The most important story
When I am working on a painting, I want the viewer to see the truth of the subject I see rather than my own ideas about that subject. A representational painting is the product of a long process of focused observation, re-presenting and suggesting the shapes which make up the appearance that the artist sees. When those shapes are faithfully recorded according to their proportions, values, and colors, the viewer is exposed to the same shapes which were exposed to the artist. In every painting, I want the truth to speak, not me. I’m not interested in self-expression, but rather the truth expressing itself to us.
While paintings may attempt to expose a viewer to the true appearance of a scene, there are much greater truths to be exposed.
What is truth?
There are many different beliefs and theories about what is true, what made us, why we are here, and where we are going. You may be convinced that the truth we can know is merely what we can physically sense, believing simply in what you can observe and scientifically prove. Or, maybe you believe that truth is relative. Does truth even exist? And if so, do we have access to it, or are we trapped in our own biased interpretations?
It’s not popular in many circles to actually claim to know universal truth, or truth that is true for everyone. That makes people disagree and, at least in the west, we are afraid of that. Better to not really believe anything so we can all just get along, right? Or at least just keep our private beliefs and opinions to ourselves. And really, can anyone really know anything with absolute perfect knowledge? Aren’t we like the blind men who approach the same elephant, attempting to understand what they can sense? One feels the leg and says it’s a pillar. Another feels the tail and says it’s a rope. Yet another feels the tusk and says it’s a pipe. None of the blind men can fully and absolutely comprehend what they are observing. And so it is, we are told, with life. We are limited in our understanding, biased by our own upbringing and communities, unable to know truth absolutely…if it does exist at all. So we need to accept our limitations and give up our efforts to grasp the truth or worse, push that truth on others and create division. You can have “your truth” and I will have mine and it’s okay as long as we keep it to ourselves. If nobody really truly believes anything anymore, then we can all get along. But if anyone dares to claim universal truth they are understood as arrogantly elevating themselves above the rest. That person might even be considered rude, judgmental, and hateful. In western culture, we can’t simply tolerate people anymore, now we must tolerate all ideas. Tolerance no longer implies disagreement, but rather affirmation and acceptance of all ideas as equally valid.
But there are problems with the elephant illustration. As author and speaker Kevin DeYoung points out, whoever is telling the story believes in absolute, universal truth that is knowable – is not the story itself a truth claim about reality? The story teaches that no person can ever know what is true about reality. And yet, whoever is telling the story believes this teaching is the absolute truth about reality for everyone everywhere. Second, what happens if the elephant starts talking? “That’s not a rope, it’s my tail. I’m an elephant.” Can those men now innocently declare that the object of their observation is unknowable?
Our problem is not that the elephant cannot communicate to us, but rather that we suppress what is being communicated. Something is not right with us. Like any painting testifies to its maker, so all the universe proclaims the existence of its Creator. His work is all around us and no one is without excuse. So why don’t we know our Creator? If He has communicated to us, then why are so many groping around in the dark?
God has not left us alone; He has spoken. And the One who made the eye is fully capable of opening our blind eyes.
Though you might not know or see it, He has been fully active in this world from the beginning of time. Over a period of about 1500 years and in 3 different languages, this God spoke to and through various people as He worked throughout history. His messages were written in a number of books of varying genres, all of which are combined into one book and are pieces of one message. No book in history has ever come close to the authenticity, reliability, and impact of this book. If we doubt the historical reliability of this book, then we must throw out every other source of ancient history because they do not compare. You can argue these points and feel free to do so. But here I would like to focus rather on the message that God has spoken to us in that book. In order to fully understand the message, you must understand the entire story.
As we look at His story, my hope and prayer is that this will be a faithful re-presentation of His communication to you. I do not speak as one who in his own wisdom has discovered or contrived these things, but as a healed blind man beginning to see. My desire is that you would receive the same gift I have received. I wasn’t looking for God, but He was looking for me and He is looking for you. It may be the reason you are reading this. I have nothing to say that is beneficial to you, but God does. Just as I hope you will not see me, but the subject in a painting, so I want His words to be exposed to you rather than my own ideas. So I encourage you to read His book for yourself. Don’t take my word for it. Let’s look at it together and ask, just as you must do when drawing or painting, “what do I see?”
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters. Then God said, Let there be light’; and there was light. God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light day, and the darkness He called night. And there was evening and there was morning, one day.” Genesis 1:1-5
Those are the first few sentences of God’s book and the first day of history. We can make a few observations right away. First, in the beginning there was nothing but God. We tend to see the world as revolving around ourselves, but really we are just created objects; God is the subject, the main character. We see God, we see His Spirit, and we see His word, by which He creates. God made everything by speaking it into existence. And this work that He had made was, according to God Himself, good.
Many scientists today tell us their version of how it really happened. Apparently there was no creator, nothing produced something, and over billions of years disorder ordered itself and produced everything. We all agree that everything was miraculously created. But without a hint of actual observable evidence, some scientists insist we must put our blind faith in the theory and religion of evolution and naturalism, believing we have no purpose, we are an accident, and were made by nothing. These things could be discussed at length, but our purpose here is rather to examine what the text of God’s communication to us actually says. There are many resources regarding the topic of science and creation, including the The Institute for Creation Research where you can find more information.
God tells us that He created everything as we know it in six days. On the sixth and last day of His work, He created human beings as His crowning achievement.
“Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’ God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.’” Genesis 1:26-28
“God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good…” Genesis 1:31
God created humanity from one couple, one man and one woman, to reflect Him on earth, to represent His rule and care for His creation, and to bring glory to their Creator. They lived together in a garden paradise with God, in perfect harmony with Him and each other. No pain, no strife, no crime, no corruption, no sickness, no death. Nothing was wrong in the world. The man and the woman had no shame and nothing to hide – in fact it says they had no clothes!
After a big picture view of the process of creation, chapter two zooms in for a close up of the story, showing God’s intimate involvement in our existence.
“Then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being. The Lord God planted a garden toward the east, in Eden; and there He placed the man whom He had formed. Out of the ground the Lord God caused to grow every tree that is pleasing to the sight and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” Genesis 2:7-9
Here, the Creator of the entire universe is now working up close and personal with dirt. This must be something special. He creates man and gives him a perfect home with one restriction:
“The Lord God commanded the man, saying, ‘From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.’ Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him.’ Out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the sky, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called a living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all the cattle, and to the birds of the sky, and to every beast of the field, but for Adam there was not found a helper suitable for him.” Genesis 2:16-20
God made a beautiful, perfect home for this man, giving him responsibility over the paradise He had made. But something was not good: the man was alone. As a result, God said He would make a helper suitable or fitting or corresponding to him. So did God all the sudden realize He didn’t make things perfect? Was He trying to figure out if any animal might be good enough for Adam? Why do you think this story is here? Are these just random stories put together? If you are Adam, what does this event teach you? As you begin naming the animals who all happen to have mates, it becomes evident to you that, unlike those animals, you do not have a mate. Adam has a need and now he knows it. And NOW God will act.
“So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then He took one of his ribs and closed up the flesh at that place. The Lord God fashioned into a woman the rib which He had taken from the man, and brought her to the man. The man said, ‘This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called woman, because she was taken out of man.’ For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.” Genesis 1:21-25
The man lacked something he needed, namely, a wife. But he probably didn’t know that. Notice that the text didn’t say that Adam started complaining or wishing he had a wife. There has never been such thing as a wife until now! The only one who we know is aware of this problem is God Himself. Adam might be completely unaware of the problem. Not only is he unaware, but even if he realized he was lacking something out there, something he probably never imagined, what in the world could he do about it?
God could have solved the problem as soon as He stated that He would make a helper for Adam. But it appears He did not. God’s delay in fixing the problem might actually have been highlighting the problem to Adam, in order that he would understand what God is like. By bringing the man to see his need, God may have been teaching the man. Adam would learn that God is good. He knows Adam’s needs. He wants the best for Adam. If there is something good lacking, God will provide. God is everything this man needs. This was a lesson Adam would need to remember.
Immediately after this event, the text switches scenes. Everything so far is perfect. The man is united to his wife who was made from him. They are without shame, in perfect harmony with God and each other. There is nothing wrong in the world. This is paradise. And God has shown that He is good and worthy to be trusted.
“Now the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said to the woman, ‘Indeed, has God said, “You shall not eat from any tree of the garden”?’” Genesis 3:!
The answer is no, but what does the question imply or suggest? The devil, a created angel who rebelled against God, going after the woman first, spoke through the serpent.
“The woman said to the serpent, ‘From the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat; but from the fruit of the tree which is in the middle of the garden, God has said, “You shall not eat from it or touch it, or you will die.”‘” Genesis 3:2-3
Notice Eve’s response. It’s not quite accurate. He didn’t actually say you couldn’t touch it. Already God is sounding a little restrictive.
“The serpent said to the woman, ‘You surely will not die! For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’” Genesis 3:4-5
The serpent introduced the first lie into the world, claiming that God was not telling them the truth – God would not and could not punish disobedience. God is not who you think He is. He’s no different than You, except that He has something you want and need and He won’t share. God is selfish, power-hungry, and oppressive, holding the you back from something desirable and good for you, something that would make you just like God Himself. God doesn’t want that! He doesn’t have your best interest in mind, but rather His own! Therefore God must be evil, corrupt, unjust! He cannot be trusted. If you want to really live, you are on your own and it is better to fight, to disregard his command and go against Him to obtain the one thing He is keeping for Himself. So go ahead, fix this problem yourself.
“When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise, she took from its fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves” Genesis 3:6-7.
Instantly the man and woman were filled with shame, guilt, and fear. All of the sudden, the relationship between God and man was severed by their rebellion and disobedience. Trust was even broken between the man and the woman. Now there existed a gap between what was and what should have been.
Immediately, our parents attempted to close this gap and hide their shame and guilt by making coverings for themselves with fig leaves. They presented themselves in a new way that didn’t allow what was true to be seen. When our first parents should have been walking in the cool of the day with God, they were now hiding from their good Maker among the trees. But God came searching for the man and asked, “Where are you?” But did God not know? The man answered, explaining that he was afraid of God because he was naked and so he hid himself. Knowing the truth all along, God asked the man, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” (Genesis 3:11) Adam thus blamed Eve and Eve then blamed the serpent. But all were guilty. In fulfillment of His words, God carried out the punishment for their disobedience, rebellion, and offense against Him…though not all at once. After cursing the serpent, God destined Adam and Eve to a mere existence of pain and hardship in a cursed world with messed up relationships, until they would return to the dust from which they were created. God drove the man and woman out from the paradise garden to be cut off from living forever, banished from the fellowship they once enjoyed with God.
But what’s the big deal? Why is eating some fruit so bad? In disobeying God, the man and woman believed the lie that God was not good and as a result, they became independent of Him, rebelling against Him. What Adam and Eve did was to decide for themselves what was good and evil, what was right and wrong – and that’s God’s job. Essentially, as D.A. Carson says, they “de-God-ed” God. God’s creatures took Him off His throne and became gods for themselves. That is what it means to sin. And if you reject the source of life, what is there but death? God, a holy, perfectly just and good king and judge, must punish what is evil, wrong, and sinful – what is against Him. Would a judge be good who lets criminals get away with evil unpunished? He made known the consequence of the crime beforehand. In fact, God would have been just and right in killing Adam and Eve immediately after they ate the fruit, thus destroying the entire human race.
Don’t think this is an irrelevant ancient story that has no effect on us. All of us are the children of Adam and Eve. Nothing has changed; we are born into the same situation. We are still banished to a mere existence under the curse of sin. This world is not the way it should be. Look around. It is full of pain, hardship, sin, violence, hatred, and darkness. Our parents did in fact receive the knowledge of good and evil. However this knowledge was not like the knowledge a doctor has of cancer, but that which the cancer patient has!
In our exile from God and our hopeless fallen state, we try to make life work apart from God. “Have confidence in yourself!” “Believe in yourself!” We avoid God in order to convince ourselves we are okay in our rebellion, that what God calls evil is actually good. We tell ourselves that we are free to do what we want and, like the serpent said, surely we won’t die! Or, on the other hand, we may even try to work our way back to God, attempting to gain His favor despite our sinful condition, as though He would owe us entrance back into life. But we are like blind men groping along in the darkness, searching to fill the emptiness inside of us. Isaiah 59:9-10 puts it well: “We hope for light, but behold, darkness, for brightness, but we walk in gloom. We grope along the wall like blind men, we grope like those who have no eyes; we stumble at midday as in the twilight, among those who are vigorous we are like dead men.”
Our efforts are futile; we are dead in our sins. We have rebelled against God and become independent from Him. God is not on our radar. Life doesn’t work that way. Unless God – the One whom we have all offended – does something, we die. We got ourselves into this mess – we cannot dig our way out.
This life is not a test for us to pass. The test already happened with our first parents and they failed for all of us. Sin is humanity’s biggest problem. All of us await the coming judgment. There is nothing we ourselves can do to fix the gap between us and God. Despite the claims of countless religions, there is nothing we can do to ultimately appease God’s just wrath for our sin and make Him favorable towards us. Of course, it is possible for us to do many good things to some extent in our fallen state and life usually goes well when attempt to walk God’s way. But our good works cannot hide or cover our real problem. We are still rebels against God, sinners in our hearts. When Adam and Eve sinned, they made clothing for themselves out of fig leaves (very uncomfortable) to cover their shame. But this kind of covering does not last. We cannot convince God that we are righteous and worthy of life. Our efforts do not hide the truth from God, nor do they satisfy God’s wrath. He sees and knows that we are a family of sinners under condemnation of death for sin. Nothing has changed since Adam and Eve. We are hopeless and lost if God does not choose to do something.
But God did choose to do something.
2 Samuel 14:14 says: “Like water spilled on the ground, which cannot be recovered, so we must die. But that is not what God desires; rather, he devises ways so that a banished person does not remain banished from him.”
In Genesis 2:16-17, God told Adam that in the day he ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, he would die. Why did he (and all of us) not die in that moment? We are God’s enemies because of sin, worthy of death, and yet we are living. In our sin and banishment, God still allows us to enjoy the things He has created. He satisfies our hearts with food and gladness. Though we are sinners, He gives us families, food, beauty, laughter, art, music, mountains, seas, trees, rain, enjoyment, and more. Jesus said, “But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men” Luke 6:35. Why is God kind to His enemies?
God spoke through the prophet Ezekiel, saying, “Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord God, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live?” Ezekiel 18:23. God does not want anyone to perish. You and I are created in His image. He made you and He loves you, even though you have rebelled against Him. Even before Adam sinned, God chose to make a way to save us from our sins and banishment – a way that was His doing and not ours.
There is nothing sinful rebels can do to escape God’s judgment. We as unholy sinful people cannot live in God’s presence because He is a holy, righteous, good, and just God. Since He is just, He must punish sin. Otherwise He is unjust. He cannot merely ignore or forget our sin. But God is also compassionate and gracious, desiring that none of us should perish (2 Peter 3:9). He is like a good shepherd who longs for all of His lost sheep return to Him. God spoke through the Ezekiel, promising: “Behold, I Myself will search for My sheep and seek them out” Ezekiel 34:11. God, the good shepherd, took the initiative and decided to search for you and I while we were lost and dead in our sins.
As God spoke to Adam and Eve after they had sinned, He promised that a “seed” or descendant from the woman would come who would crush the head of the serpent, while the serpent would crush his heel. Then, God made a covering of animal skin for the man and his wife in place of their useless fig leaf clothing. Thus, the first sacrifice was made by God in order to cover the shame of man. From that point on, man began to populate the earth, looking for this coming one, this seed of the woman, whom God had promised. Thousands of years passed and God called a man named Abram and renamed him Abraham, giving him promises of land and descendants. God unconditionally promised to this man to bless the entire world through his descendants or “seed.” Hope entered the world once again.
But it took a while for this man Abraham to see any descendants. God made these promises to Abraham when he was 75 years old and his wife was barren and beyond the point of childbearing. But Abraham believed that God could do what He said He would do, even if it was humanly impossible. This belief was credited to Abraham by God as righteousness. Sure enough, in fulfillment of the promise, 25 years after waiting, when his wife was 90 years old, the promised son was born to Abraham! Years later God challenged this man, revealing his trust in God’s promises, telling him to take this son of the promise and kill him as a sacrifice to God. Abraham, believing that God would somehow still do what he said he would do – namely, bring to pass His promise through this son, in obedience, went to the place where God had told him. Believing that God could raise his son from the dead, he went to slay his son. Before he was able to carry out the command, God stopped him, providing a ram in the place of his son. God rewarded him, confirming the promises and thus, the place became known as the place where God would provide the sacrifice.
As time progressed, according to God’s own words, the descendants of Abraham multiplied in the land of Egypt and were enslaved for 400 years. At the end of the foretold time, God sent to the people a man named Moses to deliver them out of their slavery. Moses was one of their own, but was forced to flee for his life to a foreign land for 40 years. Through Moses, God performed amazing signs in the sight of all the nation. By powerful judgments on the land of Egypt – the strongest nation in the world at that time – God forced Pharaoh king of Egypt to let the people go.
On the last night in Egypt, through Moses God ordered the people to sacrifice a lamb and eat it that night, dressed and ready to leave the land. They were to put the blood of the killed lamb on the two doorposts and the lintel of their home. They were not to leave the house all night. That very night, God would go throughout the land and kill every firstborn child. But whoever had the blood of the lamb on their doorposts and lintel would be passed over and spared. Sure enough, God brought His word to pass and His people were spared because of the blood and were sent out of Egypt. God split the entire Red sea (probably the gulf of Aqaba) and brought the people away from the pursuing Egyptian army, which was drowned in the sea. Thus God revealed His power to the entire world. These people whom God had brought out of Egypt now belonged to Him.
After months of journeying, the people came to a specific mountain where God established a covenant, or an agreement, between the people and Himself. He would be their God and dwell among them and they would be His people. He audibly spoke to all the people (maybe 2 million people) at one time and then to Moses, giving them His laws, “by which a man may live if he does them” Leviticus 18:5. Anyone who did not do all that this law commanded would be under God’s curse (Deuteronomy 27:26). But how can a sinful people dwell with a holy God?
In order for God’s presence to dwell among the people, He instituted a mediating system by which “atonement” would be made for the people. God instructed that special holy dwelling place so that He might dwell among the people. At this place, special men worked as mediators and one specific man, the anointed priest, stood between the people and God. The priest was anointed, which means oil was poured on his head to set him apart and qualify him for this position. The word in the original language is “meshiaH” from which we get the word for Messiah. The anointed priest represented God to the people and the people to God. He alone could do the work necessary for the people to obtain forgiveness from God.
The people were not holy and set apart like God, but unholy, impure, and defiled by sin. At the dwelling place of God, the meeting place between God and man, sin was dealt with and the people came near to God. Essentially, the way sin was dealt with was sacrifice. For example, if a person of the community sinned, he come near to God at the place where God dwelt, bringing near to God an animal which God had commanded. This “qorban” or offering was brought before the place where the animals were burned and the sinner laid his hands on the head of the animal, signifying that the animal was going to be accepted in the place of the sinner. Then the animal would be killed. The priest would then take the blood, the life of the animal, with his own finger and present it before God. Then the animal would be burned on the altar. Thus, the life of the animal that was killed was brought before God on behalf of the sinner and atonement was made and only then were his sins forgiven. Forgiveness from a holy God was made possible by the death of another life in the sinners place. The punishment for sin is always death.
The process was called atonement. The priest would atone for the sin. This verb meant to both cover over and to appease an enemy. God, the offended One, was appeased by the sacrifice. The sin was covered. God’s justice was served, His wrath was satisfied, and the sinner could be forgiven.
Various sacrifices were made at this place, all with essentially the same process of atonement involved. At least two animals a day were killed – on other occaisions, there were many more. This system was put in place during the time of Moses and would not stop until 1500 years later. Daily, a person of this community of God’s people would be reminded that God is holy and they are sinners. They deserve to die. They need a sacrifice.
But not just any sacrifice would do. Only a perfect animal was accepted from bulls, goats, or sheep. And God gave the process to the people – this was not thought up by man. This was not some process by which the people were twisting God’s arm, making Him happy with them. Rather, God, by His initiative, by His grace, provided the people a way to be near Him, to dwell with Him, to be cleansed of their impurity and sin. By these sacrifices and throughout all of God’s dealings with man, time and time again God showed that the way His wrath is turned away from sinners is through the death of another life.
As this system continued throughout the centuries, God eventually gave the people a king to rule over them as a representative of His perfect rule. God took a boy named David from being a shepherd of sheep and made him a shepherd of His people. David was anointed king – similar to how the anointed priest was anointed – which set him apart and qualified him for the position. God spoke to David, promising to raise up for him his descendant as king after him. “I will be a father to him and he will be a son to Me…” 2 Samuel 7:14. In those days, sons did what their fathers did more than they do now. So, as king, David’s descendant would be and act like God, as though he were of the same family – ruling the people in righteousness, administering justice, defeating enemies, shepherding the people. God promised to establish David’s kingdom forever.
As David’s descendants successively reigned as kings, they quickly turned aside from following God’s way. God sent prophet after prophet, warning the people and calling them back to obedience. But over and over again, the nation rebelled against God, breaking the covenant and revealing their true hearts of unbelief and sin. Rather than lead to life as intended, God’s laws, though holy, good, and beneficial when obeyed, served to expose the sin of the people over and over again. When God commanded, the people disobeyed.
But just as God promised long ago to Adam and Eve to send the seed of the woman, so He continued working to fulfill His Word. There would be another “David,” who would eventually come and make everything right. God’s communication to man – along with history itself – was on a trajectory towards this coming one who would deal with the problem of sin and save His people. Despite millennia of God’s working among the people, He did not forget nor neglect His promises. God’s word is like a tapestry, perfectly weaving in and out with specific predictions, patterns, and examples all coming together in this one Man promised by God. It would be impossible to list all the ways in which God revealed His coming.
Moses wrote that after him, God would send another prophet from among the people, just like Moses, the man God used to deliver the people from slavery (Deuteronomy 18:15). David himself spoke from God and revealed that one of his descendants would be a king forever as well as a priest (Psalm 110:4). One of the prophets who spoke from God was Isaiah, who said these words around 700 before the birth of this promised Davidic King:
“For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; and the government will rest on His shoulders; and His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness from then on and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will accomplish this” Isaiah 9:6-7.
Jeremiah wrote as well, saying: “Behold, the days are coming,” declares the Lord, ‘When I will raise up for David a righteous Branch; And He will reign as king and act wisely And do justice and righteousness in the land.’”
God spoke through Ezekiel, saying, “Then I will set over them one shepherd, My servant David, and he will feed them; he will feed them himself and be their shepherd. And I, the Lord, will be their God, and My servant David will be prince among them; I the Lord have spoken.” Ezekiel 34:23-24.
But the way in which this king would rule would be different than most expected. Isaiah also spoke of him, saying:
“But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” Isaiah 53:5-6.
In Exodus 34:7, God tells the prophet Moses that He “forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished.” If someone wrongs you, justice demands that the guilty person pay for the wrong they do to you. If a judge does not punish the person who wronged you, then you are treated with injustice and evil wins. Inside you scream out for someone to defend you. Justice demands punishment for the one who has wronged you. And a good judge punishes the one who does wrong.
But you also have wronged others and ultimately you have wronged God. If you wrong a friend, that’s bad. If you wrong a policeman, that’s really bad. If you wrong the ruler of your country, that’s a lot worse. Our sin, however, is first an offense against our Creator – it is far worse than you or I can realize. When you can see your sin from His perspective, you cry out against yourself, knowing that you deserve His punishment. And you must be punished if God is to remain just. God’s Word says that the payment of sin is death, “and without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” Heb. 9:22. God cannot forgive you while not punishing your sin – otherwise He is a bad judge who breaks His own laws. God cannot ignore or brush off sin. It must be dealt with! He must punish since He is just and perfect and holy. But God also desires to forgive you. So how can the holy, just, and righteous God forgive sinners?
Your sin must be paid for and only God Himself can pay the price to free you from your judgment.
The Promised Seed
When the time had finally come and the people were waiting with expectation for the coming Messiah, rather than sending speaking through a prophet, a messenger who would speak on God’s behalf to the people, God sent His Word, the very message itself. Just like God’s glory came and dwelt in the dwelling place during the time of Moses, so God’s Word came down and dwelt among us in human form. The promised seed of the woman had finally come. God worked a miracle so that a virgin named Mary, of the line of David the king, conceived a baby by the power of the Holy Spirit. By no earthly father, Jesus, or Yeshooa’ (which means Ya or God saves) was born into this world as a man just like us, yet without sin – and not in the line of our sinful father Adam. As Isaiah spoke, Jesus was also called Immanuel, which means “God with us.”
Jesus grew up and when He was about 30 years old, was introduced to the nation by a prophet named John the Baptist. John said of Him: “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” John 1:29. Jesus began proclaiming to the people that the time was fulfilled and the Kingdom of God was near. He performed miracle after miracle, healing the sick, opening the eyes of the blind, casting out evil spirits, and even raising dead people to life. He spoke with authority, calling out the sin of the people and pointing them to their need for Him. Thousands followed Him, expecting Him to be the Messiah. But their expectations were not what God had in mind. At the time, the nation was ruled by a foreign power – Rome – and the people longed for the promised son of David to deliver them from their oppression. But Jesus’ message and direction were not what they expected. The religious leaders of the time opposed him as He constantly exposed their hypocrisy and corrupt hearts. They plotted to take His life out of jealousy, fearing His popularity and the potential that He would make trouble for their nation with Rome. But this was no surprise to Jesus.
As the time approached for the fulfillment of all that God had promised, Jesus spoke these words to His followers in Luke 18:31-33:“…All things which are written through the prophets about the Son of Man will be accomplished. For He will be handed over to the Gentiles, and will be mocked and mistreated and spit upon, and after they have scourged Him, they will kill Him; and the third day He will rise again.” He also said in John 10:11, 17-18, “I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep….For this reason the Father loves Me, because I lay down My life so that I may take it again. No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This commandment I received from My Father.”
In fulfillment of all of God’s promises over the millennia and in fulfillment of Jesus’ own words, Jesus was betrayed and given into the hands of the Romans, mocked, scourged, and crucified. He was hung to die outside the city, probably near a main road, naked on the cross for all to see, His hands and feet nailed to the two beams of wood. The sight would have confirmed to the mind of the religious leaders that Jesus surely was NOT the promised Davidic King, let alone the promised seed of the woman! Impossible! 1500 years earlier, God spoke through Moses in Deuteronomy 21:22-23, saying that anyone who was killed and hung on a tree was under God’s curse! In fact, the very first king of the city, labelled as God’s enemy, was executed in such a manner. If Jesus was the promised King from God who would reign forever, how was it possible that He would die, let alone die the death of God’s enemies whom He curses? Thus the people mocked Jesus as He hung on the cross, saying, “If You are the Son of God, come down from the cross,” and, “He saved others; He cannot save Himself” Matthew 27:40, 42.
Jesus was in fact receiving God’s curse. But He took the curse for us. What the people did not understand was that Jesus was performing the work of God’s anointed One. Like the anointed King who saves His people, Jesus was saving His people – not from earthly rulers – but from their sins. Like the anointed priest who alone could mediate between God and man, who alone could make atonement for the sin of the people in order for them to be forgiven, who alone brought the blood of the sacrifice before God – so Jesus was making atonement for the people. Like the blood of the lamb protected the people in Egypt from God’s judgment, so Jesus spilled His blood to deliver us out of our sin and death. Long ago, in the same place Jesus was crucified, Abraham was told to sacrifice his promised son and yet God provided the sacrifice. That place was called “The Lord will provide.” God now provided the ultimate sacrifice.
It was not the blood of animals this time, but the precious blood of a “spotless lamb,” the Son of God, which Jesus Himself brought before God on our behalf. As Hebrews 10:1-4 states:
“For the Law [of Moses], since it has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the very form of things, can never, by the same sacrifices which they offer continually year by year, make perfect those who draw near. Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, because the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have had consciousness of sins? But in those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins year by year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.”
All of the Law which God gave through Moses pointed to Jesus’ once and for all sacrifice. 1 Tim 2:5-6 says: “For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Messiah Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony given at the proper time.”
Jesus had to become human in order to take the punishment for sin which is due to humans. Jesus died the death that you and I deserve in order to make atonement for you and me, to cover our sins and appease God. Thus, God provided the sacrifice for all of us, pouring out all of His wrath onto Jesus.
As Jesus predicted, He died and was buried. But on the third day, God raised Him from the dead and He was seen by over 500 witnesses. We have the testimony written for us today in the pages of the Bible – eyewitnesses who saw Him, spoke with Him, touched Him. Jesus took our death to the grave and now is alive in power, seated at the right hand of God. He will return someday in order to judge, but until that time He calls all of us to turn to Him, away from our sins, and trust in Him to save us from our sins. He alone can provide the forgiveness that we need and reconcile us to God. As He Himself said in John 14:6, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” And one of His followers, Peter, said in Acts 4:12, “There is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.” There is no other way for your sins to be covered. John 3:36 says, “He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.”
Jeremiah and Ezekiel spoke long before Christ, pointing to a time when, according to Jeremiah 31:33-34, God would make a new covenant or agreement with His people – not like the old agreement between the people during Moses’ time. That old covenant was that God would be God to the people and they would be His people – if they kept His commandments. The agreement was conditional, dependent upon the performance of the people. But time and time again, the people broke the covenant and disobeyed God. The problem was not with God’s Law – the problem was with the people. The Law of God is like a test – but not a test to pass. Instead, as Paul says in Romans 3:20, “by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin.” God’s commands actually expose our sin. We know that “the Law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good” Romans 7:12. But we find ourselves bent towards doing the opposite of what God requires. We are drawn to disobedience. It is natural to us. God’s Law is meant not only to guide us, but to show us our sinful state, to convict us of our guilt anod sin before Him, and ultimately to lead us to see our need for a Savior. There is nothing we can do to fix the problem of sin. God’s will is for you to come to the end of yourself, stop trusting in your own good works – which to God are not sufficient to save you – and trust in what He has already provided for your salvation.
In this new covenant, God promised:
“‘I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, “Know the Lord,” for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,’ declares the Lord, ‘for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more’” Jeremiah 31:33-34.
God also spoke through Ezekiel concerning this new covenant, saying:
“Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances.” Ezekiel 36:25-27.
It is not only forgiveness that you can receive from Jesus, but new life. John 1:12 says, “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name.”
Under the Law of Moses, God’s presence and the dwelling place in which He dwelt was considered clean, holy, pure. However, the people could become “unclean” or defiled or polluted by certain things such as touching anything that died on its own or eating specific foods like pig, camel, or anything that did not fit God’s description for clean animals. In addition, bodily discharges or diseases would render a person unclean. An unclean person was separated from God’s presence and had to be made clean. If a person had a skin disease, they were not allowed in the community, but had to stay outside – away from God and His people. Only when he was healed could the priest come and investigate and declare him clean or unclean. If declared clean, the man would go through a process and finally cut off all his hair, bathe, and then be allowed entrance into the community where he would bring a sacrifice to God. Of course, these outward regulations represented a reality that in Jesus’ time would be revealed.
When Jesus walked on this earth, He healed many people. If anyone touched a person with a sin disease, that person became unclean. However, when Jesus touched them, the diseased person became clean! That person was now able to come into the community of God’s people and come near to God! But there is a greater miracle that these physical miracles pointed to. Jesus is also able to heal you spiritually – to cleanse you from your sin and what truly defiles and bring you into the very presence of God. There was a veil which hung in front of the inner room of God’s dwelling place, separating all people from God’s presence (except the anointed priest once a year on the day of atonement where the priest offered the blood of a sacrifice before God in that room). When Jesus died, that veil was torn from top to bottom, signifying that Jesus, by His death, opened the way for us to draw near to God.
God’s Word tells us in Romans 3:23 that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” You and I were born in sin, defiled, polluted, impure. You may argue and say that you are a very good person. Jesus said all God’s commandments can be summed up in 2 commands in Matthew 22:38-40: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
Have you done this all your life, without fail? Have you loved even your enemies? All of us know we fall short. It is not enough for you to work hard and perform for God because you, like all of us, are already declared and judged guilty of sin before a holy God. God is not waiting to see how good you turn out to be. He wants you to come to the end of yourself and give up your way for His. You must be born again. You must be made new. And you can’t do that yourself! It is received only by turning from your sins and putting faith in the Messiah whom He has sent. Jesus said in John 5:24, “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life.” Jesus also said in John 8:24, “unless you believe that I am [the Messiah] you will die in your sins.”
Romans 5:6-8 declares: “For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”
If you long for the King of Kings, the Creator of the Universe, and the Judge of all nations to declare you not guilty, to free you from His just wrath, and to bestow upon you His love and grace, then turn to the One He has sent to provide this to you! There is no other way available! If you desire to be born again, to know God, to be free from sin, to live a holy life, to be pure and clean, to have a new heart that desires and obeys God, to be brought into the family of God, to have the light of life, to have abundant eternal life, and to live forever with God, then give up your way for His way, turn from your sin as well as your efforts to save yourself, and receive what He has already graciously provided for you. Call to Jesus because He alone can do all this for you. He alone can save you. He is alive right now and hears you. He is not far from you.
“And everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” Joel 2:32
Scripture quotations taken from the New American Standard Bible
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