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How Can You Tell It’s God? (Lenten Meditation)

How Can You Tell It's God?
Dr. Rev. Warner Bailey
April 1, 2020

Ezekiel 28:1-19  Philippians 2:1-11   

The Bible is very clear-eyed when it comes to God’s dealing with anyone who claims god-like powers—be they Hollywood producers, CEOs, prime ministers, presidents, kings and princes. The prophet Ezekiel sings a song about the rise and fall of the king of Tyre.  Tyre was a Phoenician city-state founded on an island off the coast of what is now Lebanon.  Much like the present-day island-nation of Singapore, Tyre was an impregnable nation.  It became rich and powerful because Tyre stood astride the shipping lanes in the eastern Mediterranean seacoast.  If you wanted to go anywhere by boat, say from Antioch in the north to Haifa in the south, you had to do business with Tyre. This is what Ezekiel sang: [Read Ezekiel 28:1-19] 

This prince, for all his pomp, comes across as a very tragic figure in Ezekiel’s song.  Initially, he started off in the best place possible.  He had all the markings of a wonderful man.  He radiated splendor and charisma.  His every step was bathed in a glow of light and fire. 

He was shrewd.  There is nothing wrong with being shrewd.  He could see the next big thing coming in trade, and he had built a terrific marketing organization to exploit the advantage before anyone else.  He and his nation became wealthy beyond their wildest dreams. 

And it is fair to say that God was pleased from the start with this king of Tyre.  You’ll not find in God’s Word any better commendation of a ruler than what is said about this businessman-prince.  He had made the island like the Garden of Eden.  This king was God’s earthly representative.  Yes, this businessman-king, this trader-prince used all the gifts of wisdom God gave him to make his island-nation of Tyre into the mountain of God. 

The religious leaders of Tyre were quick to grab onto the idea that this king is an especially divinely gifted man.  I can imagine that they said flowery praises like: “no weapon forged against you will prevail, and you will refute every tongue that accuses you.” (Isaiah 54:17), or “the Spirit of God is released into your life, and you have made of Tyre the greatest nation”, or “every demonic altar erected against you will be torn down”, and “you will rise high and be seated in the heavenly places.”  Wouldn’t you say that these religious leaders had good reason to say this?  After all, look at the prosperity the king is responsible for.  Prosperity is the  sure sign of holiness, isn’t it?  That’s what these leaders would tell you with a straight face.

And soon enough, the king of Tyre began to say it about himself.  I am a god.  I dwell in the place where god dwells.  My mind is as good as god’s mind.  Whatever comes into my head is a divine thought. I am wise above all my wizards.  Therefore I am accountable to no one.  I am a law unto myself.  I make the law, and I unmake the law with unbridled executive power.   

Ezekiel tells us all this in a sad, sad voice.  You, who have all these fawning courtiers and religious yes-men, you who claim the freedom to mingle personal and public interests at will, you who attack the mountain of God in service to your unbridled instinct—you are such a fool to think of yourself this way.  You allowed your greatest assent become the power that will kill you.  Your wisdom becomes the weapon of your destruction.  Your wealth leads you to violence, your blameless life tricks you into iniquity, your beauty leads to pride of heart, your splendor makes you wallow in corruption, and your temples have become sanctuaries that smell rotten and make people sick.

So this king who once walked among the stars is cast down into the darkest pit, in a place so far from earth that he will no longer be a menace to earth’s peace and beauty.  Ezekiel’s imagination explodes with descriptions of the hell he makes for himself.  The king of Tyre is thoroughly gutted and humiliated.  The king of Tyre internally implodes and becomes dark matter.  The king of Tyre becomes a traitor to his own nation.  Such a sad, sad song.

If you think this sad, sad song is only about certain persons and personalities, you’ve gotten it wrong.  When you look over history, how many revolutionary movements begin in the heavenly heights of the most shining ideals only to plummet into the vilest of regimes!  This is like the coronavirus.  It makes no difference if you are left or right on the political spectrum, live in the southern or northern hemisphere, or how old or young you are.  Every revolutionary mass mobilization rules by majoritarian domination. 

Religious leaders are found to give it sanctification, and that sanctification gives it cover for its culture of rage, bitter and relentless polarization, a demand for ideological purity, and incessant hatred for your foes.  The pandering by adoring religious acolytes gives its charismatic headman the certainty of omniscience.  And when the movement implodes, when it is gutted, as God’s Word tells us it will be, the church that adores it goes down to destruction with it.   

There was another man who walked this earth and said he was the Son of God.  And like the king of Tyre, there was a song sung about him, too.  [Read Philippians 2:1-11]   

Compare, if you will, the subjects of these two songs are—Jesus and the King of Tyre.  Both claim to be in the form of God.  But one thinks equality with God means he can snatch at will. He is a traitor to his nation, and he blasphemes God.   He is cast into the abyss. 

The other thinks equality with God means he cannot snatch at a thing.  And similarly to the King of Tyre, he, too, is accused of sedition and blasphemy.  Like the King of Tyre, he, too, suffers death of the vilest kind.   However, he is exalted to the heavens above every nation as Lord.

As you read through the stories of Jesus’ life, how many times does he equate his divinity with giving, self-emptying but not snatching.   

  • In his temptation by Satan, he is offered all the kingdoms of this world if he would come over to the dark side.  He flat out refuses, and that refusal becomes the germ for the way he prays, “thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever.” 
  • He calls himself the man from heaven come down to bring God’s rule, but he interprets that royal power as the power to forgive sins and bring people who were crippled back to wholeness. 
  • He commands the wind and the waves in order to bring peace and confidence to those who are in the grip of the storm. 
  • He calls himself the shepherd of the flock—that’s a favorite way kings called themselves while they blatantly fleeced their flocks—but this shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.
  • He tells his followers, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those in authority over them [call themselves] benefactors.  But not so with you; rather the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves.”  This servant-leader leads by being reasonable, welcoming conversation, showing compassion, tolerance, intellectual humility and optimism.
  • He lets the crowd shout, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” but he rides in triumph on a young ass. 
  • He takes bread, blesses it, and gives it away.  This is my body broken for you.  You can tell he is Son of God because he is always self-emptying.

Finally, this man who claims to be God gives himself away unto death on a cross.  In the eyes of the Romans who prosecuted him, he dies the death of someone convicted as a traitor to the Roman Empire; in the eyes of religious leaders who accused him, he dies the death of someone who had blasphemed God. 

Look, my friends!  May I point out to you that Jesus dies under similar circumstances to the king of Tyre.  And like the king of Tyre, Jesus is thrown down into the abyss, ranked alongside all who have perished and brought nations and church to ruin through their blasphemy and overreaching.  Jesus empties himself into Hell.  But this is so like God.  You see, when Jesus goes into the abyss, God is still searching to be present to the ones most damned to Hell by claiming to be god.  Face to face with the suffering Jesus, they will see who God really is.  In this most hideous place of loneliness, their ears will hear from the very one the Father abandoned on the cross that the Father has never stopped loving them and wants in his abandoned Son to be with them in their misery.

What wondrous love is this!  And what determination!  Good Friday demonstrates that God goes for broke to be in solidarity with all that is locked away.  Easter demonstrates that God gets what God wants.  Jesus gathers up all of Hell and leads out of Hell every tongue to confess; Jesus gathers them all up and leads out of Hell every knee to bow—before this one whose Lordship is rooted in love that knows no ending.  If the sovereignty of God means anything, it means that God will get what God wants to the glory of God. God’s determination to have God’s way prevail is finally for the sake of those who were broken by the wheel of their own hubris.

This is the “love so redeeming, so divine” that “demands my soul, life, my all.” When we celebrate this wondrous love, we mark ourselves as the church of the Lord who does not snatch. In this time of pandemic, God is calling the church of the Lord who does not snatch to lead a divided nation to solidarity in solitude.  God is calling the church of the Lord who does not snatch to proclaim that even though your career plans are wrecked, God has put you on earth to help make it flourish and recover its health and wholeness, and that’s the most important thing about your life.  God is calling the church of the Lord who does not snatch to say boldly in the midst of this morally inarticulate culture what are the fundamental moral questions of this moment and to provide answers that are both honest and hopeful.