In reading commentary about the passages where Jesus states that no prophet dies outside Jerusalem, and that the religious leaders of his day are of the same ilk as those who killed the prophets in previous days, it struck me how dire is the problem of sin. Israel had every advantage, as they were called of God, were formed by his call, and by his saving actions on their behalf. Israel was the recipient of God’s covenant, wherein they received his instruction in righteousness, and they were the ones from whom the prophets arose, and the ones to whom the prophets were sent. They received prophetic words to remind them of God’s goodness, words about his saving actions, unlimited mercy, and the hope they have in God’s covenant love, and yet for all this, Israel strayed. They did not really know their own God. The problem this reveals is that if Israel with all its advantages did not really know the Lord, how much more so all the Gentile nations who had no such advantage. As Paul would say, if those who are near did not understand, how much more so those who are far away.
The thing about sin is that it is a reality present in all of creation, Jew and Gentile alike, and it is a reality that perverts every good thing, and actually takes goodness and works it against God. So, though the Jews had every advantage, their advantage in many ways actually worked against them because of the reality of sin, for no law, no teaching in righteousness, no prophetic utterance could ever get at the root of sin. Thus, through Jesus’ death in Jerusalem, God expressed a great judgment against all religious hopes born in this world. Through Jesus’ death God said “No!” to the very religion he created, and all the more so those religions created without the benefit of his direct action. But, and this is a blessed but, through the death of Jesus God also gave a resounding “Yes!” for through Jesus’ death God put an end to sin by condemning it in the body of Jesus. Moreover, by bodily resurrecting Jesus from the dead, God offers life beyond the reach of sin. In this light, as Paul would also say, there is an advantage to being a Jew, for theirs is the heritage that was designed by God to ultimately bear witness to the work that God would do to renew creation and redeem humankind. As Jesus said to the religious leaders of his day, “You search the Scriptures for in them you think you find eternal life, but they are those which testify to me.” This is Israel’s true heritage, and this is our heritage as well when we come to faith in him who always was the true heart of Israel.