September 23, 2007

Rings and Poles and Jesus

“And he put the poles into the rings at the sides of the ark, to bear the ark.”

The ark of the covenant contained the actual stone tablets with God’s commandments, commandments that every person ever born has broken in some way or another. The top of the ark was called the “mercy seat.” Here priests sprinkled the blood of the sacrifices and this blood stood between the broken commandments and the wrath of God. God said, “Without the shedding of blood there is no remission for sin.”

At one point in Old Testament history, the ark was being transported from one place to another on a cart rather than using the poles and rings. When the oxen stumbled, a man named Uzzah put out his hand to steady the load and touched the ark. The Lord’s anger burned against him and he died instantly, (1 Chronicles 13:9-10). In other situations where people mishandled the ark, plagues broke out or other disasters happened to show that this sacred symbol of God’s presence and promises was holy and never to be considered ordinary stuff.

My Bible notes say that the ark was a type or foreshadow of Jesus Christ. I can understand only a little of what this means. Certainly, and because of the mercy of God, the blood of Christ now stands between my sinfulness and God’s wrath, but I’m not sure how to interpret the significance of the rings and poles.

My devotional guide says that they indicate the “mobility” of the ark. It was never meant to be static or fixed in the same place, but moved when God’s people moved. In a similar sense, the Son of God is not rigid and immovable. He didn’t die and remain on the cross, nor does He stay put in a church building when we go home. Jesus moves with us. Further, He won’t let us have a fixed idea of who and what He is. He refuses to stay on the pedestals where we put Him.

However, some people try to do that with Jesus, or at least their idea of Him. They decide He is ‘too loving’ to ever confront sinners. Or He is ‘too holy’ to tolerate a card game of “Old Maid” with the children, or a trip to the zoo on Sunday afternoon. In essence, they say, “My Jesus is fixed, immovable; this is how He is and nothing can change my opinion.”

I don’t think Jesus can be put in tidy categories, but how do I describe Him to people in conflict? This was my challenge yesterday.

We were at a wedding. I talked with a mother who is upset because her daughter is impatient, abrupt and rude to her. Could I say Jesus would rebuke her daughter and comfort her?

Later I talked with the daughter. She has trouble with her mother because the older woman asks for and needs help, but rejects and criticizes everything the daughter offers. Could I say that Jesus would rebuke her mother and give her a hug?

As I listened to both sides of this strained relationship, I could see how both behaved selfishly, both responded to each other’s selfishness with more of the same, and both need Jesus.

Oh, they have reasons for acting like they do. The mother has defended herself all her life against people who looked down on her. It’s her habit to be argumentative and feisty. But Jesus could show her how God is her fortress and strong tower, and that He can defend her when she feels threatened. Jesus could release and cleanse her pride so she could graciously accept the kindnesses offered from her daughter.

The daughter feels as if she “is never good enough” and guilt drives her actions and reactions. The love of Jesus can show her the difference between true and false guilt. His full acceptance can counter her sense of rejection and help her be satisfied in doing the right things for her mother, regardless of how the mother responds.

As I think about their needs and the complexity of talking to both, I see how much I need to rely on ‘a Jesus with rings and poles,’ a Savior who can move into this mess and bring holiness and mercy with Him. He is perfectly able to be “all things to all people.” He can deal with both women without pitting one against the other, or making one the ‘winner’ and the other the ‘loser.’ He can move right to their hearts. Because He knows their deepest needs, He can touch them where they hurt the most and heal the rift between them.

The rings and poles on the ark kept those who carried it from actually touching it. It was holy and sacred. They were not to presume the familiarity implied when you grab a big box and swing it up on your shoulders.

The same is true about Jesus. I know Him; I am close to Him, yet I am not to presume that I have an ‘in’ on what He is about or what He will do. Holy means “other than” and His thoughts and ways are just that—other than mine. I could guess how He might work to resolve the issues in this relationship, yet I can never accurately predict what He will do. He always comes up with something beyond my imagination. He is holy, and in a sense, untouchable.

As I pray for them, I’m asking my mobile, flexible Savior to make Himself known to these two women who are breaking His commands and hurting each other. He is God’s new covenant, not a symbol like the ark, but God’s presence with His people. He is the One who can do “exceedingly abundantly above all I can ask or imagine,” the reality, the One who can move into their lives and, with great mercy, rebuke and hug both of them.

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