Faith in Focus


"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 knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loin coverings. And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden." Gen.3:6-8

Alienated from God, and then later cut off from His garden and the Tree of Life. What could intervene into this state of affairs to keep despair from drowning our first parents immediately after they rebelled and fell?

Cut off from life, under the sure threat of punishment from God, and under the power of sin and the serpent, they were in desperate need of help. Where would they find the help their situation required? Obviously not from each other, for they had gotten into this fix whilst being perfect. Now they were fallen, there was even less to be expected from that direction. Someone else would have to help or they were lost, doomed.

God did not leave them long in the hopelessness of the trouble they had made for themselves. In fact, almost immediately He informs them of the measures He had already put in place. Is it not a great kindness of God, that He not only provided the way out of the predicament, but also informed them of it, and so soon? He did not leave them to wallow in the despair they deserved. Indeed, man cannot live without hope. So the Lord plants the seeds of hope right there in the garden as He pronounces judgment upon the serpent, man's enemy. "And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise you on the head, and you shall bruise him on the heel." (3:16)

The Great Human Saviour

In this promise full of hope we find also an element of high privilege for man, in that God's instrument of salvation would be the seed or descendant of the woman, i.e. a man. This hope of a human deliverer threads its way through the whole Old Testament period, until its fulfilment and realisation in the arrival of that seed, born of a woman. Hence we find many a promise in the Old Testament, elaborating on that first one, of the special man who would save us.

In Genesis 12:3 we discover that this seed will come through Abram: "in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed." Then a little later it is specified that it will be by Sarah his wife - through Isaac will come the child of the promise.

Jacob, on his death-bed, as he blesses his sons, indicates that the coming one would arise out of the tribe of Judah and would hold office as king, forever. (Gen.49:10)

Somewhat later the identity of this man is narrowed down further to the line of David, son of Jesse. In 2 Samuel 7:13-15 David is given the promise that his son would sit upon the throne of his kingdom forever.

In the prophets there are many predictions concerning what this seed of the woman would do in his rescuing of God's people, none more graphic and detailed than Isaiah's account of his vicarious sufferings, in chapter 53. His heel would indeed be bruised by the old serpent, the devil. He was going to undergo the wrath of God due the sins of those whom he came to save.

But, this all begged the question: how could a mere man suffer the infinite wrath of God, and live to tell? And how could a mere son of Adam, sinner that he must be, atone for other sinners when he had his own sins to deal with? Surely such questions must have arisen in the minds of even the Old Testament believers, who took sin and the wrath of God seriously. Was a purely human Saviour up to the task?

The Great Divine Saviour

The answer to that question was already to be found in the Old Testament. Coming through equally loud and clear as the message that a man was on the way to deliver us, was the message that God Himself was coming to save us.

David was the first one to hear that his anointed son was going to be the Son of God, hence divine. In 2 Samuel 7:14 God tells him, concerning David's descendant, "I will be a father to him and he will be a son to Me." In Psalm 2:7, Yahweh's 'Anointed' (from which we get the word 'Messiah') says, "I will surely tell of the decree of the LORD: He said to Me, 'Thou art My Son, today I have begotten Thee.'"

David also picks up on the deity of the Messiah in his Psalm 110. He writes in verse one concerning him, "The LORD (ie. Yahweh) says to my Lord: 'Sit at My right hand, until I make Thine enemies a footstool for Thy feet.'" Messiah is here portrayed by David as being his superior, although David is to be Messiah's father according to the flesh - something impossible, unless He is God. Jesus would later refer to this apparent anomaly when confronting the Jews with their ignorance concerning the nature of Messiah, and consequent opposition to His claims to divine Sonship.

The fact is that the saints of old were to understand that God Himself was coming to deliver His people. Isaiah made this clear in the 40th chapter of his book: "A voice is calling, 'Clear the way for the LORD in the wilderness; make smooth in the desert a highway for our God.'" (v.3)

And a little further on, "Get yourself up on a high mountain, O Zion, bearer of good news, lift up your voice mightily, O Jerusalem, bearer of good news; lift it up, do not fear. Say to the cities of Judah, 'Here is your God!' Behold, the Lord Yahweh will come with might, with His arm ruling for Him. Behold, His reward is with Him, and His recompense before Him. Like a shepherd He will tend His flock, in His arm He will gather the lambs, and carry them in His bosom; He will gently lead the nursing ewes." (vs.9-11)

Certainly, the Old Testament saints could be confident that their God would be able to save them. But still, if Messiah were exclusively divine, how then could He suffer in the place of His people and bear the curse for them, something that had to be done - didn't the regular temple sacrifices indicate that? How could the infinite and holy God, Creator of all that is, die to take away our sin and guilt?

The Incarnation

There is only one solution to this problem, and that too is already found in the Old Testament revelation of the coming deliverer. The human Saviour and the divine Saviour are one and the same Messiah, God incarnate, God in the flesh.

We find promises that God was going to be born! Again we go to the prophecy of Isaiah, and chapter 7. In verse 14 the LORD promises to give Ahaz a sign: "Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel." Immanuel means 'with us God'.

Chapter 9 refers to the same child when, in verse 6, Isaiah writes, "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 Counsellor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace."

This son of David, this Son of God, this God the Son, would be born of a woman, would take to Himself a human nature through the means of natural birth, although by supernatural, i.e. divine, conception. His mother would be a virgin, but very much human. The mystery and wonder of Christmas!

In such a Saviour the Old Testament saints could hope for a full redemption. The promises concerning His coming were sufficient to sustain their faith, and to keep them from despair over their sin and guilt. They died trusting in Him.

In such a Saviour you and I might easily dare to trust for our salvation, sufficient as He is for all our needs as sinners. But even though He has already come, and we know how He has accomplished what the Old Testament believers could only see in shadows, nevertheless, we too must hope in Him for the completion of our redemption. For that is still coming for us. They hoped, and we hope, in Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ, our divine-human Deliverer, who is coming back for us some time in the future. We only have His promises for that.

But then, we know those promises are absolutely trustworthy, and to be hoped in with certainty, for we have just been considering the promises of the Old Testament concerning the same Messiah, and they were fulfilled to the smallest detail in the first coming of God, in His incarnation. Our hope is fuelled by those kept promises.

The birth of Jesus Christ, the incarnation of God the Son, the second Person of the Trinity, is a guarantee of His second coming, when He will take us to be with Him, along with the saints who hoped in His first coming. This is the hope of glory we share with all the saints, of all ages. Christmas reminds us of that hope.

Rev. E. Rademaker (Foxton)

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Faith in Focus /NZ Reformed Church / / revised November 97 / Copyright 1997