Comic-Con 2017: The Empire Always Strikes Back (1 Peter 5:8, Eph. 6:10-13)

What E3 is to gamers, Comic-con is to the worlds of cinema, television, comics and so much more.  Fans of virtually any form of media worldwide have descended on San Diego in hopes to meet their favorite actor (for a healthy fee), purchase unique collectibles that you will never find anywhere else (unless you want to take out a second mortgage and find them on eBay later), and be the first to observe new unreleased footage on their favorite franchises (as long as you pinky swear not to record any of it).  And few franchises have built more interest at this point than Star Wars and the highly anticipated second release of the newest trilogy in this storied franchise, The Last Jedi.  Details on the plot have been incredibly scarce, and as we eagerly await this critical second entry in one of the highest-grossing movie series in the world I can’t help but wax nostalgic on the ORIGINAL second entry in the universe that is Star Wars… the classic, the unmatched, the perfect middle chapter that is The Empire Strikes Back.

 

A long time ago in a cinema far, far away, well before there was the silliness of Gungans, midichlorians, and petulant wanna-be teenage Jedi (looking at YOU Anakin), there was the original Star Wars trilogy.  And if taken out of the context of the greater Star Wars universe and simply measured on their individual cinematic achievements, one would be hard-pressed to argue against the excellence of the space opera that is episode IV or the masterpiece that is episode V, the Empire Strikes Back.  Episode IV, A New Hope, really checks all the boxes of what a great stand-alone sci-fi epic should include.  It has a fully completed story arc, complete with a hero’s journey for each of the film’s lead characters as Leia completes her mission to use the stolen plans to destroy the Death Star, Han gains a modicum of redemption by choosing to stay and fight, and Luke fulfills his destiny by completing his trench run and firing the kill shot.  As the curtain falls we get a satisfying shot of all of our heroes receiving medals as they toast their victory, and with the Star Wars fanfare theme blasting through the speakers it would be easy to see this as a nice, neat ending all tied up with a bow.

I mean, we just saw all but one of their enemies vanquished, the space station has been obliterated, and the Rebels won, right?  Party at the Organa’s house!  And if the story ended there, we would be basking in the glow from C3-PO’s newly shined gold armor while Leia teaches Chewie how to dance.  But that final frame of a furious Darth Vader spinning in an out of control TIE fighter was a cruel reminder that the danger was not past, and it returns with a vengeance in the next chapter.  After their glorious and hard-fought victory, we find our Rebel friends still in hiding and the true scope of their adversaries fully coming into view as the opening crawl unveils the opening scene of Empire.

The disappointment of the Death Star destruction was little more than a setback for the Empire, and for the first time we get a full view of what the Rebels are truly up against.  As the monstrous AT-AT walkers thundered across the movie screen in the Empire Strikes Back, I remember feeling a sense of hopelessness as a child as the reality of the enemy forces finally began to set in.  There was SO many more of them than I had thought.  They had more in their arsenal than just a floating space station of doom.  And they were not going to be denied… not today anyway.

From the debut of the infamous “Imperial March” theme to our first views of the Emperor and everyone’s favorite bounty hunter Boba Fett, the Empire Strikes Back is almost 100% dominated by the villains.  They overrun the rebel base, capture and freeze Han, chop off Luke’s dueling hand… I mean for goodness sake C3-PO was literally chopped into pieces and spent the rest of the movie dragged around in a bag.  As the credits rolled on this one I felt the complete opposite feeling I had from the end of a New Hope.  Everything seemed to be coming up Dark Side, and our battered and damaged heroes were a far cry from the fresh-faced victors shining their medals as Chewie roared his approval just a short time before.

It’s a feeling that is all too familiar for me, I’m afraid.  Maybe you have been there too.  Every time it seems like I am progressing in an area that I typically struggle in, I find another Death Star is being built right around the corner.  I taste victory in an area of personal need only to find that the entire enemy armada is about to unleash hell on my previously secure position and send me running for the hills.  My episode IV snaps into episode V without even the benefit of the medal ceremony, and I am left wondering “What Just Happened?” Why did the epic victory from yesterday turn so quickly into “abandon ship” today?  Am I doomed to forever endure the futile dance of one Death Star forward and two Death Stars back?

Do you feel the same way sometimes?  You get the alternator replaced on your car and then the starter goes out.  You feel like you have made significant headway on repairing a broken relationship only to see all your progress whither under a new firestorm.  Or maybe you are like me and you believe you have a certain arena of battle in your life licked only to see it return with a vengeance to your horror and disappointment.  1 Peter 5:8 spells out our struggle in no uncertain terms, stating “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.”  The evil empire is on a constant prowl, requiring neither sustenance nor sleep.  While we rest, recuperate, and prepare to walk in victory our adversaries are actively building the next Death Star and formulating ever more elaborate plans to trip us up.  They have had millennia to perfect their approach, and much like the Rebel Alliance we are hopelessly outnumbered, outgunned, and capable of hit-and-run guerilla warfare at best if left to our own devices.

Ephesians 6:12 may provide the clearest picture of our predicament, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.”  This word “wrestle” in the Greek means exactly what it implies… a constant exhausting battle between two competitors with the goal of wearing down the opponent into a state of submission.  While Christ has indeed purchased our victory with finality over the devil and his minions, we still have a daily war to fight with enemy forces described as the “rulers of the darkness of this age”.

These “rulers” are here to do more than make a shopping cart scratch the paint on your car door… these are not just impish tricksters with plans to merely annoy you.  These are beings of immense intelligence and power with an infrastructure designed to tear every believer apart methodically and with finality.   They are playing for keeps, and while we should never fear our enemy we would do well to understand that there is a reason this is called spiritual WARFARE.  They may have already lost the war, but that has only served to make them more determined to make us earn our victories each and every day.  Like the infamous quote from Obi-Wan Kenobi in reference to the sand people in Episode Four, after each defeat we can be rest assured that “they will be back, and in greater  numbers”.  This is a Biblical principle,  as Christ gave as an example in Luke 11:24-26 when a defeated evil spirit returned to its old stomping grounds with SEVEN spirits even more wicked than itself in order to regain victory over the previously delivered man in question.

So what do we do?  If each step we take simply puts a larger bullseye from hell on our back, it is tempting to back off to at least reduce the escalation of hostilities.  And that is exactly what the enemy wants, to make us so fearful of the consequences of obeying God that we choose to simply carve out a meek peaceful existence in Dagobah as Yoda did.  Far from the conflict, hidden from the danger but also from those who need our help, simply existing in a swamp of our own choosing.  The truth is Christianity is not merely a belief system, it is a call to arms.  The only response to the steady onslaught of the forces of hell is to pick up the weapons of our warfare that Paul described in the rest of Ephesians 6 and join the battle, understanding that we will be engaged in this conflict until the day the Lord calls us home.  We cannot allow ourselves to be bullied by the relentless forces of evil or be intimidated by the knowledge that the evil Empire will only raise their game each and every time we take one of their strongholds.  And while our enemy is strong and numerous, the truth is that only one-third of the angelic host defected and joined satan in his rebellion.  Two-thirds remain on our side, and I call that a pretty definitive majority.

I wish I could tell you that becoming a believer is a non-stop dance from victory to victory in which you only touch the ground long enough to take a fresh leap into the stratosphere.  The truth is that the followers of Jesus such as Paul and Peter were consistently harassed, falsely accused, arrested, beaten, attacked, plotted against, and according to most historians eventually murdered for their persistence in the faith.  Most of the New Testament was written from prison cells.  We should not have an expectation that our path will be easier or more comfortable, and each time we enjoy a victory we can be rest assured the enemy will not be taking it lying down.  When the seven sons of Sceva attempted an exorcism in Acts 19 the evil spirit answered them saying, “Jesus I know, and Paul I know, but who are you?”  Paul was so well-known by the hounds of hell that his name was on their most wanted list.  But rather than allow that knowledge to intimidate us, like John in 1 John 4:4 we can say with confidence that greater is He that is in us than he that is in the world.

 

We do not have to live life reeling from the continual pummeling worried about where the next hit will come from.  That’s what our enemy wants, for us to live paralyzed by fear.  We can and MUST choose to fight back, and take down a Death Star each time the enemy raises its ugly head by refusing to back off or even take one step back.  We have been called to take down the strongholds of the enemy, and in Revelation 12:11 Scripture states that we overcame him (meaning the devil) by the blood of the Lamb and the word of our testimony.  Or in simpler terms, claim daily the victory that Christ’s sacrifice has provided us and refuse to remain silent.  Your testimony IS your weapon.  If you were saved from an addiction, wield that weapon of deliverance against your enemy and use it to bring others to Christ.  If you have struggled with a particular darkness, thrust it into the light and allow your struggle to bring strength to others.

 

The devil wants us to suffer in silence, ashamed by our battles and afraid to admit our pain.  But when we choose to wave our deliverance like a victory flag and proudly proclaim that even in our imperfect state we are all children of the King dedicated following Christ we refuse to wear the cloak of shame that the enemy wants us to hide under and bring our light out into the open.  The world does not need to see perfect Christians (because there are none), but honest ones.  And when they see that we are open about our struggles and our failures they will want to know how we cope.  All of the drugs, the booze, the sex, the entertainment, the money, the power, the success… none of these are working for any of them.  They are looking for something more, and that is the one thing we have.  And when they see that REAL thing, the only thing that is capable of taking down a Death Star, they will BELIEVE.  So what if you were a dirty smuggler before you joined the alliance, or if maybe Vader is your father.  You can still be a hero for our side, and encourage others to join the fight and choose Christ.  Bulls-eyeing womp rats was only your training for your Death Star trench run my friend…

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