Monthly Archives: August 2017

The Cross and the Wrath of God

So in imagination let’s go to the cross and watch Jesus die. First of all, did He really die? The soldiers were surprised to find he was already dead. Crucifixion was usually a very slow way of dying. Evidently something else had happened. Is it true that Jesus was dying the death of a sinner, to show us how the sinner really dies? That’s what we find in 2 Corinthians 5:21: “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin” (RSV). So Jesus died the death of a sinner. And what caused Jesus to die? As you watch him dying on the cross, is God killing His Son? Is he torturing his Son to death? Is God pouring out His wrath on His Son; something the Bible so often pictures God doing toward sinners for whom there is no further hope?

Well it all depends on the meaning of wrath. What does the Bible mean when it talks about God’s wrath? One of the clearest explanations is in Romans 1. The entire chapter is worth reading, but let’s at least look at the following four verses:

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of men who by their wickedness suppress the truth . . . . Therefore, God gave them up . . .For this reason God gave them up . . . And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up. (Rom 1:18, 24, 26, 28, RSV)

The “truth” Paul is talking about in 1:18 is the truth about God. Three times it states in Romans 1 that God’s wrath is simply His turning away, in loving disappointment, from those who do not want Him anyway. God’s wrath is leaving them to the inevitable and awful consequences of their own rebellious choices. Is that what happened to Jesus on the cross? Was Jesus given up? Look at Romans 4:25: “. . . Jesus our Lord, who was put to death for our trespasses” (RSV).

There is nothing in the Greek, actually, that says He was “put to death.” The Greek word translated “put to death” is actually paredothê, exactly the same word translated “gave them up” in Romans 1:24, 26, 28. Translators ought to leave them the same to show that Jesus died under the wrath of His Father. But the real meaning of God’s wrath is His turning away, leaving sinners to the inevitable and awful consequences of sin. And this concept was not new with Paul. It’s all through the Old Testament, most dramatically in Hosea, chapter eleven: “My people are bent on turning away from me . . . . How, oh how can I give you up, Ephraim! How, oh how, can I hand you over Israel!” (Hos 11:7-8, Phillips).

Did Jesus understand that this was the experience He was passing through? Did Jesus know He was being given up as Hosea and Paul describe it? What did Jesus cry just before He died? Did He say, “My God, my God, why are You beating Me up? Why are you torturing Me? Why are you killing Me?” No! “Why have you forsaken Me?” (Matt 27:46; Mark 15:34). In other words, “Why have you given me up?” Jesus knew.

This part of Jesus’ journey began in Gethsemane. There He began to demonstrate the truth about God’s gracious but awful warning, that the wages of sin is death. There Jesus fell to the ground, dying. And the angels were watching too. Was God killing his Son in the Garden of Gethsemane, or did Jesus feel the unity with His Father breaking up? There He began to feel the awesome loneliness of being given up. Had Jesus died in the Garden of Gethsemane, could anyone say that the Father had killed the Son? Jesus Himself made that clear earlier in John 10:18: “No one takes My life from Me. No one can. I lay it down of Myself. I have the power to lay it down and I have the power to take it up.”

The angels knew who Jesus was. They knew that He was God. And they knew the meaning of His words when He said, “No one takes My life from Me.” The angels knew that was the truth. And if Jesus had died in the Garden of Gethsemane, it would not have been because His Father had killed Him. Instead, the Father was giving Him up, and both of them suffered together. As in Hosea the Father was crying, “How can I give you up?” The Son who had assumed humanity was the One who died. And so two questions were answered in Gethsemane. Is death the result of sin? Indeed it is. Is it because God kills his wayward children? No, He did not lay a hand on His Son.

Romans 3 and “Propitiation”

Paul tells us that when the fullness of time came (Gal 4:4), God showed His Son publicly dying as a means of reconciliation, as an answer to questions, to be grasped by faith. The death of Christ was to demonstrate God’s own righteousness. For in His divine forbearance He had seemingly overlooked men’s former sins. The death of Christ was to show that God Himself is righteous and therefore can set right those who have faith in His Son. What I have just said is based on Romans 3:25-26 although I used some different English words:

Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in His blood, to declare His righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus (KJV).

Now there is a difficult word in there, “propitiation.” Propitiation in English generally means appeasement, and that is a most regrettable translation. Propitiation is what you husbands may offer your wives when you promised to be home on your anniversary at 6 p.m. to take your wife out to dinner, and now its 11 PM and you’ve just remembered. So on the way home you find an all-night florist shop and you buy some flowers and some chocolates and whatever else you can lay your hands on. As you approach the front door with some trepidation, you open it and hand the flowers and the chocolates in. You are trying to propitiate the righteous wrath of your deeply disappointed wife. That’s propitiation; that’s appeasement.

In Romans 3, the word translated “propitiation” is “hilastêrion.” In the Old Testament, that is generally the Greek word used for the “mercy seat” on the ark of the covenant. Actually, the Bible does not mention the idea of “mercy seat;” Luther made that up. When Luther looked at the Hebrew word used for the cover of the ark, he found that it means a “covering.” So he translated the covering “Mercy Seat” or in the old German, “Gnadstuhl” (now written “Gnadenstuhl”).

Luther first did this in l524. Then in l525 Luther’s friend Tyndale brought that translation over into English and several versions followed him. So that’s where “mercy seat” came from. The cover of the ark was never called the mercy seat until the early Sixteenth Century. But considering some of the options, it was not a bad choice. It’s just a pity that our King James Version uses mercy seat in Exodus (Exod 25:17-22; 26:34, etc.) and also in Hebrews 9:5, but does not use mercy seat in Romans 3:25-26. Instead, it uses propitiation. I think mercy seat would have been much closer to Paul’s intention. For the Greek word hilastêrion means literally “a place or means of reconciliation;” a place where unity and at-one-ment take place. And so I ventured my own translation of this passage.

For God showed him publicly dying as a means of reconciliation to be taken advantage of by faith. This was to demonstrate God’s own righteousness, for in His divine forbearance He had apparently overlooked men’s former sins. It was to demonstrate His righteousness at the present time, to show that He Himself is righteous and that He sets right everyone who trusts in Jesus (Rom 3:25-26, Maxwell).

Jesus died to answer the questions about His Father and to prove that God was not the kind of person His enemies have made Him out to be. So when Paul talks in the above text about God apparently overlooking men’s former sins, it means that people hadn’t died as God had warned in the Garden. So one purpose of the cross is to show that God had not lied about sin leading to death. He sent His Son to answer those kinds of questions.

The Book of Romans and Why Jesus Had to Die

Of all the sixty-six books in the Bible, I believe Paul in Romans gives the clearest explanation as to why Jesus died. First of all he recognizes the truth of God’s warning in the Garden of Eden. In Romans 6:23, Paul agrees with the record in Genesis: “Sin pays its servants: the wage is death” (Phillips). But the natural connection between sin and death is not the only charge leveled against God. We also recall Satan’s charge that God had lied about His concern for human good. Look at Genesis 3:4-5: “But the serpent said to the woman, `You will not die. For God knows that when you eat of it [the Tree of Knowledge] your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God'” (RSV). Notice the additional charge that God is selfishly withholding something that would be for their best good.

Now who is telling us the truth? God, or the great former lightbearer, Lucifer? How do you determine who is telling the truth? Did God gather His family together and say, “I am telling the truth, the Devil is lying!” Which would only encourage the Devil to say, “No, I am telling the truth. God is lying.” As we have emphasized so much, matters like this cannot be settled by claims or denials. God’s way was to take His case into court. Look at the marvelous words of Romans 3:4: “That you may be shown to be right in what you say, and win your case when you go into court.” (Goodspeed)

Now the Bible often speaks of such councils of the heavenly family. And if you wonder how many attend such meetings, look in the book of Daniel where it says a hundred million beings are present as the court meets. The heavenly council is also described in the first two chapters of Job. There we have a powerful example of how God resolves questions, particularly when the charges of Satan are leveled against Him and His friends before the heavenly court. In the council scene of Job, Satan accuses God of manipulating Job’s faithfulness, and he accuses Job of being unworthy of God’s trust. Did God say on that occasion, “That’s a lie Satan; this man is perfect!” No, instead He said, “You’ve raised a serious question. The only way to answer it is to show you.”

We find that demonstration in the rest of the book of Job. Did Job show himself to be a trustworthy friend of God? Did he trust God because he was being richly rewarded or did he still trust God in the face of seeming abandonment? The book ends with God saying, “Thank you, Job, you’ve said of Me what is right” (based on Job 42:7). Job was God’s friend all the way through and God could then turn to the heavenly court and say, “Do you need any more evidence about the falsity of Satan’s charges and the trustworthiness of my friend Job?”

This is God’s way. God Himself has been accused. But He does not merely deny the accusation. He says: “Let Me show you, My children. Let Me show you the falsity of these accusations and the truth about Myself, and you decide.” Imagine the humility of the Infinite One submitting His character and government to the scrutiny and investigation of mere creatures. But that’s God’s way, and it is the only way to really establish love and trust while maintaining the fullest sense of freedom.

The Problem of Sin

In Chapter Two we considered the fact that, as the Bible describes it, sin is much more than a mere breaking of the rules. Sin is a breakdown of trust or trustworthiness. Sin means a stubborn and suspicious unwillingness to listen. It includes all the damaging consequences of our being unwilling to listen to our heavenly Father. Jesus came to set right everything that had gone wrong, and to set it right in such a way that it would stay right for the rest of eternity.

Let us review again what has gone wrong, because to understand what went wrong helps us to understand the methods God has used to set things right. It particularly helps us to understand why Jesus had to die. Our God has been accused, specifically, of being arbitrary, exacting, vengeful, unforgiving and severe. God sent His Son to reveal the truth about these matters. Why was it not enough for Jesus simply to come and live among us the way He did? Why was it not enough simply to tell us the truth about His Father and then demonstrate it by His gracious treatment of the worst of sinners? Couldn’t He just show by His life that God, indeed, is not the kind of Person His enemies have made Him out to be?

The way Jesus lived and the way He treated people is, of course, vital evidence. We will address that topic in detail in Chapter Thirteen, “How God Treats His Erring Children.” But remember that the most serious charge leveled against God is that He has lied to us. He lied when He said that sin results in death (Gen 2:17). Worse than that, Satan has turned God’s gracious warning to our first parents in the Garden of Eden into a terrifying threat. He pictures God as saying to Adam and Eve, “Either you obey Me, or I’ll kill you!” And think of the baleful effect which this perversion of the truth about our God has had on the human race. Think how it has poisoned people’s attitude toward God and their practice of religion. Think of picturing our gracious God as saying, “You either love and obey Me, or I’ll torture and execute you in My righteous wrath.” How could this satanic view of God win the wide acceptance that it has?

For thousands of years, parents have sacrificed even their own children to win the favor of their offended gods. Even in the Christian world it is believed by many that if it were not for Christ’s appeasement of His Father’s wrath (sometimes called propitiation), we would have been destroyed long ago. Similarly, it is also believed that were it not for Christ’s constant pleading with the Father, God could not find it in His own heart to forgive and heal His children.

Who could have thought up such perversion? Does it fit the picture of God in all sixty-six books? Does anything need to be done to persuade God to love His children? The testimony of all sixty-six books is that God has always loved even His most wayward child. That is summed up in John 3:16, “God so loved the world. . . .” God loves not just His good children, but all His children, both good and bad.

Those serious words to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden were no threat. Those words were a gracious warning, sin actually results in death. Sin so changes the sinner that the natural consequence of this condition is death. Cut off by his own rebellious choice from the source of life, the sinner will die. Out of harmony with God by his own rebellious rejection, the sinner is so changed that even the life-giving glory of God becomes a consuming fire. How can this best be clarified? Not by claims, but by evidence and demonstration.

One way to answer this charge would have been for God to allow Adam and Eve to die. And He could have said to the universe, “Who is telling the truth? I said sinners would die! It is the Devil who has lied to you.” Or going back even further, God could have left Satan and his followers to reap the natural results of their sin and they would have perished. And surely then there would have been no question about the truthfulness of God’s warning. Why didn’t God make those relatively easy choices? He could have saved all the painful history since that time.

Keep in mind, however, that the beings in the universe had never seen death before. So had they watched Satan and his followers die, there was the hazard that they would assume God was executing His own children who did not please Him. Then there would be the danger that the angels would serve God from fear, and the obedience that springs from fear produces the character of a rebel. And rebelliousness is the essence of sin. For this reason God did not take that relatively easy way. He did not want the obedience and “love” that springs from fear. That kind of obedience has dire consequences and is totally unacceptable to a God as gracious as we know Him to be. So instead of taking what may have seemed the easy way, God chose to send His Son in human form. He died the death that is the natural result of sin. And the universe was able to see how God was involved in the death of the “wicked.”

Chapter 8: “The Most Costly and Convincing Evidence”

This blog begins chapter eight of the book in process Conversations About God. It originated as a series of lectures by Graham Maxwell in 1984. After each lecture Maxwell took written questions from the audience mediated through the pastor of the Loma Linda University Church at the time, Lou Venden. This marvelous series has never been put into book form, so I am attempting to do so and sharing the results in progress here with permission from the Maxwell family. The Bible contains many answers to the question, “Why did Jesus die?” One of the most compelling and persuasive answers to this question is articulated by Graham Maxwell in this chapter. The words that follow are Maxwell’s oral presentation, edited by me.

I’ve entitled this chapter “The Most Costly and Convincing Evidence,” and the question to be answered is “Why did Jesus have to die?” While there are so many texts that could be included in examining this topic, I have tried to limit myself to the ones that help to explain why Jesus had to die. I’ve called the cross the most costly and convincing evidence, because I believe that the unique and awful way in which Jesus suffered and died reveals something about our God and about His government that absolutely had to be clarified before trust and peace could be restored again. For as we have considered already, there has been a crisis of distrust in God’s universal family, even to the point of war in heaven as described in Revelation twelve.

Our God has been accused of being unworthy of the trust of His created beings, of being arbitrary, vengeful, and severe. He has particularly been accused of lying to His children, of lying about death being the result of sin. It does no good simply to deny such charges. God does not ask us to accept mere claims. It is only by the demonstration of trustworthiness over a long period of time and under a great variety of circumstances, particularly difficult ones, that trust can be re-established and confirmed. And so the Bible records that God sent His Son to deal with this breakdown of trust and trustworthiness in His family. In other words, He sent His Son to deal with sin (Rom 8:3).

Questions and Answers (7:7)

Lou: I want to shift gears just a little bit. Here is a question that arises, perhaps, out of a bit of frustration: “If scholars and theologians still disagree about God, what chance do I have to figure all this out?”
Graham: Yes. I’d tell this person to read the gospels again. They’re not that complicated. I think theologians have made it complicated. It impresses me that “the common people heard Him gladly” (Mark 12:37). I think we’re the ones that have made the Bible appear to be difficult.

Lou: I once received letters from an individual who talked about the impression of the Holy Spirit, about how the Spirit came on him and he wrote and wrote. That leads me to a question that someone else has raised: “If I pray for the Holy Spirit to guide and then I have this deep conviction, isn’t that enough?”
Graham: It might seem to be. Fortunately the Bible warns us about that and offers some safeguards. This warm feeling of conviction within could come from prejudice, it could come from indigestion, it could come from all kinds of things. The Spirit will not lead you away from what He has already inspired. So we should always judge the work of the Holy Spirit by the revelations He has previously inspired.

Lou: But what difference does it make what kind of Person I believe God to be? What does it matter as long as I submit to His authority? Why not just say, “God has said it; I believe it; that’s it.”
Graham: Well, that reminds me of what we said about Saul of Tarsus. The conception of God that Saul had drove the way he did evangelism before his experience on the Damascus road. In God’s name he imprisoned people and he had them stoned to death. But when he got the true picture of God so dramatically, Saul proceeded from the thunders of Sinai to the still, small voice at the mouth of the cave in a few minutes. He really grew up in a hurry. His new picture of God changed his whole approach to evangelism.
Lou: So you’re saying that one’s picture of God inevitably affects everything.
Graham: Everything: the way we worship, the way we witness to others, the way we behave.

Lou: Someone has written this: “Our Great Dane is gentle, faithful, patient, trusting, of lovely disposition. What does this dog’s wonderful quality of character say about the human lack of achievements along these lines?”
Graham: Oh, I rather like that question. I think we can learn a lot from nature. Even the posture of a Great Dane is magnificent compared to our slouching! There are so many ways in which the animals are an example to us. But when it comes to faithfulness, think of a dog that weighs more than most of us, having enormous strength, yet being safe to have around in the house all the time! I think it’s wonderful that mere creatures can show these wonderful qualities, and I think it speaks well of God.

Lou: A final question: “Why did Jesus have to die? Wasn’t God’s mercy sufficient by itself?” Isn’t that the topic of chapter eight?
Graham: The answer to that question is really the climax of everything. Everything points to the cross. And fortunately, that’s where all Christians agree. We may have many different theological opinions, but almost all Christians agree we ought to go to the foot of the cross. We ought to watch the way Jesus died. We ought to listen to His cry and ask the question, “Is death the result of sin? Is it torture and execution at the hands of our gracious God?”
Lou: No one should overlook the next chapter.

Questions and Answers (7:6)

Lou: You spoke of the charge that God is arbitrary, harsh, severe and so forth. The question has come in, “If you’re talking about arbitrary, isn’t something like the fourth Commandment arbitrary?”
Graham: Well, it is often so described and it is felt to make a beautiful test of our obedience. But if that is all the Sabbath is, it won’t be much of a blessing. Jesus said, “I gave it to you as a gift; you weren’t made for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27-28). The best answer for every question, in my book, is to go back to Genesis and read all sixty-six. If you start with Genesis and read through, you will find all the meanings of the Sabbath. The Sabbath reminds us of all that was revealed about God during Creation Week, the message of freedom, and how He shares His creative power with us (Exod 20:11). And then it was given to remind us of the Exodus (Deut 5:15), another monument to freedom. The Sabbath also came after crucifixion day. So the Sabbath reminds us of all the answers given on crucifixion Friday (Luke 23:54-56). And then Hebrews says the Sabbath is a type of the rest to come (Heb 4:9-11). I don’t know of any commandment that has more reasons. Therefore I will not call it arbitrary. That idea comes from “here a little and there a little,” you see. When we take the Bible as a whole, God has never asked us to do anything arbitrary. The Sabbath command is actually the most meaningful and significant of the ten.

Lou: All right. Maybe the fourth does have a great deal of meaning if you look at the whole record, all sixty-six books. But what about the first commandment: “Thou shalt have no other Gods?” That sounds a little peevish, wanting to be the only one.
Graham: Yes. How about number one and also number two? “Thou shalt have no other gods before Me, and I am a jealous God. I don’t like it when you have other gods.” (based on Exod 20:3-6). Well again, if you take the whole Bible and you are convinced of the kind of person God is, I am glad He says what He does. If He were not in support of freedom and the quality of life that He has revealed, then it would be arbitrary of Him to be the only one. But God says, “Being the kind of God I am, wishing nothing but the best for you, and valuing nothing more than your freedom, I don’t want you to go after Dagon or Molech. Molech would require your babies to be burned alive in his hollow hands. And there are those crocodile and frog gods in Egypt. And also Ashtoreth and Baal–don’t go after them. In fact, if you go after something abominable, you will become abominable yourself. But if you make Me your God, you will become ever more free, and ever more intelligent. So don’t hurt yourself.”

Lou: You’re saying it’s a request, a plea. It is said out of love.
Graham: Right. But that only makes sense if God is not arbitrary, if He is the kind of Person we believe Him to be. He is really saying, “Don’t lose your freedom and every other good thing you have by going after these degraded deities. Stay with Me. When I say that I am jealous; I mean that I am jealous for you. I don’t want you to be hurt.” I like that.

Lou: We would not want our children to have anything that would hurt them.
Graham: Isn’t that kind of jealousy all right? I always felt my parents were jealous for my reputation. I derived great comfort from that. My mother wouldn’t tell on me for anything. And so we have a God who is jealous for His children, and that’s marvelous.

Questions and Answers (7:5)

Lou: What about the raising of Lazarus? He was dead for four days! Wasn’t that outstanding evidence of Jesus’ authority? Wouldn’t you believe just on the basis of that performance?

Graham: We call that His crowning miracle, don’t we? And yet it’s significant that Elijah had resurrected the dead before (1 Kings 17:17-24). So even that was certainly not unique. What matters, I think, is the total situation within which Jesus did that. For example, He had just been crying a short while before (John 11:35). And they said, “Behold, how He loved him” (John 11:36). Actually, the very gentleness of Jesus was the kind of thing that disappointed many of His followers. But then moments later He demonstrated that He could resurrect the dead. And the theologians knew exactly what this implied. That’s why it says, “From then on, they plotted to murder Him” (John 11:53). They realized that step by step He was demonstrating beyond question that He was not only infinitely powerful but equally gracious, the One who fitted the Old Testament description.

More than that, He had the wisdom to wait until the fourth day and they must have realized it. Likely they had questioned His resurrection of Jairus’ daughter before (Mark 5:22, 35-43; Luke 8:41-42, 49-56). And so this time He waited until the fourth day, because some of them believed that the spirit hovered nearby for three days after death, in case of resuscitation. For this reason, He waited until the fourth day, until the most skeptical person in His audience would admit that Lazarus was really dead. And then, when He said “Roll away the stone,” He wanted to hear them say, “Don’t roll it away, he stinks” (John 11:39). Because then they would all admit that he really was dead. “Now,” He said, “come forth” (John 11:43-44). They had no answer for that. And when you’ve run out of evidence, you turn to violence. And they tried to kill Him.

Lou: So the raising of Lazarus did not serve to convince them, it actually turned them against Him all the more. In fact, it sealed His doom.

Graham: Yes. But to some of us, the idea that God could one minute be crying and the next minute resurrecting the dead; that sounds good.

Lou: So the chief priests went about to even plot Lazarus’ death (John 12:9-11).

Graham: That’s right; to get rid of the evidence. Lazarus was going around explaining his death and resurrection. They didn’t like that testimony.

Questions and Answers (7:4)

Lou: One more incident out of the Old Testament, the story of Elisha and the young men that came out and ridiculed him, after which they were attacked by two “she bears” (2 Kings 2:23-24). Once again, that looks like a pretty spectacular show.
Graham: The first thing we need to do is establish the irreverence of the day. You read back a little further, and the king of Israel was consulting Beelzebub, the god of flies (2 Kings 1:16). Moreover, these boys knew that Elijah had been translated to heaven. Yet they were so unimpressed that when Elisha came by, evidently a little short of hair, they said, “Hey baldy, why don’t you go up too?” The irreverence in Israel was so serious that God almost lost contact with His people there. But he didn’t send a flood this time, instead He sent two she-bears. Word of this went out among the Israelites, and reverence picked up—but so did fear. It is very difficult for God to relieve us of our fear and still maintain our reverence and respect. That’s a most delicate thing to accomplish.

Lou: All right, you’ve covered a number of God’s spectacular interventions in the Old Testament, but what about Jesus’ public ministry in the New Testament? When he turned water into wine at the wedding of Cana, didn’t that catch a lot of attention? Wasn’t that a use of miracles to establish authority?
Graham: Such methods do have some usefulness at the beginning. I wouldn’t deny Jesus the right to use whatever method He wishes to get attention. But what counts is the way the miracle is conducted and what follows after the miracle. After the miracle got their attention, they observed and tested Him. As a result, some rejected Him and some accepted Him.
Actually, turning water into wine is not that unusual in the Bible. Do you remember how Moses turned bitter water sweet in the wilderness (Exod 15:23-25)? And didn’t Elisha do something similar (2 Kings 2:19-22)? That’s not so remarkable. To me what’s more remarkable is that Jesus was attending a wedding, and He wanted it to be happy. He was very pleased to be there and to help them. He is the One who thought up marriage in the first place. I love it that His first miracle was at a wedding.

Lou: What about the feeding of the five thousand or the feeding of the four thousand a little bit later? Actually, the story about feeding the five thousand is recorded in all four of the Gospels (Matt 14:21; Mark 6:44; Luke 9:14; John 6:10). So it certainly made a powerful impact on the gospel writers and on the people. On one occasion, at least, weren’t they ready to crown Him King afterward (John 6:15)?
Graham: That’s right! Now this illustrates the point superbly. Jesus realized that huge crowds were following Him for the miracles, and that’s all. So right after these miracles He told them something very serious, “Unless you really accept Me and My teachings you will not be saved” (based on John 6:50-63). And they all left Him. All they wanted was free food and free healing.
Then He turned to the twelve and said, “Do you also wish to go?” John 6:67, RSV. In the Greek there is a way of asking a question that includes the answer within the question, yes or no. So the way it’s worded in the Greek Jesus said, “You don’t want to go too, do you?” And they said, “No; to whom else should we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68). They weren’t entirely convinced; there was so much they didn’t understand. But at least they chose to stay. Jesus must have wondered at that point whether it had been worth coming to earth. Only when He performed miracles did He get a crowd, and He did not wish to get a crowd that way. Doesn’t it say something though, that when He won a following by miracles, He turned them away. Miracles are no basis for authority.

Questions and Answers (7:3)

Lou: People are asking about Uzzah, the one who was so anxious to support the ark when it was starting to fall off the cart. And he dies at that point. So God wasn’t doing it to get his attention! His life was and is over.

Graham: That’s right, Uzzah’s dead. And where Uzzah will be in the hereafter is between him and God. Some like to think perhaps he repented at that moment. We don’t know and we don’t need to know. But it’s quite a story when you put it in its total setting. Why was the ark on the cart in the first place? Because the sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, had been such poor representatives of the truth. They were even assaulting women who came to worship in the temple (1 Sam 2:22-25). They were that wicked. So then when Israel was drawn into battle, they thought, “Let’s take that magic box with us” (1 Sam 4:3-4). They had no reverence for God whatsoever, but they thought the magic box might help. So they took it into battle and they lost it. And in due course of time the ark wound up in front of Dagon the fish god.

So God started working with these heathen Philistines the same way he worked with the Egyptians. In the morning, when the priests went in to conduct their worship of Dagon the fish god, they found him toppled off his pedestal in front of the ark. Well, they didn’t dare tell anybody, so they propped him up and then said their prayers, “Oh almighty one, bless us this day.” The next day when they came in, Dagon had not only fallen off the pedestal, but he had broken into several pieces. So they hastily glued him together, put him back on the pedestal, and prayed, “Almighty one, look after us this day.”

I can imagine some small child saying, “How come we’re praying to the almighty one whom we’ve just glued together?” And so they consulted the theologians of the day. It’s all detailed in 1 Samuel 5. And the theologians said, “We advise that you send that box back, and we suggest you put some gifts in it. Remember what the God of this box did to the Egyptians and remember how Pharaoh hardened his own heart?” (1 Sam 6:1-6). They’ve got it right there, “Pharaoh hardened his own heart.” These heathen theologians did better than some of us today.

Well, as the story proceeded, it was on the cart coming home, and Uzzah lived in a family that knew better than to treat the ark with such disrespect (2 Sam 6:2-7). It was an act of irreverence, like how they lost the ark in the first place. Where there is no reverence, there is no listening to God. Where there is no listening, there is no help and all is lost. So when we’re our most irreverent, God runs the risk of being the most dramatic, to see if He can inspire a little respect. And the devil, I’m sure, mocked Him for doing it.

Now David was very angry when Uzzah died. He was so angry that he left the ark right next door in the house of Obed-Edom (2 Sam 6:8-10). Three months later he got reports that the presence of the ark was blessing the household of Obed-Edom (2 Sam 6:11-12). And David said, “We need that blessing up here at headquarters.” So they brought the ark up with much carefulness, sacrificing a great many offerings along the way (2 Sam 6:13-14). No doubt they understood those sacrifices as a bit like fire insurance. David didn’t know God as well as he did later on. So you see in the Bible ongoing growth in the knowledge of God, and behind that growth is a very patient God who sometimes used dramatic means to win us all the way back to trust. That’s the reason to utilize all sixty-six books of the Bible, by the way, so we can get the full picture of how God dealt with His people.