On Being Hounded by Christ

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When the Savior gets on our trail, nothing, not even the grave and hell, can stop him.

“The black dog is on your trail,” Howell Raines quipped in his book Fly Fishing Through the Mid-Life Crisis. As a man now in the autumn of life, not too old but no longer young, and as one who has survived the dreaded mid-life crisis, I resonate with Mr. Raines’ warning. Furthermore, as one who is bound by an idolatrous relationship with piscatorial pursuits, I find his fishing stories aren’t too bad either! 

He’s right, angling helps because there is indeed a black dog. Whether Mr. Raines realizes it or not, the black dog has a name, or three names to be precise. They are sin, death, and the devil. And that mid-life? Well, that’s just little more than the realization that sin, death and the devil are gaining and it’s time to formulate a big plan “B.” Though a new job, new spouse, new car, new boat, and a host of other new things are sometimes pressed into service, all in an effort to stave off the growing dread, eventually it’s just more of the same. 

The writer of Ecclesiastes is right, “there is nothing new under the sun” (Eccles. 1:9). Nothing that will help, anyway. Just one sleepless night provides ample time for the evil one to trouble our conscience with things done and left undone against both God and neighbor. Even an ache or pain in a weird place is all it takes to remind us that our days on this earth are numbered. Seeking solace in something new is our plight. But when not tranquilized with the trivial, we cannot deny the black dog is on our trail and closing fast. 

But hear me when I tell of another who is on our trail! His pursuit of us began rather scandalously in the womb of an unwed virgin. Thwarting the rules of biology and social decorum was not an issue for him in his quest for us. Neither was his birth in a stable. Inhabiting the common, everyday places where we live is the habit of the diaper-pooping God. At his hands, death, disease, and societal stigma gave way to life, wholeness, and restoration.

Neither a political tyrant like Pontius Pilate questioning the truthfulness of Jesus’ word nor the Pharisaical skepticism of his authority by religious elites mattered; both were left dazed and confused when blind eyes saw, deaf ears heard, paralyzed legs walked, and sin was forgiven, and all by his command. 

Oh, and the stories he told about his pursuit of the wayward! There’s the one about the bumbling old shepherd who left the ninety-nine sheep to go after one stray. Who knows what the wooly thing was looking for out there in the wilderness, all alone. Try as it might, the mangy non-conformist couldn’t get away. Can you imagine the sight of that old shepherd closing in faster and faster – giggling with joy I like to think – until his precious rebel was in his arms? Over and over that shepherd would complete that same trek to get that same lamb if that’s what it took. And just like that ridiculous shepherd, our Savior won’t let us go! 

But it cost him, you know. His journey for us became deadly serious on Good Friday. Hanging there between two thieves, he took everything we sinners could do. All the rage, all the unbelief and distrust Adam’s children could fling at him rained down until there was nothing left to see but the aftermath. God, the dead Jew, hanging wasted on a cross, and all because he came for us. With no excuse or recourse, the eyewitnesses were thinking of us all when they buried the body quickly, covered it with spices, rolled a stone over it, and returned to that incessant business of self-preservation. Because without him, the black dog stalks us still, and all is lost.

Except when the Savior gets on our trail, nothing, not even the grave and hell, can stop him. “Peace be with you,” he says to his betrayers both then and now, unable to escape his promise of grace and mercy any longer. Should we be surprised? Remember what he told us before he trekked up Golgotha’s hill? He said he would “send out the preachers, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven” (Mark 25: 27). So, we come to the heart of the matter. Though we are chasing the four winds and rebelliously exploring every nook and cranny on earth and heaven to escape the black dog – sin, death, and the devil – Jesus Christ has sought us out, and he has found us. At a font, at a communion rail, through the mouth of a big-mouthed preacher, with bread, wine, water, and words, he has run you down, and you are caught. To hell with the black dog, you are forgiven, for Christ’s sake!