Week 2 – Bible and History

In the second week we think more about the prophets – Why? Because they were trying to see where God was in the world, and what God was calling people to do. How is God at work in history? What is judgement, and is God merciful? What about other people?

As people deep in prayer they were given insights, pictures, understanding including glimpses of what God would do in the future. For the God of then had a plan for the ‘then’ and the future, to bring in his Kingdom, on the Day of the Lord.

And we too live in the real world of ‘now’ but have faith in and hope for the Kingdom which is to come, not as passive spectators, but active in the world today.

Saturday 2.6 –    Hints, glimpses and foresights

In our traditional Carol Service readings, we hear from the prophet Isaiah and from Micah.

In Matthew’s Gospel we are told that the birth of Jesus happened in such a way as it fulfilled what was written so much earlier by the prophets.

The virgin shall give birth to a child ..

And you, Bethlehem, from you shall arise a King ..

The people who walked in darkness, on them has the light shone ..

The gospel writers link John the Baptist with the voice of one crying in the wilderness.

Are we to think that these passages were written hundreds of years previously just to find their meaning at Jesus’ birth?

We have already seen that, in this great symphony, so often the climax is in the person of Jesus, but that does not mean the earlier movements are without meaning.

Passages which had a meaning when they were written, take on a deeper meaning in Jesus, and help us understand better who Jesus truly is.

All four of the gospels are full of Old Testament allusions or references and in Matthew’s case quite a number of apparently random quotes.

For all four writers, Jesus is the culmination of the Old Testament strands and themes. And in their different ways they point back and ask us to remember the earlier passages as we think about who Jesus is. There are so many developing themes.

Moses is the prophet who frees the people from slavery in the Exodus and then Joshua brings them through the Jordan to become God’s people in the Promised Land; John the Baptist then baptises in the Jordan, symbolically getting the people to re-enter the Promised Land.

In Genesis 1 God speaks and the world is created: in John 1 we read “through him all things were created”. The Word of God is – as it were – the power of God to do.

In the feeding of the 5000 Jesus is providing food in the wilderness area, just as God provided manna in the desert. Jesus controls the waters – in each case we are shown that Jesus is God for those who can see it.

Yesterday we saw how the sacrifice practice was completed in Jesus, and how the principle of sacrifice helps us understand the death of Jesus, what it means to be the Lamb of God.

In some of Jesus miracles he is presented rather like Elijah and Elisha, healing lepers, raising a dead child, feeding the hungry.

The letter to the Hebrews suggests that Jesus is also the ultimate priest, not just the ultimate sacrifice.  Or as the hymn puts it

Thou on earth both priest and victim

In the Eucharistic feast

And, as we have been discovering, Jesus is also the ultimate King, the true King, the Messiah, the anointed one from God, though to the puzzlement of his followers and the despair of the crowds he did not free them from Rome.

Bethlehem is the town where David was born, and Micah says a King from this line will come. In many places the prophets speak of a root of Jesse (Jesse is David’s father), of a son from David’s line, of a future Davidic king from God.

The themes of the Old Testament come together in Jesus, the true King, the true priest who makes atonement for our sin, the true sacrifice who pays the ultimate and full price; the anointed one (Christ means an anointed person in Greek – it is not Jesus ‘surname’!). He is Jesus the Christ, Jesus the anointed one.

What the people then could not grasp was that this Messiah, the fulfilment of the Scriptures, this fulfilment of the promise would come in such humble and unexalted circumstances, would suffer, would be rejected. This was not the sort of Messiah they expected nor what they wanted.

Further on in Isaiah however the description – a rather peculiar description – of a suffering servant did give a better “fit” to how Jesus had lived and died. In Isaiah chapter 53 the suffering servant suffers because of the sin of others and this is God’s will.

Laid in a feeding trough, born in a small village to a poor family, growing up a workman, only half understood at best, and falling foul of the religious authorities and the Roman powers, and calling his followers to walk in the same ways – trusting and hoping for a fuller future Kingdom in God’ fullness of time. 

The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.