Luke 23:44-49 (CEV)
44 Around noon the sky turned dark and stayed that way until the middle of the afternoon. 45 The sun stopped shining, and the curtain in the temple split down the middle. 46 Jesus shouted, “Father, I put myself in your hands!” Then he died.
47 When the Roman officer saw what had happened, he praised God and said, “Jesus must really have been a good man!”
48 A crowd had gathered to see the terrible sight. Then after they had seen it, they felt brokenhearted and went home.49 All of Jesus’ close friends and the women who had come with him from Galilee stood at a distance and watched.
Whatever It Takes
One way of reading the Old Testament is hundreds of years of the people who say they follow YHWH (the Jewish name for God) trying to figure out what kind of God it is that they follow.
They look around them and say, “we see other people who have multiple gods to make sure that their harvests are good and their wives get pregnant and the enemies stay away, so maybe we should have other gods” – and God says, “nope, that’s not how I work. I guarantee you that will end in trouble for you!”
They look around them and say, “well maybe God’s stopped being interested – maybe God doesn’t actually care too much what we do, so maybe it doesn’t matter how we treat each other or the land or the people who are different from us” – and God says, “nope, I’m still interested. I’m still paying attention. I’m definitely going to have things to say about that!”
They look around them and say, “well what if God is just interested in how well we do our sacrifices – maybe that’s the thing that really matters and as long as we do that, God will be content” – and God says, “nope, that’s not really the point of the sacrifices. They’re there to remind you that I’m God and you’re not, but they’re also there to remind you of how important I think it is that you care for each other and look after each other and take care of the land and be hospitable to the strangers around you. If you just want to do the sacrifice thing without anything else, don’t be surprised if I’m not impressed!”
In fact, no matter how many times the people tried to imagine what God is like they always manage to mess it up, because the problem is that they kept envisioning God by looking at each other.
Until finally one day God shows up.
God shows up as Jesus and walks around and heals people, so that we know that God cares about healing.
God shows up as Jesus and eats and drinks with people to offer them dignity and compassion and respect as a means of healing their emotional wounds, so that we know that God cares about our hurts and our brokenness.
God shows up as Jesus and insists that any religious rules we’re going to follow had better help us to look more like God and leave us living with more freedom – more love, more joy, more peace, more truth – than when we started, otherwise they’re not good rules.
And as we get to know God through Jesus we start to think, “this is maybe a God I could like. This is maybe a God I could follow. This is maybe a God I could even worship.”
But because so many of us have a vision of God as an angry God we always wonder in the back of our head – what might happen if we push this God to far? At what point will this God just reach down and smite us? Surely there has to be a line? Surely there has to be a point when even this compassionate God might break?
And then we’re here.
At the cross.
And Jesus is killed at the hands of jealous religious leaders, spineless politicians and fearful citizens.
But instead of God responding with punishment, once again there is blessing.
The temple curtain that separates the Holy of Holies – the part of the temple that is considered the only place holy enough for YHWH to be – this curtain is torn in two from the top to the bottom as Jesus cries out ‘It is finished’.
What is finished?
The sacrifices are finished.
The need for a temple for God to live in is finished.
The impenetrable boundary between YHWH and humanity is finished with a power so great it shakes the earth to its core.
The questions about who God is are finished – we look to Jesus and we see the ‘image of the invisible God’.
And the questions about how God sees us are finished, too.
Because at the heart of this death is a love so great that it would sacrifice itself to reveal itself to us.
A love so great that it would do whatever it took to rebuild relationship with us.
A love so enormous that it would step out of itself to be present with us regardless of what kind of arrogance or selfishness or brokenness or spinelessness or pride or laziness or complacency we threw at it.
A love that does whatever it takes to get our attention, to cut through our fear, to reveal itself to us fully and to invite us to join it in the most radical love-proposal of all time.
So we can no longer hide behind the question of what kind of a God this YHWH is, pretending that until we get an answer we won’t be able to take the next right step. The question is answered. But we get a question in return – ‘how will I respond to this kind of love?’
- If you are new to this Jesus thing, how do you respond to Jesus’ death? What do you make of a love that is this big? Want to talk some more about it? I’d love to connect! You can drop me a line at [email protected].
- Or if this Jesus thing is ‘old hat’, what would it look like to take some time to remind yourself of what kind of God you follow?
- Good Friday is this Friday. I encourage you to spend some time each day this week thinking about this extravagant, extraordinary love that God has for you.
This study is part of an entire journey through the book of Luke. If you’ve enjoyed it, please visit https://www.voxalliance.ca/category/devotionals/luke/ for the rest of this series.