Many of the Jews in Jesus’ time thought that their main problem was the fact that they were under the control of a pagan power—the Romans. The answer to that problem? A Messiah who would come and militarily demolish the Roman armies. But the Messiah came on a donkey, not a war horse (Matthew 21:1–11). In fact he came in fulfilment of a prophecy that the messiah would come riding on a colt (Zechariah 9:9). Whatever this meant, it was clear that the messiah didn’t come on a war horse, leading a conquering army. The main problem was not Rome and her conquering legions. The problem with Israel all along was sin.
The problem was not the Romans, nor the Greeks, nor the Medo-Persians, nor the Babylonians or the Assyrians—the powers that were allowed to conquer Israel. These countries were allowed to conquer and rule over the nation of Israel because the Israelites had persistently disobeyed their God and Saviour even after He had sent His prophets to warn them.
Then the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah: “I am the Lord, the God of all mankind. Is anything too hard for me? Therefore this is what the Lord says: I am about to give this city into the hands of the Babylonians and to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, who will capture it. The Babylonians who are attacking this city will come in and set it on fire; they will burn it down, along with the houses where the people aroused my anger by burning incense on the roofs to Baal and by pouring out drink offerings to other gods.
“The people of Israel and Judah have done nothing but evil in my sight from their youth; indeed, the people of Israel have done nothing but arouse my anger with what their hands have made, declares the Lord. From the day it was built until now, this city has so aroused my anger and wrath that I must remove it from my sight. The people of Israel and Judah have provoked me by all the evil they have done—they, their kings and officials, their priests and prophets, the people of Judah and those living in Jerusalem. They turned their backs to me and not their faces; though I taught them again and again, they would not listen or respond to discipline. They set up their vile images in the house that bears my Name and defiled it. They built high places for Baal in the Valley of Ben Hinnom to sacrifice their sons and daughters to Molek, though I never commanded—nor did it enter my mind—that they should do such a detestable thing and so make Judah sin.” (Jeremiah 32:26b–35 NIV)
But this holy weekend we note that the Messiah did come. What many in Israel did not realise was that the Messiah came to conquer the real enemy, sin, and he conquered it as the suffering servant prophesied in places like Isaiah 53:
Surely he took up our pain
and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
stricken by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.
(Isaiah 53:4–6 NIV)
By His wounds we are healed—on this Good Friday we remember that our Saviour came to do what was necessary for us to be whole again.
Regular readers of this column will know I am passionate about followers of Jesus bringing the heart and mind of Christ into every area of life. And so many areas of this fallen world are broken and need the healing foretaste of the Kingdom through followers of the King. But this Good Friday we remember that the ultimate solution to human brokenness is not political, or economic, or military. It is the gospel of Jesus Christ. Because our greatest problem is sin—we have rejected God and gone our own way and we reap the results. But our Messiah, the Suffering Servant, God, came to save us.
Therefore, we are not ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ. In a day and age when it is increasingly harder to preach the gospel (was it ever easy?) we say: ”Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12 NIV) The right treatment for the right ailment. And for those of us who have already received the life gospel, we praise Him.
O fount of love divine that flows
From my Savior’s bleeding side
Where sinners trade their filthy rags
For His righteousness applied
Mercy cleansing ev’ry stain
Now rushing o’er us like a flood
There the wretch and vilest ones
Stand adopted through His blood
(Matt Boswell, O Fount of Love, 2010)