A Scion of David, God of the Impossible-Ezekiel 17:22-24, Romans 8:20-21

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Thus says the Lord God: “I myself will take a sprig from the lofty top of the cedar and will set it out. I will break off from the topmost of its young twigs a tender one, and I myself will plant it on a high and lofty mountain. On the mountain height of Israel will I plant it, that it may bear branches and produce fruit and become a noble cedar. And under it will dwell every kind of bird; in the shade of its branches birds of every sort will nest. And all the trees of the field shall know that I am the Lord; I bring low the high tree, and make high the low tree, dry up the green tree, and make the dry tree flourish. I am the Lord; I have spoken, and I will do it.” Ezekiel 17:22-24 (ESV)

Old Testament prophets usually had the unenviable job of being the bearers of bad news. Often they found their ways into various tortures and martyrdoms because of the messages God charged them to bear. Ezekiel had plenty of bad news for the people of Israel, but he also had good news.

There is a theme throughout Scripture- which points us to Jesus, the Lord of All, the Suffering Servant, yet always the King of Kings- the theme that God always preserves His people. (Isaiah 11) God makes a way when the way seems impossible, and he usually uses humble and unlikely people and things to make His will come to pass.

God isn’t impressed by the strength of men. Money, power, weapons, etc. can’t buy anyone entrance into the kingdom of heaven.  The strongest empires eventually fall.  The most powerful and wealthy men eventually grow old and die and their lineages die out.  Entropy – the eventual decay and return of created things to their base elements- has been written into the order of the natural world since the Fall.  This world is in the process of passing away. God must re-make the world free of corruption, and that new re-made earth is still to come.

For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. Romans 8:20-21 (ESV)

God raised up Jesus, who in His earthly bloodline, is a scion of a long dead king (David), even though Jesus is the one who is and was the King of Kings for all eternity. The noble cedar that Ezekiel speaks of is a reference to both the line of David and to the original Temple.

The idea that Jesus was the father of David (who was Jesus’ forefather) may seem a little strange from a metaphysical perspective- how can it be that a son is his father’s father? How can it be, as Mary asked, that a virgin would conceive and bear a child, much less the very Son of God?  As we learn in Luke 1:26-38, “nothing (is, was, or) will be impossible with God.”

The noble cedar, this scion of David, from this branch is Jesus. Jesus who came to be salvation and shelter for “every bird of a feather” came to us through from a most unlikely source. Jesus’ people come from every nation and people group and from all demographic backgrounds.  Jesus’ people come with every sort of history and baggage attached to them. God especially calls the unlikely, the humble, the downtrodden, and the weak.  He is known for making something out of nothing- for raising the dead, to breathing life into dry bones.

Do we trust in God, even in the face of the physically and logically impossible? We aren’t called to check our brains at the door, but we are challenged to trust the Author of the universe. We aren’t promised that we will get the answers we want or that our lives will be made easy. In our baptism and at the table of the Lord’s Supper we are named and claimed as God’s own.  We are brought into His body and made new creations even as we sometimes slog through life in this broken world and we are currently living the difficult paradox of now and not yet.

We are fragile, flawed and captive to sin, but at the same time we are made God’s beloved because Jesus humbled Himself, allowing Himself to be tortured and killed (the punishment we deserve see- Isaiah 53:5) and became the sacrifice to cover our sins. Even when it seems impossible, God speaks and it happens.  He has spoken, and it will be.  In Jesus, God comes to us in a most unlikely way.  God is with us, has been with us, and will be with us.

March 30, 2018 – Good Friday- By His Wounds, We Are Healed – Matthew 27:45-54, Isaiah 53:5

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From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over all the land. About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli,lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).

When some of those standing there heard this, they said, “He’s calling Elijah.”

Immediately one of them ran and got a sponge. He filled it with wine vinegar, put it on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink.  The rest said, “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to save him.”

 And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit.

At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people.

When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, “Surely he was the Son of God!” Matthew 27:45-54 (NIV)

The promise of Isaiah 53:5 comes to fruition at that moment. He was pierced because of our transgressions.  He was crushed and broken for our iniquity.  His punishment purchased our peace.  He was wounded so that we could be healed.  It is important for us as Jesus followers to see and understand that His sacrifice for us was no small or inconsequential feat.  As we embrace the theology of the Cross, we take up our crosses as well.  Because of Jesus we are free to die to ourselves and live for Him.

The Lutheran tradition can be a bit divided on the imagery of the crucifix. Some find it a bit macabre and gory to have a crucifix displayed in the church, or a bit too solemn and joyless for to focus upon the Body of Jesus as He dies on the Cross.  Crucifixion is macabre. Jesus’ death was painful and dirty and humiliating. His grace- and our salvation- was infinitely expensive. We have no way to imagine the cost to our Savior.  We cannot fathom the weight and the agony of carrying the sins of the whole world, for all of time.

Jesus would no more have been remembered than any other common thief or insurrectionist, except for Easter morning. Good Friday would commemorate nothing more than one of many men being crucified for being an enemy of the Roman Empire, if it weren’t for Easter morning.   There was no shortage of crucifixions in Jesus’ day.  Public crucifixion was common, and there were plenty of dissidents and criminals who met their death in ignominious fashion on Roman crosses.  The difference is that for Jesus, crucifixion was not the end.  The Cross could not defeat Him.  The tomb could not hold Him.

We need to be shocked and appalled and brought to sorrow by the imagery of the crucifix just as much as we need the triumph of the empty cross and the empty tomb. It is good for us to regard Jesus as He is dying on the tree, as long as we understand that His death on the Cross is not the end of Him.  Isaiah was completely right about Jesus. The age old prophecy has been fulfilled.

May the Holy Spirit bring us to the same conclusion as the centurion today: “Surely this man is the Son of God!”  By His wounds, we are healed.

May 18, 2017 Playing Hooky, and More on Isaiah 53:5

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But He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities. The punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His wounds we are healed. Isaiah 53:5 (NIV)

I was never much for rocking the boat when I was in high school.  By the time I’d survived it long enough to get to my sophomore year (1983-4) all I wanted to do was to stave off boredom while still keeping up my GPA.  Keeping up my GPA wasn’t much of a challenge, but staving off boredom was quite another issue.  I do have to admit to reading every single issue of  Mad and National Lampoon from 1982-86, along with the works of George Orwell, Ayn Rand, and JRR Tolkien, and a somewhat extensive collection of the classics- including Dante’s Divine Comedy, many of Shakespeare’s plays, as well as a fair number of scientific publications,  and a plethora of non-fiction historical works on WWII.

I didn’t have too many challenging classes in high school- with the exceptions of AP English and  AP music theory, but I did some major reading, mostly for my own edification and recreation.  Being a geek who stayed quiet and out of the spotlight, I had some advantages. On the rare occasion that I considered bending the rules, I was usually able to do it under the radar and beyond suspicion.  I got away with murder (in a figurative way, of course) when I wanted to- quietly and covertly.

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Every year on Good Friday, since the powers that ran the school system didn’t really care if Spring Break coincided with Holy Week or not, Mom wrote us an excuse to skip the afternoon so that we could go to the Good Friday service at the Catholic church that generally lasted from about 1PM-4PM.   The service that is held in lieu of Catholic Mass on Good Friday is called Tenebrae service, which means “service of shadows.”  The Tenebrae service is also observed in the Lutheran tradition, and includes the reading of the Passion of Christ, and reflections upon His death.  Heavy, heavy somber stuff, as it should be on Good Friday.

We- meaning my sisters and I- were well acquainted with the Good Friday service, but being both teenaged and disinclined toward participation in religious observances on such a delightfully warm day, decided that we would spend the afternoon not in the shadows, but in the bright April sunshine.  We just didn’t have the somber thing going on that day.

That particular Good Friday was very good indeed, weather in the low seventies, bright sunshine without a cloud in the sky, and just a hint of  a light breeze.  Perfect weather in April in Ohio is almost unheard of. My oldest sister (who happened to be driving that day) wasn’t about to spend such a glorious day inside.  The only problem with not going to church was that her car- a bright orange ’71 VW- was readily visible.  We couldn’t hang around in town.

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She managed to find one of my favorite hideaway places- the railroad trestle bridge.  It’s long since been torn down and scrapped for whatever the steel was worth, but in 1984, though the line was dead and the tracks torn up, the bridge was still lingering over the river, a monument to obsolescence, a shadow still standing from a long-ago sphere.

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It’s hard to describe the serenity I found that day.  Even though I was with my sisters, they left me alone for awhile and didn’t attempt to knock me off the bridge where I would surely be sucked into the brackish water and unspeakable muck below.  I would never recommend swimming, wading or touching the water in that part of the Scioto River today (and certainly not back then) but sitting about 30 feet above the river on the trestle bridge listening to the soft breeze and the running water is hard to describe.  It was a slice of rather undeserved, unearned serenity and peace.

The world has moved on since then.  Places like that old trestle bridge, those happenstance cathedrals that stay bright in spite of the crushing hammer of entropy, and in defiance of conscious efforts to unmake them, are harder and harder to find in a world where the new mantra is structure and order.  Even small children have every minute of their days scheduled and dedicated to a specific purpose.  We all know all too well what it is to be locked into the whirlwind of busy- going everywhere and getting nowhere.

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It’s hard to wrap our heads around the grace of God.  As much as I should, at the very least on that long-ago Good Friday, have been in that service of shadows, I was in reality sitting on a railroad bridge without a care in the world.  It’s not so much that dropping out and going to sit on the bridge and watch the world go around is a bad thing, it’s more that everything has a price.  It’s easy for us to say we want to walk with Jesus- until it’s shadow time.  History gives the apostle Peter a bad rap for denying Jesus three times, but isn’t that we humans in our weakness and fallenness do? Yet the reward Jesus bought for us, even though we fail and fall short all the time is that unearned, undeserved grace- the freedom and the ability to find serenity and peace and security in Him.

One of the beauties of the grace of God is that He knows our weakness.  He knows that our bodies are weak and our moral constitutions even weaker.  Although we are also called to carry the cross, like as not we end up playing hooky instead, spending our lives blissfully unaware and disconnected from the suffering our Savior bore in our place.

The good news is that even when we are faithless He is faithful.  He offers us His grace, purchased with His blood and suffering and tears.  He is the Reason why we can have peace and freedom and serenity, because He took the punishment that we deserved.