Christianity 201

December 16, 2016

Priests, Kings, & Prophets: How the Old Testament Points to Christmas

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by Clarke Dixon

From the series “The Christmas Story From Beginning to End,” we have thus far seen how Creation and The Fall both point to Christmas. After two weeks we are still no further than Genesis chapter 3! To speed things up let us consider the rest of the Old Testament. The presence of three different types of people within the Old Testament point to the advent of Jesus. These are priests, kings, and prophets.

Priests point to the coming of Jesus.

Though we sometimes hear of priests in Genesis, it is really in Exodus that we have the priesthood formally established along with instructions for the Tabernacle and ritual holiness. So what was the priesthood for? Hebrews 5:1 gives a useful summary:

Every high priest chosen from among mortals is put in charge of things pertaining to God on their behalf, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. Hebrews 5:1

Because God is holy and people are not, the priests were to be the “go-betweens” between God and His people. Through sacrifices they would point to rescue from sin. However, there were two problems. First, the priests themselves were sinful. There were all kinds of ritual regulations to help the priests be holy people, set apart from the rest. However, no matter how holy they made themselves, they could always still relate more fully to sinful humanity than to holy God. The second problem was that they kept dying. In other words, the problem of sin kept persisting through every generation. Then Jesus is born:

and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins. Matthew 1:21.

Jesus can truly deal with sin in a way that no priest ever could. He had the credentials including being sinless. This was in contrast to all priests, but especially the High Priest who would be involved in his execution. Jesus also offered the only sacrifice that could be truly effective. He offered himself.

For it was fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, blameless, undefiled, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. Unlike the other high priests, he has no need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for those of the people; this he did once for all when he offered himself. Hebrews 7:26-27

The priests of the Old Testament filled many important functions, but the greatest was to point to the coming into the world of a better High Priest. And an effective sacrifice for sin.

Kings point to the coming of Jesus.

God’s people did not always have a king. But they asked for one:

Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah, and said to him, “You are old and your sons do not follow in your ways; appoint for us, then, a king to govern us, like other nations.” But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to govern us.” Samuel prayed to the Lord, and the Lord said to Samuel, “Listen to the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them. 1 Samuel 8:4-7

Up to this point, Israel had enjoyed something that no other nation could boast of; God was their king. However they wanted a king “like other nations.” This would be be like a teenager of a well-to-do family who, in wanting a flip phone like what their friends have, is willing to trade in their iPhone, MacBook Pro, Ferrari, parent’s home, and their parents to get one. It would be a ridiculous trade. God gives the go-ahead but with the warning that having a human king is not always going to be rosy. Though an imperfect man, David was a good king who was promised by God to have his descendants on the throne forever. As you look at the history of God’s people, you see that this does not go very well as so many of the kings, even when descended from David, were so incredibly awful. Perhaps the worst king of all was Herod, the king at the time of Jesus’ birth. He was ruthless and to make matters worse, was not even a legitimate king, not being a descendant of David.

You can imagine how Herod must have felt when the Magi came to him and asked  “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews?” (Matthew 2:2) This must have stung as Herod was not legitimately born king of the Jews, but was propped up as a puppet king by the Romans. He was furious and ordered that all the infants of Bethlehem be killed. A rotten king indeed. At Christmas, God in being incarnate is effectively saying “You asked for a king, but I love you to much to leave you at the mercy of ruthless kings. I am and will be your king, a merciful king, a good king.”

6 For a child has been born for us,
a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders;
and he is named
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7 His authority shall grow continually,
and there shall be endless peace
for the throne of David and his kingdom.
He will establish and uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time onward and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this. Isaiah 9:6-7

Jesus went on to be that good king, that good shepherd who, far from destroying lives like Herod, lays down his life for the sake of his sheep. The kings of Israel had a spotty history of sometimes being good and sometimes being downright atrocious. Whether good or bad, their very existence pointed to the coming into the world of a better king, the true King of kings and Lord of lords, God Himself.

Prophets point to the coming of Jesus.

You cannot read the story of Christmas in the Gospel of Matthew without noticing that Matthew really wants you to understand how Old Testament prophecy is fulfilled in Jesus.

All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet (Matthew 1:22)  . . . for so it has been written by the prophet (Matthew 2:4)  . . . Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah (Matthew 2:17) . . . so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled. (Matthew 2:23)

But does Matthew just want us to think of these specific prophecies being fulfilled at Christmas? No, he mentions these as a way of alerting us that something far greater is going on. The great hope that God would keep His covenant promises, that God would intervene, is at hand. This is not just the fulfillment of a few scattered prophecies, but rather the hope of the entire Old Testament. As the writer put it in “O Little Town of Bethlehem;” “The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.”

In conclusion:

  • The presence of priests in the Old Testament points to the need for a rescue from sin. The advent of Jesus marks the coming of the great Rescuer. Are you being rescued? Do you know Jesus as Saviour?
  • The presence of kings in the history of God’s people points to the need for godly leadership. The advent of Jesus marks the coming of the most godly leader you can think of, God Himself! Are you following Him? Do you know Jesus as Lord?
  • The prophets of the Old Testament shine a spotlight on the future. The advent of Jesus marks the beginning of that future. Does your future shine brightly?

Get Clarke’s posts as they appear on his blog before they appear here. Follow @clarkedixon for updates

October 3, 2015

The Gospel’s Central Theme: The Kingdom

I know we just did a post from Chaplain Mike Mercer from Internet Monk, and I know we have a six-month rule, but I was really compelled to share this one from a few days ago there. (I promise this is the last one for awhile!) I remember someone asked me what the crux of the gospel was, and they said the answer, for them was, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand.” That’s always stuck with me, and I often read passages through that lens. Click the link below to read this at source, and consider subscribing to Internet Monk.

If there is an overriding narrative theme in scripture, this is it . . .

If I were asked to summarize the primary narrative theme of the Bible with one brief verse, I would choose a line from the Lord’s Prayer:

“Bring in your kingdom so that your will is done on earth as it’s done in heaven” (Matthew 6:10, CEB).

The story of the Bible is about God establishing his Kingdom in this world.

The Hebrew Bible begins with the story of a royal construction project, as the King of the universe prepares his holy Temple (Genesis 1). The word for “temple” in Hebrew means “palace,” and what God does on the days of “creation” is to set up the place of his reign. He appoints royal priests — human beings “in his image” — to represent him, subdue the evil in the world, have dominion and multiply his blessing throughout the earth. Then on the seventh day, he rests on his throne, taking up his rule.

Internet MonkThe story goes on to tell us that humans failed to carry out the King’s directives, leading to cycles of rebellion, divine judgment, and restoration (Genesis 2-11). Those early days of sin and salvation culminated in the establishment of the city of Babylon, where people gathered together to build their own temple and create their own kingdom. God scattered them over the face of the earth, and then chose one man and his family out of Babylon through which to restore his blessing to the world (Gen. 11-12:1-3).

The man’s name was Abram, and to him God said, “I will make you very fertile. I will produce nations from you, and kings will come from you” (Gen. 17:9, CEB). From that point on, the people through whom God would restore his blessing began to experience conflict with the kings and kingdoms of the world. Abraham, called to be the patriarch of kings, found himself in danger on several occasions, and ultimately his family, many generations later, found themselves in captivity under the rule of Egypt’s ruler, Pharaoh. In time, God delivered the Hebrews and led them to Mt. Sinai, where he entered into a suzerainty treaty with them. He became their King and they became his people, his chosen nation.

The story of God’s chosen nation is a narrative filled with battles, wars, and controversies involving the peoples and kings around them. At one point, Israel herself chose a king, and though her motives were bad at the time, God relented and made her into a kingdom. It wasn’t long before Israel had established God’s palace (temple) in Jerusalem, enjoying a season of prosperity and peace during David and Solomon’s reigns.

However, under the kings that followed, Israel split apart into two nations and eventually became exiled once more from their land. The kingdom was destroyed, the temple sacked, the people carried off into the diaspora. Though some returned to the land within a couple of generations, things were never the same. Israel never had another king again but lived under the domination of invading nations for centuries.

When Jesus was born, the emperor of Rome ruled the land. At the proper time, at the outset of his ministry, Jesus publicly announced, “Now is the time! Here comes God’s kingdom! Change your hearts and lives, and trust this good news!” (Mark 1:15, CEB).

Jesus’ life and ministry led to his death, resurrection, and ascension, by which he took the throne and inaugurated God’s Kingdom in the world. Through his finished work, he did more than conquer the rulers of earth; he soundly defeated the spiritual rulers: the forces of sin, evil, and death that hold all people (not just Israel) captive. By the power of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on his followers, a mission was launched by which outposts of his Kingdom are being established throughout the world. His people are planting seeds for a harvest of righteousness and peace in the age to come.

So today we who trust and follow Jesus live in anticipation of the day when the Kingdom will be consummated and we will sing the Hallelujah Chorus together: “The kingdom of this world has become the Kingdom of our Lord and his Christ, and he will reign forever and always” (Rev. 11:15, CEB).

Until then, every day we pray, “Bring in your kingdom so that your will is done on earth as it’s done in heaven” (Matt. 6:10, CEB).

Preparing today’s devotional reminded me of this song by Hillsong. It fits today’s reading really well; play it loud, when you reach the chorus allow yourself to be caught up in the power of these lyrics.

November 5, 2014

Philip Yancey: Why Are We Here?

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NLT Ephesians 5:8 For once you were full of darkness, but now you have light from the Lord. So live as people of light! For this light within you produces only what is good and right and true.

10 Carefully determine what pleases the Lord. 11 Take no part in the worthless deeds of evil and darkness; instead, expose them.

A short excerpt from the recently published book Vanishing Grace: What Ever Happened To The Good News? by Philip Yancey (Zondervan).

Vanishing Grace…Jesus has a different set of qualifications for his kingdom than does civilization.  His stories consistently made the wrong character the hero: the prodigal son not the responsible elder brother, the Good Samaritan not the good rabbi, a scabby beggar not the rich man.  Those people most attracted to him included undesirables such as a half-caste woman with a checkered past, a blind beggar, ten exiles with leprosy, a corrupt tax collector, a prostitute, a Roman soldier – all outcasts by the standards of proper Jewish society.  Religious professionals, legal scholars, a king, and a governor:  these were the ones who arranged Jesus’ death.

To the bafflement of the modern elite, the Christian faith continues to grow, and Jesus’ somersault values may help explain why.  An African American slave named “Old Elizabeth,” who narrated her conversion story at the age of ninety-seven, told of getting from Jesus a sense of “somebodiness.”  In rural India and China and in the sprawling slums of South America and the Philippines, people respond to a gospel that bestows dignity on society’s losers.  Even in prosperous societies that measure worth by sex appeal, native talent, and celebrity status, the majority realize they will never measure up.  Sometimes all of us feel like “the boobs who just trot along behind, dragging on the wheels,” and at such a time a thirst for a more lasting satisfaction, for Living Water, wells up.

The good news of the gospel means that everyone of us can have a sense of destiny, a part to play in God’s great story.  We are more than a collection of neurons, more than an organism directed by a script of selfish genes.  A receptionist, a truck driver, a kindergarten teacher, a banker, a stay-at-home mom or dad can all realize that destiny:  not by adopting cultural standards of wealth and fame but by loving God and neighbor.  It’s the difference between just living, and living for God’s sake.

Why are we here?  We, all of us, are here because of the Creator’s love, who seeks both our flourishing and our response of love and gratitude.  “Find out what pleases the Lord,”  Paul told the Ephesians.  We are here to please God.  It brings God pleasure to see us thrive, and we thrive by living as God intended.

December 14, 2010

The Bible in One Paragraph

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 10:47 pm
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No this isn’t the cute one with short sentences that circulates as an e-mail forward.    This is the one where we ask you:  Could you summarize the message of the Bible in a single paragraph?

Much energy is spent online dealing with defining the essence of the gospel, but what about the Bible, the book itself?

With that as our theme, here is a possible answer from someone I believe to be our first Lutheran contributor here, who blogs as St. John the Lutheran.   He phrases the question, “What is the overarching story line of the Bible?”

As I contemplate and try to encompass the Bible as a whole, I realize that this question can be answered in the form of a novel or in a brief sentence. In the interest of keeping this blog short and sweet, I will answer with a synopsis of my own opinion of the story line of the Bible.

The Bible tells of how God created man in a perfect state of communion with him, but with the free will to choose. God provided man with a very simple law, involving food. God told Adam and Eve to avoid eating from specific trees. Because man was created with a free will, they were able to be tempted and gave into temptation by eating of the forbidden fruit. God responded by creating a covenant that would allow mankind to continue in fellowship even though they were to suffer consequences of their sins. As the story of the Bible progresses, it is the story of God providing a series of covenants that would allow mankind to continue in fellowship. Ultimately, God provided the ultimate means for salvation through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and leaves the Holy Spirit here to be our helper as we establish the Kingdom of God on Earth and wait for Christ to come again.

Of course, reducing the entire book into a paragraph is extremely difficult and cannot do justice to the holistic story that is filled with rich detail and builds upon itself as it teaches us how to live our lives. But, this is at attempt to do just that. I would very much like to hear each one of your attempts to do the same!

…So how is your answer coming along?