Week 2 – Bible and History

In the second week we think more about the prophets – Why? Because they were trying to see where God was in the world, and what God was calling people to do. How is God at work in history? What is judgement, and is God merciful? What about other people?

As people deep in prayer they were given insights, pictures, understanding including glimpses of what God would do in the future. For the God of then had a plan for the ‘then’ and the future, to bring in his Kingdom, on the Day of the Lord.

And we too live in the real world of ‘now’ but have faith in and hope for the Kingdom which is to come, not as passive spectators, but active in the world today.

Thursday 2.4 –  A God of Justice

One of the great themes of the Bible is the Kingdom of God, though it only appears in this wording in the gospels (Matthew prefers Kingdom of Heaven).

Jesus tells parables of what the Kingdom is like, like a seed growing or a man who goes on a journey leaving tenants or responsibility, or a woman kneading dough.

In the Old Testament, God calls a people to live as if a showcase for the Kingdom – we understand what God’s Kingdom is like by seeing how God’s people are living, or we should, except that the people do not live as they should.

At the heart of the Kingdom is justice, what is right, not as an abstract concept but as the foundation for positive living, living without fear. Justice is much more than keeping the rules, that is legalism: justice is a positive ethic which enables and empowers and sets free, and which – at its heart – mirrors the heart of God.

Say not to peace, if what they mean by peace
is the quiet misery of hunger,
the frozen stillness of fear,

the silence of broken spirits,
the unborn hopes of the oppressed.

Tell them that peace is the shouting of children at play,
the babble of tongues set free,
the thunder of dancing feet,

and a father’s voice singing.

Brian Wren

But when things go wrong, when people do wrong, then there has to be a way of dealing with that.

The way the Bible puts it, God made the world, gave humans freedom, and humans have damaged it, relationships, and people. The values of a just society are the Kingdom values – where grace, mercy, peace, love all flourish.

How does a holy God respond when there is injustice, when others have been hurt, or diminished? A holy God cannot abide injustice and sin. A loving God does not want to see anyone lost.

In this grand symphony of the Bible we hear the holiness theme loud and clear – but humans are adept at thinking it does not matter, or like Adam and then Eve they make excuses – “it was the woman”, “it was the snake”. But we also hear a more plaintive theme, of a hurt and loving God. “What more could I have done?” “How can I forget you?” We hear the competing themes of holiness and mercy, not one or the other, but a rich tension of the two.

Throughout the Old Testament, there are sacrifices, where an animal is sacrificed to seek cleansing, to put the people back in a right relationship with God. There is the Passover Lamb whose death and blood protected the Hebrews from the Angel of Death, and there is the Scape-goat on whom, metaphorically, the sins of the people are laid, and it is then driven into the wilderness, out of the land. Sacrifice is a way to try and re-clean the world or lives polluted by sin. And sacrifice is at the heart of the Last Supper, a Passover Meal where Jesus offers his Body and Blood.

As we are discovering the symphony leads us to the person and work of Jesus – who is the ultimate “sacrifice” – who takes the sin of the world upon himself, the one who was without sin.

Another way to understand this is through the image of the ‘cup of God’s wrath’ which is like a tankard of strong but deeply bitter wine which those who have done wrong will have to drink and it will destroy them. A cursed drink not a gift.

In John’s Gospel the first sign of Jesus is the turning of water into fine wine – “you have kept the best till now” says the bemused master of ceremonies when he tastes the wine. And Jesus later says he is ‘the water of life, the water that I will give will become in them a well of water springing up to eternal life’ (John 4:14)

But later, on the cross, Jesus is passed a cup of bitter wine and he drinks it to the dregs; drinking this cup of wrath, taking it himself, so we do not need to. He offers the finest wine; he drinks the bitterest. And from his side when it is pierced, flows ‘water’. In his death Jesus releases for us the water of life if we would but receive it.

And we are told in Hebrews that Jesus has made a sacrifice, ‘once for all’ (9:26).  Today we remember what Jesus has done, ‘who made there a full perfect and sufficient sacrifice’. ‘It is completed!’

Jesus lived with the structural and systemic injustices that so many poor people face in life. His birth and life point to a God who has not given up on us – who takes upon himself the healing of the world by taking on himself the sin.

Self-sacrifice is extraordinary, but the self-sacrifice of Jesus is even more. Christmas and Easter go together as the ultimate expression of God’s love, and the clearest sign of his love for us who have turned away, not just once but again and again.