We Don't Leave Men Behind
One of the of the most moving aspects of the military is their attitude that no man is left behind. It says something about the character of men who would risk their lives again for a fallen comrade. The bond that develops in the trenches compels them to seek out their fellow soldier because they know it could be them that needs rescue. They fight less for the ideals of governments then for the person next to them; they live, die, and come home together. They would move heaven and earth for their brothers.
How much greater love is expressed when a holy God sends his only son to the worst place imaginable to rescue his brothers left captive? Eph. 4:8-10 has always been a troubling passage because Paul doesn't give us enough information. But to understand the passage we need to look at it from the perspective of a Jewish reader. Pre- death and resurrection those who believed in the promise of Yahweh went to the bosom of Abraham when they died. It wasn't the concept of heaven or hell that we think of today. It was called the place of the dead. The idea was more like a holding cell waiting for something better.
At Christ's death he descended to this place of the dead and led those who had believed in God's promised messiah to heaven. Their faith, realized in Christ, finally set them free. God gave them the gift of grace just like those who believe post resurrection. God doesn't leave any man behind.
In fact He moved heaven and earth to accomplish it. From the foundation of the world, the scriptures say, Christ died for man's sin. God had a plan, the fruit in the garden didn't take Him by surprise, the righteous judgment of the earth by flood, the dispersal at Babel, the ordeal in Egypt and its Exodus, the Jewish captivity in Babylon, their return to the land, 400 years of silence, and the birth to a virgin were not coincidences. The sorrows of this life He turns to joy. What the evil one would do for our harm He uses for good. In our weakness He displays strength, and in our humiliation He lifts us up. God doesn't leave any man behind.
Understanding the depression the disciples would feel at his death Jesus tells them not to fear. The world will hate you, but I have overcome the world. The world will abandon you, but I will never leave or forsake you. You will no longer have me physically present, but I will send a comforter (the Holy Spirit) to indwell all believers. I can't take you with me now, but I go to prepare a place and I WILL come back for you. God doesn't leave any man behind.
It changes how I look at my brothers and sisters in Christ and the high calling of unity in the church. In 2014, when the army sought to bring Bowe Robert Bergdahl home, it was difficult to understand how the government would sacrifice faithful soldiers for a traitor. But he was one of theirs, for better or worse, and men died to secure his release. When I look at fellow believers am I willing to die for the worst of them for the sake of Christ? He moved heaven and earth to bring them to salvation how little is my sacrifice to love them with all their flaws. If honorable soldiers are willing to die for a traitor, how little is my sacrifice to love in order to maintain the high calling of unity. We don't live men behind.
It is easy to cast off the unlovely, the difficult, the unruly, the struggler, the errant, and the misfit. It is easy to leave when the going gets tough and the horizon looks bleak. It is easy to form clicks and isolate people who are different. I know, I have been there and don that. But if God was willing to die for the unrighteousness, rescue the oppressed, seek and save the lost, and descend into the lower parts of the earth to lift us into His presence, what small part can I play, with the gifts he has given me, to maintain the high calling of unity in the body. I won't leave any man behind. I'm just saying...
“When he ascended on high he led a host of captives,
and he gave gifts to men.”
(In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth? He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.)