When God promised to build Abraham into a nation, the ancient father was filled with hope. Over the next quarter century, though, things would not necessarily go as Abraham might have hoped. The whole story of Israel went on that way.
God promised big things. He performed several mighty acts in saving His people, yes, but there were several moments that would leave a faithful Jew wondering what God was up to. All of this culminated in the exile of the promised nation. The oppression of Egypt traded for that of Assyria and Babylon.
Even in the midst of the chaos, however, the prophets proclaimed future salvation as well as imminent destruction. God, through them, promised a Savior, a Messiah.
Enter Jesus Christ. A few centuries after the Jews return from exile, He comes onto the stage in miraculous fashion. Once His ministry begins, He gained an enormous following. His miracles and His otherworldly wisdom led many to believe that He was the Messiah they’d hoped for.
Yet, there were mysterious sayings that puzzled them. Some of His words were so difficult that many would abandon Him over their scandal. Then, to make matters worse, this long-awaited Messiah was thrust into a Roman court, and rather than call down fire from Heaven, He submitted to death, even the death of a criminal.
The hopes of a nation, particularly of Twelve disciples, were dashed.
Indeed, the history of Israel is a strange one. Words of ultimate destruction and the wrath of God accompany promises of ultimate salvation and the love of God.
The prophets of the Old Testament were somewhat confounded by their own message. They saw the sin of their nation and called it out without compromise, but when God also placed the promise of restoration on their lips, they could not help but be confused.
The Apostle Peter points out that the ancient prophets wrestled over and wondered how God could possibly absolve a rebellious people.
Today, thousands of years after Jesus, many people still have a similar question, though they ask it in a different way. The focus has shifted away from, “How could God not punish?” to “How could God punish?”
Many are perplexed by the seeming contradiction of an Old Testament God of fury and a New Testament God of love, but the answer rests on that singular event in history when the strike to the shepherd caused the sheep to scatter.
When Jesus Christ died on the cross, He died a death that seemed to undercut His claims of messianic divinity, but the blow that struck Him was actually the fatal wound of the most oppressive enemy that humanity has ever faced.
We hear the word “oppression,” and our minds run to countless injustices that have occurred in history. Most, when they think of salvation, think of overthrowing those cruelties. Yet, there is an even greater oppressor who would be thrilled to free the world from such evils so long as that world remained in his grasp.
All the usual suspects we think of when we consider “oppression” really are only temporal. The enemy that Christ defeated, on the other hand, had an eternal hold on your life that no amount of revolution could overthrow.
When Jesus Christ died on the cross, He died a death that undercut that enemy’s claim on the lives of God’s created Kingdom: sin and death. His death served as the sacrifice in which the wrath of God against sin was satisfied. In His love, He laid down His own life so that we would be spared. He defeated sin by becoming sin so that we could be victorious and live in the righteousness of God.
Then, wonder of wonders, God raised Christ from the dead to show that death had no hold on Him, and because of that, death has no hold on those who believe.
The oppression that plagued us all was overthrown, and it was done in the most curious of ways. Justice and love were satisfied when the Son of God laid down His life to save the people who had rebelled against Him.