Wednesday, February 13, 2013

You Are My Son

The following is the lesson for Ash Wednesday from the Lenten small group study we are doing at our church entitled Christ in the Psalms. You can purchase the entire study for 99 cents on at this link.

Psalm 2 was a song of promise concerning the rule of Israel’s king. It may even have been written for the day of the king’s coronation. It celebrates the reign of Israel’s king and the close relationship that the king enjoys with Yahweh.
The Psalm begins by acknowledging that there are other powers in the world. Indeed, the Psalmist says that the kings of the earth plot and fight against Yahweh and his anointed king. The promise of this Psalm, however, is that whatever the other nations and kings do, it is God who ultimately reigns supreme. God, in all his sovereignty, sits on his throne and laughs at the weak attempts of earthly kings to overthrow his rule. 

In contrast to these kings, Israel’s king is the very means of God’s righteous purposes in the world. As a result, God promises to work on behalf of Israel’s king. In fact, Israel’s king enjoys such a favored status with Yahweh that Yahweh declares of the king “You are my son. Today I have begotten you.” Given Israel’s stringent commitment to monotheism (belief in only one God), this is not a declaration that the king of Israel is actually divine. It is to say that God’s anointed king enjoys a relationship with Yahweh unlike any other. Yahweh and king are like Father and Son. As a result, God tells the king that all he has to do is ask and all the nations will be given to him as an inheritance. Psalm 2 envisions God’s sovereignty being embodied in Israel’s king as he reigns over every nation on earth. 

Given what the first Christians believed about Jesus, its not hard to see how they began to see this Psalm with Jesus in mind. They believed that Jesus was the Christ (Greek equivalent of the Hebrew “Messiah” which means “anointed one”), the king who would one day rule the nations and that the people had, indeed, plotted against him. They confessed that Jesus enjoyed a uniquely close relationship with Yahweh; one they described as Father and Son. 

However, it is just as easy to see that Jesus does not fulfill this Psalm in an obvious or simplistic way. One would already have to be convinced that the titles of Messiah and Son of God should be applied to Jesus in order to think that he could be found in Psalm 2 in any way. There is no room in the kingly imagery of Psalm 2 for God’s anointed to experience crucifixion. In fact, one would be hard pressed to find an image more against the grain of Psalm 2 than Jesus on the cross. For most first century Jews, Jesus’ shameful and disgraceful death would have been the surest sign that he was not who he had claimed to be. 

With this in mind, we can see that it is an especially bold move that Mark makes when he links the promise of Psalm 2 specifically to Jesus’ crucifixion. The Psalm first appears in Mark 1:11. Jesus has just been baptized by John and coming up out of the water, the heavens are torn open, the Spirit descends upon Jesus and a voice from heaven echoes Psalm 2, saying “You are my beloved Son, with you I am well pleased.” This is a promising beginning to Jesus’ ministry but we will see that it is also a foreshadowing of the cross that awaits him. A voice speaks from heaven with the same words again in chapter 9 after Jesus’ transfiguration, declaring “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.” The very next words that Jesus speaks warn the disciples not to tell anyone what they had seen “until the Son of Man has risen from the dead.” The disciples wonder what Jesus could possibly mean by this. Finally in Mark 15, Jesus is crucified, the temple curtain is torn in two (remember the heavens at his baptism?), Jesus breathes out his Spirit, and rather than a voice from heaven, we hear a centurion standing nearby say “Truly this man was the Son of God!” Thus we see that Mark portrays Jesus’ baptism and his declaration as Son as intimately connected to his crucifixion. 

Likewise, we are called sons and daughters of God. Although, unlike Jesus, ours is an adoption into the family of God, it is an adoption which leads to the same path as Jesus’ Sonship. Our baptism was the beginning of our journey toward the cross; our transformation for the purpose of taking up our cross and following Jesus. On Ash Wednesday, as we begin the season of Lent and are reminded of Jesus’ journey toward the cross, we are reminded that we have been saved for the same journey. We receive ashes to remind us of our own weakness and frailty. We receive them in the shape of the cross to remind us that weakness is also the shape of our redemption. As we receive our ashes this evening, let us remember that the way of our King, Messiah, and Son of God is the way of the cross.

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