The Promise of his coming

Posted on 27 March 2008

Originally three Old Testament studies, given in the run-up to Christmas 2004. A great reminder of the true meaning of Christmas: the birth of the Lord Jesus, the promised Messiah.

The Promise of his coming

The following three studies explore some of the ways the Old Testament anticipates the coming of Jesus and prepares for him.
1. The promise of a Seed
The Christmas story cannot be fully understood unless it is seen in the light the Old Testament writings. This short series is designed to offer that perspective.
A God-centered Life
The first two chapters of Genesis describe the creation of human beings to enjoy life in all its fullness under the friendship and guidance of God. An idyllic picture is provided in which life, relationships and work are free from those things that tarnish our present experience of them. With God at the centre of their lives, the early couple enjoyed:
*      Life untarnished by decay and death,
*      Relationships unsullied by selfish motives and actions and
*      Work unscarred by stress and weariness.
Rebellion
Tragically, the early couple made a bid for freedom from God only to find themselves enslaved to darker forces! The picture in Genesis 3 couldn’t be more depressing (though it is realistic: even if we try hard to evade its truth). The governing principles of life became the pursuit of personal, aesthetic and intellectual ambitions that brought slavery not freedom (3:6,7). 
Life under Judgment
The results of rebellion were very quickly apparent:
*      Self became enthroned at the centre of human existence: even in the most tender of relationships. Openness was the first casualty (3:7), blame-shifting followed (3:12,13… anyone else was to blame, even God) and relationships became the context for a power-struggle for personal ascendancy and self-worth (3:16).
*      The friendship of God became an embarrassment (3:8): he was someone to evade, not a friend to embrace.
*      The environment became a burden rather than a joy (3:16-19). The woman’s ‘greatest moment’ was surrounded by suffering, the ‘world of work’ became an ongoing, often soulless and ever-burdensome pursuit.
*      Decay and Death were unleashed on the world (3:19). Such struggles became a vain undertaking, because death, the great leveller, came at the end.
But God
Into the midst of this tragic picture, while humanity remained hell-bent on self-fulfilment and self-destruction and had no place for the ‘jilted’ lover, God made a promise (3:15).
One day… a descendant of the woman would arise, who would engage in mortal combat with the satanic power to which humanity was now subject. Near destroyed himself, he would inflict the fatal wound on the enemy, overthrowing his authority and control.
The Promise Awaited
Throughout the Old Testament this promise is awaited. More promises are added, Champions come and go… but none have sufficient credentials to ‘win the day’. Until, that is, we open the New Testament and read ‘A record of ... Jesus Christ’ (Matthew 1:1). But of that, more anon!
2. The promise of the Servant
So, champions came and champions went… but the promise of a seed went unfulfilled. Indeed, as one succeeded to another, hope might well have died: few seemed remotely qualified for the task God had promised. And the best… they soon revealed that far from being conquerors they themselves shared the character of the vanquished. Just think of Abraham the inveterate liar, Moses the murderer, David the adulterer and murderer and Solomon the wise fool!
Dark days indeed! But God had not forgotten his promise. Rather, as year succeeded to year, he continued to speak and add promise to promise. One messenger after another was sent to complete the picture of the coming One. To Isaiah was given the privilege of showing that the Seed was also the Servant.
It was a theme to which he returned (see 42:1-4, 44:1-5, 49:1-7, 50:1-11; 52:13-53:12): the One who was coming would be the Servant leader of a Servant people. In the final, and greatest, of these passages, he reveals that the Servant would be the Suffering Servant. 
Graphically, he describes the suffering:
*      He would lack those characteristics that prompt human interest and a following. He would be without power, prestige, and charisma (53:2).
*      When he appeared he would be likened to an embarrassing social misfit (53:3) or someone suffering from a repulsive disability (52:14).
*      His whole life would be one enveloped by pain and suffering (53:3) and,
*      He would suffer a cruel death: pierced, crushed, wounded and like a lamb led to the slaughter (53:5, 7).
*      His death would be the result of violence and injustice (53:8) His end that of a common criminal (53:9).
*      Further, such would (correctly) appear to be the result of God’s own purposes (compare 53:4 and 10) Small wonder few recognised and welcomed him! 
Yet appearances can lie! Behind the appearance, the Suffering Servant would prove to be the promised seed: he of the wounded heel. Such naturally prompts the question, how does this suffering ‘crush the serpent’s head’? His answer is:
*      His suffering was vicarious. Sometimes technical words are helpful. A ‘vicar’ is someone who acts for another. The words in 53:4 emphasise he was acting for others: us. He was taking upon his shoulders those things that had characterised humanity since the Garden of Eden: infirmity, suffering.
*      His death would be substitutionary. 53:5a notes that he not only acted on our behalf but, in so doing, took our place. In particular he bore the punishment for our failure to meet God’s standards (‘transgression’) and the corruption and guilt (‘iniquity’) that haunts every human life.
*      His sacrifice would prove penal. In doing so, 53:5b, he freed us from judgement; bring the healing and reconciliation necessary to restored fellowship with God.
*      His victory would be ‘rubber stamped’ in resurrection. 53:11. The destruction of the enemy would require his own deep wounding but would not prove ultimately fatal.
* His fame would be great (53:12) and his victory universal. 53:12-15, especially, 15, suggests that the one who had no majesty would ‘gobsmack’ those who did and whole nations marvel at him and at the news that he would bring.
Yet the paradox, and challenge, is that the message would appear almost unbelievable (53:1).... And so it still, often, appears. It requires special, God-given, insight to recognise in Jesus the one foretold eight hundred years previously.
3. The promise of a King
We have suggested that the Christmas story cannot be fully understood unless it is seen in the light the Old Testament writings. This short series is designed to offer that perspective. In the first study, in the face of human rebellion and thralldom to demonic powers, God promised that a descendant of Eve would put the whole sorry mess to rights. In the second study, God indicated that he would appear as a ‘Suffering Servant’ to bear away the sin and guilt of the human race. In this study, we examine another of the promises that God made. When the ‘seed’ appeared, when the ‘Suffering Servant’ arose, he would also be born a king.  This is taught in 2 Samuel 7.
Understanding 2 Samuel 7
This passage is highly enigmatic. David shows a desire to honour God by building a ‘house’ for him. God’s reply is that he will honour David by establishing his ‘house’!  The promises that follow clearly refer, in part, to Solomon. However, as with most Old Testament promises they point beyond the immediate recipient to a more distant and shadowy figure: a far greater than Solomon. Three promises, in particular, are made:
* The promise of Peace (10,11)
Only the oldest among us can recall what it means to be at war. Such may well have strong memories of VE day and the profound sense of ‘we have peace’. Yet all of us know the absence of peace in our lives, the painful experiences of family breakdown, betrayal, of sickness borne, of hopes deferred or lost forever. We long, sometimes urgently, more often wistfully, for a world in which these things are a ‘thing of the past’. For many, deep down, this is what Christmas expresses. It is this picture, where tears, separation and death itself is vanquished that lies behind the promise here and is expanded in the Scriptures that follow.
* The promise of an Everlasting Kingdom (12-13)
Promises are often made by national leaders… but they never quite become reality: not least because the time and opportunity to effect the necessary changes are not available to them. Sooner or later (the former the reality in the light of world history) they are removed from the scene and with them their promises (if ever there was any substance to them) die.
But not so the one mentioned here. A lasting kingdom secures permanent peace.  ‘Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end’. The deepest longings of the human heart are fulfilled without the threat of future loss.
*  The promise of a Unique Relationship with God (14a)
Such is grounded, here, in a unique relationship: divine sonship! Here then, is one who shares the divine family likeness, who has part in the same power and authority, the same supreme rule over all creation, even life and death. Here, then, is a king who can deliver, as none other!
Conclusion
Here then is ‘Paradise regained’, the ‘curse’ vanquished and God himself reigns in the midst of a people who find their deepest needs met in his everlasting rule. Through suffering for the sins of the world, the Seed enters his universal rule to the blessing of his world.
And so we hear the voice of the angels at the birth of Jesus:
‘To you is born in the city of David’s birth, a deliverer, the promised One; even God himself.‘ (Luke 2:11)

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