Friday, May 24, 2019

An Ax and a Cross

Once we see the fulfillment of all things in Christ, it's easy for us to look back and see parallels in the Old Testament, things that seem to foreshadow the life and work of Jesus. One of those things on which Jesus shines light is a weird little story in 2 Kings involving the prophet Elisha. 

The story goes something like this: there is a man working with a borrowed ax when the ax head flies off and lands in the water and sinks. The man cries out because the ax wasn't his and now, he is responsible for it, and the prophet Elisha comes over. He asks where, exactly, the ax head sank and the man points to a spot in the water. Then, Elisha throws a piece of wood into the water and when the wood hits, it causes the heavy iron ax head to float. The man plucks it out and returns it to its owner. 

And it's a weird little story. It's one of those stories that makes you wonder why it's in the Scriptures. What's important about it? Why does it matter? Maybe you think it's just meant to show the prophet's power and the miraculous things that God does on behalf of His faithful ones. 

But then you read Jesus, and you realize it's more than that. 

Because Rome in the time of Jesus is known as a powerhouse. We all get that. We understand that the heaviest of all power in the world was Rome; they ruled everything. In Daniel, when Nebuchadnezzar has a dream about a statue made out of different materials, each representing a different kingdom, Rome is represented by iron. And that's exactly how it was known. 

Interesting, then, that this prophet/priest/king Jesus would come and make the world's heaviest kingdom float...with wood. 

A cross. A simple cross. Two beams of wood on the outskirts of town, and Jesus turned this iron kingdom upside-down. What was heavy becomes light, what sinks floats. And what is returned.

Think about that for a minute. It's probably easier if you're Catholic, but even if you're not, you have to confess the history of the faith and of the church. After Christ, there's a period of persecution, but eventually, Rome becomes the very heartbeat of Christianity. The faith as we know it today was shaped more in Rome than it was in Jerusalem or Galilee (sadly, but it's true). 

And God says that He uses the other kingdoms for His glory, that He's the one who gives them their power and authority in the world. The statue in Nebuchadnezzar - the foretelling of ruling powers was God's idea. In the New Testament, they talk about obeying your earthly authorities because God has put them there. We know from God's history that He uses other nations, so whatever power Rome thought it had was on loan from God. He created Rome because He was using it. 

Then He took that power back with a simple piece of wood. 

I don't want to go too deep into this because I want you to delight in the joy and the mystery of how all of this works. I want to give you just enough to reflect on, just enough to think about so that this kind of thing can get deeply into your own soul. This is the kind of thing God does all the time. He's still doing it all the time. All these weird little things in the world that help us to understand Jesus better. 

Including a weird little story in 2 Kings where a prophet's wood makes an iron ax head float. 

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