Kobe Bryant was miffed at the lackluster play of his L.A. Lakers teammate, Ron Artest, during the finals of the 2009-2010 NBA season. Artest grew up in a very, very violent housing project in NYC, and was a violence-prone person and player. But wracked with conflict over his behavior, in 2011, he legally changed his name to Metta World Peace. “Metta is going to be the first name and it means like friendship, love and kindness,” Artest told Stephen A. Smith. “World Peace is going to be the last name, so everybody can get ready to buy their World Peace jerseys.” The athlete’s publicist, Courtney Barnes, said World Peace had considered changing his name for a long time, “But it took many years of research and soul-searching to find a first name that was both personally meaningful and inspirational.”
The problem Kobe had was HE wanted to win, but Ron (pre-Metta) was “unmotivated.” Bryant explains, in the documentary Quiet Storm: The Ron Artest Story, airing live on Showtime right now, his tactic for lighting a fire under Metta World Peace. Metta/Ron was normally an aggressive player, but his inner conflict led him to ask Bryant, who NEVER seemed to have a motivational problem, how to find peace. Bryant’s reply was simple: “Win the war, and then you’ll have peace, got it?” Metta returned to his aggressive player ways, and the Lakers won an NBA championship that season. Win the war to gain peace? Too simple, or too immoral, or too cruel? I suppose it depends on who’s fighting whom, or for what, and what the “peace” ends up looking like.
Actually, this post isn’t about war and peace, nor about Kobe or his team. I want to challenge a popular notion, much like Kobe did. Since challenging popular notions is not for the faint of heart and the keepers of those notions have a vested interest in their not being challenged, I have come at this sideways. The notion in question is incredibly seductive and resistant to challenge. It is this: When your enemy is on the verge of being defeated, it is more noble to show mercy rather than pressing your advantage. Is it? Jesus said, a moment before giving up his spirit on the cross, “it is finished!” It is finished” is the English translation of the Greek word Tetelestai. Tetelestai comes from the verb teleo, which means “to bring to an end, to complete, to accomplish.” It’s a crucial word because it signifies the successful end to a particular course of action. But there’s more here than the verb itself. Tetelestai is in the perfect tense in Greek. That’s significant because the perfect tense speaks of an action which has been completed in the past with results continuing into the present. It’s different from the past tense which looks back to an event and says, “This happened.” The perfect tense adds the idea that “This happened and it is still in effect today.” When Jesus cried out “It is finished,” he meant “It was finished in the past, it is still finished in the present, and it will remain finished in the future.
Tetelestai, then, is the Savior’s final cry of victory. When he died, he left no unfinished business behind. He crushed death, hell and hades; He crushed the serpent’s head. He showed no mercy in defeating the enemy, and thus secured for all time the salvation of His own. Then why does our savior leave His people behind? Doesn’t He want us with Him? And to the angel of the church in Thyatira write: “The words of the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and whose feet are like burnished bronze. I know your works, your love and faith and service and patient endurance, and that your latter works exceed the first….Only hold fast what you have until I come. The one who conquers and who keeps my works until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron, as when earthen pots are broken in pieces, even as I myself have received authority from my Father.” Revelation 2. He wants us with Him…as battle-tested soldiers who have conquered for His kingdom.
There is a time for mercy….after unequivocal victory has been achieved. Our nation was merciful to the vanquished. When Hitler’s Germany was completely defeated, we saved the people of Berlin from starvation and the Russians, who are not merciful. When Japan was defeated, we saved Japanese society from their own brutal warlords. We could not save our Vietnamese allies from the communists. We could not save the freedom loving Iraqi or Afghan from their Islamist enslavers. We cannot save Venezuelan, Central American and Mexican families from the brutality of the transnational narcoterrorists and their corrupt governments. We cannot be merciful because we refuse to be victorious.
But the bigger picture is, we cannot be victorious because God’s people have been unfaithful to His call to arms. We aren’t “holding fast” until He comes. We aren’t conquering our own passions, our own divisions, we aren’t earning “authority over the nations.” Christians have allowed emotions, cowardice, the desire to be popular (same thing), and the false counsel of wolves to make us disobedient to our general’s command to conquer territory for the gospel. I am not referring to missionary work or politics necessarily. Every Christian must be at war with popular lies. Quitting the fight early is not showing mercy, it’s weakness. I am old and frail, I can’t fight physically nor travel to foreign lands to spread the gospel. But with God’s help I can still carry the fight to the enemy through my blog, and my daily interactions with people who want to see Christianity in action. I can and will declare truth and expose lies. When I started this blog two years ago, all I wanted was to leave my three daughters a record of what their dad stood for. But as of today, 49 strangers in four countries follow my words. I don’t know who I am reaching, and I don’t think about it; I leave that in God’s hands. I know only that my master will not find me idle when He comes.