Remembering the Promise
The first movement of the Symphony of Christ started off magnificently—with the creation of the heavens and the earth ex nihilo—out of nothing—followed by a huge angelic celebration! Then we heard a melody of innocence in the Garden, but with a foreboding background tune played by a serpent and one third of the angels.
Finally we were moved into the depths of despair as our original parents trusted themselves and Satan more than they trusted their maker—trusted the promise of sin more than the reality of divine blessing. We learned what is always true, whether immediately or in the future: that the promise of a misdeed is really a monkey’s claw. Instead of the "being like God" as the serpent guaranteed, or getting the "wisdom" Eve expected…the only gift the edenic couple received was…
[ These are quick sermon notes…not cleaned-up…and missing the “extras” that come out in the audio (which is available here). All quotes are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted. ]
An emotion they never felt before.
The monkey’s claw.
And there God was. Sin had entered His perfect earth almost instantly. How should He deal with the situation? Should He destroy the pair and create another—or even just leave the universe without the human species?
Sadly the first movement was mostly gloomy…full of grief and misery…and we came to the end not even knowing whether the symphony would end prematurely for humankind.
But in the midst of the angry instruments in Adam and Eve’s well-deserved punishment we learned that the decision on what to do was not hard for God…
That He always knew our fall was going to happen…
That He had already had prepared the solution before the problem arrived…
That He didn’t have to force Himself not to destroy us…
That it was His character to be merciful and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, and forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin (see Exodus 34:5-8).
That instead of destruction He gave us a promise…the protoevangelium…the "first gospel"…in Genesis 3:15.
The promise of a savior.
On to the second movement…
Our first movement ended on an optimistic note…God had replaced the hollow promise of sin with a glorious promise of a Messiah…
However, the damage had already been done and we humans had destroyed trust. In this case I’m not talking about God’s trust of us…I’m talking about our trust of Him. The first symphony should have ended with more than optimism…it should have had the tone of surety…but until our Savior actually arrived our confidence was infected by sin…
However, God had a plan for that too. That is the subject of the 2 Movement: The Anticipation.
Am I the only one who has a hard time using the word "anticipation" without having Carly Simon singing "Anticipation" pop into your head? I have no clue what she was thinking about—it’s about the only word i remember…but how I remember it…"an-tis-i-pa-tion…an-tis-i-pa-a-tion…is making me wait…"
Okay…so maybe I remember 5 words…(6 if you count saying anticipation twice :-)).
But can’t we all empathize with the emotion communicated in that tune? Haven’t you looked forward to something so much that it was almost painful?
For me Christmas was that way. Time the rest of the year went a normal pace…but as Christmas approached it moved to a snail’s pace…and I think it went backward the last few days prior to the holiday!
How about you? Have you ever picked up a gift that you couldn’t open yet and held it to get a sense of its weight…shook it to see if it rattled (or wiggled)…done whatever you could to figure out what pealing back the wrapping and carton would reveal?
The problem with earthly anticipation is that the anticipation can turn out to be far greater than the anticipated. The promise of a gift greater than the gift itself.
Have you experienced that?
We are going to discuss a gift that is better than human words can wrap it with, or even the bow that ties it all together—Scripture in 66 books…as great present as the Bible itself it…
As I quickly mentioned…one of the issues left from the self-inflicted damage in the Garden was our inability to have complete trust in our Lord…so we could not naturally…outside Him arriving immediately after the promise….have certainty our Savior really, really was going to come…
But that condition didn’t surprise our Lord either, and He sent his prophets to remind us over-and-over-and-over again that the Messiah was coming. One web site I was reading a couple of week backs said there are over 300 messianic prophecies in the Old Testament, and this chart shows they were not likely exaggerating:
[ Show the chart on pages 58 & 59 of the Holman Book of Biblical Charts, Maps, and Reconstructions.]
In today’s movement we’ll go through ever one of these together.
The first one it lists after the protoevangelium of Genesis 3:15 is "Through Noah’s sons" in Genesis 9:27…but don’t go there. Personally I think that one is a stretch, and instead see it in "The Seed of Abraham" in Genesis 12:3:
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.
That quote is from when God called Abraham…asking him to "go from [his] country and [his] kindred and [his] father’s house" (Genesis 12:1)…with a promise that if Abraham stepped out on faith not only would Abraham be blessed, all the families of the earth would be…by Christ…
And we know that Abraham "believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness" (Genesis 15:6; see also Romans 4:3, 22; Galatians 3:6; James 2:23—and James let’s us know that one of the results was that Abraham "was called a friend of God").
The Promise Reiterated
And we truly would be hear all day…all week…if we want through the myriad other promises of a Savior in the Old Testament. Instead, let’s quickly look at the types of messianic expectations…starting with a discussion by R.C. Sproul:
In the Old Testament the concept of the Messiah is not a simple one. It has many nuances to it, making it complex. There are different strands of messianic expectancy woven through the tapestry of the Old Testament. At first glance, some of these appear contradictory. One of the main strands of messianic expectancy is the idea of a king like David, who will restore the monarchy of Israel. There is a triumphant note in the expectation of a Messiah who will reign over Israel and put all enemies under his feet. This was the most popular variety of messianic expectancy at the time Jesus appeared on the scene. Israel had suffered under the conquest of the Romans and was bristling under the oppression of this alien yoke. A vast number of people were yearning for the fulfillment of the coming Messiah who would overthrow the Roman government and restore independence to Israel.
Another aspect of the concept of the Messiah was the notion of the suffering servant of Israel, the one who would bear the sins of the people. This concept is found most clearly in the servant songs of the prophet Isaiah, with Isaiah 53 being the chief text that the New Testament writers used to understand the ignominy of Jesus’ death. The figure of a despised and rejected servant stands in stark contrast to the concept of a royal king.
A third strand of messianic expectancy is found in the so-called apocalyptic literature of the Old Testament, the highly symbolic writings of men like Daniel and Ezekiel. Herein the Messiah is seen as a heavenly being who descends from heaven in order to judge the world. It is difficult to conceive how one man could be both a heavenly being and an earthly king, a cosmic judge and a humiliated servant at the same time. Yet these are the three major varieties of messianic expectancy that were very much alive at the time of Jesus’ entrance into the world.1
Punch line…first century Jews were mostly expecting an earthy king, but the concept of a suffering servant and/or a heavenly judge were also "were very much alive at the time of Jesus’ entrance into the world."
And Scripture shows reason for each. For instance, Jeremiah 23:5-6 fits #1…the earthly king:
"Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. 6 In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The LORD is our righteousness.’
Notice it talks about a king who "shall execute justice and righteousness in the land." I don’t think anyone can blame Israelites for expecting a ruler like David…and I tend to agree with some (like my university professor who taught Acts) that if Israel had accepted their Messiah the kingdom would have started then.
But, God knew better, which leads us to #2…the suffering servant. A perfect example of this is Isaiah 53, but we’ll just look at verses 4-6:
4 Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
5 But he was wounded for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his stripes we are healed.
6 All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the LORD has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.
Doesn’t that make you start thinking about what Jesus suffered for you? And…again…how God knew ahead of time how His Anointed One was going to be treated? Any time you start feeling too good about yourself…or don’t appreciate Christ’s sacrifice…spend some time reading Isaiah 53…
How about the apocalyptic judge? Where would you look for that within the Bible?
[ If anyone says Revelation, remind them we are still working with Jews before Revelation was written. 🙂 ]
Unsurprisingly, Daniel offers us a view of that aspect of Christ’s responsibilities. Let’s look at Daniel 7:13-14):
13 "I saw in the night visions,
and behold, with the clouds of heaven
there came one like a son of man,
and he came to the Ancient of Days
and was presented before him.
14 And to him was given dominion
and glory and a kingdom,
that all peoples, nations, and languages
should serve him;
his dominion is an everlasting dominion,
which shall not pass away,
and his kingdom one
that shall not be destroyed.
Jesus, the son of man, came to the Ancient of Days…"and to him was given dominion and glory and kingdom." If you are wondering about how this is an example of a judging Messiah…coming in the clouds is metaphor for judgment. Also, Jesus Himself connects judgment with the Son of Man:
27 For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done (Matthew 16:27)
As another quick aside…don’t let anyone tell you that Jesus referring to himself as the Son of Man instead of the Son of God meant He didn’t claim divinity. His Jewish listeners knew exactly who He was linking Himself to.
And we could go on…I almost fell guilty for not bringing up Psalm 22, which starts off with words made famous by Jesus on the cross just before He died: "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me." Or…in this season…how about Isaiah 9:2-7…which includes the magnificent verse that begins, "For to us a child is born, to us a son is given" (Isaiah 9:6a)? We may not agree 100% with the list in this book, but the Old Testament is overflowing with promises of someone to right the wrong.
But this sermon is about anticipation…I have shown the Israelites had reason to anticipate the arrival of their Messiah…but did they have the strong desire that is part of anticipation of a deliverer? Did the faithful through earth’s history prior to Jesus’ birth really look forward to the future based on the promise?
Perhaps the clearest "yes" is from Jesus Himself:
23 Then turning to the disciples he said privately, "Blessed are the eyes that see what you see! 24 For I tell you that many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it" (Luke 10:23-24)
Prophets…and kings…longed to see Jesus…
Or how about the man by whose seed we would be blessed?:
6 Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad" (John 8:56)
But…you may protest…those are Jesus saying people were anticipating Him…circular logic. Okay…how about the faith chapter in Hebrews? In the midst of that we have:
13 These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth (Hebrews 11:13).
All those faith-giants of old saw and greeting the coming of Jesus from afar…
Not enough…? Then let’s hear what Peter has to say in 1 Peter 1:10-12:
Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, 11 inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. 12 It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look.
Here we have confirmation that the prophets were "inquiring what person or time the spirit of Christ in them was indicated when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and subsequent glories"…and we even see a bit of anticipation in the heavenly realm as we learn they are "things into which angels long to look."
And it doesn’t stop there. For instance, Luke shares the story of the…
…prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived with her husband seven years from when she was a virgin, 37 and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. 38 And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem (Luke 2:36-38).
Did you catch that? Anna went up to the temple and there were other people "who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem." Not long before introducing us to Anna Luke mentions Simeon, a "man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel…it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ" (Luke 2:22-26).
What a promise!
And it wasn’t only Israelites were anticipating Jesus’ arrival…would the Magi have followed the star if they didn’t know where it was going to lead?
Although it’s not conclusive…if you visit chapter 2 in the book of Matthew to read about the Magi it also appears that it wasn’t only good people anticipating the arrival of their king. The Magi visited someone who wasn’t terribly excited about the news about the birth of a "replacement" king—of course that was the present king, Herod. If you look at the narrative it shows Herod does not question the news…and the "chief priests and scribes of the people" quickly able to answer where Christ was to be born.
Wrapping it up
No…by the time Jesus arrived the people were at a high level of expectation for a coming redeemer…most just had the conquering king on the brain instead of the suffering servant or apocalyptic judge—even the disciples seemed trapped in the kingly mindset until Jesus’ death…and glory be….Jesus’ resurrection…shocked them into reality.
Their Messiah had come to serve and die for them…not to rule them! (Although, of course, He is the ruler of all who call Him "Lord.")
We close our second movement with a cliffhanger. We are on the edge of our seats with expectation—what will the next movement bring? Will we return to the doom and gloom that was so prevalent in the first movement? Have we just been teased…and we will have to continue to wait for the promise?
Will we be disappointed when we unwrap the present? Does the gift wrap and bow pledge more than will be delivered?
But more importantly…as we anticipate Christmas…and recognize the anticipation felt by so many before Christ’s incarnation…are you like Anna, waiting for the final redemption of this universe as sin and death are done away with? Like Simeon, looking to the second coming of the "consolation of Israel," "the Lord’s Christ"?
Do you even think about it?
Does it scare you?
Is your reply to, "He who testifies to these things says, ‘Surely I am coming soon’" a hearty "Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!"? (Revelation 22:20)
If not, you don’t understand the gift you are about to receive is no less worthy of anticipation as was the babe in a manger who joins us in the third movement next week.
Same gift…same Messiah…but this time He is coming in the clouds—in judgement—and will establish His kingdom for all eternity.
But that’s a whole ‘nother symphony yet to be performed…
1Sproul, R. (1996). Following Christ. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers.