In Luke, Jesus pulls up alongside two travelers lamenting over his death, not knowing that the resurrected stands in their midst. He starts at the beginning and walks them through Godâ€™s story and points out everything that has lead to His arrival, all the indications of His identity.
I imagine He tells them about a perfect garden, fabricated stories smaller than God and sin. He tells them about the blood shed to craft animal skins to cover their nakedness.
He tells them about two brothers, one stricken by jealousy who chooses to strike down the other brother and flee to the east.
He tells them about a promise, a covenant between God and humanity. One unbreakable and cast in blood.
Jesus tells the story of a people trapped in slavery and an unlikely mouthpiece for God, named Moses. After miracles, signs, wonders and plagues, God is forced to prove His love through a tenth and final plague; one inhabited by death.
This plague passes over the Israelites because they have spread the blood of a lamb on their doorposts. In anguish, the Pharaoh pursues them out of the country.
With the blood still wet on their doorposts, the Israelites leave the home their people have known for 400 years for a dry and dangerous desert. This is a land far from their experience. In order to survive, God has to teach them what it means to be free.
He offers ten instructions, but they begin with a reminder that the Story is His. He says, â€œI am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.â€ (Exodus 20:1) He informs them that His nature is Liberator, Freedom-giver. This is a people that has crafted stories about God in their discontent and He must remind them of who He is. He has set them free, and in order for Israel to remain free, He offers them structure and teaches them how to live.
These are the people who will manifest God for the watching world; in His love and desire to be known, He gives His people the Law.
The Law told the story of a God who valued relationship with each other and with Him, freedom from oppression, love for one another, justice for the enslaved and joy in His provision.
His Law taught them about forgiveness and restoration of shalom.
Because His people knew the pain of forced servitude, He guarded them against becoming tyrant over others.
He crafted a plan for them to be renewed.
God understood that His people were prone to wander, so the Law He gave included grace for that. It included a way to deal with sin. Just like in the Garden, something had to die so that the shame of their sin could be covered. Just like in Egypt, the covering of sin costs life.
Instead of doorposts, now blood would be spread on an altar for the benefit of the people.
Just as Abelâ€™s blood cried out from the ground to inform God of the truth, the blood of goats and lambs would now cry out on behalf of the people.
This is what salvation would look like; God seeing us through a lens of red.
But as the Israelites physically walked east into the desert, they discovered that their spirits too were east of Eden.
They groaned and complained; they lied to themselves about their previous life and their new reality, claiming that slavery in Egypt was better than the presence of God in cloud and fire there in the desert.Â They desired to become a settled people, pretending that the homes they knew in Egypt were better than the tents belonging to wanderers.Â How quickly they forgot the God who saved them and crafted smaller gods out of goldâ€¦
In spite of their grumbling, God sent water to drink and bread to eat and taught His people how to live. He desired that they grow closer to Him and discover what it means to be His people.
That lesson included patience, as they wandered 40 years as a consequence for their work of fabricating stories and idols. God offered this both as a result of their actions, as well as an opportunity to learn. God knew that His people are quick to become comfortable and deceive themselves; He wanted Israel to be a people who understood hardship and learned thankfulness for provision.Â He wanted them to be a people acquainted with wandering, so that they would always be aware of their need for Him.
Even in this time of wandering, God called them to be His redeemed people. His work of liberation had begun in Egypt and was not yet finished. In that time of waiting, He wanted them to walk as a body that personifies the presence of God.Â He wanted others to look at His people and see Him there among them.
He granted them victory over seven nations stronger than them in order to give them a land they could call their home. His provision was lavish, and more than the Israelites had any right to expect.
And yet, they forgot God.
More sin, and more blood.
When the people forgot God, He would allow them to wander and the people quickly rediscovered their need. They would cry out for mercy, and God would take pity on them. He sent a deliverer to rescue and rule the people and Israel remembered God the Liberator, the Freedom-giver.
And then they forgot.
More sin, and more blood.
This vicious cycle of memory and amnesia continued with Godâ€™s patience and the peopleâ€™s rebellion until they made a request that slapped God in the face.
They asked for a king.
God said to his servant Samuel, â€œThey have rejected me as their king. As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods. Warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will do.â€ (1 Samuel 8:7-9)
God warned them that their king would be a tyrant. This dictator will take their sons and make them soldiers; he will start wars and destroy your land. He will form armies, like Egypt, and he will have slaves, like Egypt. He will turn you from the oppressed into the oppressors.
And still, they asked for a king.
So God gave them one, and God hated it.
He hated their rebellion, but He was crazy about them.
God chose a man named Saul to serve as king. Saul was humble and desperate to serve Godâ€¦until he began to believe in his own power more than the Creatorâ€™s. Saul tried to do Godâ€™s work himself, believing that his own capabilities were sufficient. (1 Samuel 13:11-14)
And so God chose another, a man after His own heart. In a rage, Saul tried to purge this new man David from the land. But God proved more powerful than Saul. David rose in the eyes of Godâ€™s people and became the kind of king that people wanted to follow. (1 Samuel 13:14, 2 Samuel 2) He was far from perfect, for David was just a man, full of flaws. But he pursued God and God responded, because the Creator isÂ concerned with redemption and not perfection. So the people loved David and followed him.
And yet, the true King was ignored.
David had a son, Solomon, to whom God gave wisdom. (1 Kings 3:5-14) Solomon saw fit to craft a temple for God; a permanent place for worship in the form of blood. God never asked for this dwelling, but Solomon wanted to honor Him and create a place for the nations to witness the Author of the Story. Solomon designed the temple in the Name of the Lord God and began work on the temple, his own palace and the walls of Jerusalem.
And he made slaves lift the stones. (1 Kings 5:3-13)
The oppressed became the oppressorsâ€¦theyâ€™ve forgotten God and replaced Him with a building.
This building, this city, became the center of the Israelitesâ€™ world. The temple was intended to be the meeting point of heaven and earth, the doorway for broken humanity to enter into the presence of the holy. In the temple, they tied a rope around the high priest who entered the Holy of Holies, for fear that he might die merely by entering the presence of the Almighty. This was to be their holiest place. Jerusalem becomes a place of rest for the wanderers, a home unlike any theyâ€™ve known before.
Except for Eden.
They thought theyâ€™d built a place like the garden, a place to interact with God. But in reality, the city theyâ€™ve crafted to make them content is just like the desert; theyâ€™re still spiritually east of Eden. Itâ€™s here that they learn how to truly offer their sacrifices.
Instead of living an alternative story, one inhabited by God, liberation and freedom, they choose one that idolizes the system.
They follow the letter of the Law rather than its spirit and become dependent on their ability to shed blood in order to cover their sins. God offered the Law so that it could master them, but instead they believed they could tame the Law. They chose to perfect it, argue about it and believe it intellectually but not be mastered by it. Rather than using sacrifice to restore right relationship with God, they applied it to declare themselves justified, all the while pursuing their own kingdoms and their own stories.
Their worship was about self sufficiency instead of divine provision.
The pursuit of God has transformed into the pursuit of power, position, authority and notoriety. The wanderers have become settlers and are quite comfortable with the system. They've arrived and no longer see themselves as lost; they have no need for God, just the system.
But like the golden sculpture in the desert, this too is idolatry. They've discovered a new kind of sin, one that looks deceptively like faithfulness. This sin is worshipping their own holiness rather than the God who offers it.
More sin, and more blood.
Countless animals are offered in the name of restoration, all the while cementing Israel into a life that has no need for God or His ability to restore the world. They no longer recall that the blood flowing SHOULD be theirs. The sound of it dripping is the sound of grace...but they've lost that plot.
Israel has stopped reading God's story and is reciting their own.
In His story, they are beloved. In their own story, they are accomplished. In His story, they are carefully crafted. In their own story, they are self made and self sufficient. In His story, the temple is the place where the nations come to see where heaven and earth intersect. In their story, the temple is the place they put themselves on a pedestal higher than all others.
They need something to save them from themselves.
They have developed religion, and it has lead them astray. Itâ€™s time for the settled to relearn how to wander so that they recall dependence on God instead of they system. The system has taken over as their god to the point that they can't see through the blood to recognize their own brokenness. They follow other gods and become the oppressors. Their sacrifices don't please God, and they can't cover up their injustices. God has stopped hearing them and the blood doesn't work anymore.
A new kind of sacrifice must be found, one that is stronger than their idolatry. A divine kind of sacrifice is necessary.