I'm the girl who processes everything slowly, who has to let it simmer. The one who is still "back here" when everyone else has long since moved on. Maybe like Mary, at the tomb.
I don't mind that much, I sort of like the quiet back here. My blog has been such a therapeutic simmering space over the years. These days, however, the simmering must spill over in person as I lead a women's Bible study group at church on Sundays, and participate in a couple of other similar groups. The time to prepare has precedence over the time to write.
Today, however, I write.
I must, in order to follow this train of thought that threatens to derail in my mind if I don't capture it. Hang on, it's a winding track.
Our group is studying Encounters With Jesus
by Tim Keller. The chapter we happened to be studying during Holy Week was about Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane, one of those things you don't plan that works out perfectly, by God's grace if you ask me.
Based on Matthew 26, the chapter describes the agony of Jesus in the garden, making the choice of obedience. Indeed, he is beginning to feel the divine connection slipping away even as he prays, clinging to his Father with some of his last breaths, resolutely pressing on with the costly plan of redemption. As Keller started making his case for "the torture of divine absence", I was reminded that the curse of sin that Jesus took on wasn't in the flogging--although that certainly was torture. The curse (for Jesus and all of us) was in the excruciating separation from God.
"Surely the arm of the Lord is not too short to save,
nor his ear too dull to hear.
But your iniquities have separated you from your God;
your sins have hidden his face from you,
so that he will not hear."
The finality of that separation is death. And so Jesus takes death head on. The guilt. The shame. The separation.
I'm not one who loves to focus on the gore of the crucifixion (I wrote about that here
years ago). Last week I found myself asking, what if Jesus had died of cancer? Or an accident? Because that's still a fully separating death that can end in resurrection. So many answers came.
His death needed to bear the mark of man's sinfulness.
There is no darker death than death at the hands of your beloved betrayer.
There is no more ugly assailant the religious establishment.
There is no more inconvenient truth about humans than that we are prone to abandon those we love, and to do what we would otherwise think inconceivable when we are feeling threatened and afraid.
There could be no more intense identification with human suffering than that suffered by the God-man.
Who was responsible for the death of Jesus?
My sweet women answered this:
The Jewish leaders.
And yet Jesus said, "The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life--only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father." John 10:17-18
Before he died, Jesus took full responsibility for his own death. He chose not to play the victim card. He chose it for the joy set before him. (Hebrews 12:2)
Here's where Keller confronted me with something that I honestly didn't like. He talked about Jesus's obedience in both life and death. "Jesus not only died the death we should have died in order to take the law's curse for us, he also lived the great life of love and fidelity we should have lived in order to earn God's blessing for us." (pp. 158-159) Keller says not only does Jesus' obedience in death remove the penalty of sin (eternal separation from God), but his obedience in life earns us the credit for a righteous life. In short, because we are in Christ, he is thoroughly pleased with us. "God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God." 2 Corinthians 5:21
I love the promise of God carrying his work in us to completion. I love that picture of us being hidden in Christ and clothed with his perfection. There are so many images like this in scripture. But last week I found myself resistant. Because you know who doesn't see me clothed in Jesus' righteousness?
The person I honked at in the car in front of me on my way to church.
I could go on. I'll spare you the details of the ugliness, because you get the picture.
They all bear the consequences of my sin every time it spills right over onto them. So how is it fair to them that I should enjoy the freedom of being called righteous? The freedom of the sinful barriers to my relationship with God torn down?
I was warming up with the praise team on Easter morning when something we sang opened the door to a precious answer. My mind moved from the garden to what happened next, right after Jesus settled the matter of obedience to death on the cross. Jesus led his friends out to where Judas would deliver him into the hands of the Roman and Jewish authorities.
"When Jesus' followers saw what was going to happen, they said, 'Lord, should we strike with our swords?' And one of them struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his right ear. But Jesus answered, 'No more of this!' And he touched the man's ear and healed him." Luke 22:49-51
It was as if Jesus put his arm around me at that moment and said, "Tracy, it's OK to celebrate today. It's exactly what you should be doing. Because from the moment I settled the decision to die, I've been turning death on its head and bringing dead things back to life. I'm putting ears back on."
If he can bear the weight of human sinfulness and teach us what it looks like to forgive;
if he can teach me to trust him and forgive when the sins of others spill over onto me;
then he can teach me to ask for forgiveness of those I hurt and be a part of the healing process.
I can rejoice in being counted righteous in him.
I can obey his "No more of this!" out of love and gratitude, and because the Holy Spirit is working in me.
I can trust his love for the people who take the brunt of my sinfulness while I'm a work in progress.
He's putting ears back on.