(from Luke 3:1-4:13)
If you were going to save the world, how would you do it?
First, you’ve gotta have a problem to solve, right? That’s pretty straight forward in most superhero movies. Batman has to save Gotham from the Joker. Spiderman has to save New York from Doctor Octopus. The Avengers have to save the planet from Ultron. The Guardians of the Galaxy have to save…the galaxy (!) from Thanos.
In movies and books like this, the “bad guys” are always pretty obvious. So an obvious problem demands an obvious solution. Are you with me?
But what about the problems that aren’t so obvious? One reason I appreciated Captain America: Civil War so much (stick with me, we’ll get to Jesus in a second) is that there was no really “villain.” It was just a guy who vengefully set out to turn the Avengers against each other. Both sides thought they were right. And yet both were very, very wrong.
Imagine you are living in the early decades of the BC-AD changeover in a region of the Roman Empire known as Judea. You’ve grown up going to synagogue every Saturday morning your entire life. And just about every sermon you’ve heard always turns back to the fact that God will send his Messiah, overthrow the Romans, and establish an unshakable kingdom. All this is going to take place as soon as we Jews get our act together. The King will come. The victory will be won. The triumph will be glorious. And the throne of David will be occupied once more – for good this time.
Jews = good guys. Romans = bad guys. Messiah > Romans. Problem solved.
It plays out in your mind just like these comic book story lines we are so drawn to.
So a guy named John shows up on the scene and begins preaching to people that they need to repent and be immersed in the Jordan. Their sins (collectively, mind you) will be forgiven and God will send the Messiah, the Deliverer. John says that he immerses with water, but the Messiah will immerse people with the Holy Spirit and Fire.
That sounds awesome!
It’s really happening! And you’re there to witness it. This is going to be epic.
Then a man named Jesus (AKA Joshua) shows up to be baptized by John. As he comes out of the water, you see the clouds open, like a spotlight from heaven. You see this dove-like presence materialize out of nowhere and hover over this Jesus character. And then the rumble like thunder. You can just make out what sounds like a voice in that deep shaking.
“YOU ARE MY SON,” says the voice. Oh, you know this! It’s from Psalm 2 – the coronation song of Israel! That hasn’t been sung in an official way for hundreds of years. This is it. This guy MUST be the Messiah. It’s crystal clear now. Get your pens and papers ready for autographs.
“WITH YOU I AM WELL PLEASED,” the voice continues. Uh….(insert record-scratch-stop here) What? That can’t be right. The voice just quoted Isaiah when he’s talking about the “suffering servant.” You know what happens to that servant? He’s humiliated, beaten, tortured, and killed.
This is the newly “anointed” king – the Messiah – but he’s also the suffering servant? Psalm 2 – a coronation – and Isaiah 42 – the beginning of an obituary, a death sentence.
To quote Luke Skywalker in the latest Star Wars, “This is not going to go the way you think.”
If the real enemy had been Rome, then it would make sense to have a Messiah who conquers through military might and conquest. If Caesar were the real bad guy, then it would make sense to have a mighty King assume a throne in Jerusalem in opposition.
But what the Jews (and everyone else) didn’t realize was the real enemy, pulling the strings behind all other earthly enemies, was Death and all his friends – sin, fear, etc. The only was to conquer Death was to let Death do its worst to the one least deserving of all.
In other words, only a Suffering Savior could truly save the world.
The Jews had to rethink their expectations. So do we. It’s time to see Jesus for who he truly is.