Precursors to the cross
Otar the reindeer has always loved Christmas. Most reindeer joy in the season, as they become stars for a month. Otar loved it far more. All year, he would watch for the signs. First came the Christmas in July celebrations. Then he would watch for the stores to set up their Christmas displays. He clapped his hooves when the Christmas toy catalogues came out. He always watched for santa Claus in the Thanksgiving parade. Right up to the Christmas Eve caroling ride, Otar's heart sang with each of these pre-Christmas signs.
In our journey through history, we have completely finished the old testament and are coming up on the centerpiece of history, the life of Christ. Since we are entering the holiday season which will begin with a time of thanks, culminate in a celebration of Jesus birth, and end with the ushering in of a new year, it seems fitting that we should take a few weeks to focus intently on how the threads of history have interwoven to prepare for the birth of Jesus and usher in the New Testament era.
Up to this point, I have been using the analogy of a river for history. Perhaps a more fitting analogy for this series-within-a-series would be a song played by an orchestra. Every instrument plays a part in the song. They do not all play the same thing. Sometimes they play in unison, sometimes in harmony, sometimes in counterpoint. Sometimes, the melody is dark, sometimes the music is soft and difficult to hear, but the orchestra is always playing, led by the Master Conductor.
I am going to be discussing nine parts to this song.
1. The promise
2. The angels
3. The prophets
5. The Star
6. The Magi
7. The shepherds
8. Mary and Joseph
9. John the Baptist
Then, finally, the birth of Jesus. We're going to be recovering a lot of old territory, but I am hoping that we can learn a great many new things we didn't cover before.
The sacrifice of the Christ had been in God's plan since the beginning of time. He knew long before He ever created anything that people were going to sin. He knew that they would need a savior. It was upon the fall of mankind that God made the first promise of a savior. Speaking to the serpent through whom Satan had acted, he said "...And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel." Notice that He speaks of the offspring of the woman as "He", but he still says "your head". Now we know that this particular snake could not have survived for four thousand years. God was addressing Satan. The promise was that although Satan would injure the Messiah, he would also be destroyed by the Messiah.
When you're waiting for something big to happen, what do you generally do? I know what I do. I'm constantly checking for it. If I'm waiting for something to come in the mail, I looking in the mailbox every day. Of course, with the mail, you have no sign of a parcel's imminence until it arrives. With many things, you get signs fortelling the arrival of the thing waited for.
When I was a little pup, I used to spend Christmas eve with a globe or atlas close at hand. I would use time and geography to track the progress of st. Nick across the world. I'd watch for reports from Norad. I would spend most of the night listening for hoofsteps. And yeah, I still do those things.
So if you were waiting for the Messiah to come, wouldn't you be looking for a few hints that you might be getting close? For some sign that God hadn't forgotten His promise?
While it may not seem like it at first glance, the old testament is full of precursors for the Christ. I'd just like to examine a few.
The first one I'd like to take a look at is the rainbow. After God flooded the world, He decreed that the rainbow would be the symbol of His promise never again to destroy the world by flood. But what is a rainbow?
Have you ever noticed that a rainbow always appears opposite the sun? This is a little strange when you consider that sunlight and rainbow are the same thing. They don't merely spring from a common source, they have the very same substance. what makes the rainbow unique is its passage through air and water. The water droplets in the air turn the light around and refract it to create a spectacle of breathtaking beauty. While direct sunlight is far too brilliant to look at, the rainbow is not only safe to view, it gives us a peek at all the component colors of the sunlight. If you're especially blessed like me, you can see nine distinct colors.
Similarly, Jesus is cosubstantial with God the Father. Despite being seperate people, they are the same God. What makes Jesus different is his manifestation in the flesh (symbolized by water) by way of the Holy Spirit (symbolized by air). While we cannot see God, and his awesome, unfathomable nature may make Him seem unknowable, Jesus is Emmanuel, God with us. Because He is in the flesh, we can look at Him and see each of the facets of God in a way we can understand. As a rainbow displays all of the colors of the sun seperately, so Jesus exemplifies all the aspects of the Father in a distinct and understandable way. By looking at Jesus, we can see God's mercy, love, justice, majesty, wisdom, power, and on and on. And while a rainbow may fade away, we know that it will return. We just don't know when. So too is Jesus gone from the earthly realm, but He will return. We just don't know when. The rainbow serves as a reminder to God of His promise. It intercedes to save us from the one aspect of God's wrath. So too, Jesus intercedes for His people, bearing wirness for us that we have been forgiven and saving us from God's wrath.
Another sign I'd like to point out is the Caduseus. During the Exodus, God had become frustrated with the sin of the Hebrews and had sent poisonous snakes to bite them. In His vast mercy, however, He also made a way for the people to be saved from these snakebites. God instructed Moses to errect a pole with a bronze serpent on it. Anyone who suffered snakebite and looked at the bronze serpent would live. Unfortunately, the Caduseus had to be destroyed during the anti-idol campaigns during the era of the Kings, as some had begun worshipping it. This is why you don't find a lot of sacred relics in Judeo-Christianity.
One reason I like the Caduseus is because it takes a creature which has been despised since Eden and turns it into a healer. Really, though, there was no reason for snakes to be despised. Snakes aren't evil. The ones biting the Hebrews were there to enact justice. Isn't it interesting that the same creature doling out justice was the one which tempered it?
So it is with Jesus. Even though He is cosubstantial with God, He is the one who makes intercession for us and holds back the Father's punishment. And although He was innocent, like the snake, Jesus was despised. As the serpent was lifted up on a pole, so Jesus was lifted on the cross. A person dying of snakebite had only to look at the Caduseus to insure that he would live. The serpent would do the rest. Those who are under damnation because of their sin need only turn to Jesus to be forgiven. Jesus does the rest.
So Jesus is like a rainbow and a bronze snake. But there's one more sign I'm going to bring out. The menorah. Yes, that's right! Every Hanukah, families devoutly following Judaism place in their homes symbols of Jesus Christ! Remember my sermon on the Macabees.
When the Hasmonean Israelites had retaken the temple, there was only enough oil to burn the lamps for one day. Consecrating more oil would take a full week. It was physically impossible for them to worship God in the prescribed manner. Fortunately, they did not have to solve the problem. God Himself provided the oil, allowing the lamps to burn for an additional seven days. The Israeites needed only to come to Him. He came the rest of the way and made worship possible. Every Hanukah, faithful Hebrews light menorahs to commemorate this miracle.
God is unapproachable. Like the sun, we can't get near Him and we can't even look directly at Him. He is just so holy, so perfect, so wondrous that we sinful creatures can't even get into the same ballpark as God. A relationship with the almighty is problematic because no matter what we do, we can never be good enough for Him. Praise the Lord we don't have to be. God in His great mercy provided a means of reconciliation. He came the rest of the way to meet us in the person of Yeshua Meshiah, Jesus Christ. Jesus is what makes it possible for us to truly worship God the Father. When Jesus died upon the cross, the veil of the temple was torn in two, ripped by God Himself from top to bottom. He fulfilled the requirements of the law for us by taking our sins upon Himself and making us clean and holy. The only thing that can keep us from God now is a deliberate choice to reject Him.
So there you have it. There are many other signs and forerunners I could point out, but these are the three I wanted to bring to your attention. The rainbow, the Caduseus and the Menorah. They illustrate that Jesus is our intercessor, our savior, and our pathway to God.
Glory to God!
Today's Reading: Isaiah 53
53:1 Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?
2 He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
3 He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
4 Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted.
5 But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.
6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
7 He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.
8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away. And who can speak of his descendants? For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was stricken.
9 He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth.
10 Yet it was the Lord's will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the LORD makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand.
11 After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light of life and be satisfied ; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities.
12 Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.