Working among the Bambara people of Mali I discovered a new appreciation for proverbs. They have one for so many dimensions of life. One of my favorite is, ‘No matter how long a log floats on the river, it can never become a crocodile.” When I asked what does that mean, I was told, it means you cannot become something that you are not.
Easter focuses our attention on the reality that Jesus Christ, though crucified, dead, and buried, rose three days later from the grave. So many want to try and explain the Resurrection and all aspects of Christianity in some form of scientific way. I am a historian by education, so I recognize the Resurrection as a historical fact. It is not a question of how could it happen, but simply did it happen. If it happened, what does it mean.
What does the Resurrection and Easter have to do with logs floating on a river not becoming crocodiles? I am glad you asked. It seems to me that while religions actually differ tremendously in so many ways, most have one thing in common. They are about what someone does to overcome sin and to know God. But if my Malian friends are right, if a log cannot become a crocodile, a sinner cannot on his/her own become righteous before a Holy God.
The Resurrected Christ comes in the person of the Holy Spirit to a person and when received by that person takes up residence within their heart and goes to work to transform them. Christian faith is not about you or me attempting to imitate righteous behavior. We do not have the capacity to do that. Paul clearly describes that battle in Romans 7. When a person repents of sin and receives Christ, the Bible says they are “born again”. God in the person of the Holy Spirit living within that person reproduces new life, transformed life.
A log floating on the river cannot of its own become a crocodile. And yet Moses standing before Pharaoh cast down his wooden staff and it became a snake. When he reached and took it up again, the snake became his staff. A wooden stick floating on the river cannot become a snake. But when the creator of the universe, God Himself, declares it so, a stick can be a snake. A log could become a crocodile if commanded by God. And when God dwells in a person because of the cross and Resurrection of Christ, that sinner can become a new person.
Someone may examine philosophical propositions and adopt some religion, such as Islam, or Hinduism. But that isn’t how it works to become a Christian. To become a Christian, a person bound by sin is freed from his/her imprisonment by the convicting work of the Holy Spirit on their heart. By the grace of God they are converted, and Christ living in them in the person of the Holy Spirit regenerates the spiritual life God intended for everyone to have. It is a mystery of God.