The Promise of the Ages
© C. O. Bishop
Genesis 3:15, 20, 21; Exodus 12; Isaiah 7:14; Micah 5:2; Luke 1:26-38; 2:1-12
The Christmas Song
by Don Francisco
The center of the ages, and the Lord talks with a girl
And by the words He speaks He gives a Savior to the world
The fullness of the time has come, and Mary’s Son is born,
The promise’s fulfillment lies asleep now in her arms.
He didn’t come to terrify, to judge or condescend–
To call us all His servants, but to lift us as His friends
To save us all from Satan’s power, to reign at His right hand
In the little town of Bethlehem, when God became a man.
Today the God of Majesty has given to the Earth
A gift of such magnificence we could never plumb its worth
And the rudeness of the setting just ignites the jewel’s fire
A pearl beyond the greatest price, the joy of man’s desire.
He didn’t come to terrify, to judge or condescend
To call us all His servants but to lift us as His friends
To save us all from certain death, to reign at His right hand
When, once for all eternity, God became a man.
The first mention of that Promise: Genesis 3:14, 15
14 And the Lord God said unto the serpent, Because thou hast done this, thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life: 15 And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.
When the human race fell into sin, and, as they had been warned, judgment fell, the means was also given to go beyond judgment to Grace. God said that someone called “the Seed of the Woman” would undo the damage caused by Satan, there in the Garden of Eden. The Promise was quite vague at that point, and cloaked in mystery; but Adam believed the promise of God, and God responded by clothing him and Eve with the skins of slain animals, in what turns out to have been the first blood sacrifice for sin. Their own works (the fig leaves) could not cover their sins, but God’s Chosen Sacrifice could!
We can see in the next chapter that Abel understood that connection, and by faith, brought a blood sacrifice for sin. That is confirmed in the New Testament, in Hebrews 11:4.
The Passover Lamb: Exodus chapter 12
There were many other examples of a blood sacrifice for sin, in the book of Genesis, and in that book, also, it is clearly shown that we enter into the Grace of God through faith alone. That truth is spelled out for us Genesis 15:6, where Abram believed God, and was declared righteous. His faith is expounded upon in Romans 4, thousands of years later. But the one huge picture that has been maintained throughout history is the Passover Lamb, spelled out in Exodus 12. The lamb was described as a perfect male lamb, chosen in advance, kept separate for the express purpose of the sacrifice, and his blood was to shield the believers from the wrath of God.
In fact, in that first Passover, the blood was to be struck on the lintel and the two door posts, forming a cross, 1500 years before the crucifixion! Also, every individual had to eat of that sacrifice, personally. It was not just a general blanket-covering for sins. Every person in each believing household was to take part in that sacrifice, just as today, every individual has to make a choice to receive Jesus as Savior! So the picture was becoming more and more clear!
In Psalm 22 the crucifixion was described, more than 1,000 years before the event. In Isaiah 53, the crucifixion was explained, 700 years before the event. The Promise was drawing nearer and nearer to fulfillment: but the fulfillment still had to “begin” somewhere! In Micah 5:2, God promised that the birth of that fulfillment would occur in Bethlehem Ephrata, the same city where King David was born, and Jacob’s wife, Rachel, was buried. I love the fact that, in that little verse, it also points out that the Savior is eternal: that “His goings forth were from of old, from everlasting.”
The very last promise was in Malachi 4:5, 400 years before Christ, only saying that a prophet would come before that fulfillment. Jesus later said that John the Baptist fulfilled that promise, though the promise had actually said Elijah was coming. (Elijah is still coming, by the way! God fulfills His promises to the letter!) John came in the spirit and power of Elijah. Elijah will come in person, as one of the two witnesses, during the tribulation. (See Revelation 11:3-12)
But the Passover has been celebrated every year, for 3,500 years, as the Jews are still looking for the coming Messiah, who will take away the judgment. The Jews have longed for the fulfillment of that ancient Promise, the Promise of the Ages, all these thousands of years, when the reality was met in the Person of Jesus, 2,000 years ago!
When John the Baptist introduced Jesus, he didn’t say, “Look! There’s my cousin, Jesus!” He said “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the Sin of the World!” (John 1:29)
He introduced Jesus as the fulfillment of that Promise!
So, let’s look at the Promise, and the Fulfillment:
The Fulfillment of the Promise: Luke 1:26-38, 2:1-12
Remember that the original Promise (however vague) said that the person would be “The Seed of the Woman.” Billions of people have been born throughout the millennia, but all were the offspring of a man and a woman… not the seed of the woman. So, Isaiah 7:14 says that “…a virgin shall conceive, and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel (meaning ‘God with us’.)” Now, there are many who will protest that the Hebrew word “alma” (translated virgin, here) really only means “a young girl.” In a sense, that is true, but in that culture, it specifically indicated a girl young enough that she was not married, hence a virgin. And the translators of the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, over 150 years before Christ, understood that, and deliberately chose the word “Parthenon” as the Greek word by which to translate “the Hebrew word “Alma.” The word “Parthenon” specifically means “virgin,” and is not even gender-specific, as it can be applied to a virgin male, too, as it is in Revelation 14:4, regarding the 144,000 young male Jewish witnesses during the great tribulation.
So, when Mary was chosen by God, in Luke 1:26-38, and she protested that it was impossible for her to have a child, as she had never known a man, (verse 34), it fit the prophecy exactly, and the stage was set: why? Because, for the only time in history, there would be a man born of a woman, without a human father, and who would literally be sired by God. He was the only fulfillment of the promised “Seed of the Woman!”
But there was still another issue: Mary lived in Galilee: the prophecy said that the Savior was to be born in Bethlehem! We even sing about it: “O Little Town of Bethlehem!” So let’s see how all of that unfolded: (Turn to Luke 1:26.)
26 And in the sixth month (of Elizabeth’s pregnancy with John the Baptist) the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth, 27 To a virgin espoused (betrothed) to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women. 29 And when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be. 30 And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God. 31 And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name Jesus. 32 He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: 33 And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end. 34 Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man? 35 And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God. 36 And, behold, thy cousin Elisabeth, she hath also conceived a son in her old age: and this is the sixth month with her, who was called barren. 37 For with God nothing shall be impossible. 38 And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word. And the angel departed from her.
1And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed. 2 (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.) 3 And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. 4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) 5 To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child. 6 And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. 7 And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn. 8 And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. 10 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. 12 And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, 14 Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. 15 And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us. 16 And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. 17 And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child. 18 And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds. 19 But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.
We saw, then, that Gabriel was sent to speak to Mary, as God’s spokesman in that particular event: God spoke to Mary through Gabriel. And, Mary lived in Galilee. She was betrothed to a man named Joseph: they were engaged, as we would say today. That was a very serious contract, in that culture, and required a divorce to break it. And that is what Joseph had intended to do, over in the Matthew 1:19-25 account. He initially assumed that Mary had somehow been unfaithful to the betrothal. It says that he was a just man, and did not want to humiliate her, but intended to quietly, secretly, break the betrothal. But Gabriel was sent to him as well, to assure him that Mary had not sinned, and that the Child who would be born would be called the Son of the Most High! So, Joseph went ahead and married her, but did not have relations with her until after her firstborn child was born. And he called the name of that child “Jesus.”
But remember: when Gabriel visited them, they were still in Galilee: and, under normal circumstances, Mary would have given birth there. Joseph was a very poor man, as we discover later, but regardless of income-level, a decree went out from Caesar, that there was to be a census taken, and for the purpose of that census, everyone had to travel to their hometown, to be counted (and apparently taxed.) Well, Joseph was from Bethlehem! So, off they went! Tradition says that Mary was riding on a donkey, but the Bible simply doesn’t say anything about that. Personally, I hope she did get to ride there, because it is about a 90-mile walk to Bethlehem from Nazareth, and she was nine months pregnant!
One way or another, they arrived in Bethlehem, and the place was packed: everyone had received the same notice, and there were lots of folks in town just for that census. Therefore: no room at the inn. So, they found the next-best place, a stable. I’m sure that “born in a barn” didn’t have quite the same connotation then, as it does now, but it still wasn’t ideal: her mother, or sisters or aunts, who might have served as midwives, were not there. But God was there: she had the best care in the universe, though she probably wasn’t fully aware of it.
A manger, even today, is a raised feed-trough for livestock: it keeps the hay or other feed off the ground, so it will stay clean. That was the bed for Jesus: a clean bed of hay or straw. And Mary, being a country-girl, used the old-fashioned “swaddling clothes,” which were already becoming uncommon in that day. But it turned out to be an important choice, because that was one of the signs given to the Shepherds: They were to “find the babe, wrapped in swaddling clothes, and lying in a manger:” and that is exactly what they found!
That was the birth of God’s Promised Messiah: of course, we know the rest of the story: He began His earthly ministry 30 years later, and ultimately gave his life as a ransom for the entire world. This is God’s Provision for Salvation from sin, but it is a provision which must be entered into by faith, on a personal, one-by-one basis….just like the Passover Lamb! Unlike the Passover Lamb, however, His blood takes away our guilt, rather than just “covering” it for another year. Hebrews 10:4 says “it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins.” All those old sacrifices could do was cover sin: But they all looked forward to the fulfillment of God’s Promise to take away our sins, as Psalm 103:12 says.
Each of us, as believers, have personally placed our trust in that one final Blood-sacrifice for our sins. We confess that “Jesus died in my place: His blood paid for my sins!” When we look back to the Cross in our commemoration at communion, we give thanks and worship to the “Lamb of God, slain from the foundation of the World,” as it says in Revelation 13:8. We find, through the rest of the Gospel account, that Jesus was literally “God in the Flesh,” as Isaiah promised. John 1:1-5, 14 makes it clear that He is the Living Word, God the Son, the Creator, and the Light of the World, as well being God in the Flesh. John 5:22 states that He is the only Judge, though he did not come to judge us, on that occasion: He came to save us! He has already saved us from Satan’s power, and, according to Ephesians 2:6, He has already raised us to sit with Him in the throne! What an amazing story! What an incredible gift!
The Memorial of the Promise
The Passover celebration looked back to the Exodus from Egypt, but also looked forward to the Cross. When we take communion, we look back to the Cross, and look forward to His Return.
When we celebrate Christmas, we remember the birth of Christ, the beginning of fulfillment:
When we celebrate Easter, we remember the resurrection of Christ the proof of fulfillment.
When we celebrate Communion we rejoice in His entire ministry, but we declare his death as our hope before God, until He comes for us!
And in His presence with us, here, we find abiding Joy!