The Story of Scripture, Part 14 – Now We Work and Wait

Before Jesus was lifted up to heaven, He gave his disciples the following commission;

Mat 28:18-20;

All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age. 

They were to announce to all the world that God had fulfilled His promise. A promise first given to Adam, and then later expanded upon to Abraham. Now, finally, all the nations would be blessed. There was good news to be proclaimed to every tribe and tongue; and the promise of salvation for all who would receive it. 

Before they were to set out on this task, Jesus gave instructions for them to wait in Jerusalem. Once he was ascended to the Father, he would baptize them in the Holy Spirit. The power received from this baptism, would enable them to set upon their mission. 

Fifty days later, just as was promised, they were indeed filled with the Spirit and given a great boldness in their witness. They went forth proclaiming that;

Act 2:21;

…everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. 

Upon this Spirit-empowered proclamation, the church quickly spread outwards from Jerusalem to Judea, then to Samaria, and then throughout the whole Roman empire (just as Jesus said it would). As we know from history, this became point from which Christianity would then spread to the whole world, over the two thousand years that followed. 

It is at this very point then, two thousand years later, that we find ourselves in the story. Now we, along with those who have gone before us, are given the very same commission as we wait for Jesus to return in glory. And although times of great difficulty are promised in the interim, we are to press on in our task, trusting in Christ and waiting in sure hope. Jesus promised that, as surely as he came the first time, one day he would once again return. The first time he entered this world as a lowly servant, the second time would be as a mighty warrior and the very King of Kings. Then would be that final consummation of all that he had already achieved on the cross.

The last book in the Bible tells us what will take place in end. Here we read that everyone who ever lived will have their turn to stand before God. Every sin ever committed will be exposed by the light and condemned by the Law of God. When those books are opened, it is only the ones who have trusted in Christ that will be saved.

After judgement is the redemption of all things, and as the Bible opens with a garden, so it closes with one. With complete finality, the Great Priest of God will then have executed judgement upon the serpent, and never again will the garden-sanctuary be corrupted by evil. Moreover, the time of probation is completed, and the promise of eschatological Sabbath rest is finally fulfilled. Christ, who alone can stand as the champion of God’s people, will have succeeded in leading true Israel into the land. There, on the new earth, we will forever be God’s own people, and the tree of life will once again be opened to us.

Rev 22:20;

He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen. 

The Story of Scripture, Part 11 – Broken Silence

When seventy years of Babylonian exile had passed, some of the Jews were miraculously allowed to return to their land in order to rebuild the temple and the city. However, it soon became apparent that even their best efforts under men like Ezra and Nehemiah could never bring about the restoration that God had promised through the prophets. In order for these prophecies to be truly fulfilled, they had to wait for the promised One whose arrival would be made clear by the sending of a forerunner; one who would come in the spirit and power of Elijah himself. In this regard, the prophet Malachi said this;

Mal 4:5-6;

Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes.

This prophecy is found in the last book of the Old Testament. And once the canon of this testament was brought to a close, God did not speak for another 400 years. Moreover, this period of history would prove to be a time of great difficulty for Israel, being handed down from one super power to the next. By the time of the Gospels, Israel had not only been under the oppressive rule of the Babylonians; but also the Persians, the Greeks; and then finally, the Romans.

As is completely understandable, by this stage there was great anticipation among the Jews concerning the arrival of the promised Messiah. There was one thought on their minds: “When would the Messiah reveal himself; and how would God’s kingdom finally come?”

While various Jewish sub-groups (e.g., Pharisees, Sadducees, Zealots, and Essenes) sought to answer these questions differently, they all basically agreed on one very important idea: their story was still waiting for an ending.

It is in this context then, that the gospel account is opened;

John 1:6-8;

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light. 

400 years of silence was shattered by John the Baptist – one who came in the spirit and power of Elijah. Indeed, he said of himself;

John 1:23;

…I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.

The Story of Scripture, Part 9 – Saviour, Judge and King

Even after a period where Israel gave in to rebellion and unbelief, God kept his promise to give Israel the land. Under the leadership of Joshua, they entered into Canaan and took possession of their inheritance. Later, after even more rebellion and unbelief, God continued to show boundless grace to his people. Over and over again the people, through their sin, would allow themselves to be placed back into bondage. Each time, when they were at their lowest, God would send a judge to save them; each of these mighty men showing forth an important glimpse of the ultimate Judge and Saviour. 

Eventually, they were given a king named David, under whom they prospered. God made a covenant with David which was an important continuation of his first promise to Adam;

1Chr 17:11-12;

When your days are fulfilled to walk with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, one of your own sons, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for me, and I will establish his throne forever. 

This was vital new revelation concerning the promised Messiah. The promise as it first came to Adam and Eve in the garden, revealed that the Saviour would be one born of a women (i.e., from mankind). This was then narrowed in focus so as to show that the one born of a women would be born in the lineage of Abraham and indeed part of the nation of Israel. Now, through the covenant made with David, it was shown that the Messiah would be a king, from David’s own royal lineage!

In this regard, much of David’s life served as a type and foreshadowing of the Christ. We are introduced to David as the humble shepherd who stands in the place of God’s people, doing battle on their behalf, and even gaining victory against the great foe (Goliath).  As David matures, he becomes the promised theocratic king of Israel, slaying God’s enemies and bringing his people into a settled prosperity.

While the nation of Israel flourished under David’s rule, it reached the peak of its glory during the reign of his son, Solomon. This too was purposed in showing forth the glories of the covenant promise. Once again:

. . . I will raise up your offspring after you, one of your own sons, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for me, and I will establish his throne forever. 

It was indeed through Solomon that the kingdom was established, and the temple built. Moreover, it was at this time that the kingdom of Israel (and the land of Canaan) found its most profound expression as a foreshadowing of the glories of the new heaven and the new earth itself.  In like manner to his father, much of Solomon’s life was also intended to serve as a display of the King still to come; the Great and Wise King.

The Story of Scripture, Part 6 – Closer to Christ With Each Covenant

Over a period of four hundred years, since their first move to Egypt, Jacob’s sons (Abraham’s descendents) grew from a large family into a massive people group. Indeed, so much so that Egypt’s king at the time began to perceive this fast-expanding racial minority as a real threat to his kingdom. To stamp out the potential danger, Pharaoh reduced the Israelites to slavery. The ultimately satanic nature of this oppression was clearly manifested when Pharaoh ordered that all the male babies be taken from their mothers and killed (this occurs once again later at the time of Christ’s birth under Herod). Very significantly, however, we note that on both of these occasions, God protected the birth of the chosen deliverer.

When Moses was a grown man, God called him to lead his people out from under the yoke of Egyptian slavery. In a series of amazing incidents, ten plagues brought God’s judgment upon the Egyptian gods (each plague an intentional provocation and defiance of Egypt’s so-called gods). Eventually, the Israelites were enabled to leave Egypt and travel through the wilderness toward Mount Sinai. God miraculously parted the Red Sea for them, allowing nearly three million people to walk across the dry ocean bed. Soon, the Egyptians decided to chase after the Israelites, but God caused the ocean to close in upon them, drowning the entire army.

With this deliverance behind them, God made a covenant with Israel, and set them apart as a priestly nation,  chosen to mediate God’s promised blessing to the nations. This then, leads to the next covenant in the biblical story: the Mosaic covenant;  bringing us another step closer to the Saviour first promised in Gen 3:15. Where the Noahic covenant promised to preserve a humanity from whom the Saviour would come, and the Abrahamic covenant narrowed this promise down from that of humanity to a specific race (seed of Abraham); now, in the Mosaic covenant, God was promising to set apart a specific nationality from among Abraham’s descendants. In this way, we see how God’s plan of redemption was continuing to unfold. The lineage that led to the promised Messiah was becoming more and more specific. 

The Story of Scripture, Part 5 – From Humanity to a Specific Seed

As we might expect, after the flood man went exactly the same way again. In the story of Babel we read how (a freshly unified) mankind reaches yet another crescendo of open rebellion against their Maker. Had God not made the covenant of common grace with Noah, thereby committing himself to preserve humanity, he would have destroyed the human race all over again. Instead however, God intended through the Noahic covenant, that a foundation of humanity be preserved. And this so, as a foundation from which to bring forth the promised Saviour.

We come then to the next important figure in the biblical story: Abraham. 

Gen 12:1-3;

Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.

The covenant that God made with Abraham is significant because it served to elaborate on the promise that he had already made with Adam and Eve (Gen. 12:1-3; 18:18). The Abrahamic covenant comprised of 3 main parts:

  1. God would make Abraham into a great nation.
  2. God would give that nation their own land of blessing.
  3. God would extend that blessing to all nations.

When God had made a covenant with Noah, He was preserving the entire human race in order that the promised Saviour could be born. Now, in the Abrahamic covenant, God was setting about to narrow the lineage from that of ‘all mankind’ to a particular race; namely, the seed of Abraham.

Despite seemingly impossible obstacles, God showed himself to be true in this covenant. Abraham had a son named Isaac. Isaac had a son named Jacob. And Jacob had 12 sons, who were all very significant in the future life of Israel.

As the story continues many dangers beset Abraham and his family. In certain moments, it might even have seemed that God’s covenant promise would fail.  However, through it all, time and time again God showed Himself to be ‘God Almighty’: the One who has the power to carry out his purposes.

These purposes eventually led to Jacob moving his whole family to Egypt in order to escape a great famine. However, before Jacob himself died, he prophesied something very important, which once again reminded all the sons of Abraham of God’s great plan; and a promise that yet awaited its fulfillment. 

Gen 49:10:

The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until tribute comes to him; and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.

By considering this prophecy as they ought, they would once again be given a fresh reminder, and further clarity, of all that they (as a people called by God) should be looking forward to in hope.

Eve and Mary, Incarnation and Promise

I’m convinced that the best way to fight over-familiarity, is by going as deeply as possible into the study of theology; viz., engaging the Scriptures with all of our minds in sacred meditation. And when it comes to Christmas, any effort to truly appreciate the majesty and grandeur of what took place at the birth of the Saviour, must begin in seeking to understand the promise that forever connected Eve to Mary (cf. picture above). Only then will we start to understand the glory of his birth. Only then will we start to understand the coming of Christ as the apex of all redemptive history, and even of history itself.

So as we set out to meditate on the glory of Christ’s incarnation, it is essential that we start here, with the story of Scripture. In the next few posts then, I’ll do my best to summarize the greater biblical narrative, highlighting some of the central themes along the way. And let me say this; it is truly is my favourite story in the whole world: it always overwhelms my otherwise calloused, over-familiar-heart; it always sets my eyes–anew–upon the majesty and glory of God’s great plan; and it always leaves my soul in a state of doxological overflow. So, as the hymn goes, I love to tell “the old, old story’. I love to tell it at Christmas time, and I love to tell it to all who will listen. And if you plan on following along for the next few posts, my prayer is that it would have this same great effect on you.