Monday, 1 February 2016

Jesus - Before, now and then (part 1)

The story of the Jesus does not begin at the start of the New Testament.  It does not even begin with the start of the Old Testament.  In fact the story of God the Son does not have a beginning because he has always existed.  For eternity he has lived in relationship with the Father and the Holy Spirit.
Indeed, before the universe was brought into being, a decision was made—Peter writes that [the Son] was chosen before the creation of the world (to be a redeeming sacrifice), but revealed in these last times for your sake (1 Peter 1:18-20).  Humankind did not take God by surprise when we rebelled against him.  God created humankind knowing that we would rebel and that he would display his glory in judging evil, rescuing a people and restoring creation.
This morning we are going to look at God the Son prior to the New Testament.  We are going to briefly think about what he was doing before he was born as a humanbeing in Bethlehem.  We are also going to study the ways in which the Old Testament prepared for the coming of Christ.  It is important that we realise that the Old Testament is essentially a book about him.
His role in creation
The Bible opens saying that in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1:1).  John writes in his gospel that Jesus was the agent of this creation—through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made (John 1:3, see also Colossians 1:1516 and Hebrews 1:23).  We should marvel at the fact that the one who created the vastness of this universe was willing to be pinned to a cross by sinful people to rescue rebels like ourselves.
When we read of God in the Old Testament we should remember that we are reading about the triune God of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  As a member of the Godhead Jesus is constantly at work in the Old Testament period!  
There are also a number of occasions when the Son seems to appear in person in the pages of the Old Testament.  These can be referred to as Christophonies.  
For example in Genesis 18 Abraham receives three mysterious visitors, he treats them with even more reverence than would have been expected by near eastern hospitality, and it seems that God the Son was among these three.  Was he the forth figure, that looks like the son of the gods, that was seen with Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the fiery furnace (Dan. 3:2425)?  Other examples of Christophonies may include the occasional appearance of one whom is referred to as ‘the angel [messenger] of the Lord’ who sometimes is referred to as God.
In a small group, a number of years ago, we studied the book of Judges.  There is much that is disturbing in that book—things are not as they should be.  Yet in his mercy God repeatedly responds to the cry of his people and sends a rescuer, or judge.  Although these judges are flawed people their appearance nevertheless anticipates the sending of one who will rescue people from their real problem, the problem of sin.  This is what we mean when we speak of a type.
A type is a person, an institution or an event that looks forward to the saving work of Christ.  The Old Testament is full of such types.
So when we read of the Old Testament priesthood, that represents the people before God, our minds should be drawn to Jesus who is our great High Priest who represents us perfectly before the Father.  When we read of kings like David our minds should be drawn to Jesus who is the King of Kings.  When we read of the sacrifices our minds should be brought forward to Jesus who is the sinless Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  When we read of the tabernacle or temple, where God’s presence was with his people, our minds are drawn to Jesus who came and dwelt among us.  The prophets anticipate Jesus being our ultimate prophet and even references to shepherds prepare us for the one who is our good shepherd.
Remembering that Jesus is the key to the Old Testament affects how we read it.  Take the story of David and Goliath.  It’s a favourite for Sunday schools, but how do we explain it? Maybe we have said something like, ‘we are like David, and Goliath is like the difficulties we face—such as a temptation that we struggle with.  David had five pebbles like we have Bible study, prayer, faith, fellowship and service.  With these we can defeat the foe!’  However remembering that David was a type for Jesus we can do better than that.
The story tells us that David was the ‘LORD’s anointed’ (the word ‘messiah’ is derived from the Hebrew for ‘anointed one.’, and the Greek for ‘messiah’ is ‘Christ’).  So David and Goliath is a picture of a messiahtype figure delivering God’s people. God’s people were helpless and sacred.  They were unable to defeat the foe, but the LORD’s anointed stood in their place and won the day.  Does that sound familiar?  It should!  On the cross Jesus our Messiah/Christ has defeated our enemies of sin, death and Satan so that we might share in the fruits of his victory.
As Bible teacher David Jackman explains, ‘... David prefigures Jesus in the victory that he wins by his own dependence upon God and through the power of God alone, through which the people of God are liberated from the enemies of God.’
So now where are we in the story?  Although David does give us a good example to follow, in his dependence on God, this is not where we begin.  We begin by identifying ourselves as the helpless Israelite army watching from the side-lines.  Then we are drawn to praise our conqueror and delight to share in his triumph.
In Genesis the rebellion of Adam and Eve is followed by a curse.  As God spells out the consequences that are to follow humanities sin he tells the serpent of one who will crush his head (3:15).  We could say that the rest of the Old Testament anticipates that coming of this serpentcrusher.  Of course the serpent was Satan and Jesus is the one who defeats him (Rom. 16:20).
The Old Testament contains many other prophecies that anticipate the coming Christ.  Isaiah 53 clearly speaks of a ‘suffering servant’ who will be rejected and killed for the sins of God’s people.  Some of the prophecies are very specific—for example Isaiah prophesied that a virgin would give birth to a son and call him Immanuel (7:14); in Micah we read that the promised ruler would be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2); and King David writes a psalm (Ps.22) that seems to describe crucifixion, before crucifixion had even been invented as a punishment, and includes how lots were cast for the victims clothing (Ps. 22:18).
Finally there are titles that are used in the Old Testament that are taken on by Jesus. Jesus’ favourite title for himself was ‘son of man’—this is found in Daniel 7 and refers to mighty ruler whose kingdom will be never destroyed.  
Other titles found in the Old Testament that are used of Jesus in the New Testament include light (Ps. 27:1 and John 1:9), rock (Ps. 18:2 and 1 Peter 2:68), First and Last (Is. 41:4 and Rev. 1:17) and the Lord of Glory (Is. 42:8 and 1 Cor. 2:8).  It is interesting to note how many of the titles used of God in the Old Testament are used of Jesus in the New. This is evidence of Jesus and the early church’s belief that he was God.
Near the end of Luke’s Gospel the risen Jesus appears to two men as they walk on the road to Emmaus (24:13).  They don’t recognise him and talk to him about the things that happened in Jerusalem in the days just passed.  Then Jesus explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures [our Old Testament] concerning himself (24:27).  Later they asked each other “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” (24:32)
Jesus’ opening of the Old Testament to show how it pointed to him stirred those disciples deeply. Similarly as we begin to see Jesus foretold in the Old Testament we should be renewed in our awe of him—that the Jesus we know is the eternal Lord of creation and that the one who calls us his friends is the centre piece of the whole Bible.

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