Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Jesus, The Promised One

[This entry follows a sermon called "The Gospel Concerning Jesus Christ our Lord".  Click on the title to listen to the audio.]

The Bible is a book about Jesus.  It is all meant either to point us to the person and work of Jesus Christ or to explain how we should live in light of the person and work of Jesus Christ.  Yet, whether it leads us to Him or follows on from Him, the Bible is a book about Jesus.  In Romans 1, Paul says that the gospel of God was "promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord" (v. 2-4).  The gospel was a promise...a promise concerning His Son...a promise concerning Jesus Christ our Lord.  This promise came beforehand...meaning in the Old Testament Scriptures.  So, even from the pages of the "Old" Testament, we find that the Bible is a book about Jesus.

This isn't the only place where we find Paul speaking in this way.  Specifically, the words of 2 Timothy 3:14-15 come to mind.  Paul writes, "But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus."  Though some of the New Testament writings would have been complete by this time, the primary writings Paul speaks of here are the Old Testament Scriptures.  So, what Paul is saying is that Timothy should continue in the truths he learned from the Scriptures (the Old Testament, that is) because it is in those writings that wisdom for salvation in Christ Jesus is found.

Someone might immediately object, "What?  Salvation in Christ Jesus?  I thought the Old Testament was mainly a history of what happened before Jesus with some prophecies about Jesus sprinkled in."  Well, Paul would stop us there.  Of course, the Old Testament contains history...it contains an accurate history.  However, the purpose of the Old Testament isn't just to set the stage for Jesus, though it does do that.  Paul says that the purpose of the Old Testament is to give us wisdom for salvation through Christ Jesus.  It does this, for example, by showing us the glory of our holy God, the sinfulness of fallen man, and the need for an atonement that supersedes the animals of the sacrificial system.

Thinking about my recent studies in Isaiah, this idea that Jesus was promised beforehand is clearly demonstrated.  Let's just take a brief survey.  In Isaiah 1, sin has pervaded every part of the nation.  The leaders, the religious practices, and the personal lives of the people are all corrupted by sin.  God punishes this sin through the actions of other nations, such that sin leaves the people looking like a beaten, bloodied victim (1:5-6).  Yet, there is hope.  If the people will repent, forgiveness will be granted to them (1:18-19).  How can God freely give forgiveness like this?  Doesn't it bother you just a little that such rebellion can be forgiven?  It bothered the apostle Paul.  His explanation of God's forgiveness to Old Testament men and women was that He punished their sin in the Lord Jesus Christ on the cross (Rom. 3:21-26).  So, in the first chapter of Isaiah, we see the presence of sin, the assurance of God's punishment, and the the extension of God's forgiveness.  These point us to Jesus, whose death justifies God in the forgiveness of these rebellious men and women.

The same promise can be seen in Isaiah 2-4, as man's sin is revealed in his pride in and dependence on power, wealth, and political leaders.  Because of this, "the house of Jacob" is rejected (2:6).  Yet, God promises that "the Lord of hosts has a day against all that is proud and lofty, against all that is lifted up - and it shall be brought low" (2:12).  Yet again, the sin of man and the wrath of God are not the only things present.  God promises that for those who have "been recorded for life...the Lord shall have washed away [their] filth...and cleansed [their] bloodstains" (4:3-4).  How will God accomplish this?  He says in 4:2 that "the branch of the Lord...[who is]...beautiful and glorious" will accomplish this.  The 'branch' is a familiar Old Testament picture for the coming Messiah...Jesus Christ (Is. 11; Jer. 23).  Here it is again...sin, judgment, and redemption.  This time, the way of redemption is more specifically spoken of.

I hope you are beginning to see a pattern.  Now, these are fairly straightforward passages when it comes to the promise of Jesus.  There are times when things are not so simple.  However, whether positively pointing to redemption or negatively pointing to the certainty of destruction, the Scripture keeps pointing us to Jesus.  Whether it is the holiness of God which we will surely face or the sinfulness of our own hearts growing clearer in the mirror of Scripture, the Scripture points us to Jesus.  Sometimes it's the failure of a human king that reminds us of the coming King.  Other times, it is the failures of even great men which remind us that the best of men are men at best.  Whatever the angle, whatever the story, whatever the proverb, whatever the prophecy...the Bible is a book about Jesus.

William Cowper lived in the 18th century and authored many poems that became hymns.  We know his words better than we know him.  He wrote, "God moves in a mysterious way; His wonders to perform; He plants His footsteps in the sea; And rides upon the storm."  He also wrote, "There is a fountain filled with blood; Drawn from Emmanuel's veins; And sinners plunged beneath that flood; Lose all their guilty stains."  One of the poems that Cowper wrote speaks to the biblical truth that the Old Testament promises Jesus.  I will leave you with the words of his poem, "Old Testament Gospel."

Israel in ancient days
Not only had a view
Of Sinai in a blaze,
But learn'd the Gospel too;
The types and figures were a glass,
In which they saw a Saviour's face.

The paschal sacrifice
And blood-besprinkled door,
Seen with enlighten'd eyes,
And once applied with power,
Would teach the need of other blood,
To reconcile an angry God.

The Lamb, the Dove, set forth
His perfect innocence,
Whose blood of matchless worth
Should be the soul's defence;
For he who can for sin atone,
Must have no failings of His own.

The scape-goat on his head
The people's trespass bore,
And to the desert led,
Was to be seen no more:
In him our surety seem'd to say,
"Behold, I bear your sins away."

Dipt in his fellow's blood,
The living bird went free;
The type, well understood,
Express'd the sinner's plea;
Described a guilty soul enlarged,
And by a Saviour's death discharged.

Jesus, I love to trace,
Throughout the sacred page,
The footsteps of Thy grace,
The same in every age!
Oh, grant that I may faithful be
To clearer light vouchsafed to me!