What a beautiful home, God-of-the-Angel-Armies! I’ve always longed to live in a place like this, always dreamed of a room in your house, where I could sing for joy to God-alive. Birds find nooks and crannies in your house, sparrows and swallows make nests there. They lay their eggs and raise their young, singing their songs in the place where we worship. God-of-the-Angel-Armies! King! God! How blessed they are to live and sing there! And how blessed all those in whom you live, whose lives become roads you travel; they wind through lonesome valleys, come upon brooks, discover cool springs and pools brimming with rain! God-traveled, these roads curve up the mountain, and at the last turn — Zion! God in full view! God-of-the-Angel-Armies, listen: O God of Jacob, open your ears — I’m praying! Look at our shields, glistening in the sun, our faces shining with your gracious anointing. One day spent in your house, this beautiful place of worship, beats thousands spent on Greek island beaches. I’d rather scrub floors in the house of my God than be honored as a guest in the palace of sin. All sunshine and sovereign is God, generous in gifts and glory. He doesn’t scrimp with his traveling companions. It’s smooth sailing all the way with God-of-the-Angel-Armies.
Now, that last sentence sounds a little misleading…what about all the trials and tribulations that come with being a follower of Christ? What about all the testing He does of one’s own heart, that so regularly make one feel so ill-at-ease that all must be wrong with men (humans in general) and life.
I wonder sometimes, when I read chapters like these in my Bible, why these high-fluting thoughts don’t match my situation, or more consistently describe the beat of my heart. Why doesn’t the Bible agree with me? Why doesn’t God insist that His thoughts agree with my subjective recommendations, warming up to me, rather than remaining seemingly cold judgments. Where’s the sympathy in that?
Some of what I’m saying may sound particularly negative and Bible-bashing, but that is not my intention. Instead, I am trying to be real. The truth about me is not pretty and should not be exalted. Yet, isn’t that the truth that we are to embrace, that our boast was never meant to be in ourselves, but in Christ who showed to what extent a Savior must go to save even one of us?
Basically, all of us, whether insiders or outsiders, start out in identical conditions, which is to say that we all start out as sinners. Scripture leaves no doubt about it:
There’s nobody living right, not even one, nobody who knows the score, nobody alert for God. They’ve all taken the wrong turn; they’ve wandered down blind alleys. No one’s living right; I can’t find a single one. Their throats are gaping graves, their tongues slick as mudslides. Every word they speak is tinged with poison. They open their mouths and pollute the air. They race for the honor of sinner-of-the-year, litter the land with heart-break and ruin, don’t know the first thing about living with others. They never give God the time of day.
This makes it clear, doesn’t it, that whatever God says in these Scriptures is not about others, but to us to whom these Scriptures were addressed in the first place! And it’s clear enough, isn’t it, that we’re sinners, every one of us, in the same sinking boat as everybody else? Our involvement with God’s revelation doesn’t put us right with God. What it does is force us to face our complicity in everyone else’s sin.
But in our time something new has been added. What Moses and the Prophets witnessed to all those years has happened. The God-setting-things-right that we read about has become Jesus-setting-things-right for us. And not only for us, but for everyone who believes in him. For there is no difference between us and them in this. Since we’ve compiled this long and sorry list as sinners (both us and them) and proved that we are utterly incapable of living the glorious lives God wills for us, God did it for us. Out of sheer generosity he put us in right standing with himself. A pure gift. He got us out of the mess we’re in and restored us to where he always wanted us to be. And he did it by means of Jesus Christ.
God sacrificed Jesus on the altar of the world to clear that world of sin. Having faith in him sets us in the clear. God decided on this course of action in full view of the public — to set the world in the clear with himself through the sacrifice of Jesus, finally taking care of the sins he had so patiently endured. This is not only clear, but it’s now — this is current history! God sets things right. He also makes it possible for us to live in his righteousness.
So where does that leave our proud Jewish insider claims and counter-claims? Canceled. Yes, canceled. What we’ve learned is this: God does not respond to what we do; we respond to what God does. We’ve finally figured it out. Our lives get in step with God and all others by letting him set the pace, not by proudly or anxiously trying to run the parade.
And where does that leave our proud Jewish claim of having a corner on God? Also canceled. God is the God of outsider non-Jews as well as insider Jews. How could it be otherwise since there is only one God? God sets right all who welcome his action and enter into it, both those who follow our religious system and those who have never heard of our religion.
But by shifting our focus from what we do to what God does, don’t we cancel out all our careful keeping of the rules and ways God commanded? Not at all. What happens, in fact, is that by putting that entire way of life in its place, we confirm it.