Plus Ultra

We continue to pray for those who, this past Easter Sunday morning in Sri Lanka, lost friends or family members, or sustained injury themselves due to the senseless acts of violence perpetrated by a group of anti-Christian terrorists. We join together in praying for comfort for those who have lost family members and friends, and recovery for those who sustained injury. And we pray that those who perpetrated such heinous acts will be swiftly brought to justice. i echo the statement issued by Dr. Russell Moore (president of the SBC Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission), “The governing authorities must bring this anti-Christian terrorist cell, and any who empowered them, to justice. The shedding of innocent human blood is always an atrocity; an attack on Easter is further shocking in its cruelty." On a day when Christians all over the world were remembering and celebrating the life that can be ours through the shed blood and resurrection of Jesus, such a vicious act was a sobering reminder of the death that sin brings and the death grip that sin continues to have on our world. Ironically the very message of the day – the message of Christ’s resurrection – is the reality that sin and death have been defeated, and that the free gift of life is extended without limitation by His grace to all who will receive it.

The incident has caused me to be reminded of a story that i first heard from my friend and former pastor, Dr. Keith Thomas. In ancient times the Phoenicians, the Carthaginians and the Romans aided by the beliefs of Greek mythology believed that Hercules had set two “pillars” in place to serve as a sober warning. We now know those “pillars” to be the Rock of Gibraltar to the north and the Jebel Musa in Morocco to the south. These two “pillars” flank the entrance to the Strait of Gibraltar. The narrow strait connects the Atlantic Ocean with the Mediterranean Sea and separates southern Europe from northern Africa. The “pillars” were said to have been put in place to designate the edge of the world. The ancients believed that the world was flat and that sailing vessels would fall off the edge of the world if they sailed beyond the horizon. Therefore, the pillars were deemed to mark a boundary beyond which no man should go. As such, a warning was inscribed on the rocks – “NON PLUS ULTRA” – meaning “nothing more beyond”. These words carried the urgent warning to all that would attempt to pass by them – NOTHING MORE BEYOND. The warning was believed to be true for centuries until Christopher Columbus discovered the New World at the end of the 15th century. Following that discovery, King Charles V of Spain had the negative word “NON” expunged in order to change the inscription from being a warning of nothing more beyond to a reminder that there was MORE BEYOND. The now-modified inscription further served as a mandate from King Charles V that the message of Christianity must be spread throughout the newly discovered lands. Thus it became even more than a reminder; it became a mandate. 

The events of this past Sunday are a reminder of that message. The sad reality is for those of us who do not have a personal relationship with Christ that there is NOTHING MORE BEYOND. Apart from a personal saving relationship with Him, our sin will condemn us to an eternity separated from Him – not in eternal life, but in eternal death. Sin is, in fact, the cause of that negative word “NON”. But on that Sunday morning two thousand years ago, Jesus arose from the grave to declare that through His death, burial and resurrection He made the way for that negative word “NON” caused by our sin to be expunged. The grip of sin and death was defeated– and in exchange He made the way for us to have more beyond. Life we can only have through Him, if we will reach out to Him and receive it. Jesus’ words to each of us are MORE BEYOND – they are LIFE – abundant life here and eternal life beyond. Life that He laid down His own life to give us. 

But it must also be a reminder to those of us who have received that free gift that we have been given a mandate. Our lives, our actions and our words are to bear that inscription that there is MORE BEYOND. We are to be bearers of that message until He returns – across the street in Jerusalem, down the road in Judea, outside of our comfort zone in Samaria, and to every corner of the very ends of the earth. 

Yes, let us continue to lift up all of those whose lives have been affected by the events of this past Sunday in Sri Lanka. But let’s also allow the event to serve as a reminder to each of us to cause the message – PLUS ULTRA – to burn even brighter in and through our lives.