The stories we have been reading and discussing over the last eight months are stories that unfolded and were retold over thousands of years as God formed a people to participate in his salvation history. Stories of men and women whose live were not perfect, who had moments of courage mixed with moments of doubt, who all experienced suffering in the circumstances of life (whether by their own creating or simply by being a live), and yet who each one was a part of God saving the world. Stories that showed us the consistency of God, the justice of God, the mercy of God, the goodness of God, the majesty of God regardless of the faithfulness or unfaithfulness of the characters. Stories that revealed to us the duality of our nature. Our proclivity to want another story, to take control of our own story and even God’s, and yet the reality and gracious sureness that God’s Story cannot be overcome, diverted, manipulated or it’s ending changed.
To skip these stories and simply read the gospels and New Testament letters is like skipping to the final act of a Shakespearian play. While you can certainly understand what happens at the final moments of the story, are able to share with your friends the conclusion of tragedy or comedy, and are even able to make deductions of what has gone on before; you will undoubtedly miss the nuances and details that make the play a thing of beauty. Knowing and adoring are not the same. Likewise, the conclusion’s weight, the power of the story, you will feel only in part for you have not let the burden of what has played out on stage or paper before into your imagination. What you experience in both knowledge and emotions is truncated, reduced, and less of you is different for having been exposed to it.
Today, as we conclude the first few acts of God’s Story, anticipating the final act of Jesus next month, I want you and I to not miss the nuances, to feel the burdens of the characters in preparation for what is to come.
The world of the Jewish people some 2,500 or so years ago is not that different from our world today. Like you and I they experienced all the joys and difficulties of life. From abundance to scarcity, health to sickness, employment to recession, freedom of choice to survival mode. In these moments of life, like you and I, something was exposed. Sin. The world was broken and they were broken in it. Evil exists and comes from them and is done to them. When their sin and the evil of the world was most vivid, is when they actually began to change. Has thought been true of your story as well?
We talked some about that already, the transformative nature of being fully exposed to the evil of this world within and around us. Whether through the circumstances of life, the emotional rollercoasters within our own hearts, or through affliction from others. The question is, how do you respond?
Last week we saw the stories of the women and men in the exile were stories of people responding with courage and freedom. Doing justice, loving kindness as they took God seriously. They took responsibility and they persevered.
Can I ask you a question? What would you do, or expect any person to do, when their life is overwhelmed by difficulty, suffering, even oppression? When they have lost everything?
Would you expect them to try and get it back? Try and, in the case of Israel, reestablish the kingdom and find a new king? Try and maintain some stability by retreating from the current circumstances—usually called ‘culture’—and isolate themselves from harm and as a means of control? Try and take out the oppressors, the source of the suffering or difficulty; using whatever means at are their exposal to do so? Would you try and force change in some way?
Let me ask those of you who are familiar with the stories of exile, of Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Mortdecai, etc., did they do any of those things? Again, they were not complacent, nor timid, nor silent. They were courageous for doing justice, loving kindness and taking God seriously. So why did thy not try and force change?
Why would Nehemiah not just take out the king—he was trusted, had access to all everything he ate and drank? Why would Ezra not appoint a new king—they had been allowed back in the holy city, they could easily ignite a resistance—he was falsely accused of that? Why would Mortdecai save the king who was by all means wicked—why not just let him assassinated? When in power, why not try and overtake the king himself? Why would Daniel not take advantage of his beloved favor and ask for Israel to be made sovereign again? Why was Esther not kept from entering the king’s haram—she could have simply left the capital and avoided the potential?
Why? Because the men and women of the exile—when sin and evil was most vivid—remembered the stories of their faith and expected something different for their future. Their expectation was that God would continue to work out his salvation history with justice and righteousness—nothing before had thwarted it. Their expectation was that what God would be doing to work out this history would take on very different approach then their most recent ancestors had taken. They anticipated a servant not army, a rooted branch not separatist movement, a sacrifice not a scheme to overthrow evil. They anticipated evil and death to be overcome by a Messiah. They anticipated forgiveness and justice. Mercy and judgment—for themselves and for the entire world. See for yourself:
- Isaiah 11:1-5, 10
- Isaiah 42:1-3, 5-9
- Isaiah 53:1-6
- Zechariah 3:8-10
- Zechariah 6:12-13
- Zechariah 9:9-10
- Zechariah 12:10, 13:1
- Daniel 7:9-18, 21-25, 28
- Hebrews 11:13-16, 39-40
The men and women of the OT lived courageously and with responsibility in anticipation of the hope that you and I actually possess! How much more should we live with courage and responsibility?