Last week we began a new series of messages — a journey of sorts, leading us toward hope. The journey begins when we see a glimmer of light in the midst of a dark world. It’s the proverbial “light at the end of the tunnel.” With hope and faith we can move toward that light, seeing the promise of God even while living in a world full of doubts and uncertainties.
The world is often a dark place — sometimes because of unanswered questions, sometimes because of disappointments, sometimes because of loss or even devastating tragedies. However, God wants to use those dark circumstances to do something deep and significant and eternal within our spirits.
We read last week from Jeremiah, the “weeping” OT prophet who even during his darkest times, even during his lamentations, was able to declare his hope. Jeremiah learned to wait quietly on the Lord; he learned to place his confidence in God; he learned to seek the Lord during difficult and disappointing days.
But Jeremiah wasn’t the only one who was looking for light in a dark place. Many OT prophets had a glimpse of the light — but they deeply longed to know more fully.
1 Pet 1:10-11 — 10 Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, 11 trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow.
If only we would search as intently! Author Kathleen Norris writes about a man she knew:
When Arlo was a young man, his grandfather gave him and his new bride a wedding present: an expensive leather Bible with their names printed in gold lettering. Arlo left it in the box and never opened it.
For months his grandfather kept asking him, “Do you like the Bible?” Arlo couldn’t figure out why his grandfather couldn’t let it go. His wife had written a nice thank-you note, and they had thanked him in person, but he always had to ask about it.
One day years later Arlo saw the Bible in a closet, still in its box. And for the first time, he took it out. That’s when he discovered his grandfather had placed a $20 bill at the beginning of the Book of Genesis — and at the beginning of every one of the 66 books in the Bible…over thirteen hundred dollars in all.
His grandfather kept asking about the Bible even though he knew Arlo had not opened it. Of course, his grandfather wasn’t as concerned about the money as he was concerned that Arlo would discover the greater treasture hidden within the pages of the Bible.
Arlo is an example of many who stop too soon. They hold a treasure in their hands — a wonderful, amazing gift. But they are too busy or too distracted or too apathetic to open the gift and take it out of its box. With just a little curiosity, just a small desire to discover more, and a whole new, astounding world could open up to them! But they stop too soon. They are satisfied with too little. They stop wondering. They stop exploring. They stop digging. And so they let the gift lie on the back shelf of some closet. [Kathleen Norris, Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith (Riverhead Books, 1998), p. 95.]
Perhaps just as intriguing is the huge number of people who eagerly chase after next-to-impossible odds, searching for wealth and fortune.
This last week, thousands of people stood in line to buy Powerball tickets — dreaming for the $550 million prize! By the end, tickets were selling nationwide at a clip of 130,000 per minute (over $15 million per hour). Some people who lived in states not selling Powerball tickets even flew to states that did so they could stand in line and buy! They spent good money to buy a plane ticket, betting on odds of 175 million or more to one. (You’re more likely to die in a vending machine accident [1 in 112 million]. You’re way more likely to be hit by lightning [1 in 5,000].) Well officials announced this week that there were two winning tickets. Or, as I like to say, there were millions and millions of losers.
Millions go crazy chasing after ridiculous odds. Others ignore the treasure right in their hands.
What motivates you? What compels you? What is the driving force of your life? What is it that you seek? What consumes you?
Knights in the Middle Ages searched for the Holy Grail. Indiana Jones was on a quest for the lost ark. The Minnesota Vikings are on the hunt for a Super Bowl win. (Come to think of it, they’d probably be happy with just any win.) The American Cancer Society is searching for a cure for cancer.
I think the OT prophets searched more intently than all of these, however. They anticipated God’s coming salvation, but they had a lot of questions. And they wanted answers. They were seekers longing to understand God’s mysterious ways. They were, in fact, what we should be — people who search for answers and who earnestly desire to know God better; people who do not stop too soon or become satisfied with too little; people who do not stop wondering and exploring.
Last week I said that God loves seekers — people who look for answers, people who yearn to know more, people who crave the truth, people who desire to know God personally and intimately. “You will seek me and find me,” God says, “when you seek me with all your heart” (Jer 29:13-14). God loves seekers.
The prophets were dedicated seekers. They “searched intently and with the greatest care, trying to find out the time and circumstances…”
Since fall began, we’ve been involved in an ambitious project around here that includes all our classes from preschoolers to adults. We’re taking 31 weeks to go through the entire Bible, hitting the key stories and highlights in order to get a handle on the big picture, the overarching theme of the Bible: the story of God’s salvation, his plan to redeem humanity from the curse of sin.
There are 20 more weeks to go in “The Story,” so I’d encourage you to jump in if you haven’t already. I’d encourage you to be a seeker.
At this time of year, many people are consumed by Christmas traditions. (There are only 23 shopping days until Christmas!) You hear Christmas music on the radio and in the stores. You see the decorations and lights. The bell ringers are out with Salvation Army red kettles. Christmas cards appear in your mail box. Anticipation is in the air.
Many can’t wait to see what kind of gifts will be waiting for them under the tree — and it’s not just the younger ones. Some can’t wait to get to grandma’s house. Others can’t wait for the kids to come home for the holidays. Many business owners can’t wait to see how many sales they’ll make or how much their profits will be.
But for seekers — all who earnestly and intently are looking for answers — Christmas is far more than traditions. It’s the chance to discover deeper things about God’s amazing love. It’s the chance to experience firsthand what the OT prophets could only wonder about and speculate.
They longed to know the full story — the amazing story — of God’s salvation. And when I think of the intensity of their searching and yearning, I’m a bit ashamed to think how often we take the story for granted.
How much does this incredible story of redemption consume us and compel us? We should be continually longing to know more, increasingly enthralled with the story of Christmas, remembering why Jesus came to this broken-down planet.
The magi — wise men from the East (Matt 2) — didn’t know the full story. Yet they felt compelled to seek the newborn king. They spent probably several months traveling more than 1,000 miles over harsh terrain, often on foot, leading their camels carrying supplies and gifts. They came asking questions: “Where is he who was born king of the Jews?” They were driven to see for themselves the fulfillment of ancient prophecies. Would we be as driven? They hiked for miles, but we complain about holiday traffic or get upset if the airline loses our luggage. Would we be as compelled as they were?
At Christmas we celebrate Jesus’ birth, when God came to this fallen, sinful world. He came in the flesh — Immanuel, “God with us.” We can know things by personal experience what the wise men and the prophets did not know and could only wonder about.
1. We know Christ came because of love; “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son…” (John 3:16)
2. But we also know he came because of Law; Jesus “died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant.” (Heb 9:15)
In other words, Jesus came to fulfill the requirements of the Law, which called for a payment for the penalty of sin. “…the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.” (Heb 9:22)
We’re pretty good at catching the love part of God’s salvation. We’re not so good at comprehending the Law part of it. But love does not mean ignoring the consequences. The penalty still had to be paid!
3. We know Jesus Christ came as “the way and the truth and the life” (John 14:6).
- He came to show us the way — like a light in a dark place.
- He came to show us truth — teaching us about God.
- He came to give us life — living a holy, sinless life — and dying so we could live.
- The OT prophets predicted these things and longed desperately to see and understand them, but we now can know more than they did. How?
4. We know Christ came offering better promises. “…he is the one who guarantees for us a better covenant with God, based on better promises.” (Heb 8:6, NLT)
Jeremiah was able to foresee a time to come when the old covenant of the law (with its many sacrifices for sin) would be replaced by a new covenant (based on grace and faith in one perfect sacrifice for sin).
Jer 31:31-34 — 31 “The time is coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. 32 It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant… 33 This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time,” declares the LORD. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. 34 …they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the LORD. “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”
Through Jesus the old covenant was changed and a new covenant was established. (We see this every time we open our Bibles, divided into two parts — the Old Testament [or Covenant] and the New.)
Jeremiah and other OT prophets saw that change was coming. They didn’t exactly know how or when, but deep down they knew God was doing something good. God gave them hope — like a light in the dark, mysteries yet to be fully revealed.
[The mystery of Christ] was not made known to men in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit… (Eph 3:5)
25 …the word of God in its fullness — 26 the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the saints. (Col 1:25-26)
The old rules of the old covenant weren’t abolished; rather, they were fulfilled. Jesus said: Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. (Matt 5:17)
You could say the old rules were upgraded. Hebrews quotes Jeremiah about the coming new covenant and says the old covenant was made obsolete (8:13). Not because it was abolished but because it was fulfilled.
Just because we drive cars doesn’t mean that we have passed a law against horses and buggies. In fact, cars and buggies are related. Early horseless carriages contained many features and designs found in horse-drawn carriages. One led to the next. Upgrades made the former model obsolete, but the upgrades didn’t cancel out the original.
Because Jesus came, God could deal with people differently. God could touch people’s hearts with the gentle power of grace. They could respond joyfully to his love rather than grudgingly to the Law. Because Jesus came and lived as a man and died as the perfect sacrifice and rose by the power of God, people could be set free from the burden of trying on their own to live up to severe legalism.
It’s difficult for us to comprehend the full scope of this dramatic change — the magnitude of what God did by establishing a new covenant. If we had lived under the old covenant with the full weight of religious fear and obligation upon us, perhaps we could understand better the differences. The prophets understood:
- About a lamb being offered for each family at Passover.
- About the impossibility of living up to the Law.
- About needing priests as a go-between.
- About the fear and dread of a holy and unapproachable God at the mountain.
- About the Lamb of God, offered for the sins of the whole world.
- About grace poured into the world, revealing God’s love and forgiveness.
- About ordinary people as priests entering God’s presence.
- About sinners being made saints, sanctified and set apart for God.
- The prophets yearned to know more. They searched intently with the greatest care. They wanted to understand how the requirements of the Law and Covenant would be satisfied. Peter (next verse) said…
It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels long to look into these things. (1 Peter 1:12)
And we have the word of the prophets made more certain, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. (2 Peter 1:19)
Christmas sees the words of the prophets fulfilled. They knew in part, but we can know in full. They could imagine God’s full plan of salvation, but we can experience it. They could speculate about what was to come, but we can look back with 20/20 hindsight.
Do we fully appreciate this wonderful gift? Or do we take it for granted? Do we miss the wonder, the amazing plan, the miraculous? Do search we realize the significance of God’s intervention — how he inserted himself into this world and the affairs of men?
The prophets were consumed by a burning desire to know God’s truth. They yearned intently to understand God’s plan. They desperately longed to know God better.
How much do you want to know God? If you’ve kept this treasure in its box, on the back shelf of some closet, maybe it’s time that you took it out and opened it up. Maybe it’s time that you search intently, that you search with the greatest care, that you find out the time and circumstances of God’s plan of grace and redemption.