The more I study the Old Testament, the more it seems that we are, at times, almost being divinely tricked into assuming “Great Expectations” for certain key characters.
When I say “tricked,” I don’t mean that in a negative way, as if we’re being deceived. I mean that the Spirit has a surprise up his sleeve. And that surprise is that our heroes, who initially can seem invincible, are finally shown to have feet of clay.
Take, Abraham, for instance. Of all the people in the world whom God could have chosen, he chose only this man. And what a man he was! Patriarch. Warrior. Pillar of faith.
Yet, lest we imagine Abraham to be an über-human, twice he lies about his wife being his sister, and both times she’s taken into another man’s house! This tempers our zealous admiration. It also reminds us that, great man though Abraham was, he was made of the same sinful flesh and blood as we are.
Abraham is no Messiah. He needs the Messiah.
Or consider David. If you’re a listener to our podcast, “40 Minutes in the Old Testament,” you’ve been following along with us as we’ve covered David’s battlefield prowess, persuasive rhetoric, poetic abilities, deep piety, and fidelity to Yahweh. Everybody—or almost everybody—seems to love David and be enamored with him.
Yet we’ve also seen him engage in the most egregious, immorally horrific actions with the married couple, Bathsheba and Uriah, as well as countless others who were negatively affected by David’s actions. Again, this throws a bucket of frigid water on our fiery admiration of this leader. David is a sinner with a stone in his heart and blood on his hands.
David is no Messiah. He needs the Messiah.
In our devotion today in Unveiling Mercy, “The Harlot’s Ephod,” we see yet another example in the case of Gideon. He who began with fear and self-doubt grew to be a highly successful warrior and leader. We look up to him. We admire his courage and growth.
Yet, what happens at the end of Gideon’s story? After all the victories granted him by the Lord, after overcoming tremendous odds, after maturing into a capable leader of Israel, what does he do? Gideon crafts an idolatrous ephod which all Israel “went whoring” after. He takes what would have been a golden legacy and paints graffiti all over it.
Gideon’s no Messiah. He needs the Messiah.
And were we so inclined, we could go on to speak of Noah, Isaac, Jacob, Saul, Solomon, and many others, all of whom were shown to be afflicted with the same thin and ragged soul as all of us.
No, to be sure, not every great Israelite leader had their “Genesis 3” kind of experience, but many did. Our great expectations are lowered as we realize that these men were indeed only men. Frail. Weak. Easily tempted and easily overcome by evil.
I wonder if the Spirit, in including all these narratives in the OT, isn’t gently reminding us, over and over, that all these leaders were not The Leader. Yes, their lives and deeds often foreshadowed the Messiah, but the Messiah they were most certainly not.
If anything, their broken lives silently betoken their need of the Healer.
And isn’t it the same today? Our leaders, our pastors, our priests, our teachers, thank God for all of them! But let us never forget that they, too, all have feet of clay. So we don’t put our faith in them, even in the ones—perhaps *especially* the ones—in whom we are inclined to have great expectations.
They preach the Messiah but they are not the Messiah. They need him, his life, his forgiveness, his salvation, just as much as all of us do.
Isn’t that really the point? Every hour of every day, we all live solely by the unmerited, freely given grace of God in Jesus Christ. That is the only hope for us all, whether we are teachers or students, pastors or laypeople, leaders or followers.
We cannot “live the Gospel.” Our lives are emphatically not the Gospel. The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, that is the Gospel. He gives, we receive. He saves, we are saved.
Like John the Baptist, we point our collective finger at Jesus the Messiah and say, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” John’s sin. My sin. Your sin.
If we are going to have great expectations, then let’s center them all in the one who hangs on the cross to forgive the world.