Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Gentle and Lowly in Heart

Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  (Mt 11:29)

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
    yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
    and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
    so he opened not his mouth.
By oppression and judgment he was taken away;
    and as for his generation, who considered
that he was cut off out of the land of the living,
    stricken for the transgression of my people?
And they made his grave with the wicked
    and with a rich man in his death,
although he had done no violence,
    and there was no deceit in his mouth.  (Isa 53:7-9)

The reader of Isaiah 53 cannot help but stop in rapt attention and wonder that someone would willingly suffer and die for my corrupt nature without raising objections or claiming personal rights, but here such a person is described causing many to wonder, “Has such a man ever existed?  Could we hope that he might be real?”  Yes, such a man does exist, and as self-sacrificing as the Isaiah passage paints the circumstances, we do not really understand that the plan behind the sacrifice was more than we could conceive.  Arnobius of Sicca described it this way in Against the Pagans (I.63):
Do you then see that if He had determined that none should do Him violence, He should have striven to the utmost to keep off from Him His enemies, even by directing His power against them?  Could not He, then, who had restored their sight to the blind, make His enemies blind if it were necessary?  Was it hard or troublesome for Him to make them weak, who had given strength to the feeble?  Did He who bade the lame walk, not know how to take from them all power to move their limbs, by making their sinews stiff?  Would it have been difficult for Him who drew the dead from their tombs to inflict death on whom He would?
Every good that Jesus had done to man could have been reversed in some way to come upon those torturing and killing Him, yet He chose otherwise.  He had within Himself the capability to stop the proceedings, having the source of power and authority in His hands.
During the arrest –
Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?  (Matt 26:53)
Before Pilate –
So Pilate said to him, “You will not speak to me?  Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?”  Jesus answered him, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above. (John 19:10-11)
Jesus withheld that power to serve ends beyond comprehension (Rom 11:33), which had been readied since the foundations of the earth.  Arnobius tried to relate this as he continued:
But because reason required that those things which had been foreordained should take place here in the world itself and in no other fashion than was done, He, with gentleness passing understanding and belief, regarding as but childish trifles the wrongs which men did Him, submitted to the violence of savage and most hardened robbers.  Nor did He think it worthwhile to take account of what their temerity had aimed at, if He only showed to His disciples what they ought to expect from Him.
Not only did Jesus follow through with the plan of redemption that led to the cross, He did it in such a way that we take note and emulate His humility in obedience (Phil 2:3-4; 1 Pet 2:21-23).

There remains a problem for all in that we deal with the sin nature.  The standard for holy life is set: “Be holy as I am holy;” but no one can attain this of personal volition.  We enter this world dead to spiritual things.  The apostle Paul points to the problem sin has worked in our lives: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God” (Rom 3:10-11).  God gave the Law to demonstrate both His holy character and our sinfulness.  Sin is fully revealed, crushing us in our inability to keep it.  But that was the point.  Our sin needed to be made evident in order for God’s grace to be made known through the Jesus.  In his own words, Arnobius described to the pagans the same problem:
 For when many things about the perils of souls, and on the other hand, many evils about their tendency to vice, the Introducer, Master, and Teacher directed His laws and ordinances to the end of fitting duties, did He not destroy the arrogance of the proud?  Did He not quench the flames of passion?  Did He not check the craving of greed?  Did He not wrest the weapons from their hands, and rend from them all the sources of every form of corruption?  To conclude, was He not Himself gentle, peaceful, easily approached, friendly when addressed?  Was He not sympathetic to every human misery and to all in any way afflicted with troubles and physical ailments and diseases?  Did He not, pitying them with His unparalleled kindness, return and restore them to health?
How did the Savior conduct Himself upon coming into the world?
Behold, my servant whom I have chosen,
    my beloved with whom my soul is well pleased.
I will put my Spirit upon him,
    and he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles.
He will not quarrel or cry aloud,
    nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets;
a bruised reed he will not break,
    and a smoldering wick he will not quench,
until he brings justice to victory;
    and in his name the Gentiles will hope.  (Mt 12:18-21; cf. Is 42:1-3)
His endgame was to draw men unto repentance through His kindness (Rom 2:4) in the proclamation of the gospel.  Yet He was rejected, and our Lord allowed Himself to be crucified by sinful men.  Sinful men continue today to reject the gospel as it goes forth through His disciples.  The healing, life-giving message of free grace won by the Giver of life is still rejected.  No, those who refuse would rather kill both the message and the messenger than receive the gift that leads to eternal life.

We press on, then, sharing the gospel and doing good for our neighbors, looking always to the prize of the upward call in Christ Jesus, longing to hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant.… Enter into the joy of your master.”

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