Thursday, January 31, 2013

Who Do You Say That I Am?

Jesus knew very well the expectations He faced from the Jewish people.  The prophets of old had said that when the Messiah came, He would gather the tribes of Israel, cleanse the Temple of God, deal with the enemies of Israel, and reign as Lord of the Nations.  It was a tall order for a humble man from the town of Nazareth in the forgotten corner of Galilee.  Jesus did all of these things, but not in the way that anyone expected Him to do it.

He gathered the tribes by gathering those who were lost and forsaken. He went to the tax collectors, the prostitutes, the adulterers, the lepers, the unclean, the sick, and the impure and he restored their dignity and their ability to walk freely among their communities.  He went to the Samaritans, those who had been essentially disinherited from the tribes of Israel, and reunited them.  He went to the Gentiles and healed their sick and cast out their demons. He gathered in all those who were scattered by sin and made them a people all of His own.  Israel didn't recognize what He was doing because they expected Him to be there only for them.  They expected God to gather together only the Israelites, and not to take care of anyone else.

He cleansed the temple by first establishing Himself as the true temple of Israel, the dwelling place of God among His people in flesh rather than stone.  It was too radical a notion for most to accept, too hard to understand how the all-powerful, infinite might of God could or would wrap Himself into the finite, relatively weak form of Christ.  It still is too radical a notion for most to accept, too hard to understand and believe.  Ezekiel had promised that when the glory of the temple was restored, water would flow from its side to renew the world.  This is exactly what happened on the day of Christ's death. Water flowed from His side and that water began to restore a world torn apart by sin, renewing to life and hope all those who were lost.

God had promised that when the Messiah came, He would deal with the enemies of Israel.  Israel therefore expected God's annointed one to come in with weapons and an army and dispatch Rome and all those who had oppressed the people of Israel.  The Lord, though, sent a warrior who came so quietly as to slip unnoticed behind enemy lines - an infant, wrapped in swaddling clothes, accompanied by an army of angels.  Not a very threatening figure, not a very promising start if you are looking for someone to lead a battle.  Yet, ideal for the battle that God knew needed to be waged.  God knew that the true enemy of Israel was NOT the people who oppressed Israel, that was merely a byproduct of their true enemy's actions.  No, the true enemy of Israel which had caused the people of God so much pain and suffering and which would be dealt with decisively at this point in history, was sin.  Jesus came to conquer sin and death, and He did so on the cross.  He conquered them by dying and then rising again, so that all who might believe in and be united to Him might be saved.

God promised that the anointed one would Reign as Lord of the Nations.  This one Jesus does, but again He does it in a way that is totally unexpected and because it is so completely unexpected it is hard for people to recognize it when it happens.  Jesus consistently announced that the Kingdom of God was at hand, and all who believed and followed after Him accepted His kingship, putting themselves under his reign. Samaritans, Egyptians, Jews, Romans, Greeks, there were some from every tribe who followed Him even before His death and many more who would flock to His banner after His Resurrection.  Today, there are people who speak every tongue and who belong to every nationality known to mankind who worship Jesus and accept Him as their King of Kings.  Truly, He reigns over all as Lord of the Nations.

Who do we say that Jesus is? Do we recognize that our enemy is not the Democrats? Do we recognize that our enemy is not the Republicans? Do we know that our enemy is sin and discord? Do we realize that our enemy cannot be defeated with guns or tanks or ballistic missiles but with our humbleness of heart and our love? Do we recognize our King? Do we seek to grow His kingdom by helping others find their way to Him? Do we reach out to the lost and seek to gather them in to unity?  Are we doing our part to manifest the Kingdom of God right here on Earth?  If we are not, do we truly worship God or only what we want God to be?  The Israelites made the same mistake long ago, and missed out on the Messiah.  Will we do the same?

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