by Barry Newton
A zipper provides a transition from one piece of cloth to the next. But not all transitions are so neat and clinical. At Manaus, Brazil, two rivers converge creating a choppy seam of whirlpools and conflict lasting for at least fifty miles. Political elections and the changing of CEO’s, at times, have created angst, if not rancor.
Scripture also tells a story of transition, a story embraced and rejected. How often have we considered this story from the original insiders viewpoint?
Over a thousand years earlier, the awesome glory of God had descended on Mount Sinai. The smell and smoke of sacrifice had filled the air. Covenant blood had been sprinkled. God had claimed the people of Israel as being his treasured possession.
Thus imagine the state of mind embodying the God-fearing Jews during the days of Pontius Pilate. Over a thousand years earlier, God had delivered them from slavery and subsequently claimed them as his own people. They had grown up with the accurate knowledge, “We belong to God.”
It had not been that many years since John the baptizer had led a “back to God” movement reinvigorating some. Their impact would be among the throngs at Passover again. News of another rabbi, who even worked wonders, had appeared resulting in gaining a group of followers.
As Passover came and passed, it would prove to be exhilarating as usual. Yet, strange events had transpired. This new rabbi called Jesus, who had been popular with some, had been executed.
Then nearly two months later at Pentecost, a new message began to ring out.
Now forgiveness and inclusion in God’s people required responding to Jesus as risen Messiah. The Messiah’s death had provided a new covenant relationship with God. With his resurrection, he had begun reigning.
This proclamation placed them on the outside of God’s activity. Whether they had been baptized by John or not, they were to “repent and be baptized everyone of you in the name of Jesus Christ.” (Acts 2:38)
Having been confronted with the gospel and forced to choose for or against Jesus, no longer would the outward sign of their relationship with God, circumcision, reveal their inner reality. No longer was it sufficient for them to merely serve and worship God as a child of that ancient covenant. No longer would personally offered sacrifices and the Day of Atonement suffice for them.
For insiders to suddenly be on the outside looking in creates angst. For some it was too much to bear. Hearts grew hard as they resisted the message.
For others, the preponderance of the evidence became compelling. Those who accepted the message were baptized. And the number of hearts Christ circumcised and sprinkled with new covenant blood grew. Outsiders were being included in what God was doing through Christ.
Echoing from that time of first century transition we notice the ragged seam: “By calling this covenant ‘new’ he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and aging will soon disappear.” (Hebrews 8:13)
Transitions from old to new are rough. In this particular process, some natural branches were broken off. By grace, some foreign branches have been grafted in.
Now that the ripple of transition has faded away, what remains is praise from God’s people. “Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!” (Romans 11:33)
by Barry Newton