This is part three of a series I've been working on for some time. Use the links if you want to track back to Part 1, and Part 2
Well, it has been a while coming, but time to continue the story of us and God... Where were we??
Oh yes - the law, then the prophets... God crying for justice and relationship and then...
For something like 400 years God was pretty much silent - at least, officially. The Jewish nation hung onto the things that had been said; that they were God's chosen, that He would bring a great King from the descendents of David, who would set things right. And of course, they continued to follow the law. In fact, they'd made quite an art form out of it. Because Moses had said to keep God's laws in your hand and head, devout Jews literally wore Scriptures sewn into their clothing andheadgear. Because there was a limit on how far you could walk from your front gate on the
Sabbath day, lawkeeping Jews would carry a replica of their gate if they should happen to go walking... faultless!! An ultra conservative religious society had grown up around the laws given so long ago. As far as judging good from evil went, they really had it all sewn up!! In fact, they were so absolutely 'righteous', that stonings for sins such as adultery and blasphemy were commonplace.
Politically, this "silent" 400 years had been more than just turbulent. In spite of their steadfast belief in the promises made to them by God, combined with their rigorous keeping of the law, the Jews were a nation under occupation. Not only that, this was the latest in a long line of occupations; some crueller than others. They had suffered massacres, sieges, the desecration of their temple, and the prohibition of their religious observances. Their religious liberties had been wrested back at great cost, during the siege of the Maccabees, a group of Jewish revolutionaries and heroes, about 140b.c. However their independence as a nation had never been established. At the time our story recommences, Jerusalem was under the tight-fisted rule of Rome; administered locally by a corrupt and bloodthirsty "king" known as Herod the Great.
The Jews themselves were an oppressed minority, doggedly determined to maintain their own laws and traditions, whilst at the same time crying deep in their national soul for justice and restoration. Hope that the Messiah, the foretold King sent by God, would come and liberate them had perhaps never been stronger. In the eyes of most, liberation and restoration would mean political power would again be in the hands of the Jewish people; and that the precious Law would be upheld and vindicated. Their ultra religious society would have its day. The laws would be kept, and seen to be kept by all, and righteousness would truly be restored, bringing God's blessing to the nation.
God had a different plan.
The God who was too awesome for the people to relate to directly at Sinai (though if you remember, it was they, not he, who begged for an intermediary) decided to show the world, in a way that they could bear to see, who he really was.
In an act that most would consider so unseemly as to be blasphemous, the Glorious God of Sinai took human form. Not some "godlike" (in the sense that WE use the word) perfect, beautiful being. He chose to truly become one of us. Born in the usual, messy way - and not to a family of noble or great standing. Not to people of extraordinary charisma and abilities. He entered the world as the (seemingly) bastard son of a very young, probably uneducated, working class girl named Mary. Her husband (fiancee, at the time of Jesus' conception) was an ordinary carpenter. Joseph, knowing HE wasn't the father of the child Mary carried, and being a law abiding, though merciful, man decided to quietly break the engagement, rather than allow Mary to be stoned for adultery. It took a little supernatural intervention in the form of an angelic visitation, to show him that the child Mary was carrying was something special, placed there by God. Joseph chose to marry Mary, and protect her and the unexpected new family he had been given.
The baby, named Jesus (we are told he was Emmanuel - meaning "God with Us"), was born in dirty, impoverished and hazardous circumstances. Hardly the expected entrance of a king!! We are told that he was not handsome or attractive in any special way. However his arrival was hailed by astrologers - who had watched and followed his star and came to worship, and announced by angels. Not to the world's political powers - but to shepherds watching sheep on the hillside nearby. God only knows what they all saw when they went to see him. A newborn, of peasant parents, placed in an animal feeding trough for lack of better facilities. Hardly awe inspiring. Before he was two, he fled persecution (Herod the Great ordered a massacre of all infants two and under, having heard of his arrival - these were barbaric times!). He spent much of his childhood in exile as a result, and returned to take up his "father" (Joseph)'s trade as a carpenter.
In his thirties, (when Jewish men were deemed to have finally "come of age") Jesus began to publically declare his identity. God in human form set out to introduce himself to humanity through his life and actions. There was no political uprising. No call to war against the Romans. And worse (for the religious leaders of the time) there were no kickbacks to the religious institution!! God embraced the dirt and smell of humanity. He mixed with the poor, the sinners, and the diseased. He liberated those who came to him from oppression, disease, and the condemnation of society. He forgave sins! And he did all of this OUTSIDE the religious and ceremonial systems so carefully maintained by religious Jews. He frequently broke the elaborately constructed ceremonial laws, while physically embodying perfect relationship between God and others. His every action broke the power of oppression and brought healing and life. He demonstrated not condemnation and legalism, but forgiveness and love. Instead of stoning sinners, he loved and forgave them.
Jesus was NOT what the Jews expected in a Messiah. And he WAS a huge threat to the religious establishment. Everything he did and said, healed bodies and minds. With his words, he offered comfort, blessing, forgiveness and freedom. It was obvious to anyone who cared to look, that there was immense power behind his words and actions. The very elements appeared to obey him at times, and we are told he could have summoned a legion of angels to enforce his will - yet he forced nobody. His strongest words he reserved for the oppression of religion. "Sinners" he treated with compassion and love. He allowed people to see themselves as something quite outside the limits imposed on them by religion and society. People began to flock to him, rather than to the priests, looking for healing and release. Strangely, (or perhaps, not so strangely, if you think about it) though he never made a political power play, this made him a significant threat to the power dynamics of Jewish society. To literally add insult to injury, Jesus was forthright in condemning the oppressive religious system of the day. Like slaughtering a holy cow - this was absolute blasphemy in the eyes of the religious establishment. He had to go! So they plotted to kill him.