By Eli Lietzau
We forget about Jesus. I know that a good old Christian, let alone a stodgy old Lutheran, isn’t supposed to say that, but we do forget about Jesus all the time. Let me be clear here, I’m not justifying it. I’m just simply stating the unequivocal truth that we forget about Jesus all the time. We forget about Him in our daily lives, in the way in which we are supposed to love and serve our neighbors. We forget about Him when we dive headlong into sin for the millionth time. We forget about Him when death comes creeping up to our door. And, yes, we even forget about Him when we are reading His Word and do theology.
If all theology isn’t Christology, then we quickly lose the entire purpose of why God has done what He has and how He works in this world of ours for our salvation. We must not forget about justification: that we have been saved by grace, through faith, by the all-atoning sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross. Everything that we have and receive in Scripture must be seen through this lens first. If it is not, then we lose the ultimate treasure. Whatever baubles we may find along the way in regard to history or ethics or morality are nothing more than worthless trinkets.
And so, when we crack open God’s Word and start poring over the never-ending layers that are found within, let us first have Christ and His Cross in our sights. Let us read God’s Word with Jesus, the Word of God, at the center and then everything else will fall into place. When I was at seminary, I had a professor once declare (whether it was he who coined the phrase or he borrowed it from somewhere else doesn’t matter), “Jesus isn’t the golden thread that is woven throughout the entirety of Scripture. Instead, He is the blood that is splattered on each and every page.”
Christ and His Cross are the point of Scripture, the point of theology. Justification comes first; it always does. The history, the morality, the ethics, the culture, all come forth from the page in their proper place and for their proper good only once Jesus has first soaked the page with His atoning and sacrificial blood. And yes, this is even true in the Old Testament, particularly in an often forgotten and misunderstood book like Judges.
The Judges is a book about saviors and salvation. That is literally the job description of the judges laid out in Judges 2:16. Judges were types/shadows of Jesus, saving God’s people from their enemies and pointing forward to the Jesus to come. Throughout this book, Jesus is foreshadowed and promised and sometimes even shows up in His pre-incarnate ways. It’s no coincidence that the book of Judges, chock full of these types and shadows, begins with the death of Joshua, the man who led God’s people into the Promised Land, whose name literally means “YHWH saves,” and is the Hebrew equivalent to the name “Jesus.”
Everything that we see and hear – not only in Judges, but also in the entirety of the Old Testament – is a proclamation of the Christ to come. Each judge points forward to Jesus. Each salvific event is a foreshadowing of the greatest salvific event of all. Everything that we read is a microcosm of God’s proper work of saving His people through His promised Savior. Everything before Christ leads us to Christ. And oftentimes these instances, these institutions that God ordains (like the tabernacle or Levitical sacrifices), even bring Jesus and His Cross back in time to the people of old so that they might be saved, eternally saved, in time and place by the saving work of Jesus.
This way of viewing the Old Testament isn’t new. Jesus Himself did this with His disciples after His resurrection. Remember the disciples on the road to Emmaus? “Beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, [Jesus] interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27). So let us indulge ourselves for a brief moment, letting the Holy Spirit enlighten our understanding of the Scriptures. Let us find Jesus in an obscure passage from the Book of Judges, in a place where we probably have never looked to find Jesus before.
Let’s take a look at Judges 4. And the people did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, once again. Of course they did. When do we not? I almost feel as if each chapter in this book is just an example of a day in the life of Eli Lietzau: constantly falling into sin once again, seeking after other gods, hurting and hating my neighbor, being crushed by the Law, and then being saved in the most unexpected and impossible of ways.
A quick summary shows that the Israelites have been sold into the hands of Jabin the king of Canaan. He has a pretty imposing general of his army, Sisera, who should by all accounts win every battle that he ever enters. But he doesn’t win this one, not once the Lord fights for His people. Sisera’s army is routed and he runs for cover under the tent of an old friend. He thinks that he is safe and sound, that he’ll be hidden from danger. But as he is exhausted and dead asleep, the last thing that ever goes through his head is a spike nailed into the ground by Jael, the wife of his friend.
Now I don’t think that I am stretching this too far, but in Sisera, I think that we can see a little bit of Satan. At the Cross, Satan believed he was safe from his enemy, and more than that, he had thought he had won the battle and the war. Logic would say that at Calvary, Satan thought himself to be the victor as the Lord of life was dying. And so, I have to believe the last thing that went through Satan’s head as the nails were pounded into Jesus’ hands and feet was, “Victory is mine!” But wouldn’t you know it, both in the case of Jael and her tent and Jesus and His Cross, a spike and a hammer bring an unbelievable end to the enemy and an impossible victory to God’s people.
Some may say that reading Jesus and His Cross this deep into a text might be a bridge too far. I don’t think it is. All history is saving history. All of God’s Word is about the Word of God. And maybe we would do better to understand this, and not just in a general sort of way. God is the God who saves, and He only really and truly saves through Jesus. Let us find Jesus in Scripture. Let us find Him everywhere in Scripture, because He is there for you and for me.
Rev. Eli Lietzau is the pastor of Wheat Ridge Evangelical Lutheran Church in Wheat Ridge, CO.