Cyrus, God’s Anointed

Our first Advent reading this year is from Isaiah 45:1-7.

This is a powerful declaration of one of the primary themes of Christmas: God’s passionate desire to be known by us and to know us.  As you read this, take note of all the ways God is making Himself known to His people.  Remember that God’s ultimate act to know and be known is the incarnation: His literal coming to earth, in the flesh, as a person like us, named Jesus.

There’s a detail in the first verse of chapter 45 of Isaiah’s prophesy that you might just overlook.  You’ll notice that Cyrus is referred to as God’s “anointed,” as one through whom God will make Himself known.

Here’s what’s wild about that: Cyrus is the Persian king!  Cyrus is the dude who is conquering Israel.  He’s the “bad guy,” but God is going to use even him to get His message across, even though Cyrus does not acknowledge God (v. 4 and 5).

What do you do with that?

You might re-evaluate the stuff in your life that feels like it’s bad.

The wonderful, messy, mysterious truth is this: God can reveal Himself to you even through that stuff. 

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Succeed like Moses

One day, after Moses had grown up, he went out to where his own people were and watched them at their hard labor. He saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his own people.  Looking this way and that and seeing no one, he killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand.  – Exodus 2:11-12

 

Maybe Moses was just acting impulsively.  I don’t know of any author who presents his act of murder as a good thing or as the right way to respond.

It was clearly an immature response.

But what challenges me about this scene in Moses’ life is that he sees injustice and he doesn’t just look the other way.

Nobody would have noticed if he had looked the other way.

All the Egyptians were benefitting from the slave class.  Nobody’s going to get involved when a soldier gets a bit heavy-handed.

And Moses, if he gets involved, risks everything.

Moses has two choices:
He can put himself first, prioritize the sovereign self, protect his personal comfort and his social advantages, by just looking away.

Just pretend you don’t see anything wrong, Moses, and keep walking.

Or he can respond to injustice and risk losing it all.

He chooses “option b.”

And, in one sense, that’s exactly what happens to Moses: he loses everything.
There are a lot of details, but the truth is, once Moses crosses the line and acts for justice for the oppressed, life is never, ever the same.  From that moment on his life is marked by exile from power (during most of adult life), conflict with power (when he returns to Egypt to free the Hebrews), and the relentless pressures of leading the freed slaves during their 40 years of wandering in the wilderness.  And, in the end, Moses doesn’t even get to enter the Promised Land.

The woman writing our kids curriculum for this teaching asked me, “How real can I get with the kids?”

I said, “What do you mean, ‘how real’?”

She said, “Life gets really hard for Moses, and it stays really hard for him.”

It’s an important observation.  And it’s important to remind ourselves of this:  If you push back against the trends of the dominant culture, it will cost you.

It has cost everyone who has ever followed God.

The disciples of Jesus don’t retire and move to Mediterranean resorts.

They are killed by their own government.  There is real adversity from the outside.

And, bucking the trends of a self-centered culture ultimately means we need to address the selfishness in ourselves, the adversity from the inside, and that’s a decision to embark on a long and difficult journey.

It’s a journey that ends with a definition of success that looks very different than most definitions of success.

It’s success as holiness.

Success as perseverance.

Success as not giving into hate.

Success as becoming like Jesus through and through.