A Festival of 9 Lessons & Carols
The Lord's Day Evening
December 4, 2005
“The Son of Promise”
Dr. Derek W. H. Thomas
Amen. Now turn with me to the Book of Genesis, and chapter 22, and we're going to look and read together verses 15-18. Before we do that, let's come once again before God and ask for His blessing in prayer.
Gracious God and ever blessed Father, we bow again in Your presence. We acknowledge that there is no God besides You. We are always a needy people: no sooner are we fed by Your word than we are hungry again, and we come now to beg of You to pour out Your Spirit upon us that we might read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest. Holy Spirit, illuminate these words to our minds and understanding and cause them to be written upon our hearts; and bring forth, by the energy which is Thine, fruits that would bring You glory. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.
Genesis, chapter 22, and beginning at verse 15:
“Then the angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time from heaven, and said, ‘By Myself I have sworn,’ declares the Lord, ‘because you have done this thing, and have not withheld your son, your only son, indeed I will greatly bless you, and I will greatly multiply your seed as the stars of the heavens, and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your seed shall possess the gate of their enemies. In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice.”
Amen. And may God add His blessing to the reading of His holy and inerrant word.
Now, this morning Ligon began a series which will take us through the month of December on most of the services on the Lord's Days and also a good number of the services that would fall on Wednesday evenings. And we are calling the series Nine Lessons and Carols, and that because we are deliberately endeavoring to reflect the famous service of Nine Lessons and Carols which is now over a hundred years old, broadcast for a long time on the radio and also on television from King's College in Cambridge, utilizing, as you will recall, nine passages of Scripture and nine (usually different) carols. The passages of Scripture have more or less (apart from one change) remained the same from its very inception, but by the nature of the service there are some new (and sometimes brand new) carols that are sung during that service. I heard this year's service on the internet, a broadcast of BBC, a week ago. I have no idea when that is to be broadcast on Public Radio or on Mississippi TV - whatever that channel is called, the Public Television channel. I'm not even sure if they are broadcasting it, but if you can't avail yourselves of that, there are a number of recordings of that service, and for me they always typify what Christmas is really about.
This morning we began with the first of those texts - perhaps one of the most important texts in all of the Bible, Genesis 3:15, the first gospel promise - and now tonight we traverse from the third chapter of Genesis to this twenty-second chapter of Genesis.
Now, there hangs over the Old Testament a star that shines at first somewhat distant and dim, but as you traverse the pages of the Old Testament and reach down all the way to the closing verses of Malachi, it shines brighter and brighter; and light seems to emanate from it that throws the rest of the Old Testament into a sharper and clearer focus, enabling us to trace a path from the third chapter of Genesis all the way to Bethlehem: “Come, let us see this great thing which has come to pass; let us go even unto Bethlehem,” the shepherds said; and, in a sense, that's the journey that we’ll be taking over the next weeks.
The star of course begins as I just said, in Genesis 3:15. And since all things “Lewis” is about to engulf us, let me join the bandwagon and remind you of that very famous line from The Chronicles of Narnia of “a land that was always winter, but never Christmas.” A land that was always winter, but never Christmas...and I sometimes think that's how we view the Old Testament: a land that's always winter - but in order to find Christmas and the gospel, you actually have to come into the Gospel of Matthew. And that, of course, would be a tragic mistake, not least because that's not the way the Savior Himself read the Old Testament.
There is, I think, one of those terribly important passages in the gospels when Jesus, you remember, with the two forlorn disciples on the Emmaus road, took them on a Bible study as they made their seven-mile journey to Emmaus, taking them in all of the Scriptures to those passages reflecting Himself. I often wonder (more often than you care to imagine, I'm sure) what those passages might be, but I'm utterly convinced that that incident gives us a key to the understanding of the Old Testament and a key to the interpretation of the Old Testament. It's as though Jesus is saying to us ‘Let me teach you how to read the Old Testament.’
And one of the things that you must always be looking for in the Old Testament is Jesus: the promise that God made to Adam in the Garden of Eden. There's an interesting situation that develops in Genesis 5 and the opening verses which describe the birth of Seth, and the text employs the same language as Genesis 3:15, suggesting perhaps that Adam and Eve might have thought that Seth was indeed that promised seed, that promised redemptive seed. (He was not to be, of course.) And similar things could be said about the godly Enoch and the godly Lamech...Enoch, who walked with God for 300 years.
And then the narrative of Scripture moves on through the cataclysmic story of the seed of Adam's race, and as that race fell more and more into sin and darkness, and except for Noah and his family, fall beneath that curse of God's judgment. Noah stands at a terribly significant point when all the other seeds find destructive judgment at the hands of God. But Noah, you remember, finds grace in the eyes of the Lord, and Noah is saved through what Peter calls ‘those baptismal waters of the flood’ - picturing deliverance for Noah and his family, but equally picturing the judgment of God for those who do not believe in the gospel.
And the next great redemptive event in the Old Testament is the story of Abraham, and the New Testament makes the story of Abraham the epicenter of the gospel when in Galatians 3:13 we read that Christ became a curse for us, in order that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles. So as far as Paul is concerned, the whole purpose of the coming of Jesus into the world has its roots in the story and especially the covenants made with Abraham; and, therefore, the choice of this particular text in Genesis 22 as a text that suggests and points forward to the coming of Jesus Christ was indeed a right choice, because in this twenty-second chapter of Genesis, what we do have of course is a sequel to the story of Abraham offering up his son Isaac.
Now I want us to trace some footprints here in this passage that's before us tonight, and I want us to see that God is signaling through the patriarch Abraham some signals by which we can understand the way that promise in Genesis 3:15 will be fulfilled. How will God fulfill that promise of the seed of the woman that will crush the head of Satan? What parameters, what shape does that promise actually take in the course of redemptive history? And I want to suggest that there are four things in this passage that God was signaling, four things that you can actually trace all the way down to the very coming of Jesus Himself.
I. The first of those signals is this: That divine salvation involves deliverance from the curse of death
The first of those signals is this: That divine salvation involves deliverance from the curse of death...that divine salvation involves deliverance from the curse of death.
The story of Genesis 22 is Abraham's obedience in the sacrifice of his son, Isaac, and the intervention of God in providing, you remember, a ram as a substitute for Isaac, telling us very clearly that the way forward redemptively involves sacrifice; that in order for us to be delivered from the curse of death, deliverance from that curse is going to involve a death.
We need to go back just a little in order to appreciate that, perhaps...in Genesis 3:15 again, where God spoke of a curse that would befall the whole world and a judgment of God that would come as a consequence of sin and rebellion, and mankind banished now from the Garden of Eden. And it's what we see, isn't it, in the story of Noah? And then at Babel, the massive rebellion against God in the building of that tower, that ziggurat, as man's attempt to bring God down to man's level, and God coming in judgment and confusing the languages of the people so that they weren't able to communicate with each other — a curse that is only undone as a consequence of the death and resurrection of Jesus and the pouring out of the Spirit on the Day of Pentecost.
Look at Genesis 12, and verses 2 and 3. And God is saying something in Genesis 12:2, 3...and what is He saying?
“And I will make of you” [this is Abraham] “a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
And it's that promise that is now being repeated in Genesis 22. The angel comes again and says (in verse 17), “I will surely bless you. I will surely multiply your offspring,” and God is promising blessing. God is promising blessing — deliverance, that is to say, from the curse of death that has emanated from the Garden of Eden. And how will that blessing come?
It comes, God says, through sacrifice. And it comes through asking Abraham to offer up his only son Isaac, his beloved son, the son of the wife that he loves, and to offer him on Mount Moriah as a sacrifice to the Lord, and God coming to Abraham and providing a ram in the place of Isaac, but signaling that important principle that the only way of deliverance from the curse of death is through the sacrifice of one. And I think we're being given a little hint that the way that Genesis 3:15 is going to be fulfilled, the way the kingdom of Satan is going to be destroyed, will involve sacrifice and death of another in order that we might be delivered from the consequences of judgment that have come upon us because of our sin. God is signaling here in these incidents in redemptive history the way in which that promise is going to be fulfilled.
II. A second feature: that divine salvation will come through the birth of a son of a barren woman
But then there's a second feature: that divine salvation will come through the birth of a son of a barren woman. You notice in the text that is before us in verse 16: “By Myself I have sworn,” declares the Lord, “because you have done this thing, and have not withheld your son, your only son...” and you can hardly fail to hear the point that there is something significant here about Isaac. Who is Isaac, and why was the willingness of Abraham to sacrifice Isaac so terribly poignant? And Isaac was, of course, the son of Abraham's old age. You remember back in chapter 11 and verse 30 we read that Sarah, or Sarai as she was then called, “Sarai was barren. She had no child.” (Don't you love that, by the way? That's very Hebrew. If she's barren, then it's obvious she has no children, but the Hebrew likes to repeat it to make the point that Sarah gives birth to children not by any powers of her own, but by the putting forth of supernatural power.) And there is something in the story of the way in which Isaac is born that tells us that he is here because God has done something, and that this fulfillment of Genesis 3:15 can only be brought about, at the end of the day, by the intervention of the sovereign hand of God.
Abraham was 99 years old, of course; and Sarai laughed when she heard this from the other side of the tent. I'm reminded, however, of something that Ronnie Crudup said to Ligon and me on Friday when we were interviewing him for First Things: that God may keep us waiting, but He's always on time. God may keep us waiting, but He's always on time, and there is something here in the story of Isaac of the truth that will emerge in resplendent power on the pages of the New Testament: that salvation is of supernatural power; that God takes the foolish things, and of those foolish things, He makes them strong and He makes them wise by His power.
It's the same in the story of Hannah and the birth of Samuel. It's another little hint. And it's the same in the story of the way John the Baptist is born to Zacharias and Elizabeth. And of course all of these are pointing forward, little by little, to the supernatural birth of Jesus, born in a supernatural way by the putting forth of the sovereign power of God. Do you remember Zacharias when John the Baptist was born? Do you remember when he sang that song, the so-called Benedictus? What is it that came to Zacharias’ mind as he pondered the birth of his son, John the Baptist? “That God has remembered His holy covenant, the oath which he swore to Abraham, our father.” Isn't that terribly significant, that when John the Baptist is born it's as though a bell has gone off in his mind...that the way John the Baptist has come into the world reminds him of the story, perhaps, of Abraham and Isaac and the way Isaac had been born, and reminds him of the covenant promise that God had given to Abraham? And, therefore, when God fulfills this promise of a Deliverer, He does so by a supernatural putting forth of power of a son that is born in supernatural circumstances.
III. A third feature that God seems to be underlining here, and that is the necessity of sacrifice...the necessity of sacrifice for the fulfillment of the covenant promise.
And then there's a third feature that God seems to be underlining here, and that is the necessity of sacrifice...the necessity of sacrifice for the fulfillment of the covenant promise. It's already been hinted at in a night-time experience that Abraham has had, and now, more recently, in this existential experience of the sacrifice of Isaac and the provision of the ram. You remember back in Genesis 15 that night-time experience. It's an odd passage, to say the least. Abraham is in a deep sleep, you remember, and there passes between the severed pieces of sacrificed animals laid half on one side and half on the other... and passing between those severed pieces is a blazing firepot of fire and smoke [reminiscent, of course, of the fire and smoke that will lead the people of God through the wilderness, and reminiscent of the fire and smoke that Moses will see on top of Mount Sinai], because the fire and smoke is a representation of God Himself entering into a kind of self-maledictory oath, saying that this is what is necessary in order for My covenant to be fulfilled: sacrifice has to be offered.
As you tiptoe down through the pages of the Old Testament, you come across the mighty prophet Jeremiah, and in the thirty-fourth chapter of Jeremiah just after he has expostulated about the new covenant, he reminds his readers of that very incident in Genesis 15, drawing together (do you see?) the promise that God was making to Abraham, necessitating sacrifice for salvation and pointing forward now to the coming of the new covenant which also must be ratified by sacrifice.
It was a great test, of course, for Abraham, when God asked him to sacrifice his beloved son Isaac. “Take your son, your only son, and take him to Mount Moriah and sacrifice him.” Do you remember that poignant question that Abraham asks the Lord? “Where is the lamb? Where is the lamb?” And we can't help hearing the answer down the corridors of history: John the Baptist saying, “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.”
This location — it's terribly significant that Solomon, when he builds his temple, builds it right here on Mount Moriah, and it's this very language of Genesis 22 that Paul enumerates in Romans 8 when he says “He that spared not His own Son...” because what Paul is actually doing is lifting language from the Greek translation of Genesis 22, because what did God do in the case of Isaac? He spared him. He spared him, but “He did not spare His own Son, but freely delivered Him up for us all.” He did not spare His Son from the flaming torch and firepot as the unmitigated wrath of God came down upon Him on the cross of Calvary as He bore our sin and the guilt of our sin, and cried in that hour of dereliction, “My God! My God! Why have You forsaken Me?” And the answer that Jesus did not hear was ‘I have forsaken You, My Son, for the sake of Your children that I have given to You.’
And back here in Genesis 22, God is saying to Abraham ‘I want you to understand something: that in order for My promise to be fulfilled, in order for redemption to be accomplished, in order for the powers of darkness to be destroyed, it will be necessary that someone must die, and somebody must pay the price of a broken Law and broken covenant.’
Yes, in Genesis 22 there are the footprints of Jesus Christ, the Lamb that is caught in the thicket and who must substitute for the sacrifice of Isaac.
IV. Finally, the blessing that emerges from the promise that God makes to Abraham will come to the whole world.
And there's one more thing that emerges from this text, and it is that the blessing that emerges from that promise that God makes to Abraham will come to the whole world. It will come to the whole world. “I will greatly bless you, and I will greatly multiply your seed as the stars of the heavens and the sand which is on the seashore, and your seed shall possess the gate of their enemies. In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed.”
There's a somewhat tricky issue here that's to do with the use of that word seed, because the word seed is capable of being rendered as an individual but also capable of being rendered as a corporate thing. And the New Testament plays on that. Paul at one point in Galatians makes a great deal of the fact that the seed is singular, because that seed is Jesus Christ Himself. And through Jesus Christ, many seed will emerge — a whole room full of them here tonight, where the blessing of Abraham has fallen upon the Gentiles. All the way back...all the way back three and a half, four thousand years ago on Mount Moriah, God spoke words in which you and I were the focus: that through the seed which is Jesus Christ the nations of the world would receive blessing, so that this evening as we prepare for Christmas and as we worship Jesus Christ in our hearts, we give praise that God in His great glory has brought us to Himself by the power of His Spirit through the substitutionary sacrifice of His Son, Jesus Christ.
There are others — in China and Korea, and Viet Nam and Australia, and in Uganda and Kenya and Brazil and country after country after country — in all of the nations of the world we see this promise being fulfilled before our very eyes! Isn't it significant (and it is) that Jesus in His final words of the so-called Great Commission (written by Matthew, by the way, in Matthew 28) with large hints of the covenant made with Abraham in mind, that part of what Jesus wants His disciples to know is that they must “go into all the world and make disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” And yes, little lights are going off in your head that what Jesus is alluding to is something that God had said to Abraham all those years ago.
What we have, then, here, is one of these Old Testament texts that from the vantage point of the New Testament shines with a brilliance and an incandescence that is unmistakable, because it speaks of Jesus and it speaks of our Savior, and it speaks of the fulfillment of God's redemptive purposes in His covenants with His people — and God hasn't broken covenant, and He never will. And He never will. And may these thought echo in the chambers of our minds and of our hearts in these Christmas preparatory days, to bring Him glory.
Let's pray together.
Our Father in heaven, as we bow now in Your presence we thank You for these wonderful passages in the Old Testament that speak of the fulfillment of a marvelous promise that through Jesus Christ, Your Son, we may know the forgiveness of our sins and peace with God, and the hope of glory, and the assurance that it does not yet appear what we shall be. We ask that You would treasure these things now within our hearts. For Jesus’ sake we ask it. Amen.
Please stand and receive the Lord's benediction.
Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.
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