Act Three, Part Three: Israel Will Be Delivered Through Suffering

Act Three, Part Three: Israel Will Be Delivered Through Suffering

For the last several weeks, we have been looking at how the story of Israel fits into the greater story of the Bible. Israel’s story represents the third Act, or third major section of our Biblical story, and represents the beginning of God’s answer to the problem of sin and alienation that enters the story in Act Two. Israel was supposed to be a “kingdom of priests” who were to serve as witnesses and mediators to the nations of the world about what it truly meant to live “in the image of God.” However, as we learned in our last study, Israel has become equally part of the problem. Rather than being a people set apart, they are just like all the other people of the world.

This leaves us with an important question to be addressed. How will God deal with Israel now that they have become part of the problem?

As we noted in our survey of Israel’s story, at the end of the Old Testament Israel is allowed to come back into the promised land. God helps them to rebuild the city of Jerusalem, as well as the Temple, but there is a sense among the people that they have not yet been forgiven of the sins that originally sent them into exile. While they get to live again in their home land, they are not free. They remain under the power of one foreign empire after another. Therefore, at the end of the Old Testament period, an expectation begins to develop among God’s people. They are awaiting another Exodus moment. However, this Exodus moment will be different than their first one. When the people of Israel were originally slaves in Egypt, they were not guilty of sin. They went there in innocence. In Israel’s second foreign captivity they are there because of their sin. This means that if they are going to be delivered their sins will somehow have to be accounted for.

With this in mind, a theme begins to develop late in the Old Testament period. If Israel is going to be delivered from her sins and her captivity, it would come about through a dramatic form of suffering. Texts like Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53 contributed to this understanding. Perhaps you might take a moment to read them for yourself.

Even though this theme was developing, there was no clear sense among the people as to how it would happen. One thing is for sure–there was no expectation among the people of Israel that a Messiah would undergo suffering. The Messiah figure would be the victorious conqueror who would lead the people of Israel to freedom. If anyone was to suffer, it would be Israel herself, or at least a remnant of people from within her.

No one could have expected how the story would eventually work itself out.

However, this leads us right up to the climax of God’s story which will take place in Act 4. In a move that no one could have predicted, the suffering of Israel is filled in a shocking way.   God takes on human flesh himself, enters into the life of Israel, and takes Israel’s suffering upon himself. It turns out that it is not the people of Israel themselves who will undergo this suffering, but God will step in to absorb it in their place. And therefore, since Israel is the representative people for the rest of the world, the suffering that God undergoes is not simply for Israel alone, but for the whole world.

You see, it is not just Israel that is held in captivity to hostile powers. It is the whole world. But the hostile powers that are the real offenders in our story are not other nations of the world. The real culprits of our captivity are the power of sin, death, and the devil. These are the forces that hold all of humanity in slavery. God enters into human history to absorb the suffering that human beings deserved, therefore opening up a new way of life that was not before possible.

How does this happen? Why does God’s Son have to die? These are questions we will take up next week. But in the mean time, take in the story as it is slowly being revealed. God has ultimately taken the problem of sin and alienation upon himself. Though all of it plays out in a mystery that is hard to comprehend, the parts we can understand are beautiful and moving beyond words.

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