October 13, 2011

Kinsman Redeemer

Posted in Advent, Atonement, Incarnation, Redeemer, Son of God, Son of Man at 9:48 pm by Teresa Roberts Johnson

It seems but little skill to speak
Of saving the oppressed and weak,
So I must not equivocate:
My guilt is deep; my sin is great.
A wastrel, I had waxen poor
And sold myself to bondage sore,
Unable to redeem my soul
Or cleanse my garments black as coal.

But You, Lord Christ, my nearest kin,
Were not bowed down by weight of sin.
In love You donned mortality
And sought me out to plead for me.
Your blood redeemed my wretched life;
You made me Your beloved wife.
And breaking every burden’s yoke,
You burned the warrior’s shoe and cloak.

Your kinsman John was sent by God
The mournful martyr’s path to plod.
He needed not remove the shoe
Of his Redeemer, for in You
All that his father Adam sold
Has been regained, with wealth untold.
The prodigal, now shod with peace,
Sings hymns of praise that never cease.

So beautiful on mountains wild
Are feet that bring the Gospel mild!
Now we cross Jordan, sandals dry,
And to Your presence we draw nigh.
Although our shoes shall not wear down,
We’ll cast them off on holy ground
When, all work finished, in repose
Your feet shall rest on all Your foes.

Copyright © 2011 by Teresa Roberts Johnson (All rights reserved)

The method I used in writing this poem is one of my favorite. In studying about the kinsman redeemer description in the Law, I became fascinated by the concept of the shoe being removed if the kinsman was unwilling to accept his responsibility. Our Lord, of course, endured the cross to redeem us, and He did so “for the joy that was set before Him” (Hebrews 12:2). But in this study I began to remember that lots of Scriptures mention shoes and/or sandals, so I decided to pull them together into my poetry net.

The first line of the poem may sound familiar to fans of pre-Raphaelite poetry, as it conjures a scene from “The Defence of Guenevere” by William Morris. The half-repentant attitude of Guenevere seemed appropriate as a beginning stance, for even in our best effort to sincerely confess, there is still so much sin in us that we must be brought around slowly to a full understanding of our sinfulness. It is only in seeing how much our Redeemer suffered on our behalf that we begin to recognize the tragedy of sin, and the spiritual poverty, bondage, and uncleanness that it imposes upon us.

The second verse turns our focus from our poverty to His perfection, and then to His sacrificial love. The Son of God became our kin by taking on mortal flesh as the Son of Man, “yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15), and the Church is called the Bride of Christ. The images of loosing burdens and breaking yokes are from Isaiah 58:6 and Isaiah 9:4, which show that our Redeemer sets us free from bondage to sin. The image of ending the battle and burning the shoes and bloody garments of warriors is also found in Isaiah 9, and is the preamble to the well-known promise of the Messiah, the Prince of Peace:

For every warrior’s sandal from the noisy battle,
And garments rolled in blood,
Will be used for burning and fuel of fire.
For unto us a Child is born,
Unto us a Son is given;
And the government will be upon His shoulder.
And His name will be called
Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.  (Isaiah 9:5-6)

The next verse of the poem may seem to be a bit of a stretch, but the removal of the shoe from an unwilling kinsman seemed somehow related to the enigmatic statement of John Baptist about being unworthy to unloose Jesus’ sandals. The concept I was trying to convey was that even if our Lord had decided not to redeem us, He had every reason to refuse us, and we would have no right to fault Him or to shame Him as would have been done to a delinquent kinsman redeemer (Deuteronomy 25:10). Yet as John Baptist well knew, Jesus would not leave us to the desolation of sin. Like the father of the prodigal, Jesus welcomes us home and gives us robes of righteousness and sandals of peace (Luke 15:22; Ephesians 6:15).

The final verse begins with a reference to Joshua 3 and 4, in which the children of Israel crossed the Jordan dry-shod, and it then refers to Isaiah 52:7, where the feet of the Gospel preacher are declared beautiful. The next lines combine the message of Deuteronomy 29:5, which says that the shoes of the children of Israel did not wear out during their forty-year trek, and the message of Exodus 3:5, which says that Moses was commanded to remove his shoes at the burning bush because he was standing on holy ground. That concept seems contradictory, when you think about it. Under normal circumstances, shoes protect us from the dust of the earth, the dust which the serpent was cursed to eat and to crawl in. Yet even the dust of the earth is made holy by the presence of God, and when it is, we are free to remove our shoes, indeed, we must remove our shoes, to indicate our submission to God and to show that we rest in His goodness. (There is another poem in the contrast between the burning bush and the Passover feast, when the Israelites ate with their coats and shoes on.)

The final line is the promise that the Father made to the Son by saying, “Sit at My right hand, Till I make Your enemies Your footstool” (Psalm 110:1; Matthew 22:44; Mark 12:36; Luke 20:43; Hebrews 1:13; Hebrews 10:13). His work is finished; ours is not quite finished yet, but when all work is over, as well as all opportunities to repent, He will rest His feet on His enemies.

But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God, from that time waiting till His enemies are made His footstool. For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified. (Hebrews 10:12-14)

As full as this poem is of the imagery of shoes and sandals and feet, it still does not include every concept in that line of thought, so look for more “shoe poetry” in the future. Chasing that concept through the Scripture has been a fascinating study.

The original version of this poem is dated December 31, 2002, and I revised it July 22, 2007 (seminary years!), and again as I posted it. The economy of poetry demands that every word carry its weight, so my continual tinkering is an attempt to pile the most ideas into the fewest words. The original version being written in 2002 means that I was coming out of a very difficult period of time. At some point during trials, we must begin to face the fact that at least some of our trouble may be self-inflicted. That is the message of the entire first verse; sloughing off any excuses and accepting accountability for my own sin. But doing that ultimately makes grace all the sweeter, doesn’t it?

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