One day in the years before Christ birth God decided to ask the wisest man on earth’s opinion of his plan of redemption. For the sake of this story we shall refer to this wise man as Everyman. So Everyman sat down with God and God began laying out his plan. He would send his only Son to the Israelites. Immediately, the Everyman broke in, “Not the Israelites! The ones who killed your prophets, who stoned your messengers, the stubborn and rebellious people who rejected your revelation no matter how many miracles you did for them?? They are a small and backwards people. They are mere vassals of the Romans Empire and have been conquered by every major empire in the past centuries. Why them?” God smiled and said, “That’s the beauty of it. I chose them regardless of their status in the world, regardless of even their obedience to me. I want the world to know that I am a God who loves unconditionally. In worldly weakness I am strong.” He then proceeded to tell Everyman whom He had chosen to bear his child. Everyman couldn’t believe his ears, “Ok so not only are you sending Him to a lowly people but to a peasant woman who is betrothed to a carpenter? She will be stoned for adultery! Even if she isn’t, she will be an outcast in the mind of anyone who knows her. And sending Him as a baby?! Your son could die of the stress of childbirth. He would be utterly vulnerable and probably without a father once this Joseph guy finds out Mary is pregnant. You should send him full-grown into the house of Herod or the high priest with angels announcing Him to the people of importance so they may welcome Him in power!” God chuckled and replied, “In weakness I am strong. I will indeed announce His birth with angels, but it shall be announced to shepherds on a hillside and an old priest who has been waiting for Him. And for those who have eyes to see, my star shall shine in the sky and lead any who seek that they may find His birthplace. As for Joseph, I shall invite him to participate in my plan and he shall have the choice to put aside his hurt pride and accept Mary in spite of everyone’s disapproval. Mary shall also have a choice in this, my plans always come with invitation. As for surviving childbirth, He shall be born in a manger and the true danger shall be after He is born as the powers of this world seek to put out the Light of the world.” He then proceeded to tell of His son’s ministry, inaugurated by the baptism of John. Everyman was confused, “Why would He need a baptism of repentance if He is going to be perfect? Won’t the pharisees and all the people see Him as a sinner then?” God replied, “My son is the new Adam and He will participate in the repentance of sin for the world. There is no action too humble for Him. He willingly accepts the baptism as an enactment of the story of human redemption and rebirth. I shall speak over Him their and announce Him as my beloved son. This will not be for His benefit, for I will have been teaching Him from His youth about the mystery of His incarnation. This I will say for the people listening, someday they shall know that any who accept my son become sons and daughters of mine.” “Wait,” Everyman said,”He won’t even be born with the knowledge and power that is His birthright?!” “No, He will empty Himself and take on the limitations of man. He will be a child in truth and will learn from the Torah and his parents and from Me as He grows in wisdom and stature and favor with Me and man. And after His baptism He will be tempted and tested in the truths He has learned. The Accuser shall come to Him and question His identity and My identity and He shall have to choose My promises and teachings over the lies of the Accuser. He shall feel a hunger for Me in that time but I shall feel far away to Him and only after this time of testing shall My angels come and minister to Him.” Everyman considered what he heard and was silent for a while. Then he said, “So your son could embrace the Accuser? He could reject you and follow the lies?” “Yes,” God replied. “I don’t understand,” said Everyman. “Ah, the beginning of wisdom,” and God began to tell of His son’s ministry. “Why fishermen? Why a tax collector? Why not any pharisees or priests?” “The hungry and the sick are open to Me, the proud I despise. Some religious leaders will follow him but none shall be in His twelve. If He came and gathered the religious leaders as His select few, then the people would not believe Him when He said He came for the sinners and the broken. The religious elite of Israel reject Me in pursuit of My own laws. How difficult it will be for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of heaven.” Finally, God began to tell of His son’s death. Everyman responded at first with indignation, “I thought you were bringing Your kingdom into this world! You have subverted all that this world teaches as wisdom, now Your son (with whom You are well pleased) should rise up with His followers and overthrow the oppressive kingdoms of this world. He claims to come to set the captives free, why doesn’t He use the fervor and power He has to do so?” “So, you think He should spend His whole life and ministry subverting the world’s ways only to use its way of violence to establish the Kingdom of Peace? The contradiction would be too horrible to imagine. No, My kingdom is not of this world. He shall die. Through His death shall be the fulfillment of all of Scripture. His wounds shall cleanse, He shall bear the iniquities of them all. He shall give Himself over to the powers and ways of the Accuser and, by becoming the scapegoat, the Lamb shall conquer all. He shall take their hate and accusation and they shall look to Him and be saved from it.” Everyman wept. “This is not the end of the story though, Everyman. On the third day, I shall raise Him from the dead. I shall establish My kingdom through the risen life of My son. Those eleven who are left of His chosen few and the women who loved Him shall change the world. No doubt you wonder why He wouldn’t just go about in His risen form and continue in leading those few? My plan is bigger than that. I want My people to establish My kingdom in My power and by My Spirit. They shall make all things new. They shall raise the dead and overthrow the principalities and powers. In their weakness, even in their deaths, the world will be healed and restored. It shall seem to them at times as ridiculous and foolish as My plans do to you, but I have entered into their world as a man and I know their suffering and they shall be more than conquerors through Me. Do not despair, Everyman, ever. All shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well. And soon, the end shall come and the new heaven and new Earth shall be established. My bride shall be presented before me blameless and in that day all striving shall cease. There will be no more pain, but faith, hope and love and joy unceasing. This I have promised and this shall be.”
A couple months ago I began reading the Bible all the way through. In order to get manageable chunks, every day I read 2-3 chapters from the Old Testament (beginning with Genesis), a Psalm, a chapter in Proverbs (following the day of the month; February 6th I read ch. 6), a chapter in the Gospels, and a chapter in the New Testament (beginning with Acts). It’s been awe-inspiring to see the consistency and arc of Scripture this way.
Through the thousands of years and several authors, God weaves a story of redemption, Love and Truth, cultural history, poetry and wisdom, genealogies and miraculous testimony that brings life to its readers even 2000 years after it was written. The Old Testament often gets a bad rap from Christians. It’s amazing! It was only in the context of the Old Testament that Jesus taught the Kingdom of God and the New Testament writers understood His message. I ran into this series of verses in Deuteronomy that got me really excited. It’s amazing the foreshadowing and revelation that comes when reading the Old Testament in the light of Christ and the New Covenant.
When the Lord came upon the mountain to speak to the Israelites in the desert after He had rescued them from the Egyptians, they had the appropriate reaction:
24 “Behold, the Lord our God has shown us his glory and greatness, and we have heard his voice out of the midst of the fire. This day we have seen God speak with man, and man still live. 25 Now therefore why should we die? For this great fire will consume us. If we hear the voice of the Lord our God any more, we shall die. 26 For who is there of all flesh, that has heard the voice of the living God speaking out of the midst of fire as we have, and has still lived?” (Deut. 5:24-26)
They understood the awesomeness and holiness of God and were rightly fearful for their lives in His presence. The Lord was pleased with their response, “All that they have said is right.” They ask Moses to be their intermediary and go up to the mountain to receive what the Lord has for them. Maybe you are already seeing the connections. In the new Kingdom, Christ has brought God to restored relationship with man. God has made his dwelling with man and men have heard his voice.
However, God has not changed. He is still the “all-consuming fire.” The difference lies in the invitation of Jesus. Bonhoeffer wrote, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” The Israelites asked, “why should we die?” Jesus response, “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matt. 16:25) The call of Christ is to be consumed by the fire that the Israelites witnessed that day. This is a painful process! God is purifying us and making us into who we truly are. T.S. Eliot wrote of this journey in his poem, “Little Gidding”:
The dove descending breaks the air
With flame of incandescent terror
Of which the tongues declare
The one dischage from sin and error.
The only hope, or else despair
Lies in the choice of pyre or pyre-
To be redeemed from fire by fire.
Who then devised the torment? Love.
Love is the unfamiliar Name
Behind the hands that wove
The intolerable shirt of flame
Which human power cannot remove.
We only live, only suspire
Consumed by either fire or fire.
Thousands of years before Pentecost, the Israelites saw God’s fire and new it was death to be in His presence. Now God’s fire has fallen on us, His presence dwells in us, and we are called to die that we may truly live. Let us all be consumed by this Great Fire.