By Linda Rex
April 2, 2021, GOOD FRIDAY—It is easy for us to get swept up into feeling frustrated or sorry for ourselves because life doesn’t go the way we think it should. We can look at others and wonder why their lives are going so well when ours isn’t. This is especially true when we look at social media, and all we see are everyone else’s efforts to paint the best picture possible of their life.
Nicodemus was a Jewish leader who came to Jesus at night to ask him some questions. When Jesus began explaining to Nicodemus about the kingdom of God, he used an illustration from the history of his people. As the ancient Israelites traversed the wilderness, he explained, being carefully led by the cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night and sustained by bread from heaven (manna) they struggled to deal with the difficulties they faced.
Like all of us, when faced with things not going the way they thought they should go, they began to complain. From there on it went downhill, for soon the people were dying from snakebite as their camp became infested with venomous vipers. Finally, they begged Moses to intercede for them with God, and he did. God’s response was rather interesting, considering the covenant he had made with them.
In spite of the fact that God had told them not to make graven images, he told Moses to make a bronze serpent and to place it on a pole. When a person who had been bitten by a snake looked up at the bronze serpent in faith, they would not die—they would get well. Those who refused to look up at the serpent, of course, would die of snakebite. As Moses and the people followed God’s instruction, the Israelites’ camp was soon free from death.
In his conversation with Nicodemus, Jesus used this example to illustrate the importance of his ministry and why he had come. He pointed out that his purpose was to be lifted up in the same way as the serpent was lifted up, thereby drawing all humanity to himself. What would be meant for evil, for his destruction, would be turned to good, to the deliverance of all from evil, sin, and death.
To create a bronze serpent, the craftsman would place metal into a crucible, bring it to an intense heat to melt it. He would purify the metal by increasing or maintaining this intense heat, and working to bring all the impurities to the top to be scooped off until the surface was fully reflective. At the height of its purity, the craftsman would see his own face reflected in the molten metal. Then the metal would be poured into a mold or fashioned over the heat by hammering, twisting, and so on, into the desired form. Over and over the craftsman would work to forge the piece, until he was satisfied that it was exactly right, smoothing and polishing the surface, and finally, adding the details that were desired.
To say that he would be lifted up like the bronze serpent shows how Jesus used powerful but simple imagery to explain something with great depth and meaning. God as a craftsman began the process of the redemption of his creation by forging for himself a people from which his Messiah would come. This people, Israel, was taken on a wilderness journey, then across the Jordan River, and on into the promised land. They journeyed with God, struggling against and within their covenant relationship with the Creator, not realizing the magnitude and wonder of what God intended to do through them. God even took them into the crucible of the exile where they began to understand that their relationship with their Adonai was not solely dependent upon the temple and its sacrifices.
In the dark years of prophetic silence following the exile, when their descendants wrestled with their various overlords, we find the remnant of the people of ancient Israel, the Jews, yearning for their Messiah to come and deliver them. They sought a deliverer to set them free to be their own kingdom again, to be able to worship their Adonai, God, freely and to enjoy the prosperity and security of the age of the Spirit.
It is at this time that the Word of God, Son of our heavenly Father, took on our human flesh in the incarnation. This was an unexpected event, for this Messiah was not intent on a political, military redemption, but a redemption of our humanity from its slavery to evil, sin, and death. He fulfilled the prophetic testimony of Isaiah, who predicted that he would suffer on behalf of his people, redeeming and restoring them (Isaiah 52:13–53:12). This Messiah, Jesus Christ, throughout his life on this earth, forged into our humanity the capacity to be truly human, to be the proper image-bearers God meant each of us to be. The crucible in which God in Christ took our humanity—his flesh, was placed into the flame of the crucifixion, taking our human flesh into death itself, and in three days, Jesus rose again, bringing all humanity into a new existence as refined by the fire.
Jesus’ people played a significant role in the redemption of all humanity and even all creation, albeit an unpleasant one. God knew from the beginning what it would take to forge within our humanity the capacity to live eternally in union and communion with the divine. He created a womb, Israel, in which the Savior would be formed and an instrument by which he would be crucified, all for the sake of every human being sharing in the life and love of God in Christ by the Spirit. The disciples and Jesus were clear in their day about the sins of God’s people, but recognized that the Jews are still, as they are today, God’s covenant people and the Savior’s human family.
It is instructive for us that when God, the divine craftsman, goes to work in our lives, he doesn’t always bring us to pleasant, happy places. There are times when he allows us to wander through difficulties—not to harm us or do us evil, but to forge within us a new way of being which more deeply reflects his image.
We turn to Christ in these moments, for he was lifted up in the crucifixion and entered into death itself for our sake. He stands eternally as our high priest even now, interceding for us as Moses did but also standing in our place on our behalf, having taken upon himself all that is ours and reforming it into what God always meant it to be. As the eternal Son of the Father, he brings humanity by faith into God’s intimate union and communion in the Spirit, enabling us to participate in the divine life and love now and forever.
On this Good Friday, as we reflect upon the sobering experience Jesus went through on the cross, let us be reminded of the faithfulness and goodness of our God. May we sit silently in the shadow of the cross, weeping for the price that was paid but being filled with the joy for which Jesus did it, for he saw beyond the crucifixion into the redemption of all humanity and the restoration of all things. As refined in the fire, he was lifted up, to draw all to himself, so all may truly live. Praise Adonai!
Our heavenly Father, thank you. Thank you for the gift of your one unique Son, Jesus the Messiah. Thank you, Jesus, for setting aside the privileges of divinity for a time, so that we might be freed from the snakebite of evil, sin, and death, and be brought up into life eternal in the presence of the Father by the Spirit. We praise you for your faithfulness and goodness, one holy God in three persons, Father, Son and Spirit. Amen.
“Pilate came out again and said to them, ‘Behold, I am bringing Him out to you so that you may know that I find no guilt in Him.’ Jesus then came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, ‘Behold, the Man!’ So when the chief priests and the officers saw Him, they cried out saying, ‘Crucify, crucify!’ Pilate said to them, ‘Take Him yourselves and crucify Him, for I find no guilt in Him.’ The Jews answered him, ‘We have a law, and by that law He ought to die because He made Himself out to be the Son of God.’ Therefore when Pilate heard this statement, he was even more afraid; and he entered into the Praetorium again and said to Jesus, ‘Where are You from?’ But Jesus gave him no answer. So Pilate said to Him, ‘You do not speak to me? Do You not know that I have authority to release You, and I have authority to crucify You?’ Jesus answered, ‘You would have no authority over Me, unless it had been given you from above; for this reason he who delivered Me to you has the greater sin.’ As a result of this Pilate made efforts to release Him, but the Jews cried out saying, ‘If you release this Man, you are no friend of Caesar; everyone who makes himself out to be a king opposes Caesar.’… “And he said to the Jews, ‘Behold, your King!’ So they cried out, ‘Away with Him, away with Him, crucify Him!’ Pilate said to them, ‘Shall I crucify your King?’ The chief priests answered, ‘We have no king but Caesar.’ So he then handed Him over to them to be crucified. They took Jesus, therefore, and He went out, bearing His own cross, to the place called the Place of a Skull, which is called in Hebrew, Golgotha. There they crucified Him, and with Him two other men, one on either side, and Jesus in between. Pilate also wrote an inscription and put it on the cross. It was written, ‘JESUS THE NAZARENE, THE KING OF THE JEWS.’” John 19:4-12, 14b-19 NASB
By Linda Rex
I was reflecting back on some of my life events recently, when it occurred to me that we don’t take seriously enough our participation with Christ when it comes to our relationships. It seems as though we go through life interacting with others and building relationships without taking into consideration all of our life is bound together in union with Christ in the Spirit.
For example, we bounce or in my case, crawl out of bed in the morning, go through our routine, and find ourselves in the middle of the day, wondering why our spouse is cranky, our boss is rude, or our friend is ignoring us. We may decide then that we need to follow some Biblical principles in order to try to fix the relationship. Following them may or may not help, but sometimes even our best efforts don’t change anything—in fact, at times, they seem to only make things worse.
I think the error is in believing that somehow by doing and saying the right things we cause the right things to happen in a relationship. We turn people into objects we act upon, which automatically respond in preset ways to certain words and actions. How many books have you and I read which teach us this very thing: In order to have a good marriage, you have to do x, y and z, in that order?
We approach our marriages, our child-raising, and our friend and work relationships in this way. And we approach our relationship with God in this way too.
But the thing is, relationships involve persons. And persons derive their identity from the three Persons of the One God who are united, diverse and equal. In the oneness of the Trinity, there is always freedom based in love. That freedom means that no one causes the Persons of the Trinity to do anything. God acts out of his own nature as Father, Son and Spirit in love, in whatever way he chooses to. The Persons of the Trinity may respond to our efforts, but they are not obligated in any way by anything we say or do to act in certain ways.
Some of the greatest hurts in our relationships occur because of these types of expectations we place upon God and upon one another. Expectations in a relationship are helpful only if they are held within a framework of grace, because no human being can perfectly and fully meet another human being’s expectations. Rigid expectations, when they are unmet, create resentment, bitterness, hate, and anger. They create a separation within a relationship—they do not build unity. Nor do they facilitate love.
Holding God to our human expectations is actually arrogant. After all, God is free to do whatever he wishes in any and every situation. Whatever we may expect of him, he is going to do the good and right thing. He’s going to be loving and gracious, faithful—he is and will be true to his nature as God. Our expectations do not change who God is and what he does. They only hurt us, because when God doesn’t perform to our expectations, we end up hurt, angry, and frustrated.
Holding our loved ones to rigid expectations can be very abusive. To expect a child to do something beyond their age and capacity and to punish them when they fail to meet our expectations is destructive to their mental and emotional health. To expect a spouse or loved one to perform something exactly how we think it should be done, with no room for individuality, personality or preference is selfish and controlling, and destroys trust and love, and stifles affection.
The sad thing is, not only do our rigid expectations ruin our relationships, but they also blind us to our own shortcomings. We become so focused on the other person’s failures that we cannot and do not see the many ways in which we ourselves have not kept our word or have been unfaithful. We are so “right” that we don’t realize how very wrong we are.
The truth is that there is only one Being, our Father, Son and Spirit God, who is able to fully keep his side of a covenant. It is his covenant with us as humanity that is the basis of our relationships with others. Because we could not fulfill our part of the covenant agreement, the Word came into our human flesh and lived out our part perfectly and completely. It is Jesus Christ who is the One who is the perfect human, who never fails to keep his promises and perfectly fulfills his Father’s will.
Jesus is the risen High Priest who stands in our stead, bearing us in the presence of the Father. He also, as the Mediator, intercedes between each of us, being the One who perfectly relates to us and to his Father in the Spirit. God sends his Spirit into human hearts so that we are bound together, not only by our common breath in the Spirit, but also by our common sharing in the humanity of Christ. At the basis of all our relationships is Jesus Christ in us by the Holy Spirit.
This means that all our relationships with God and each other are set upon the foundation of Jesus Christ, our Intercessor and our Lord. They are mediated by Christ in the Spirit, who works to bring about love, joy, peace and unity in our relationships. Whatever efforts we may make to heal, bless and grow our relationships need to have their center in Christ by the Spirit, because it is his relationship with his Father in the Spirit which defines what true relationship is.
Christ’s relationship with the Father does not require or use expectations. Christ does the will of the Father because his own will is in perfect unity with the Father’s will. Christ’s will and the Father’s will are one in the Spirit. Their relationship is based on love and mutual submission, not on fulfillment of expectations or obligations.
If in our human relationships we were to release everyone from any and all expectations, and instead focus on the relationship Christ has brought us into with the Father in the Spirit, we would experience a huge shift in our dynamics. When we begin to treat one another as persons who equally yet diversely share in our common union with Christ in the Spirit, we open the door for love, unity and peace. Accepting that we are all broken people sharing in the grace of God in Christ will begin to create in us a spirit of humility, mutual submission and service.
When Christ admonished his followers to be people of their word, he was well aware of their inability to always be faithful and truthful. Jesus himself is the only human capable of actually keeping his word and fulfilling the will of God. Thankfully, God’s relationship with each of us as faulty, frail and at times untruthful people is not based upon our ability to perform, but upon the inner relations of the Father, Son and Spirit in their perichoretic union and communion, and upon the grace and love showered upon us through Jesus Christ.
Our relationships with one another, especially in marriage and family, need to be built upon this same foundation. It is in looking to Christ and participating in his perfect relationship with the Father in the Spirit that we find the grace to love and respect one another, and to be faithful and truthful in every circumstance of life. Whether we bound out of bed or crawl out in the morning, we all share in Christ, and can by God’s Word and through the Spirit find the wisdom, strength and whatever we may need to truly love and care for one another like we should. May God find us so doing!
Father, thank you that by your Son and in your Spirit we have been given a relationship with you and each other we could not have otherwise. Grant us the grace to throw away all our expectations of you and others which create division and hurt in our relationships. Instead, may we live together in love and grace, awake to the life you have given us through Christ and in the Spirit, expectantly looking forward to all you will do to heal, restore and renew. Through Jesus, our Lord, amen.
“Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but keep the oaths you have made to the Lord.’ But I tell you, do not swear at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.” Matthew 5:33–37 NIV