Psalm 80 • Jeremiah 7:1-15 • Romans 4:1-12 • John 7:14-36
Deus ex Machina
In ancient Greek plays, a god might be lowered by machine to the stage near the play’s end to disentangle characters from their plights. Don’t we all sometimes wish a super-hero would swoop down and rescue us from our perils—the humdrum, the painful, life’s hurdles?
So it was with the Israelites, who seem always to look for the leader to free them from oppression or to save them from the enemy. “At your rebuke your people perish,” complains Asaph in Psalm 80, asking God to “come and save us” by bringing “the son of man you have raised up for yourself”—possibly a Davidic king.
When, in fact, the Son of Man that God has raised up does appear, there is confusion over His role and disbelief that “anything good can come out of Nazareth.” His origins were disputed—only some in the Jewish community believed that the Old Testament informed the matter. Likewise, opinion was divided on whether His miracles sufficed as credentials. Jesus admonishes the crowd to stop judging on superficialities.
“Why are you trying to kill me?” Jesus asks ruefully, when “not one” of the supposedly observant Jews truly kept the law of Moses. Just as Jeremiah had lamented, they have broken the Covenant. More important to Jesus, though, is their failure to understand that He is from God. He works for the honor of the One who sent Him, not for Himself. That he is going away where they “cannot come” leaves them further perplexed.
This was not what people had hoped for or expected. Jesus wasn’t a shining god come to the rescue, but a Nazarene, His message cloaked in paradox, parables, cloudy predictions. That He had not come on His own, that His purpose was not earthly, was beyond comprehension for most.
How often we too fail to understand God’s purpose, confusing it with our own, hoping for the super-hero quick fix, not recognizing eternal truth when it is right there in front of us.
— Stuart Dopp