Chapel shows what a ladder of success looks like
By Rick Vacek
GCU News Bureau
Anyone who has seen Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” probably started seeing flashbacks during Ron Merrell’s talk Monday morning in Chapel at Grand Canyon University Arena.
It is a graphic movie. It is difficult to watch. Modern depictions of the crucifixion tend to clean it up, but Merrell wanted to remind his listeners of why that single event is the greatest horror — and yet the greatest victory — in history.
“This was a hideous way to go,” he said, “and I’m not describing this in such graphic detail to gross you out but to show what sin does.”
The teaching pastor of Heights Church in Prescott didn’t mince words. He spent 10 minutes going moment by moment and breath by labored breath to explain exactly what happened as Christ was tortured and then hung on a cross.
The message was simple: “This whole Christian life is not about how I can climb the ladder to God. It’s how He came down to be close to us,” Merrell said. “… Jesus is taking all of our sin on Himself.”
But the larger message was more complex.
Merrell began by climbing a ladder, literally, to tell the Biblical story of Jonah going to Nineveh, figuratively. The book of Jonah, which contains only four chapters, explains how Jonah didn’t want to go. He didn’t like the people of Nineveh. Their ways were wicked. He didn’t want to have to give them God’s message.
By first climbing the ladder and then crawling underneath it, Merrell comically explained how Jonah got in a boat to Tarshish, in the opposite direction from Nineveh; was thrown overboard by the crew when it encountered rough weather; was swallowed by a large fish; and then finally gave in to God.
The Ninevites listened to Jonah’s warning and repented, and God did not wreak the destruction upon them that He had promised if they didn’t change their ways. Was Jonah delighted? Hardly. That’s where it gets interesting.
“But to Jonah this seemed very wrong, and he became angry,” Chapter 4 begins. “He prayed to the Lord, ‘Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now, Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.’ But the Lord replied, ‘Is it right for you to be angry?’”
That was Merrell’s point: If God can forgive us, why can’t we forgive each other? And that includes forgiving ourselves.
“You may not like certain people, but God does,” Merrell said. “You may not like you, but God does.”
Merrell didn’t limit the passion of his talk to what happened on the cross. He also talked with great emotion (“I love Jesus so much”) about how Christ taking our sins upon Himself applies to our everyday lives. Merrell wondered why we beat ourselves up when “Jesus already came to take care of the sin that’s messing us up.”
He closed with a story about the flag football team that he coached and on which his son Braddock, then 5, played. It was the last game of the season, and the players all decided that they wanted the smallest kid on the team to get a chance to carry the ball.
Once again with great exuberance and detail, Merrell told of how the little guy got the handoff … and got clobbered. Then he got the handoff again … and got clobbered again. But the third time, he went for a touchdown.
Afterward, when Merrell asked his son what he learned from that, Braddock precociously equated it to how “Jesus likes to keep giving me the ball.”
And if we keep accepting that, Merrell emphasized, if we keep climbing that ladder, even when we don’t want to, a much greater treasure awaits.
“You get to give your sins to Jesus, and He gives you perfection,” Merrell said. “That’s the best trade ever.”
● There was an unusual ending to Chapel this week: GCU President Brian Mueller was called to the stage to make a surprise announcement — even to the recipient. Mueller wanted everyone to know that Pastor Tim Griffin, the dean of students, has completed work on his doctoral degree from GCU, Doctor of Education in Organizational Leadership with an Emphasis in Organizational Development.
Griffin — that is, Dr. Griffin — had no idea it was coming and was overcome with emotion. He was given a plaque and was feted by the Student Affairs team afterward with a cake and a party.
● Next Monday at Chapel: Chris Brown, North Coast Church
Contact Rick Vacek at (602) 639-8203 or firstname.lastname@example.org.