Like the rest of Sydney I woke up this morning to the awful news that the siege in Martin Place has ended with the death of two of the hostages and the gunman. Lives are shattered and we begin to ask why and how this happened.
As we learn more about the lone gunman we discover that while he may have been described as “isolated” (in that he was increasingly distanced from the mainstream Islamic community here in Sydney) he certainly could not in one sense be described as “lone”. As soon as the flag with the words of the Shahada were pushed up into the window of the Lindt Café it was clear to me that this could not end well.
As isolated or not as this man might be, the particular strain of Jihadism that we are seeing globally is one that is increasingly associated with bloodshed. While I don’t like the Prime Minister’s chosen descriptor of “Death Cult”, in a sense it is partially true. But it is not enough to describe this underlying motivation. It was not a skull and crossbones that were printed on that flag.
I’ve written before about the futile attempt to separate this kind of atrocity from Islam. It is not the totality of Islam but it certainly has a grounding in it. But this morning I want to look at another related theme.
A short while ago on ABC News 24 a specialist on this type of violence and Islamic extremism explained to the anchor that groups like ISIS are attractive to some because of what he described as a “Narrative of Redemption”. That this is true seems intuitively so – we see young men in particular (although the gunman in Sydney was 50 years old) caught up in a new sense of urgency and purpose. Many of them have been brought out of lives of (mostly petty) crime and given a new reason to live. But more than that, it is a philosophy that places the emphasis on their own actions. These disenfranchised and disempowered men can now take back the reins of their lives. More than that, they can be part of a greater revolution.
What is clear is that the emphasis is on their own effort and hard work. Jihad is, quite literally, a struggle. It is not just that their particular slanted view of Islam may redeem them – it is that they now have a chance to redeem themselves; not only in the eyes of their peers but, more importantly, in the eyes of Allah. Allah “the Merciful” rewards such Jihad. Of course the juxtaposition of “mercy” and “reward” is incongruous; mercy is that which is not deserved, moreover it is the giving of good things to the undeserving. At the end of it all, violent jihadism it is just another version of justification by works – the ultimate human religion – but one in which others are caught in the crossfire.
One of the jarring aspects of this whole tragedy is that it all happened just 10 days before Christmas. Sydney has, in the last week, gone into Christmas mode. There’s always that discernible change in vibe from just the season where all the big stores have their decorations up and start plugging gifts for purchase to that moment when the shoppers are in the mood too. I think we got there last week. The Lindt Café would have been decked out in Christmas finery as Man Haron Monis burst through the doors.
Of course, the most jarring difference is that between the actions of Monis and those of the One who those decorations are celebrating. It’s the same jarring difference between all man-made religion and the only true religion; trust in the Lord Jesus Christ of whom the angel says,
Matt. 1:21 “[Mary] will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”
Here is real redemption. Not that I save myself by my actions and am rewarded by a merciful God (again, note the contradiction in terms) but that another comes and saves me. Here is redemption already won for me, as Zechariah prophesies,
Luke 1:68 “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people”
There is no Jihad in following Jesus. All the struggle is done for us. In fact the opposite is true, we are urged in a sense not to struggle.
Rom. 4:4-8 Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works:
“Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.”
Much could be said about this and some contrasts are obvious, if not already much-stated. Both struggles for redemption are costly. For Monis there was not only the cost of his own life but that of others. He no doubt understood that their death was part of his jihad and justified, as do many others who have acted and will go on to act in similar ways. Jesus, on the other hand, offers up His own life not for His own benefit but for those who have sinned against Him.
That is not to say that Jesus does not look forward to paradise. The Scriptures are clear, pointing us to
Heb. 12:2… Jesus, … who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
But this is where the similarity ends. Monis, and others like him, look to the death of others who they view as being sinful as their own pathway to paradise.
Jesus offers up His own life so that those who are sinful may be carried to paradise.
Therefore the only answer to the sin and destruction of yesterday is Jesus. He brings redemption to all, no matter what they have done, if only they will trust Him, place their confidence in Him and His death on their behalf.
And He also shows us how to respond, to love our enemies and to seek their redemption. He brings comfort to the grieving and (not to be forgotten) a promise that all wrongs will be righted.
The events in Sydney over the last 24 hours have not ruined Christmas. Nothing can ruin Christmas – for the coming of Jesus into the World is greater than any other event. If anything, the deaths of 3 people in the Lindt Café only serves to demonstrate just how wonderful and necessary Christmas is.
Christmas brings to a climax the only Narrative of Redemption that actually works. No man or woman can redeem themselves, no matter how high a price they seek to pay or extract, and so Jesus came willingly to give His life to pay the price to redeem us and in doing so He models for us the proper gracious response to the injustice we experience or perceive around us. Let this tragedy of Martin Place drive us all the more towards the Narrative of Redemption that is Christmas.