"Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that every one may see your progress. Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers" (I Timothy 4:15-16).
Impossible!" A Roman soldier shouts across the desert galloping towards his commander after surrounding the mountain. "It can't be done!"
Here I was looking at this massive mountain from the same angle that the Romans first looked at it and all I could think about was: "Impossible! How could they even think of it!" Standing at the bottom looking up at Massada I tried to imagine what went through the Roman soldier's minds as they stood where I was, so many years ago. After all, they had traveled on foot and some on horse back for days before they arrived to the spot where I stood at this moment. Even though it was during the winter, the area surrounding the Dead Sea is dry and hot! As the lowest point on earth, 1200 feet below sea level, these Romans were not only tired and thirsty from their journey but now they were face to face with the biggest military dilemma they had probably ever encountered. "How do we conquer the enemy when we are 1300 feet below them and there is no way up?"
Herod the Great had built his fortress and palace in such a strategic place that nature was its strongest defense. Massada was built on a mountain top surrounded by cliffs. A small snake path winds itself up the edge of the cliff and is easily defended from the walls above. Only one person at a time could ascend to its heights.
The enemies that were resisting above consisted of a few hundred Jewish Zealots that had escaped from the destruction of Jerusalem. They had taken Massada as their hideout and thought they were safe there. Indeed they were! They could live there continually for Herod had built huge cisterns that provided them with water. He had also brought up fertile earth so that they could farm and have food. The Romans had years before built massive storage facilities that were stocked with provisions─dried fruits and grains. With this supply they could live in comfort and style for years.
"Who on earth!" I thought to myself "would even consider conquering this place?" In this case, the Romans were not fighting against man but nature, and nature certainly has a way of intimidating us. I could not help but admire the Romans. They could simply have said, "Well. . . we can just keep them prisoners up there. They are a small number of people .. . compared with the rest of our empire.. . . Eventually they will want their freedom from this confined space, come down from the mountain, and we will get them then."
But the Romans were different. They understood the meaning of what it meant to persevere. At that moment for the first time I understood in a more profound way why they had conquered the world. They were like iron! They just did not give up! They had determination and perseverance!
The Romans despite their unfortunate situation made a decision that to me seemed lunatic! They decided to create their own mountain so they could climb up. They decided to build a ramp from where I was standing to the top. Building such a ramp meant having a plan, manpower, time; finding building supplies, food, and water to keep them alive in the middle of a vast desert. But most of all they needed determination and perseverance! Whatever motivated them to take such measures, we can only guess but the fact is that close to two thousand years later the ramp still stood in the silence in the desert speaking to me. At that moment the ramp became a monument of what it meant to persevere.
Standing there that afternoon, I realized that as a Christian I have much more to persevere for than the Romans ever had. Christ has given His life for me so that I can inherit His kingdom and eternal life. What else could I ask for?
As elders we also need to build a ramp. We must build a bridge from this world to God's kingdom. In order for us to do it we must also persevere! We must use the same techniques that the Romans did. We too must follow a plan. The plan that Jesus Christ provided for us in His Word. We must recruit train and encourage others in our churches and congregations to carry forward this plan. Then we must take the time necessary to implement the plan. We must have the Spirit to empower and give us the energy needed to carry out the plan. And then through prayer we must persevere to make that plan a reality.
Sometimes I ask myself "Do I have what it takes? Will I persevere even when the odds are against me? When I take a hard look at this mountain of sin in the world today do I get discouraged?
As elders we will especially be attacked with thoughts of discouragement because we will be fighting against invisible powers. But in our case we will have the advantage. Jesus is our Emperor. The Bible reassures me that God does not allow anything to happen to me that I cannot handle.
In Hebrews 12:1-3 (NIV) we are promised: "Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart."
As Christ persevered for us and our sins how much more must we persevere for Christ in overcoming our sins and bringing others to His throne. Perseverance is an important part of the character formation of a Christian, especially for a spiritual leader. The Spirit of Prophecy inquires of us: "Are we striving with all of our God-given powers to reach the measure of the statute of men and women in Christ? Are we seeking for His fullness, ever reaching higher and higher, trying to attain to the perfection of His character? When God's servants reach this point, they will be sealed in their foreheads.The recording angel will declare, 'it is done.' They will be complete in Him whose they are by creation and by redemption" (Selected Messages, Book 3, page 427).
In James 1:3 we read "Because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything." The Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy make a strong case that our faith and our perseverance through Christ will be the essential qualities needed in our salvation. For Paul writes to Timothy: "Persevere! because if you do you will save both yourself and your hearers!"
Through the death of Jesus and through faith and perseverance we can participate in saving our lives and the lives of others. In order for me to save the lives of others we must persevere in our own spiritual life. We cannot control the decisions of others, but we can lead and inspire them by being a living example. What you and I can do today, is to renew our commitment to Christ and lay hold on His promise that He will be with us every step of the way. He will be our inspiration that will sustain our spirit to endure through all of life's trials.
At Massada, seven months had passed. The Romans finished the ramp, burned down and breached the walls . . . and entered an eery silence. All around them they saw and heard nothing but the rushing of the wind. They began searching for their enemies only to find that all of them men, women and children were lying dead in their homes beside one another. During seven months they had worked hard under the desert sun only to conquer the bodies of the dead. There perseverance was in vain!
But the kingdom of God for which we persevere is not a kingdom of death. In God's kingdom the dead shall be resurrected, the blind shall see, the deaf hear. I have a feeling that when we enter those gates we will be applauded and cheered on by a multitude of angels and beings from other planets. We will not find a silent and dead place, we will meet with our Lord, the giver of eternal life. We will see Jesus face to face. In Hebrews 10:36 and 37 we read: "You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. For in just a very little while 'He who is coming will come and will not delay.'"
Praise the Lord, that when WE see Jesus we will realize that our perseverance and work here in this world was not in vain! So let each one of us "Do as the Romans do!" PERSEVERE! Carry on! Until the kingdom of Christ is conquered.
Giselle S. Hasel writes from Detroit, Michigan where she and her husband Dr. Michael Hasel are just beginning their ministry in the church of Warren.