Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Galilean Idol

I've thought it odd for quite a long time that we, as Christians, wear the cross around our necks. The cross, after all, is the mechanism of death of the very God we claim to be praising with the emblem. Had Jesus lived and died a criminal's death today, would future generations (or perhaps even this one) wear a little syringe around their necks?

It's easy to see how the cross may have become our idol. But maybe that's what it was always meant to be.

Let's look at some of the text from the book of John. From 3:14:

As Moses lifted up the snake on a pole in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up. Then everyone who believes in him will have eternal life.

Familiar with the story? You can find it in Numbers 21. The nation of Israel is in the midst of their wandering, and they are rebellious, not to mention whining and complaining. God's had enough. He sends poisonous snakes among them. Many are bitten, many die. The people run to Moses, repent, and beg for the Lords' mercy. God's answer is as follows:

The Lord said to Moses, 'Make a snake, and put it on a pole. Anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.' (8)

It's kind of odd when you think about it. Here, we have an admittedly jealous God who has already told His people to have no other gods before Him, who has criticized and cursed idolatry, and He is telling the people to look not to Him for their healing, but to a snake. Not just any snake, but a snake made by human hands - an idol by every Old Testament definition of the word. And they were healed.

Flash forward a few thousand years, and here we are again with a people of God feeling bitten. There are snakes among them, and no man understands how to live. They are lost somewhere between the law and the Promise, just as the Israelites had been in the wilderness. On the one hand, they have the law and the teaching of Moses; on the other hand, Jesus continues to reform and remake that law in the image of the promise of the Messiah. But they aren't quite there yet. Nobody is. In the in-between, there is a treacherous trap and they are weary of trying to figure out which way to go. They whine. They complain. They feel bitten.

Then God raises up an idol - His own Son on a pole. Anyone, He says, who is bitten, can look at it and live. Anyone, He says, who is stuck between the law and the Promise can look to the crucified Christ for the answer. So we fix our eyes on Him.

It's a fine line, I know. It offends our sensibilities to consider the cross an idol. It's the cross, for crying out loud! But I think that's the point. The cross does not encompass the entirety of God, not by a long shot. It shows a large part of Him, but it's not the whole deal. And any time we are looking at something that is not the fullness of God, even if we connect it to the Holy Himself, it is less than He, and that makes it merely an image. And an image is an idol.

See, God is not defined by the cross. It shows us His undying love for us (in that dying sort of way). It shows us His sacrifice, His surrender. It shows us to what extremes He would go to reconcile us to Himself. But it doesn't show us either of the things we're dying to know about - it doesn't show us the law or the Promise. It is the life of Jesus that shows us the law; His resurrection shows us the Promise. This image...is neither.

This image is the wilderness. It's the wandering. It's the sight that's supposed to tide us over from here to there, in this place where we feel bitten by the world. It's this glorious show of God's tender care for us. Like the snake, this is the image of God made by human hands, hands that were content to crucify Him. He's given us this image to heal us, but by our hand, we created this God. We created the crucified Christ. To do any justice to the suffering of the cross, we must know that. We must understand, as God has laid out in His word, that this is an idol. He said it, not me.

Not all idols are bad things; it depends on what you're worshiping...and how. We have to remember this is God's healing for us, for now, for the in between. This is God's mercy in the desert. Between the law and the Promise, there is the crucified Christ. It's an idol, sure, but a holy one, and this image of God is our healing. That's how He planned it. That's how He gave it. That's how we made Him - lifted up, so that all who see the crucified Christ are healed.

The idol of Christ, for those days when we need an image of God to hold onto as we journey toward the Promise and the God who holds onto us.

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