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 8, 2016

The Fall: The Christmas Story Continues . . .

by Clarke Dixon

Last week we saw how the story of Christmas really has its beginnings way back at Creation. God’s desire from the outset was to be with us, and Christmas is a big part of that happening. As we look to cover the Christmas story from beginning to end, we do not even get out of Genesis chapter 3, or out of the Garden of Eden for that matter, before we see something else critical to the Christmas story. The Fall is part of what Christmas is about. Let us focus in on God’s promise to the serpent:

The Lord God said to the serpent,
“Because you have done this,
cursed are you among all animals
and among all wild creatures;
upon your belly you shall go,
and dust you shall eat
all the days of your life.
I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and hers;
he will strike your head,
and you will strike his heel.” Genesis 3:14-15 emphasis mine

Here we have a promise of struggle. This not really about humans and snakes, this is about humanity’s struggle with evil. Snakes provide a good metaphor for this struggle. A strike to a snake’s head could be fatal. But so too, could a snake’s strike to a human’s heel. We are not sure at the time the promise is given who will be victorious, and who will end up dead.

The odds don’t look to be in our favour, especially given the fact that evil won the first battle when we had our best advantage. We had home field advantage in the Garden of Eden. We had everything, including the amazing presence of God Himself. But we had to have that one fruit. Things do not go our way throughout the pages of the Old Testament either. The history of God’s people, Israel, is a history of trying and failing, getting up and falling, again and again. And consider world history. Though there are bright moments, evil seems all too often to have the upper hand. Given the capacity of humanity to end all life through nuclear warfare, the odds have never been more in the favour of evil winning the war. Who will win in the end, the offspring of Eden, or the offspring of the serpent? It seems like a war humanity has not been winning and cannot win. However, Christmas points us to a clear winner!

Christmas points us to a clear winner when the angel speaks to Joseph.

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

Mary will bear a son. Jesus is therefore is a candidate for being the “offspring,” or “seed” of Eve. But how can this one man conquer evil when no other man before has? How can this man do what has been impossible for every person before him right back to Adam and Eve, namely, lead a sinless life? And never mind leading his own sinless life, how will he also deal with the sins of others? Though being born of Mary and therefore the offspring of Eve, Jesus is so much more. The next verses make this clear:

All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:
“Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall name him Emmanuel,”
which means, “God is with us.” Matthew 1:22-23

While this seems to be a war humanity cannot win, this particular seed of Eve has an advantage! He is God with us.

Christmas points to a clear winner when the angel speaks to Mary.

The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. Luke 1:30-31

Born of Mary, and so the offspring of Eve. But again, so much more:

He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. . . . The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. Luke 1:32-35

The war will be won with this man, a man of holy divinity, on our side!

While we are thinking of Mary, we should note here how the promise of Genesis 3:15 pertains to the offspring of Eve, and not Adam. Note also, how Jesus is born of Mary, but not to Joseph. Here is a hint, though just a hint, way back in Genesis, of the virgin birth of Jesus.

In addition to Christmas there are two other events that point to a clear winner. 

Christmas leads to Easter. The death and resurrection of Jesus points to victory. Paul confirms this for us in Romans 8 when he speaks of evil not being able to knock God’s person down. Satan is the accuser, the one most likely to condemn, pointing the fingers  and declaring “unworthy sinners! You will never be victorious over evil for you are evil.” Hear what Paul has to say:

What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. Romans 8:31-39

While Satan may be the accuser, God is the judge. God has already demonstrated His love for us through the death and resurrection of Jesus. Jesus, by giving His life for us, has already declared that He is on our side. Paul goes on about the potential of evil to knock us over and down:

Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?
As it is written,
“For your sake we are being killed all day long;
we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.”
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. Romans 8:35-37

In the face of much evil, we are more than conquerors, not because we are able of ourselves to get the upper hand over evil, but “though him who loved us.” No expression of evil in the world can gain the victory and separate us from the love of God:

38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:38

Advent is a time of expectant waiting. The second advent of our Lord points us to the clear winner:

Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain. 2 He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, 3 and threw him into the pit, and locked and sealed it over him, so that he would deceive the nations no more, . . . .  And the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever. Revelation 20:1-3, 10

The last book of the Bible, Revelation, recalls the struggle promised in the first book of the Bible, Genesis. The serpent’s head is crushed. Evil is utterly defeated.

Looking out at our world we may wonder if humanity can ever win the struggle against evil. Christmas points us to a clear winner. Easter points his to a war already won. The coming Day of the Lord, the second advent of Christ points to every battle finished.

At Christmas we celebrate the incarnation of God as the answer to the prophetic question asked in Genesis 3:15; “will humans ever win this struggle against evil?” Evil struck the heel of Eve’s offspring when the forces of evil conspired together to put Jesus to death. But in dying and in being raised to life, Jesus has crushed the serpent. We have a clear winner. Christmas points the way to victory. We have the opportunity to become “more than conquerors through him who loved us.”

All Bible references are from the NRSV


Read this post at its source and then look around the rest of Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon

May 12, 2014

Unpacking the Meaning of Redemption

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:28 pm
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While looking for something else today I stumbled across Experimental Theology, the blog of Richard Beck. As always, you’re encouraged to not read the articles here, but click through to read them at source. This appeared under the title Redemption and Goel.


 

What does redemption mean?

That was a question I was dealing with the other night out at the prison bible study.

It’s an interesting question as other than a vague sense that redemption is synonymous with “salvation,” I don’t know if many Christians have a ready definition for “redemption.”

What I pointed out in my study was how redemption has strong associations with Christus Victor views of salvation, the notion that “salvation” is fundamentally about deliverance, liberation, freedom and emancipation from dark enslaving forces.

The idea that Christ is a “redeemer” goes back to the Old Testament notion of the goel, what is sometimes translated as “kinsmen-redeemer.” The kinsmen-redeemer is related to the Hebrew word ga’al which means to buy back, to regain possession of by payment, or to ransom. The kinsmen-redeemer is the one who buys back and pays the ransom.

The basic function goes back to Leviticus 25. When Israelites fell into debt they sometimes would have to sell their ancestral property. When this happened the kinsmen-redeemer was to buy the land so that the land remained in the family:

Leviticus 25.25
If one of your fellow Israelites becomes poor and sells some of their property, their nearest relative is to come and redeem what they have sold. 

This role of buying back–redeeming–ancestral land to keep it in the family is nicely illustrated in the book of Ruth where Boaz, as kinsmen-redeemer, seeks to buy the ancestral land of Elimelek, Naomi’s deceased husband. 

But sometimes things would get worse and an Israelite would have to sell more than the land, he would have to sell himself as a debt-slave. When that happened the kinsmen-redeemer was to rescue their kinsman from debt-slavery by buying him back:

Leviticus 25.47-49a
If a foreigner residing among you becomes rich and any of your fellow Israelites become poor and sell themselves to the foreigner or to a member of the foreigner’s clan, they retain the right of redemption after they have sold themselves. One of their relatives may redeem them: An uncle or a cousin or any blood relative in their clan may redeem them. 

Basically, the idea of “redemption” is rooted in the notion of debt-slavery. To be “redeemed” or “ransomed” is to be bought back from slavery, from the ownership of another person. And the one who makes the payment is the goel, the kinsmen-redeemer.

In the book of Isaiah God becomes identified as the goel, as the Redeemer of Israel. For example,

Isaiah 41.14
“Do not fear, you worm Jacob, you men of Israel; I will help you,” declares the LORD, “and your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel. 

And while the name “redeemer” doesn’t occur in the New Testament, in many places Jesus is described as performing the role of the goel. For example,

Mark 10.45
For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

Ephesians 1.7
In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace

1 Peter 1.18
For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors…

The words “redemption” and “redeemed” in these texts tend to obscure the OT echoes. That is, I don’t think many modern readers know how to translate the word “redeemed.” Though you do notice echos of the OT economic, buying-back overtones when we do things like redeeming coupons at the store. Translation-wise, I think the rendering of the NLT does nice job of highlighting the kinsmen-redeemer overtones in some of these NT texts:

Ephesians 1.7
He is so rich in kindness and grace that he purchased our freedom with the blood of his Son and forgave our sins.

Ephesians 1.14
The Spirit is God’s guarantee that he will give us the inheritance he promised and that he has purchased us to be his own people. He did this so we would praise and glorify him.

The connections here with Christus Victor theology should be obvious. The function of the goel–the “redeemer”–has to do with emancipation and liberation from slavery, the “buying us back” from the ownership of another person.

And as should be clear, there is little in any of the NT texts that suggests that we were once enslaved or in bondage to God. No, our bondage was to dark spiritual forces. Thus Jesus, as kinsmen-redeemer, saves us by securing our liberation from these enslaving forces.

That is the meaning of “redemption.”