April / May 2015 - Vol. 79

 old Jerusalem
A Spring Day
by Tadhg Lynch 

It is a spring day in late March or early April in Jerusalem. The year is 30 or 33 AD. The feast of Passover is just about to begin. Our journey begins on the outskirts of Jerusalem. We follow a small farmer as he leaves his house. His steps will take him through the city in an ever upward direction – to the temple built on top of the plateau which is the highest point in Jerusalem.

He has heard stories about how the temple mount was called Mount Zion – where the Torah was given to his people many long years ago. Other friends have told him that it is instead Mount Moriah – where his ancestor Abraham went to sacrifice his son Isaac. He doesn’t know. By the time he has finished the two mile journey from his house to the temple mount, he will have reached 2,300 feet about the level of the sea.

As he climbs through the narrow streets, his mind is on the coming sacrifice. He walks, recalling the law which Moses gave his people to remember the Passover of their deliverance from Egypt. He also thinks of the sacrifice God commanded Abraham to make, and the miraculous provision of a lamb for Abraham in the place of his son Isaac. His thoughts now turn to his own son.

The Cost of Redemption
Our farmer’s family have already left home. They will travel more slowly through the city than he will. His delay was the result of last minute preparations for tying up the legs of the unblemished lamb he had bought for their sacrificial offering. Now he hastily carries the lamb through the winding streets on his way up to the temple for the ritual sacrifice.

As he walks past the market place where he bought the lamb six days ago, his mind now returns to the last scene he had observed there - in the corner reserved for the buying and selling of slaves. His rural synagogue had recently purchased a slave – a relative of a pious member of his town, unwittingly caught up in debt caused by bad decisions at harvest time.

Our Jewish Farmer knew all about slavery. Much of the Roman Republic were slaves. There were just so many reasons for making slaves of people. Slavery repaid debts, punished crimes, repatriated prisoners of war and dealt with child abandonment. And, from father to son, it was passed down the generations of those it entrapped.

Greeks, Berbers, Germans, Britons, Slavs, Thracians, Gauls, Jews, Arabs and many others were enslaved by the Romans. If a slave ran away, he was liable to be crucified. His father had told him of the 2,000 crucifixions and mass enslavement of the town of Sepphoris when he was young – caused by some ill-judged civil disobedience. Yes slavery certainly existed in our farmer’s Galilee and Judea. Small landowners often owned a few slaves – men and women working in the fields outside the houses of fellow Israelites – foreigners – for a Jew could not enslave one of his own. Some householders owned a few slaves for domestic labour, gardening, marketing, and service as financial agents. They would not have been all that worse off than the average tenant farmer – but without his rights and certainly without his place in the community. King Herod’s household had thousands of slaves, labouring day in day out to build his massive monuments and temples.

As he strides through the square, our farmer begins to approach the outer court of the temple. His city has swelled to about 5 times its normal size for the celebration of the annual feast of Passover. Three times a year, in accordance with the levitical and deuteronomaic command, the city performed a great collective intake of breath – sucking in devout pilgrims, agricultural labourers from the hinterland and important guests. They came from Jericho, Tyre, Caesarea Philippi and the Decapolis, Sepphoris and those other newish Greek towns where people still followed the law and returned every year to Jerusalem to celebrate the great feast – as well as every other kind of Jew from as far away as Damascus and Alexandria.

People are everywhere. The market is a riot of color and noise, every guesthouse is full, everyone’s relatives have shown up to claim the last bit of floor space. At the head of the market, the farmer passes the place where the elders of the town would normally sit, passing judgement upon the smaller matters of the law that affected the ups and downs of the life of the people. Every commandment of the Torah, all 613 of them were weighed, counted and measured here. Just up the steps and in the alcove of one of the temple porticoes, the Sanhedrin would meet to decide the weightier cases.

These leaders of the Jewish people; careerist politicians, family aristocrats, lawyers, rabbis and the community movement of the Pharisees would meet here. Here there was order and peace, here the life of his nation beat from the heart of the temple through to its outer courts of justice and down the great arteries of the legal, social and community life of the Jews. Here was where restitution, repayment and rehabilitation commenced. Here was where the great genius of the Jewish people was realised, as custom, practice, history and theology combined to seamlessly weave the distinctive garb of identity that en-cloaked the nation. But here was not where, 13 hours before, a man was tried. There was no room for his trial or sentence here in the law court, instead he was condemned to death in a trial held only by torchlight. Here was where justice, practice and history were left, forgotten, as the priests and jurors fled to the houses of their leaders in a last ditch effort to save the life of the nation.    

On this Good Friday a man was sacrificed. For the life of the nation, the life of a man was offered. A just penalty was not given. A just penalty punishes the wrongdoer. The sacrificed man was undeserving of the penalty he suffered. Perhaps his death would give life to the nation, but it was against the law. The old covenant law did not allow individuals to take on a personal punishment like death as a way of making a compensation for someone else. The life of the nation would perhaps suffer under the boot of the Romans, but surely the life of the man would make no difference in the long-run.

Our farmer does not know this. He did not know the man of Nazareth who so recently had climbed those steps to preach about his own impending death. He may have sensed the vague, repeated stirrings of revolt. He may have had some friends – who were tired of the Hasmonean policy of complicity with the Romans – who wanted to rise up and free Jerusalem, or doom the nation. He does not realise, that as human and divine meet here within the temple they are meeting outside his town, on a tree, in the late afternoon sun.

Our farmer has by now joined thousands of other Jewish men in the court of the temple before the holy place… He is probably a bit weary of the hustle and bustle, but this is what this time of year is all about – the chance to gather together and be caught up once again into the mystery and immense power of the communal sacrifice that sets the Jews apart from the nations all around them. That makes them who they are. That makes him who he is – a Son of Abraham. He passes through the columns – they are massive. It would take three men with arms outstretched to span the base of one. They mark the edge of the temple court – it is heaving with men and women – not from the Jewish race – anxious to see what is going on inside. He walks past signs in Greek and Latin warning gentiles to go no further.  They read: "No foreigner is to enter within the balustrade and terrace around the sanctuary. Whoever is caught will have himself to blame for his death which follows."

He pushes through the court of the Gentiles and passes the low step marking the court of the women and enters. The temple is remarkable – there are no statues, no plants, no votive offerings such as are seen in the “temples” which are springing up all around Judea – influenced by the recent craze for all things Greek. The noise dims considerably. He crosses the court of the women and begins to climb the 15 steps to the court of the Israelites – his nation. He enters. Thousands of other Jewish men are in the court of the temple, before the holy place itself, the earthly throne room of God – the silent, empty, mysterious room where God dwells. Alone. He brings and ritually slaughters his lamb. There is a special way to do it – and one of the priests does it for him. While psalms of praise and thanksgiving are sung by the choir of Levites, the priest takes the blood of the lamb in a basin and pours it out at the altar as a way of offering the lamb to the almighty Lord of the universe. The body of this lamb will become the center of the family meal at the feast which celebrates the Exodus, the redemption of the people of Israel from the bondage of Egypt.

At the very moment the Judean farmer is offering his lamb, the Messiah dies on the cross and the veil of the temple is torn in two. The inner veil, the veil concealing God from man in the holy of holies is now parted. The pathway to God is open. Previously, God’s face had been concealed, now God has removed the veil and revealed himself in the crucified Jesus as the one who loves to the point of death. His death fulfils the ceremony of the Passover lamb and begins the true redemption of the human race. The pathway to God is open. We too now stand there. We too see the Passover lamb stricken, and slain. We too see the many men, bound together in community from far and near across the middle east 2000 years ago, chanting and singing the psalms of praise, as Passover sacrifices are offered continually on the alter. But we are not of them. We are not their people. We can have no share in the redemption and forgiveness of the lamb in the temple offered over and over and over again. This is not the covenant in which we share. For now there is no temple. For now, even the very foundation of the temple is buried beneath layers of rock, ash, debris and the ruin of two millennia of war and life and death. There are no more sacrifices.

The blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer do not actually deal with sin – they never really did. They were sketches which would help men to understand what was to come and accept it when it arrived. The era of the old temple and its sacrifices is over. The reality has now come, the crucified Jesus who reconciles us all with the Father. Christ was the substance, the reality. Christ’s death on the cross was the true sacrifice for sins, the offering for human sin that alone was truly acceptable to God.

Our farmer leaves the temple and gathers his children outside in the melee to leave on the short journey back to his home. It is dark and stormy, and a freak earthquake has shaken the city. There is panic outside the temple and he holds tight to his children. He will return again – in a year’s time – to repeat his sacrifice. Perhaps he will have to bring a bigger lamb, because his family will grow next year. He will live to see the hunting down of the radical elements of a dangerous new sect, proclaiming an idolatrous and blasphemous good news about forgiveness of sins through a man. He will live to see the destruction of the temple and the beginning of the dispersion of his people. His world will turn very dark, as he thinks the meeting place for God and his people has been destroyed.

He does not know that it has been destroyed already, even as he has prayed this day. He does not know that one has met and carried a cross through his town. He does not know that the life of God and man has met and carried the weight of sin he brings every year to the temple and nailed it through his hands to the wood of a tree on a hill outside his town.  He does not know that the life of God and man has left the body of the one called Jesus of Nazareth to begin the triumph over sin, death and Satan prophesied in the first book of his Torah.

He does not know that the enmity put between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring is decided. He does not know that the head is crushed, bruised a mortal blow in the hanging of a human man and God upon a tree and that the bruised heel is struck the last time. He does not know, that the life of God and man has met and will never be the same again. 

Tadhg Lynch is a member of the Servants of the Word, a missionary brotherhood of men living single for the Lord, and a Mission Director for Kairos, an international outreach to young people. Tadhg is originally from Nazareth Community, Dublin, Ireland.

 (c) copyright 2015  The Sword of the Spirit
publishing address: Park Royal Business Centre, 9-17 Park Royal Road, Suite 108, London NW10 7LQ, United Kingdom
email: living.bulwark@yahoo.com