Christianity 201

December 16, 2016

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

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bible-story-arc

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

December 5, 2015

Could This Be Another Reason The Samaritan Returned to Give Thanks?

Jewish Temple vs Samaritan Temple location

Today we return to the blog, Into the Foolishness of God by Shara Case. Click the title to read at source, and take a few minutes to look around other recent articles there as well. I was really struck by an insight on a most familiar story as I looked at this. I hope you see also why I chose this reading for our consideration.

Healed but not Whole

“Then as He entered a certain village, there met Him ten men who were lepers, who stood afar off. And they lifted up their voices and said, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” So when He saw them, He said to them, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And so it was that as they went, they were cleansed. And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, returned, and wit a loud voice glorified God, and fell down on his face at His feet, giving Him thanks. And he was a Samaritan. So Jesus answered and said, “Were there not ten cleansed? But where are the nine? Were there not any found who returned to give glory to God except this foreigner? And He said to him, “Arise, go your way. Your faith has made you well.” (saved you) Luke 17:12-19

Ten outcasts, healed and made well. They cried out for help and Jesus was quick to heal them. His compassion and mercy extended to each one in the same way. They were healed “as they went” to the temple. It must have been astounding – the word “cleansed” implies that they were made clean, emptied of any trace of disease inside. As they walked away, they were healed. Nine of these men were Jews, and in order to reenter society, the law said they must go see a priest to verify that they were in good health. They became first-hand witnesses, as did the priests, to the power and truth of who Jesus really was. Imagine the conflict this posed for the Jews and the priests alike – people who lived according to Old Testament law, who rejected everything Jesus did and who He was. Their ‘laws’ were falling apart right before their eyes, but Jesus sent them anyway. He sent them off to be a testimony to His power.

But one of these men couldn’t go to the temple. One of these men was a Samaritan, and the only thing that bound them all together was their disease, for “Jews and Samaritans had no dealings with one another” (John 4:9). He was an outcast among outcasts. While the nine headed for their temple to fulfill the law requirements, this foreigner turned back. The text implies that he was walking away, and when he realized he had been healed, he turned back “with a loud voice” and glorified God.

How could he not?! What an amazing miracle to witness! While the Jews were focused on what they had to do at the temple, this Samaritan turned his focus to the living temple. I’m sure the other nine were grateful and thankful and amazed, but they were heading in the wrong direction. In their eyes, God dwelt in the temple. They were Jews, God’s chosen people. They would connect with Him at the temple, in ceremonial fashion, and move on.

But this Samaritan… he was wrecked. The magnitude of what just occurred had him face down in the dirt at Jesus’ feet. His gratefulness could be seen and felt. Imagine the story he would tell his family and friends whom he hadn’t seen in probably some time. Imagine him returning to his life, a new and healed man.

He had no temple to go to, but in the end he had the one true Temple, Jesus Himself. The Jews were heading to a lifeless building and they had no interest in anything else. They received their healing, but they weren’t made whole the way the Samaritan man was. When Jesus tells him “your faith has made you well” He wasn’t talking about a physical healing, he was using the word for saved. This outcast received a second miracle. He knew he was face-to-face with the living God. He was healed in body and in spirit.

God’s goodness is extended to us all, He has compassion on all He has made (Psalm 145:9). He calls us to Himself through things like this, and if we just turn and walk away, we miss the true miracle. We are content to take what He gives and keep on going. To be made truly whole though, we need to stop and turn around and see Him for who He is, not just what He does for us. The Jews had no desire to press in any deeper after they received what they wanted.

When nine people walk away, be the one who remains with Him. He resides with us now, no longer confined to a temple. Be the one who turns around and receives the better, lasting gift. He is eager to heal and meet our needs, we should be just as eager to stay with Him after He does.