*This is the modified transcript of a message I shared last weekend with the students of Crossroads Church of Walton County during their Disciple Now Weekend. It’s only slightly different from what was actually delivered.
Hi. My name is Jason Brooks, and I am a nerd. A full-fledged, honest-to-goodness nerd. I grew up loving comic books, superhero movies, Legos, Star Wars, G.I. Joe, Spiderman, Batman, Superman, Narnia and lots of other things that guaranteed I didn’t kiss a girl until I was well into high school (and should’ve waited longer than that). I still played with action figures in the eighth grade because I could conceive of better stories in my head than most directors could on screen. I invented universes with my building blocks, had Batman solve more crimes than Sherlock Holmes and the FBI combined, and did it all from the comfort of my little 10 x 10 bedroom with the boxes of comics mylar bagged and stacked organized and neatly in boxes in my closet.
So when I say am well prepared for this task, I want you to know that there are bona fides behind what I’m saying. I’ve loved heroes for as long as I can remember. Wanted to be one for as long as I can remember. Even dressed as one…for as long as it was appropriate for a man to wear his underwear on the outside of his pants.
I am uniquely suited to talk about heroes.
But not just superheroes. I am friends with men and women who fly jets and bombers for our military; men and women who serve at the Pentagon and are currently overseeing operations in the theater of Afghanistan; men and women who wear badges and bulletproof vests and guns to keep my family and yours safe; men and women who put on flame retardant gear and oxygen tanks to save people from the ravages of fire; men and women who work graveyard shifts to save lives at Atlanta’s two trauma level hospitals.
I know heroes.
It helps to have a shared definition of what exactly I mean when I talk about a hero. So, for the sake of this post, a hero is defined as someone who, through the gifts and powers they’ve been given, makes the most of the circumstances they’ve been given to protect, defend and serve the people around them.
You have to have all of those ingredients to have a hero. Can’t have one without them.
But there are also other parts to our understanding of heroes. It’s what author and philosopher Joseph Campbell called “The Hero’s Journey.” Campbell was fascinated by the appearance of what he termed “hero stories” in almost every culture across the globe, and more specifically by the striking similarities between the stories. Tribes with nothing in common were telling stories that seemed to mirror each other. From his research, Campbell identified key traits that every hero story must have. Since we’ve only got a little bit of time tonight, we’re going to concentrate only on the first part of every hero’s story: his origins.
To give you a quick overview, every hero’s journey starts out with the circumstances of his birth – a quick peek at his country/people of origin. At some point, the child is separated from his people and ends up in a foreign place. There, in a strange land, he is called to an adventure or quest. At first the hero denies his calling, but then he is supernaturally aided with abilities and companions to help him fulfill his quest, which begins with a first trial.
That’s the quick view, but it you think about it, you can fit a lot of our contemporary heroes into that description: Spiderman; Superman; Wolverine; Luke Skywalker; Iron Man; Finn from Adventure Time.
And what do our heroes ultimately go on to do? What is the ultimate purpose of a hero? To protect, defend and serve the people around him.
In the book of Hebrews, chapter eleven, we find a few verses that give us some insight on the first duty of a hero – protecting the weak:
23 By faith, after Moses was born, he was hidden by his parents for three months, because they saw that the child was beautiful, and they didn’t fear the king’s edict.
24 By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter
25 and chose to suffer with the people of God rather than to enjoy the short-lived pleasure of sin.
26 For he considered the reproach because of the * Messiah to be greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, since his attention was on the reward.
27 By faith he left Egypt behind, not being afraid of the king’s anger, for Moses persevered as one who sees Him who is invisible.
28 By faith he instituted the Passover and the sprinkling of the blood, so that the destroyer of the firstborn might not touch the Israelites.
29 By faith they crossed the Red Sea as though they were on dry land. When the Egyptians attempted to do this, they were drowned.
Now, before we get started with this passage, let’s take a second to do a quick check: does Moses meet the standard of a hero? Does his story fit within the hero’s journey laid out by Joseph Campbell? To find out, we turn to the book of Exodus, chapter 2 and we find…
Circumstances of birth, check. Separation from family, check (double check, actually – his birth family and his adoptive one!). Ends up in a foreign land, check. Receives his special calling, check. Denies his calling, check. Is given supernatural abilities, check. Is given companions, check. Faces his first trial, check.
Yep. Moses fits.
So let’s talk about this hero, Moses. What made him special?
First, he was uniquely suited to his task. For what God wanted Moses to do, you couldn’t have picked a better person. He was both a Hebrew and an Egyptian. He understood both cultures.
Second, he had a heart for what was just and right. Didn’t execute it very well – let’s face it, murder isn’t the ideal heroic act – but when he saw his people being abused, he stepped up. As the writer of Hebrews says, he “chose to suffer with the people of God rather than to enjoy the short-lived pleasure of sin.”
He could’ve stayed in the Pharaoh’s palace and partied like it was 999. Instead, he abandoned his adopted heritage to avenge the heritage that flowed within his veins.
It reminds me of this clip from Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins:
So we have Bruce Wayne, played perfectly by Christian Bale, orphaned by the gun of Joe Chill. Joe Chill, who was incarcerated with mob boss Carmine Falcone (played expertly by Tom Wilkinson), has been killed by Falcone’s men. Bruce has come to Crime Alley to show Falcone that he’s not afraid of him.
Pretty straightforward, right?
Except Falcone tells Bruce a deep, dark truth: for Bruce to be truly unafraid, to truly be a hero, he has to know what it feels like to taste desperation. He has to know suffering and sorrow, in order to know what has to be done for justice to prevail. After that confrontation, Bruce abandons his life of wealth and privilege and takes to the streets to learn the mean side of life – and it makes him a better hero.
Just like it did with Moses.
Third, and this is crucial when it comes to heroes, he took a big picture view of the world. Moses wasn’t just satisfied that he was sent to bring the Hebrews out; he kept on going until the people were not only free, but were on the verge of seeing their own homeland come to fruition. He “persevered” – kept on going – “as one who sees Him who is invisible.” In other words, he kept his eyes on God and on God’s mission for his life and it kept him in the action.
Imagine if Batman or Superman stopped one crime and then called it a day; they’d be pretty lame, wouldn’t they? A hero makes a habit of sacrificing for the greater good.
Let me bring this home to you: David Bowie had it right – “We can be heroes.” But we can only be heroes if Christ is in us. To become a hero, you have to first have a hero’s heart, and here’s where we have to take a pause and explore something really deep. I mean, really deep, so hang with me.
In real life, God is always the hero of the story.
I know, I know; I just spent 15 minutes rambling about Moses being a hero, fitting the hero’s journey and all that jazz. But here’s the thing: there was nothing special about Moses. nor is there about us. God choses people He desires to use and He then makes them into His image – the image of the hero. God moved in Moses’ life to bring about the circumstances that would make him into the Leader of the Hebrew People.
But God does make us into heroes. When a person accepts Christ as Lord and Savior of the universe, they receive His Spirit within them. It’s a gift, a power upgrade. And like Moses, it’s only when we’re obedient to God’s Word and calling in our life that we can become heroic, because the Spirit of the Real Hero flows inside our veins.
Does this mean we leap tall buildings in a single bound or catch bullets with our teeth?
Only if we’re stupid.
It does mean, however, that we have the power and responsibility to change the world around us. It means that we are called to be Christ’s Body in this time and this place; it means that we cannot sit idly by inside a church building, singing songs about a God who can save the world, and not get out there and try to help Him save it.
A Christian faith that never leaves the church pew, that never reaches out to another person in need, is not a Christian faith. It’s a counterfeit. A bizarro Christian. Backwards and corrupt and worth nothing at all.
Last week in Boston we were reminded once again that the world has some evil people. But we also saw men and women set aside their safety and rush to the aid of others. We saw heroes rush in to protect the weak. You may never find yourself in a situation like that, but if you believe your Bible and what it says about reality, you pass people everyday who are just as weak and defenseless against the evil in this world – and you have the power to help.
Here’s the Apostle Paul writing to Timothy, 2 Timothy 1:7:
“For we are not given a spirit of fearfulness, but of power, love, and sound judgment.”
Pretty cool, huh? But verse 8 goes on to say this:
“So don’t be ashamed about the testimony of our Lord, or of me his prisoner. Instead, share in suffering for the gospel, relying on the power of God.”
If you want to talk about being a hero, you must first talk about being a prisoner of the Lord, a servant of Jesus Christ. Because like Campbell’s journey says – you can’t have a hero’s story if you don’t have a hero’s supernatural power. If you’ve never surrendered your life to Jesus Christ, if you’ve never been convicted of your sins by the Spirit of God and felt remorse and repentance in your heart for those sins, then here is the power of the Gospel – God, in wanting to save the world, sent His One and Only Son into the world to suffer the penalty for your sins against Him. And God was pleased to punish His Son in this way, that we, His creations, might be made righteous through the blood of Christ’s sacrifice.
Today, we can be heroes. But we must first become His.