The Encouragement of the Scriptures

It’s been a while since my last post – several weeks. With a wife and five children and as the only child of an elderly mother, who fell and broke her hip the Sunday after Thanksgiving – I just brought her home today! -, my life has a way of getting hectic quick. This fall in addition to teaching a discipleship class at my church each week, I also preached at a few other churches’ revival services. I’ve also been working on papers for the Board of Ordained Ministry for many weeks now as I continue on the long and arduous process toward ordination as an Elder in the United Methodist Church – I just turned the document in yesterday. So I haven’t given my blog the attention I would have liked. Nonetheless, there are couple of thoughts I’d like to share over the next couple of days – hopefully anyway.

One is how blessed I have been as I have preached through Advent and into the Christmas Season thinking about how much of the prophecies of Scripture have already been fulfilled by Jesus. I especially have the Old Testament in mind here. Isaiah in particular comes up so often during Advent and during the season of Christmas (December 25th – January 5), especially regarding the birth narratives. Matthew, for example, draws our attention to Isaiah by book ending the birth of Jesus and the beginning of his preaching ministry with Isaiah 7:14 and Isaiah 9:1-2 (Matthew 1 & 4). The former refers to a virgin giving birth to one who would be called Immanuel, which means God with us; the latter speaks of those who walked in darkness witnessing a great light. By quoting these verses Matthew is not just focusing our attention on these specific verses, but to the broader sweep of these passages, some of which had an immediate fulfillment in Isaiah’s day, but they were ultimately fulfilled in the way they prefigured the ruler to come who would bring everlasting peace on the heels of pure righteousness judgment by Jesus of Nazareth. Isaiah 9 goes on to say:

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Might God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore” (Is 9:6-7 ESV).

Matthew is telling us that this is Jesus, the one who also fulfilled the prophecy of Micah5:2 by being born in Bethlehem of Judea, and the one whose way was prepared by John the Baptist, himself, according to Matthew, a fulfillment of Isaiah 40:3.

Of course so much of what Isaiah prophesied has not fully come to pass. Swords have not been turned into plowshares and nations have not given up the gruesome art of war (Isaiah 2:4); world peace still seems to be the dream of the naive. For this reason many have rejected the claim that Jesus was and is the Messiah that Israel had so longed for. However, the one that Isaiah envisioned coming as the righteous judge who would bring justice to the poor and the meek and destroy the wicked (Is 11:4), was also the one who would be “deeply despised, abhorred by the nation” (Is 49:7), “despised and rejected” (Isaiah 53:3), who would die for the sins of the world and bring healing to his people and ultimately to all the nations of the world by his wounds (see Isaiah 52:13-53:12). There is so much that Isaiah saw that still seems to be a pipe dream, but there is also much else that he saw that has been fulfilled by Jesus of Nazareth.

Lee Stroble, in his book, “The Case for Christ”, tells the story of Louis Lapides, who is Jewish. As a young man he rejected the Jewish faith of his upbringing and embarked on a journey into eastern religious mysticism and psychedelic drugs . After a hard life and many dead-ends had left him feeling hopeless but still desperate and hungry for meaning, he accepted a challenge to read the Bible. He refused to read the New Testament initially, however, because he had gotten the impression that it was the equivalent of a Nazi training manual. As he read through the Hebrew Scriptures, the Old Testament, he began to note the references and allusions of this prophet and king to come.

Throughout his life he could never understand why Christians were so enamored with Jesus and the crucifixion. As he began to read Isaiah, especially what scholars refer to as “the servant passages”, he came to believe that Jesus was the one that Isaiah had been talking about all along, even several hundred years before he was born. He began to see what Jesus himself had revealed to his earliest disciples and apostles: that he was the fulfillment of what had been prefigured and predicted in the law and the prophets all along (i.e. Luke 24:13-49). He came to see that Jesus had fulfilled so much already, and that he is the one who will fulfill the remainder of the promises yet to be fulfilled.

In an interview with Stroble, Louis said, based on the calculations of Peter Stoner, that the likelihood of Jesus fulfilling just eight of the dozens and dozens of prophecies of the Old Testament by accident was 1 in 100 million billion. This, he said, would be equivalent someone blindfolded finding one uniquely marked silver dollar in a knee deep sea of silver dollars the size of the area of the state of Texas.

The more I study Scripture the more I see how uniquely Jesus of Nazareth is the one about whom the law and the prophets testified in many very specific and in many more very subtle and nuanced ways. He has fulfilled so much of Scripture already; we can be confident enough in faith to have a sure hope that he will bring the rest of it to pass.

I think this is what the apostle Paul was talking about when he wrote:“For whatever was written in the former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Romans 15:4 ESV – I encourage you to read the context).

Christmas is a reminder that so much of Scripture has already been fulfilled in Jesus, the Messiah. He truly is a light to the nations and through him God’s salvation has spread to  nations all around the world and is still spreading. Jesus came as the Savior of the world; he will come again as its rightful Lord and its righteous Judge and thereby bring in the everlasting peace of the kingdom that has no end. In this new year, may your life be filled with the present assurance of faith, the confident anticipation of steadfast hope, and an overflowing abundance of God’s great love in Christ. Indeed, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope” (Romans 15:13).

 

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