The melekh YHVH does not want to rule a crowd, but a community.
— Buber, Prophetic Faith, 68.
The melekh YHVH does not want to rule a crowd, but a community.
— Buber, Prophetic Faith, 68.
Jesus’ relationship toward man is identical to the Father’s relationship toward man. Here we’ll explore how Jesus’ human life served his mission of “revelation and reconciliation,” (129) as shepherd and king.
Many texts in the gospels refer to Jesus as a Shepherd. This is primarily seen when he had compassion on the shepherdless people (Mark 6:34) and fed them. Jesus’ actions as shepherd echo Yahweh’s role as shepherd (e.g. Ezekiel 34). Jesus found the lost and outcast and returned them to the house of Israel.
Jesus’ shepherding role is seen clearly in his deep profound compassion for the shepherdless. In Hebrews, the metaphor of shepherd is replaced with high priest, but the compassion (Hebrews 4:15) is the same. It cost Jesus “infinite anguish” (134) to become one body with us, taking our sins and diseases. He took this with “strong crying and tears” (Hebrews 5:7 KJV).
We must remember that the Spirit is involved with and echoes the compassionate ministry of Jesus. In Romans 8:34, similar words are used of the Spirit that are used also of Jesus. “The Spirit is said to bear our weakness or infirmity …, taking it upon himself, and to intercede or intervene … with unspeakable groans …, in language that reminds us of Mark [7:34]” (136).
Wherever Jesus went, the kingdom of God was present. His lordship was not demonstrated in extravagant power, but in perfect freedom and authority to do his Father’s will.
This authority and freedom frightened people. The true king had arrived, which thereby challenged every other authority. No one could escape. The chaos of his birth—prophetic words about bringing swords and Herod’s infanticidic onslaught—were just the beginning of what would culminate in the cross. Mary prophesied the divine upending, and Jesus taught it (many that are first will be last, and the last first).
Simeon prophesied that Jesus would be “spoken against.” This verb is in the continuous present tense, which demonstrates the unending attack of sin on Jesus. This attack came because Jesus’ light penetrated everyone’s hearts. Remember how Jesus disbursed the crowd who caught the woman in adultery! This revealing light is explained in Romans 1:16-3:20. It shines on both Jew and Gentile, either leading to repentance or further darkness.
Hebrews 4:12-16 reminds us of this in another way. God’s Word is sharp enough to divide soul and spirit, before whom no one can hide. In Jesus’ ministry you saw people responding to this searching light, this piercing sword, by throwing themselves on his mercy. Some were desperate just to touch the fringe of his robe.
Jesus’ lordly freedom and authority led straight to his death. He directed his life and, when the time was right, endured the cross. The kingdom of God suffered violence (Matthew 121:12), the violence of the cross. In the cross, Jesus showed that his weakness is stronger than man’s strength. He defeated violence not by attacking it violently, but by entering it and suffering. This, of course, was supremely a painful thing for Love Himself to suffer.
Jesus operated in kindness and humility so he would not crush the weak, but as he resolutely approached the cross he challenged people to make a decision. Jesus “deliberately forced” (155) the cross, yet he refused to die until the moment was perfect. He died only after the motives of people’s hearts were laid bare.
Before he died, Jesus created a messianic community of disciples and followers who, through the ceremony of the Lord’s Supper and the power of the Spirit, continued to follow their Messiah.
He has made himself one body with sinners and feels for them as a mother toward her unborn baby, and he pours himself out in love for them; his whole inner self is poured out for men and women in their weakness and need and sin. (132)
Here Torrance reflects on how the Hebrew word for mercy/compassion is rahamim, the plural of “womb.” This is a powerful reminder of how much Jesus loves us, and what that love cost him. We often recognize the pain of Golgotha, but neglect the emotional pain of his lost sheep.
The critical word … who pierces into us like an incredible sharp sword is none other than the one ‘touched with the feeling of our infirmities’, who is full of compassion and sympathy – therefore we may come boldly to the throne of grace, even to be exposed, to be turned inside out, because it is his grace and mercy which does it, and that is his healing revelation and reconciliation. (146)
This sentence reminds me of George MacDonald’s sermon, “The Consuming Fire,” where his posits that the fires of hell and heaven are one in the same. They are the same fire of God, which burns anything that is not love. In Torrance’s words, God’s sharp piercing sword (which is the sort of thing you would usually fear) is the sword that brings healing and enables us to approach our Father. Beautiful.
God does not execute his judgment on evil simply by smiting it violently away by a stroke of his hand, but by entering into it from within, into the very heart of the blackest evil, and making its sorrow and guilt and suffering his own. (150)
This point needs to be brought to bear on our world today. God didn’t resort to violence to destroy violence—neither can his children.
To sum up what we’ve already read, we must know Jesus in his God/man duality. He is the Word and his being (word) and teaching are identical with his saving work.
If the incarnation was God’s plan for a certain point of history, we should be able to see signs of preparation for the incarnation within history.
The story begins in Eden where humanity sinned. That sin ruptured fellowship between God and humanity, between humans and themselves, between humans and each other, and even between humans and the land. Even in that first sin-story, however, there is hope. God predicted that the seed of woman would bruise the serpent’s head.
We can be reconciled to God via two routes which are exemplified by the sacrifices of Cain and Abel in Genesis 4. Cain offered the fruit of his labour while Abel echoed God’s path of animal sacrifice (God sacrificed animals to provide clothes for Adam and Eve).
The history of Israel continues to prepare the way for Jesus. Israel’s complicated history provided the tools whereby humanity could properly understand Jesus. With Israel, God chose “the most stubborn and stiff-necked people under the sun” (41) to demonstrate that he works with those who are unworthy of his love.
When Jesus finally arrived, many saw who he was precisely because of Israel’s history. Others willfully blinded themselves because he wasn’t the Messiah they had hoped for.
It’s easier to see God’s plan of salvation from a New Testament perspective. We see that the Old and New Testaments are a unified whole. (It’s not as if God decided to wipe the slate clean and start something completely different in Jesus.) In hindsight we see how God’s covenant with Israel on Mt. Sinai gave them a way to follow, a truth to live, and a life with God which were fulfilled in Jesus, the way, truth, and life. In hindsight we see how the roles of prophet, priest, and king are fulfilled in one Messiah.
Israel’s history was filled with suffering. They rebelled against God and were punished. This suffering came to a climax in the idea of a suffering servant (see Isaiah). God’s giving of himself to Israel served to intensify their rebellion, since holy love and sin cannot coexist. Jesus embodied the suffering of Israel and the punishment of God to the ultimate degree.
There’s an ironic movement in God’s salvation. The more particular it becomes (from Israel to Jesus), the more universal it also becomes. Israel’s determination to be an ethnos (nation), when they were called to be God’s laos (people) is a resistance to the particular salvation of God which became universal in Jesus.
We’re reaching the most difficult mystery now: “Israel could only fulfil the gracious purpose of God by rejecting Christ and condemning him to a sinner’s death” (53). In this way, God exposed the “infinite guilt” (53) in man’s heart which then allowed it to be exorcised. The very rejection of God provided the way for God to move in grace. Israel’s role was unique and there remains “a special place for Israel as a people” (56) within the one church of Christ.
It belongs to the nature of sin to divide, to create disorder, to disrupt, to destroy fellowship. (38)
I love fortuitous coincidences. I’m in the middle of a four week preaching series called Alienation. This Sunday I’m speaking on how sin has destroyed our relationship with each other. Adam Blames Eve and God, Eve blames the Serpent, and on it goes. This line from Torrance jumped out at me. Is there anything more characteristic of sin than its power to destroy fellowship?
There are two possible ways [to be reconciled to God]. The way of Cain in which man offers of the fruits of personal labour to God, the way of man from man to God. … The way of Abel is one in which God provides the sacrifice, the sacrifice of another. (40)
The sacrifices of Cain and Abel have long confused me. I couldn’t understand why God rejected Cain’s offering of produce. He merely offered the fruit of his labour. The standard reason why God rejected Cain’s produce was that only the shedding of blood pleases God. That’s never held weight with me since we’re only one generation from the Garden at this point. Sinai had not yet happened, so how could Abel know any better?
Torrance’s comment on the sacrifice was an epiphany to me. Cain gave a sacrifice representing his own sweat—he tried to please God. Abel echoed the sacrifice of animals which God previously did in the garden when he made clothes for Adam and Even. Abel, in this reading, echoes God while Cain merely tries to please him out of his own resources.
The more God gave himself to this people, the more he forced it to be what it was in its sin and self-will, to be in truth what it actually was, a rebel. The very self-giving of God in holy love not only revealed Israel’s sin, but intensified it: it intensified the enmity between Israel and Yahweh. (48)
This ironic movement (that God’s holy love intensifies sin) has me reconsidering my own life. Especially as Pentecostals, we pray for more of God—we want to experience more of who He is. This comment on Israel reminds me of the equal need to repent and stand in need of grace.
How can we express this, for human words are too inadequate here? (53)
Torrance wrote this when considering how Israel’s rebellion was necessary in God’s plan. While he didn’t mention it, the conundrum reminds me of Judas. Someone had to betray Jesus—it was part of the plan—but woe to him who did! It comforts me that there are times when even the most erudite theologian recognizes the limits of human language and even understanding.
The tree of American economy is rooted in the toxic soil of unbridled materialism, a culture that extols greed, a false standard of values that puts short-term profits over societal health, and a distorted calculus that measures human worth by personal income instead of character, integrity, and generosity.
— Jim Wallis (God’s Politics)
Samuel warned them.
These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen, and to run before his chariots; and he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his courtiers. . . . And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves. (2 Samuel 8:11-14, 18)
God didn’t want Israel to have any other king than Himself—but they wanted to be like the other nations. After Samuel gave his warning, the people cried out against him. They basically didn’t care what he had to say about the future—they were too preoccupied with the present.
God told Samuel to give the people what they wanted. He did. Now, centuries of history following that decision, the people have learned their lesson. They have seen what even their own kings could do to them. In mercy, God limited what the “princes” could do when it came to land appropriation.
. . .
It was simple, really:
It makes perfect sense to us, but in a culture where the king has virtually unlimited authority; this was a major curtailing of his perceived rights.
. . .
The idea behind all of this is: whose land is it, anyway? Israel knew that Yahweh was the creator and owner of the land. He had given the land to Israel to tend as a homeland. But even though they were living on the land, and titles were given in the names of different tribes and families, the land was still ultimately God’s. Israel was tending God’s land for him.
That notion is quite foreign today. Especially in the Western world, ownership of land is almost a rite of passage. There is a rush of satisfaction that accompanies ownership.
(A brief aside: I was hiking the Alleghany National Forest in Pennsylvania when my wife and I received the keys to our first home. When I returned, she promptly informed me that I could never go camping when our first house was purchased ever again.)
We love to own things. Take television DVDs for example. Many of us feel a compelling need to own copies of shows that are broadcast for free! Why? I can understand a little when it comes to comedies—they have rewatchability (my spellchecker just informed me that I made that word up). Why by copies of dramas? You know how it ends!
I just think we would be better to cultivate that attitude that God instilled in Israel: God is the ultimate owner, and we are the tenants—of everything. Would we treat things differently?
. . .
Lord, thank you for blessing me with the ability to buy and own things. Keep me mindful of your ultimate claim on all of my possessions. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
The world by its wisdom knows all the structures of reality, but it cannot penetrate to the ultimate mystery; it does not know God.
— Reinhold Niebuhr (Justice and Mercy)
Terror is coming! reads the beginning of Ezekiel 7:25. The root of that Hebrew word translated terror or “anguish” (NRSV) is the same that gives the Hebrew noun, porcupine. The idea Ezekiel meant to convey was that of a bristling terror. When porcupines are threatened, they tuck their snout down and present their back and tail, quills at the ready, to their attacker. That fearsome display conveys a little of the fear that will strike Jerusalem.
. . .
In this passage, God undermines the traditional three-fold structure of Jewish society:
The most terrifying of those three statements is the first:
Disaster comes upon disaster, rumor follows rumor;
they shall keep seeking a vision from the prophet;
instruction shall perish from the priest,
and counsel from the elders.
Ezekiel 7:26, NRSV
Israel is completely dependent on God for her security. God called Abram, the patriarch of the Jewish people, and gave him many ancestors. God used Moses to rescue his people from slavery in Egypt. God shared his will with Israel on Mount Sinai. God kept Israel as they wandered through the desert for a generation. God granted many military victories—Jericho, Ai, etc.—that Israel should not have won. God gave them a king when they wanted one, even though it was not his first plan for them. In short, God was their life.
Now, God is refusing to speak to them. At times of national crisis, God would often raise prophets up to speak to Israel, and warn them that their sin would have consequences—unless they repented. Now, with Israel experiencing the greatest national crisis of all time, God’s prophet had no solution to offer. Israel was too wicked for too long. God’s mind is made up.
In this time of crisis, the priests would be equally useless. Everything they understood about God was tied to the land of Canaan, and the temple in Jerusalem. They would be completely unable to offer any spiritual advice with the temple destroyed. They would come to the conclusion that their God had abandoned them.
. . .
Reading the desperate situation of Israel makes me thankful for the way we communicate with God today. At Jesus’ death, God left the holy of holies in the temple (graphically symbolized by the curtain ripping from top to bottom). God now chooses to live in the hearts of his followers through his Holy Spirit. We can speak with God any time we want! The question now is not, “will God hear and answer us,” but, “will we take the time to speak with him?”
. . .
Lord God, thank you for hearing our prayers. Forgive us for the times we callously ignore you. In Jesus’ name, Amen.