I’m not comfortable with the question; still and yet, it’s mine to answer. It’s yours too.
I’m a firm believer in the questions of Scripture … the ones issuing forth from a Father’s heart. Whether they come to us through the Old Testament prophets, God’s angels, his Son Jesus, or through his own voice, when God asks a question, he intends for it to transcend the pages of a “long ago and far away” to become a question for our “here and now”.
God’s Word is alive and active. As Christians, we can do one of two things with it:
Pick out the more seemingly applicable points and derive a partial theology based on human inclinations. Or, allow the entirety of its pulse to course through our veins so as to exact a change within based on divine perfection rather than fleshly preferences.
If we choose the latter, and I happen to view the latter as the correct approach to the handling of God’s Word, then we must be willing to sit before God and allow him his voice via his history. It’s a history that includes some direct questions, both in the context in which they were initially asked and in the context that surrounds our current faith.
On that day of Dedication 2000 years ago, in the shadows of a festival designed with the “lights” in mind, Jesus offered his people a question that would force them to wrestle with the truth of who he was … who he still is.
“‘I have shown you many great miracles from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?’”
For which of these do we? Do you? Do I … stone him?
Indeed, a difficult wrestling for my spirit these past few days. The more research I do on the topic, the less I understand about why God would sanction any such cruelty toward his people. Swifter retribution seems an easier swallow than that of stoning—a slower death brought about through a collective group of smaller stones, intended to prolong the suffering. Still and yet, God’s Law allowed for stoning—for retributive killing based on certain offenses laid out in his Word. Things like…
Oxen and their owners who were in the habit of goring (Ex. 21:23, 32);
Anyone sacrificing a child to Molech (Lev. 20:2);
Any medium or wizard (Lev. 20:27);
Anyone blaspheming the divine name (Lev. 24:14, 16, 23);
Anyone leading the congregation astray to serve other gods (Dt. 13:10);
Anyone serving other gods (Dt. 17:5);
A stubborn or rebellious son (Dt. 21:21);
A woman who is without her virginity upon marriage (Dt. 22:21);
A man and a betrothed virgin who have sexual relations within the city (Dt. 22:24);
Things like that. There are more, but I’m certain you get the idea. And tonight, I’m confident that, but for the grace of God, a “stoning” I deserve. Who of us couldn’t confess the same? Without the shed blood of Jesus Christ, none of us are clothed with innocence. With him? Well, we’re found faultless, worthy to stand before the throne.
The grace of the cross is a very good gift to us. It means everything to me. I confess I don’t know why God waited so long to send his Son to earth to pay penalty for his children. I don’t understand this kind of Old Testament justice that came through the filling up of hands with stones in order to release them upon another for death’s arrival. It seems cruel and harsh and hardly in line with the mercy and love of a very good God.
I cannot imagine holding stones in my hands, wanting to cast them at anyone, let alone the Christ. But there were those that did. There are those who still do. Perhaps in our civil way of doing life with Jesus in 2009, we mask it better than the people of 2000 years ago. Perhaps our stones aren’t as obvious, more hidden, more private, yet nevertheless just as sharp. Stones we cling to with harsh resentment and that speak the same answer as that of Israelites on a day in Solomon’s Colonnade so long ago…
“‘We are not stoning you for any of these [miracles],’ replied the Jews, ‘but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God.’” (John 10:33).
Oh yes, we’ll take your miracles Jesus, but when you fail to act like God … when it seems you’ve abandoned your Kingly throne and instead respond to our need like a mere man? When you claim to be God, yet your actions seem to speak otherwise? Well, for that we’ll pick up a few stones. We may not throw them, but we’ll pocket them, touch them, cradle them and keep them until they collect and become too heavy for the holding. And then, if there is strength enough left, we’ll empty our pockets. Either at you or surrendered to you.
Both ways are burdensome to us because stones carry their weight, and when clutched for long seasons and collected en masse, their heaviness penetrates our hearts with doubt, with fear, and with a hardness that refuses to know Christ for the Savior that he is.
I have shown you many miracles, elaine. For which of these do you stone me? Is grace not enough to warrant your trust? Did my blood shed shallow … too little and not enough to clean up your sinful mess? Have you not known my favor and my provision for the past forty-three years?
For which of these do you stone me, child?
Do you not yet believe I am who I say I Am? Who I’ve proved I Am over and over again? It isn’t within your rights to fully comprehend my thoughts, but it is your privilege to wrestle with them … to answer my questions, and in doing so, draw closer to my heart of understanding. Thus, I ask you again, elaine…
For which miracle have I wrought forth in your life, do you stone me?
And with that question, friends, I am undone before my God. How about you? Would you be willing to entreat the thoughts of our Father this night, examine your own heart beneath the light of his great love and mercy for you, and answer his prompt in order to grow closer to him?
I’m heading to my knees just now, and I do so with the song below, playing over in my heart again. Would you join me on my prayer quilt and leave your stones where they lie? I’m praying for you this night. As always…