Tuesday, October 31, 2023

Reverse the Curse

Before we begin, if you think humble origins are a cause for embarrassment or shame, consider Nazareth.  The NIV study Bible makes two interesting comments about it.  First, it is not mentioned in the Old Testament.(1)  So, despite being Jesus' hometown, it is not an important place.  If the Messiah is the Son of David, wouldn't you expect Him to be born in Jerusalem? 

But no.  God went the opposite way from the world's values to bring forth redemption:

"For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written:

    'I will destroy the wisdom of the wise;
    the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.'

"Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength." (1 Cor. 1:18-25)

There's the reversal:  If wisdom could save you, then secular wisdom (hashed out by the Greeks, who loved wisdom so much they called it "philosophy") or spiritual wisdom (practiced by the Jews in light of the Torah) then Christ's death was not needed.  Wise humanity would stand redeemed before the Lord. 

But no.  Why not?  What tree did our first parents eat from?  "The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil."  The knowledge we posses, from that day forward, comes from our own assessment, our own deceived logic:
  • Judges 17:6: "Everyone did what was right in his own eyes." 
  • Proverbs 14:12: "There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death."
  • Proverbs 5:7: "Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil."
  • Jeremiah 11:8: "Yet they did not obey or incline their ear, but everyone walked in the stubbornness of his evil heart."
That is why our wisdom, our knowledge will never bring us to salvation:  It is bound up in us and we are corrupt. Thanks, Adam. 

So, the Messiah coming from an obscure town is part of God's plan to turn earthly wisdom on its head. 

Second, the NIV comments that the word, "Nazarene" is synonymous with "despised." (2) Wow!  We all know Nathaniel's comment that nothing good could come from there (John 1:46) but Philip tells him, "Come and see." 

That is how God has ordered things:  You can't think your way to heaven and you can't work or obey  your way to heaven. But you can come and see the Messiah: humble, despised but willing to reach out to you and to me.  

But aren't you glad?  If the King shows up, aren't you going to feel ashamed of who you are, what you've done and how you don't deserve such a visit?  In the light of Christ, our sin comes into sharp relief and we, like Adam and Eve, run and hide.  But when the humble Jesus shows up, we look into His face and we see God reaching out to bring us into His kingdom, our sins forgiven and our wholeness restored. 

Jesus always had a simple parable to illustrate a profound truth.  He told this one to push back on those who "had great confidence in their own righteousness and scorned everyone else."

"Two men went to the Temple to pray. One was a Pharisee, and the other was a despised tax collector.  The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed this prayer: 'I thank you, God, that I am not like other people—cheaters, sinners, adulterers. I’m certainly not like that tax collector! I fast twice a week, and I give you a tenth of my income.'

"But the tax collector stood at a distance and dared not even lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed. Instead, he beat his chest in sorrow, saying, ‘O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner.’ I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home justified before God. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Luke 18:9-14)

Now.  Let's look at one more thing.  How would you announce a king?  Fanfare, fireworks, extravagance!  (Think about all the hoopla with the coronation of King Charles.) But no. Jesus is announced by a man who is a desert dweller, with an outfit and a diet to match his rather odd appearance.  He rails at the rich and the smug, and encourages the meek and the lowly. 

So far, so good.  John is firmly planted in the prophetic tradition--one who is fulfilling Isaiah's words about preparing your heart for the coming of the Messiah.  Then, a man shows up, requesting baptism, and John stops. John moves from fiery prophet to humble servant and asks Jesus to baptize him

There's the reversal.  The prophet becomes a servant and the King becomes a humble supplicant.  Jesus, who threw the stars into space says, “'It should be done, for we must carry out all that God requires.' So John agreed to baptize him." (Matt. 3:15).

I love what the NIV says about this moment: "By his baptism Jesus completely identified himself with man's sin and failure...becoming our substitute." (3)

Wow.  The One who is the King of the universe, who created all things and in Him all things hold together (Col. 1:17) stands in a river while a man pours water over His head.  God then reminds all of us that this is His Son, His beloved. 

The Kingdom of God is built upon such reversals, and Jesus Himself embodied the ultimate reversal: The King died for us. We then become His sons and daughters, no longer children of Adam but His own.  He loves us and is well pleased as we are clothed in His righteousness. 

Come and see.  

(1) The NIV Study Bible, New international Version. Kenneth Barker, ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Bible Publishers. 1985. 1444.
(2) Ibid. 1444.
(3) Ibid. 1446. 

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