Monday, January 07, 2008

Suffering God's curse: the City and the Saviour (Lamentations, Law and Gospel 2)

One of Charles Wesley's hymns draws on Lamentations 1:12 (the verse that adorns so many cenotaphs):
All ye that pass by, to Jesus draw nigh:
To you is it nothing that Jesus should die?
Your ransom and peace, Your surety He is:
Come, see if there ever was sorrow like His
Why did Wesley see a connection between this verse and the crucifixion? In Lamentations 1:12, the focus is on Jerusalem under God's judgment experiencing the covenant curses of Deuteronomy 28:
Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by? Look and see if there is any sorrow like my sorrow, which was brought upon me, which the LORD inflicted on the day of his fierce anger.
This theme is explored further in the second poem in brutal and graphic terms (2:1-2):
How the Lord in his anger
has set the daughter of Zion under a cloud!
He has cast down from heaven to earth
the splendor of Israel;
he has not remembered his footstool
in the day of his anger.

The Lord has swallowed up without mercy
all the habitations of Jacob;
in his wrath he has broken down
the strongholds of the daughter of Judah;
he has brought down to the ground in dishonor the kingdom and its rulers.
The devastating situation is encapsulated in the admission that "The Lord has become like an enemy" (2:5). Quite simply if God is against you, who can be for you?

What is the relationship between the City, the Saviour, and the covenant curses? Consider the connection between Lamentations 2:15 and Mark 15. First Lamentations:
All who pass along the way
clap their hands at you;
they hiss and wag their heads
at the daughter of Jerusalem:
"Is this the city that was called
the perfection of beauty,
the joy of all the earth?"
I once had the mistaken impression that the gospels gave us the facts about the crucifixion whilst the epistles majored on the meaning of the cross. Certainly on the surface Mark 15 does record the historical details of what happened when Christ was crucified. But the description we are given is loaded with theological significance. We need to look below the surface and along the trajectories set by redemptive history.

There are several signs in Mark 15 that Jesus is enduring the wrath of God as a sinless substitute. Jesus said that he would be delivered into the hands of men, to the Gentiles (Mark 9:31; 10:33; fulfilled in 15:1). In Psalm 78:59-62 being handed over to the nations is a sign of God's wrath against his people. The same point is made in Nehemiah 9:27-30 "Therefore you gave them into the hand of their abandoned them to the hand of their gave them into the hand of the peoples of the lands."

Before his accusers Jesus is silent (Mark 15:4-5), as the suffering servant of Isa. 53:7 was said to be; and as that servant, the Lord lays on him the iniquity of us all (53:6). The servant was going to be despised and rejected by men (53:3), but it was also the Lord's will to crush him and put him to grief (53:10). Jesus is hung on a tree (Mark 15:24), a sure sign that he was under God's curse (Deut. 21:22-3; Gal. 3:13).

Mark is sparing in his narrative about the physical details of the crucifixion ("And they crucified him" 15:24). His focus is so unlike that of a Hollywood director. Mark extensively records the mockery of the enemies of Jesus. This too is a sign of being under God's judgment. Consider Psalm 89:38-42 where we see what happens when God is angry with his anointed:
But now you have cast off and rejected;
you are full of wrath against your anointed.
You have renounced the covenant with your servant; you have defiled his crown in the dust. You have breached all his walls;
you have laid his strongholds in ruins.
All who pass by plunder him;
he has become the scorn of his neighbors.
You have exalted the right hand of his foes;
you have made all his enemies rejoice.
And the words of Mark 15:29-30, "And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads and saying, 'Aha! You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself, and come down from the cross!'" This is the New Testament typological fulfillment of Lamentations 2:15. As Barry Webb says "In short, Christ crucified is the God given replacement for Jerusalem and the temple."

He is the sin-bearing substitute, the sinless covenant keeper who stands in the place of the guilty covenant breakers. "What was Calvary?" asked John Duncan, in one of his lectures, "it was damnation! And he took it lovingly." Charles Wesley was right to see the connection between Lamentations and the cross.

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