When I was 23, I moved from Australia to The Netherlands to work with Youth With A Mission in Amsterdam. I was staffing Discipleship Training Schools that took me away on three-month short-term mission trips that, while amazing, left me feeling disengaged and lonely when I returned to the campus community between schools. My problem was loneliness.
After a few months of feeling overwhelmed by loneliness, I read a book that said something along the lines of, “no one’s problem is loneliness; their problem is whatever is keeping them from picking up the phone and connecting with someone.” That’s when I understood, my problem was actually low self-esteem and fear of rejection. An entirely different, and deeper, solution was needed.
Sometimes, our initial understanding of mankind’s problem and God’s solution does not go deep enough. A grand picture of a loving God, who created us to participate in His life, offers us a new lens for understanding what has, and is doing, for us.
What Went Wrong?
When Adam and Eve reached for a knowledge and control that ignored their limitations and dependence on God, their eyes were opened, causing them to understand God, themselves, each other and the world differently. Sin dis-integrated our relationship with God, others, and all creation, and made us susceptible to the lies and deceit of Satan and his followers. Our rebellion resulted in us no longer being in the Son, the source of our life, and in whom we are created to depend on and be sustained in.
Deepen your picture of humanity’s problem:
Theologian, T.F. Torrance, aptly describes that the problem is not so much an image of removing an apple from a fruit bowl, but an image of the apple dying because the branch has been cut off from the tree it draws life from. We need to get our life back!
Covenant and Community
God’s solution begins with covenant and community. First with Abraham, then Israel and later the Church, God establishes a people for His name. They are to be His image bearers with whom He covenants and dwells … a people through whom the nations will know God. The fruit of their lives will bring His kingdom to earth.
This solution of covenant and community also exposes the nature of our own hearts (Jeremiah 17:9). Over and over, Israel fails to keep the covenant and fails in being the true image bearer. But, even here, God gracefully provides covenant and sacrificial systems of response, ordering Israel’s life around the grace of God. This includes the knowledge and expectation that God has provided, and will provide once and for all, a mediator and high priest to represent God to man, as well as the appropriate sacrifice to present man to God.
Deepen your picture of God’s solution:
Through covenant and community, God creates the nation of Israel with a culture, language, and ways of worship (world-view) through which they would know Him and understand Jesus. In fact, most of the concepts the New Testament and Christianity use to help people understand Jesus and the gospels were established within the God-prepared culture of Israel!
Prophet, Priest and King
Temple Imagery and the Day of Atonement
The culture and worship of Israel revolved around the tabernacle and, later, the temple. Both were a copy of creation that communicated God’s Story and how the world works. The courtyard contained a basin of water called the sea (the waters of chaos from the beginning of creation). Inside was the Holy Place, its walls engraved with palm trees and fruit (garden/earth) where the priests were allowed. At the back of the Holy Place was a thick, large, indigo curtain covered with stars and angelic beings (the heavens) that brought division between the Holy Place and the Holies of Holies. Every surface in the Holy of Holies was covered with gold, and it contained two cherubim, the Ark of the Covenant, and the presence of God. The High Priest was allowed here once a year to present the people to God after making atonement for himself and the nation of Israel. It told a Story of how the world works.
On the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16: 8-9) Aaron, the high priest, stood with a goat on his right and a goat on his left. He reached into an urn and picked up one lot in each hand. One had the inscription, “For the Lord” and the other “Azazel” which means ‘the scapegoat’. That way, it determined what each goat would represent for the sacrifice.
The goat assigned the lot with ‘for the Lord’ was called ‘the goat of the Lord’ and was slaughtered to bring satisfaction to God’s justice for sin. The other goat was the scapegoat. The transgressions or sins of the people were confessed over its head, and then it was set free into the wilderness (carrying away the sins) to make atonement for sins by the mercy of God. Once this was completed the High Priest entered the Holy of Holies, bearing the tribes of the people of God on his breast plate into the presence of God and interceding on their behalf.
Deepen Your Picture of God’s Restoration of Mankind to Himself:
We need a grand picture of a loving and grace-filled God who went to extraordinary lengths in covenant and community to form and restore a people for His name. Taking a closer look at the nation of Israel not only helps us see God’s character but lays the foundation for understanding God’s solution: what Jesus did and the depth and breadth of why it matters.
Something to Ponder
Take time to engage your imagination with the culture and worship of Israel. Do some research on the Temple and the things in it such as the show bread and the lamp stand. Meditate on the Day of Atonement. What does it tell us about who God is? What does it tell us about who Jesus is and why we need Him?
To Read more on this topic
I recommend The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited by Scot McKnight