I’ve been a bit delayed in working on my “Three ‘I’s” series, having had a request from Rabbi Gavri’el to co-author a series of posts for the UCMJS blog, which should start posting soon. I’ve also been working on catching up on my yeshiva studies and at trying to get my first book in print. So, since it’s bad form to just leave the blog blank, I thought I’d post an article that I wrote for another forum and which I presented as a D’var Torah (Scripture Teaching) in synagogue last week:
Having non-Messianic Jewish in-laws naturally gives me ample opportunity to present Yeshua to them. One of the most common objections is that He allegedly didn’t fulfill the Messianic prophecies, by which they mean the restoration of the Davidic monarchy, subjugation of the pagans, and bringing in an era of worldwide peace and prosperity. Of course, we can point to the threads of prophecy which state that the Messiah had to suffer and die first, but the difficulty still drives home a very important point about God that we really need to internalize: He is Holy. That is to say, He is Kadosh, which is to say Other, Different, and even Weird. Moreover, He is the Kadosh, Kadosh, Kadosh, the epitome of Wierdness–so much so that the rabbis point out that we can’t really say what God is, since every attribute we might apply to Him reduces Him in our mind to our conception of that attribute. For example, when we say God is Love, we reduce His Love to our conception of what Love is–a particularly treacherous descent in our sentiment-driven society.
Since indeed the Holy One is so different from us, it should not surprise us that He does things in exactly the opposite way that we, in our human nature, might expect. To pick just three examples:
God does not rule by His might
By this, I don’t mean that God is not mighty or that He does not rule by all authority and power, but that He does not predicate His right to rule us on the fact that He is stronger than we. On the contrary, the First Word of the Ten is, “I am HaShem your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the abode of slavery.” All of the other commandments follow on the fact that God kept His promise to redeem us out of slavery–exactly when He promised that He would, as it turns out.
We see this same attribute demonstrated in the last book of Scripture as well. In Revelation 19, we are given the picture of Messiah Yeshua on a white horse, riding forward in victory. “He has on his garment and on his thigh a name written, ‘KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS’” (v. 16). Why on His robe and thigh? The robe represents His righteousness (cf. v. 8), and in the book of Genesis, the thigh is where one placed one’s hand while taking an oath (Gen. 24:2, 47:29). This shows that Yeshua is the King of Kings not because He is mighty, but because He has kept His promises from start to finish, from Genesis to Revelation.
God turns shame into honor
One of the things often missed in our understanding of the Cross is that pain was not the purpose of crucifixion. Pain was just a means to an end. The ultimate purpose of crucifixion was to shame the victim, to take away every shred of honor they had. The pain broke their will and left them cursing ineffectually or begging for mercy. The nails crippled the hands and feet so that even if they were brought down somehow, they would be crippled for life. They were displayed naked, and as they began to suffocate, they would have certain embarrassing bodily reactions that everyone would mock. The horror of such shame to an honor-bound culture was so great that most Roman authors couldn’t even bring themselves to name the punishment, instead simply referring to “the extreme penalty” and the like.
Yeshua accepted the Cross, despising its shame (Heb. 12:2). He who rightly had infinite honor as a matter of His Person instead traded it for the terrible shame that you and I should rightly feel forever for all of our sins. We in turn are clothed with His honor, so that we can stand before a truly Holy God.
And when He rose from the dead, He overturned Man’s judgment. He was given back all honor, and with it all authority and splendor. Not only that, but the Cross, for centuries a symbol of ultimate shame, became a symbol of honor among His followers. Crucifixion lost its horror and became a symbol of shalom.
For the last twenty centuries, the Jews have been looked down on by the whole world–including, unfortunately, the vast majority of the Christian world–as a people covered with the shame of Deicide. But the prophets tell us that the day is quickly coming, and indeed we are seeing it take shape before our eyes, when Israel will be bestowed with honor, no longer called the Christ-killers but the Messiah-givers, no longer vagabonds without a land but rather the center of the King’s realm.
God turns honor into shame
But in order for all this to happen, first the Honorable One had to be given over to shame, joining His people in their humiliation.
I used to read a lot of fantasy (and still would, had I the time). Most authors (Tolkien being a notable exception) tend to portray the “Kingdom of Light,” where people are good and decent, pitted against an evil realm or empire. You know who the heroes are and while they have their flaws, they are small, almost endearing flaws or else something overcome in the course of the story.
That’s not the way the Bible portrays Israel. It exposes all of our warts to the world. It shows how we missed even understanding who our King is. Even our greatest leaders’ sins are exposed to the point where even Christian commentators right down to the current time have used them to mock us as a people. Our rabbis may try to minimize or explain away the flaws of even our first Patriarchs, but clearly these were men like you and me, albeit men that had an unusual connection with the Almighty.
So too will it be with the Church, as the best Christian commentators recognize. The Church’s history has been a dismal failure. Rejection of the Jewish root led to Christianity’s initial explosive growth being halted and Christianity frozen in Europe for a thousand years. The Reformation, rather than being a time of enlightenment, was a time of horrible violence–much of it perpetrated by the Reformers and their disciples themselves! Every revival and reformation in our history has been incomplete. This great Christian country that we call the United States of America has fallen into decadence, sin, and decline.
Truly, the Holy One has sealed up everyone under sin so that no one may boast.
Only when we realize that what the world calls wise God calls foolish, what the world calls honorable God calls shameful, what the world calls shameful God calls honorable, what the world calls weakness God calls strength, what the world calls good God calls evil will we really understand what it means that we are called to be a Holy–a different, a weird–people, and only then will we be able to walk the way the Lord our God has commanded us to walk.