Returning the World to God
In the Bible, there is a genre called apocalyptic literature. A dominant feature of apocalyptic literature is that it uses vivid imagery to reveal (the word apocalypse means revelation) a greater sense of purpose and reality to an event.
Often times these revelations include astronomical phenomena that are meant to point to, not mainly to the event itself, but rather, what is happening on Earth. It is to shake us out of complacency with the way we are conducting ourselves that we may listen intently to the One who controls the heavens. For example, when describing the destruction of Edom, The Lord says, ”All the host of heaven shall rot away, and the skies roll up like a scroll. All their host shall fall, as leaves fall from the vine, like leaves falling from the fig tree. For my sword has drunk its fill in the heavens; behold, it descends for judgment upon Edom, upon the people I have devoted to destruction.” (Isaiah 34:4-5) While we know not all the hosts of heaven literally fell, we do know that Edom was literally judged. So we are wise to not force a wrongly literalistic reading into an apocalyptic text.
Though there is an apocalyptic flavor that seasons the scene of the Cross in Mark 15, this is not apocalyptic genre. This is a historical narrative. We see a literal tearing of the curtain in the Temple on Mt. Zion, which marks off the Most Holy Place where God meets the High Priest (Mark 15:38). This, in context, is God’s response, in a religious setting, to the High Priest who tore his garment with his (incorrect) charge of blasphemy against Jesus (Mark 14:63). At the rejection of Jesus, it is the High Priest, and even the Temple, that is blasphemous! We also see literal darkness rest over the land for 3 hours, noon to 3:00pm (Mark 15:33). This is God’s response, in a cosmological setting, to the world’s rejection of his beloved Son, Jesus (Mark 1:11; 9:7).
In seeing such apocalyptic imagery actually taking place, in a non-apocalyptic genre, we ought, all the more, listen, Lord willing, with ears to hear. As two brackets upholding, and drawing attention to, what is between them, we are called not to focus on fear of dread judgment but rather, hope in Jesus by whom we return to God. What hope is shown for us in Jesus, when what we see between the darkness and the rejection of Zion is Jesus crying out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34b) Where is our consolation? I submit it is in that very cry of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Joel 2:1-2a sets the same forth the same two happenings that we are presently considering, namely, darkness in the heavens and judgment on Zion. “Blow a trumpet in Zion; sound an alarm on my holy mountain! Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble, for the day of the Lord is coming; it is near, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness!” The day the Lord would show himself fully among the rebellious people would come as “thick darkness” upon them. In a sense, at the Cross, the day of the Lord was nigh at hand.
However, in Joel 2:12-13a God himself says that, “Yet even now, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments.” This is because, as Joel 2:13b says, the Lord “is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster.” Therein is our hope; for on the Cross, Jesus calls out, as a loving representative, in fasting, weeping and with mourning, rending his heart (not his clothes like the High Priest), in the midst of impeding judgment on those who are rejecting God! And because God is slow to anger, he relents of the disaster of his day of impeding judgment because of Jesus on the Cross.
Therefore in relenting of judgment, God did not merely negatively resist judgment but, because of, and in Jesus, he positively “[left] a blessing behind him, a grain offering and a drink offering for the Lord.” (Joel 2:14) Notice, this blessing God left for us is for us to give to God. This is because ultimately, our highest blessing from God is to bring us to himself. Therefore, this blessing is first seen immediately when God reveals Jesus’ true identity to the Centurion as he spoke out, “Truly this man was the Son of God!” (Mark 15:39) This is meant to show that no matter how previously blinded, anyone may have grace to see and savor Jesus Christ. Thus, the enduring posture of God the Father is seen in his accepting of Jesus as the one who offers fasting, tears, mourning and his rent heart . Therefore, the Father’s posture to all who are in Christ Jesus is that we also are free from judgment, abundantly blessed and accepted!
This does not mean that Jesus changes the Father’s will towards sinners or calms down an irate deity – for Jesus is accomplishing the Father’s will on the Cross! It is the Father, yea the entire Godhead, that desires the salvation of sinners. What this relenting of the Father at the offering of the Son means is that, the one day of the Lord was ready to be received in two ways. For those who did not accept Jesus, the coming of God was dreadful. But for, and in Jesus, the coming of God was joyful. The day of the Lord was on full display both in the cosmos darkened/ the curtain torn (judgment) and in the Cross of Christ (deliverance) simultaneously. But the love of God in Christ on the Cross was a greater display – for this is the very heart of the Father!
The second way this blessing left behind is perceived, is in it being a grain and drink offering. In this act, the divinity of Jesus is shown as the giver of God’s blessing left behind. For our Lord left for his disciples an enduring communion with his very Body and Blood when, at the Last Supper, he blessed and broke the grains of bread and poured out the drink of the New Covenant (Mark 14:22-24). This Holy Communion, this Thanksgiving (Eucharist) offering is, the Apostle Paul tells us, to “proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” (1 Corinthians 11:26)
This proclamation of the death of Jesus as the one who fasted, wept, mourned and rent his heart is the hope of the world; for in union with this Christ in his death, we too are the fasting, weeping, mourning and rent hearted servants of God and have access to the Father.
Blessed be Christ, the Servant and Ever-Blessing God, who offers himself for the life of the world up to God! Before Thy Cross Lord, we bow down in worship!