wondering if the man had done
A great or little thing,
When a voice behind me whispered low,
'THAT FELLOW'S GOT TO SWING.'
Dear Christ! the very prison walls
Suddenly seemed to reel,
And the sky above my head became
Like a casque of scorching steel;
And, though I was a soul in pain,
My pain I could not feel.
I know not whether Laws be right,
Or whether Laws be wrong;
All that we know who lie in gaol
Is that the wall is strong;
And that each day is like a year,
A year whose days are long.
But this I know, that every Law
That men have made for Man,
Since first Man took his brother's life,
And the sad world began,
But straws the wheat and saves the chaff
With a most evil fan.
In Reading gaol by Reading town
There is a pit of shame,
And in it lies a wretched man
Eaten by teeth of flame,
In a burning winding-sheet he lies,
And his grave has got no name.
And there, till Christ call forth the dead,
In silence let him lie:
No need to waste the foolish tear,
Or heave the windy sigh:
The man had killed the thing he loved,
And so he had to die.
And all men kill the thing they love,
By all let this be heard,
Some do it with a bitter look,
Some with a flattering word,
The coward does it with a kiss,
The brave man with a sword!
And every human heart that breaks,
In prison-cell or yard,
Is as that broken box that gave
Its treasure to the Lord,
And filled the unclean leper's house
With the scent of costliest nard.
Ah! happy they whose hearts can break
And peace of pardon win!
How else may man make straight his plan
And cleanse his soul from Sin?
How else but through a broken heart
May Lord Christ enter in?
And he of the swollen purple throat,
And the stark and staring eyes,
Waits for the holy hands that took
The Thief to Paradise;
And a broken and a contrite heart
The Lord will not despise.
The man in red who reads the Law
Gave him three weeks of life,
Three little weeks in which to heal
His soul of his soul's strife,
And cleanse from every blot of blood
The hand that held the knife.
And with tears of blood he cleansed the hand,
The hand that held the steel:
For only blood can wipe out blood,
And only tears can heal:
And the crimson stain that was of Cain
Became Christ's snow-white seal.
Oscar Wilde. History, fluctuation: leadership, politicization: prophetic voice, proclamation: the miracle, affirmation: the place of the message, redemption. Let's go and preach this message for we all live in prisons, prisons of sin that only Christ is big enough to break, and the dear Christ enter in, for only blood can kill the blood and take away the sin. Chariots of Fire surround us to help bring redemption to a world that is dark and is in need. Thank you, and may God richly bless you