Here we are, absorbing the idea that sometimes God chooses to divide people and force a choice—follow God or walk away. Some will walk away. I’m not suggesting that we are called to divide, but we need to understand why twice in the Bible it was necessary. In the case of Isaiah, his prophetic words set the stage for exile, which in turn resulted in the healing and redemption of God’s people.
Delivering a Vague Message
Let’s turn our attention to Mark 4 where Jesus teaches the parable of the sower. This simple lesson in agriculture illustrates what happens to seeds when a farmer sows them—some grow, some don’t. The crowd of people crammed along the shoreline to listen to Jesus likely sensed that he was using a metaphor, though Jesus chose to leave the meaning unclear. Jesus later explained to the disciples that his message was purposefully ambiguous. “They may indeed see but not perceive, and may indeed hear but not understand, lest they should turn and be forgiven.” (Mark 4:10-12)
Tearing Down the Middleman
Why would Jesus be so exclusive and leave people so confused? Jesus did this for the same reason that Isaiah preached decisively and with the mandate for action. While the initial result was the rejection of God, the bigger goal was to bring God’s judgment to fruition.
Jesus’ ministry sought first to bring judgment to the temple system, not because the system was flawed but because human sin made it unsustainable. The temple system, exposed to sin and legalism, destroyed the very thing it was meant to protect—the relationship between God and his people. The people made it their middleman, relying on the temple system to cover their sin and facilitate their relationship with God, so it had to go; Jesus’ death rendered it obsolete.
Forcing the Issue
Jesus’ second objective was to bring judgment upon the sin of human beings; his obscure parables hardened hearts and provoked hearers to stop wavering and make a choice. Their rejection would bring about the fulfillment of God’s judgment and it would be poured out, not on the people, but on himself. Jesus would take on all the wandering, rebellion, and foolishness that prevented people from knowing God; he made it possible for people everywhere, not just those living among the temple, to live in relationship with their Creator.
When I consider all this, my response is worship. God set up the temple system to engage in relationship with us and then when we ruined it, he replaced it with the infinitely more glorious work of his son.