Sunday, November 13, 2011

Unmaking the Messiah

As my church goes through a series on Genesis 1-3, there's a danger of becoming "nearsighted" by focusing so much on the first few chapters that we start to miss the message of the rest of the book. I only say that because I'm guilty of doing it myself. But the practice of cross-referencing in the text of Scripture as the preacher preaches paid off again today, because a new connection jumped out.

There are two parts of the Hebrew Bible where the technical word "created" is used again and again, as always with God as the creator: Genesis 1 and Isaiah 40-55. That initial connection is true for other words as well. In particular, the statement that the earth was "without form" in Genesis 1:2 is echoed in this section of Isaiah as well. First in Isaiah 44:2 YHWH states "I formed you from the womb", and the calling of this figure is focused in the later passage:

Just as many were astonished at you,
So His visage was marred more than any man,
And His form more than the sons of men;
So shall He sprinkle many nations.
Kings shall shut their mouths at Him;
For what had not been told them they shall see,
And what they had not heard they shall consider.
Who has believed our report?
And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?
For He shall grow up before Him as a tender plant,
And as a root out of dry ground.
He has no form or comeliness;
And when we see Him,
There is no beauty that we should desire Him.
(Isaiah 52:14-53:2)

Here, late in the Isaiah 40-55 poem, the figure of the Servant is emerging as a single person, as the refrain of "creation" with the special Genesis language is repeated again and again. God's promises to bring all nations to Jerusalem are somehow fulfilled in this person, and the shocking thing is that he's beat up and marred. He is "without form" like creation itself in Genesis 1:2. It's like old creation has gone wrong, and this Servant steps forward, takes on the wrongness in literally being unmade, and beyond anything he can do, he is remade into new creation. His "unmaking" is active, and at the hands of his fellow men, but when he is unmade he is remade again, and all the promises of new creation are true in him. The nations come to Jerusalem. The veil of death is taken away.

The "unmaking" happened on another level as well, in Philippians 2:
Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus,
who, being in the form of God,
did not consider it robbery to be equal with God,
but made Himself of no reputation,
taking the form of a bondservant,
and coming in the likeness of men.

The "kenosis" of Jesus was creation in reverse, an emptying, a humbling, and an obedience. It was a loss of form, a reversion of God himself to the empty blank slate of creation in Genesis 1:2.

That the "unmade man" would be remade by the literal recreation of a dead man tortured by the state was something no one expected. It was more true than anyone expected, that the Servant would destroy death this way. But in Isaiah 40-55, maybe there's a glimmer of how someone who knew the Scriptures and saw God active in every word could see that all this could come together in a man dead for three days and brought back "according to the Scriptures", replacing and fulfilling Temple and Torah itself. Remaking everything in a new creation, one event in the middle of history anticipating the great event at its end.

This is how prophecy works. This is how God works. Words from different centuries all come together as one stream of living water, from one source, flowing into the future, consistent from Genesis to Isaiah to the Gospels to the Epistles. The only way to describe it is as the Word of God.

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