Isaiah 64 awakens us to the great cry of God’s ancient people. There we find a word full of their hope, a word of fueled by their longing desire. It is a word sent up again and again to the God of their fathers in desperation that he might hear and act. Upon their knees with their hands lifted high, the saints of God cried out, “Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains might quake at your presence – as when fire kindles brushwood and causes water to boil – to make you name known to your adversaries, and that the nation might tremble at your presence!”
Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down! Indeed. This was no empty phrase from their worship life that they spoke in the courts of the temple but soon forgot as they headed home. No, they looked around at the political landscape and knew that trust was placed in the strength of human alliances rather the Word and promises of God. They felt in their own hearts that things were not right and they saw things were broken. The people of God were drifting off into idolatry, false teaching was on the rise, wolves in sheep’s clothing wandered in their midst without resistance, and many were being led astray. The faithful remnant felt powerless and they longed for the promised salvation of God. They longed for a deliverer, and so they prayed for the arrival of God himself, “Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down.”
We can relate all too well, can’t we? We watch from a distance as the night sky in Ferguson Missouri is glowing from the flames. Prejudice and hatred pull people apart turning them against each other. We see desperate people pressed to the point that they view the only way forward as a way of violence. We turn on the news and hear about child abuse cases in our schools and neglect in our homes. We know intimately of fear and distrust and confusion. And false teaching is always threatening the people of God. Wolves in sheep’s clothing lurk and thrive within the walls of congregation across our country. The faith handed down from our fathers is muddled and confused, ancient traditions are ridiculed and declared unfaithful, while old heresies are rebranded and embraced as innovative. In the midst of it all the people of God are being robbed of their assurance and confidence. Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down!
The hope was that God would smash the enemies of his children, that the nations would tremble at his presence. And in Mark 11:1-10 we read about his great arrival. Here he comes, God arrives in the holy city. He is greeted with shouts of “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!” And they spread out their cloaks on the ground before him. They wave palm branches and celebrate his arrival. But something immediately seems to be amiss; he doesn’t come riding a battle horse ready to free his people from Roman oppression. He doesn’t come leading an army with all the machines of war in tow. No, he comes riding on a donkey. He comes accompanied by a small group of fishermen and tax collectors. If this was God’s great arrival seems a little anticlimactic. It doesn’t meet any of the expectations of the people.
In fact, I often get the impression that the crowd that gathered that Palm Sunday wasn’t exactly all in, to this welcoming of Christ. Sure they celebrated his arrival, but they soon turned on him. Their shouts of “Hosanna” quickly fell silent and within the week they instead begin to shout “Crucify him!” God was supposed to smash the great enemy. What good was this humble man riding on a donkey? This doesn’t seem like it is going to help. Even his closest friends doubt this. Remember how Peter responded when Jesus told him that he would go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the chief priests and scribes? Then He would be killed, and on the third day rise? Peter rebukes Jesus and says no way; this isn’t going to happen to you. What about a world that is falling apart, what about injustice, what about fear and distrust? How is the death of this lowly man going to address any of this? At what point would they again raise their eyes towards heaven and cry out, “Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down?”
But this is His coming; this is the arrival of our God. There is no other, nowhere else for us to look. God has heard the cries of his children and he came to destroy our enemy. The enemy, though, doesn’t just lurk out there; it isn’t just a corrupt government or a broken judicial system. The enemy isn’t found primarily in horrifying news stories or even the broken relationships of our lives. No, the enemy lurks within us, bound up in our own hearts and fused into our nature. This is an enemy that is not banished by sword or army or force. This enemy can be disguised as pride or anger, it can look like comfort one moment and despair the next. The enemy is sin itself and God has come down to defeat it.
He needs no sword, no army, no majestic warhorse to fight this battle. This great enemy would meet its doom in the body of our Lord, himself. He who knew no sin actually becomes our sin to set us free from it. God rends the heavens and comes down. God arrives to take up our brokenness to embrace our sinfulness. And he takes ahold of it all. He repents of it all. He mocks death daring it to execute the justice we deserve on him. God himself became our sacrifice, God himself saves us all, God himself provides a way out of the prison, and he does so by dying. The enemy is robbed of his power and control when our Lord dies bearing your sin, which means your enemy does not define you anymore.