The Promise of His Life
Topic: Christmas Passage: Isaiah 53:2–52:3, Deuteronomy 18:18, Psalm 110:4, Zechariah 9:9, Isaiah 11:2, Psalm 78:2, Isaiah 35:5–35:6, Psalm 118:22, Isaiah 60:3, Acts 10:38
“THE PROMISE OF HIS LIFE”
Isaiah 53:2-3, Acts 10:38
Portraits of Christ have been many through the years. Whether they have been painted with oils on canvas, written with ink on paper, or enacted by characters on stage or on film, all are but flawed and defective efforts in depicting that One whose unique life defies depiction. The Bible makes it clear that never was a life lived as was His. Where does one even begin in attempting to describe the indescribable?
Medieval artists placed a halo over His head, so as to portray Jesus as “holy.” But, of course, holiness isn’t revealed in that way. Authors have described Him in the most romantic of terms, as if to suggest that Jesus never had a “bad day” like other mortal beings experience. Movies have depicted Him as either overly-effeminate or as some heroic figure “able to leap tall buildings on a single bound.” In reality, we have only the vaguest idea what Jesus may have looked like. He could have sat among us on a Sunday morning and we would not have recognized Him as the Son of God.
Centuries after his birth, He was described by the prophet Isaiah (53:2-3) in this manner:
2 He grew upon before him like a young plant,
and like a root out of dry ground;
he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
and no beauty that we should desire him.
3 He was despised and rejected by men;
a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
Quite a different portrayal than we often envision, isn’t it? While it is interpretively-possible to understand Isaiah’s description to refer to Christ’s experience on the cross, it is probably also accurate to assume that Jesus would not have been selected as the “most popular” boy in His graduating class or named as the one “most likely to succeed.”
In his humiliation, Jesus Christ appeared in great feebleness. He was born a helpless babe. As an infant, He was at times in great danger. His formative years were not spent among the upper crust of society, but in the home of a lowly carpenter. He lived simply and peacefully, a far cry from those who sought after pomp and splendor. There was nothing about His teaching that would have attracted the attention of those bound to ritualism and external religion. He possessed no unusually pleasant appearance that would have gained Him popularity. He was, in fact, someone from whom others turned away.
Fortunately, externals do not tell the entire story about Him. In the well-known words of another, it is said that “All the armies that ever marched, and all the navies that ever were built, and all the parliaments that ever sat, and all the kings that ever reigned, put together, have not affected the life of man upon this earth as powerfully as has that One Solitary Life.”
What was it about this Man that made His life so extraordinary? During this Christmas season we are considering some of the promises related to the first Advent of our Lord Jesus. In previous weeks we have looked at the promise of His coming, as well as the promise of His birth. Today we will be pondering the promise of His life.
In order to do that, we will once again be dipping into the deep reservoir of God’s prophetic truth found in the Old Testament. In considering Jesus’ remarkable life we will be limiting our discussion to three main categories... namely, His offices, His objectives, and His outcomes. In the process, I trust we will gain a clearer understanding of what made His brief life such an amazing one.
Let’s begin with...
The offices of Jesus’ life (Deuteronomy 18:18, Psalm 110:4, Zechariah 9:9).
There are three “offices” or “roles” that are associated with the earthly life of our Lord Jesus. All three were forecast by the prophets for the purpose of not only delineating His ministry, but in order that He be recognized when He arrived.
The first is His role as prophet. A “prophet” is one who is a spokesman for God. Only on rare occasions in the Old Testament did the Lord communicate His Word directly to man. Far more often than not, He did so through a mediator. That mediator was called a “prophet.”
Generally speaking, the prophet’s main task was to proclaim the message he had received from the Lord. Sometimes that proclamation was directly communicated to the intended audience by word-of-mouth, while at other times it was in writing. At other times it was both. In that respect, the prophet served as a “forth-teller.” In other words, he “gave forth” the Word of the Lord.
Often—not always—the message given by God to the prophet involved future events...some near and some far distant in the future. In this sense, the prophet served as a “foreteller.”
Moses was the first great prophet of God to the people of Israel. Although at times he was opposed, he was greatly revered. That was even more true following his death. When it became clear that Moses was going to die, he encouraged the people in Deuteronomy 18(:15-18), saying,
“The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen—just as you desired of the LORD your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly, when you said, ‘Let me not hear again the voice of the LORD my God or see this great fire any more, lest I die.’ And the LORD said to me, ‘They are right in what they have spoken. I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him.’”
Centuries later, when Jesus was carrying out His publicly ministry, He was frequently thought to be that “Prophet” (cf. John 1:25, 6:14, and 7:40). And those who recognized Him as such, were correct. He was and remains that long-anticipated “prophet”...the ultimate revealer of God (cf. John 1:18 and Hebrews 1:3). To look past Jesus or to look for another is to miss God altogether.
Not only is Jesus God’s “prophet,” He also fills the role as God’s priest. The primary function of a “priest” is to intercede with God on behalf of man. Of the One who would eventually serve as God’s ultimate priest, David wrote in Psalm 110(:4), “The LORD has sworn and will not change his mind, ‘You are a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.’”
Just who is this “Melchizedek”? He is perhaps the most mysterious character in all of Scripture. His background is carefully veiled, which makes him a fitting type of Christ. The only historic record of this figure is found in Genesis 14, verses 18 through 20, during an encounter with Abram. He seems to come onto the scene out of nowhere, without any introduction or explanation. It isn’t until we read our way through the New Testament and get to Hebrews that specific details about this man begin to emerge.
Five times the writer of Hebrews cites that phrase from Psalm 110—“a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek” (Hebrews 5:6, 10; 6:20; 7:11 and 17) in reference to Christ. In so doing, he reinforces the point that the priesthood that Jesus came to inaugurate was not the same as the Levitical system established through the law when given to Moses. For one thing, referring back to Psalm 110, the priesthood of Jesus was “forever.” It was perpetual. Old Testament priests came and went. Whenever one died, another would be rushed in to take his place. Not so with the priesthood of Jesus. His would be without end.
But there is something else about this Melchizedek that we must recognize, and in order to see it we need to go back to that Genesis 14 passage and his meeting with Abram. The text tells us that following a great military victory, Abram paid a “tithe” to Melchizedek and in return received a blessing from him. This is noteworthy, because it leads into the third of the three offices of Christ. In addition to being called “priest of God Most High,” Melchizedek is also here described as a king. Specifically, he is referred to a “king of Salem” (Genesis 14:2).
As we later learn from the tragic life of Saul, under the Old Testament law the roles of “priest” and “king” were never to be confounded or confused. But here in Genesis 14 we find Melchizedek filling both roles. He is declared to be both “king” and “priest,” thus establishing the pattern for the One who would come who was “greater” than the law God had given to Moses (cf. Matthew 12:6, 41-42). That is because He is not only the One who gave it in the first place, but fulfilled it when He came to earth (cf. Matthew 5:17).
We, therefore, are able to see that Jesus Christ serves all three offices as “prophet” and “priest,” and king.
Look with me at another prophetic passage where, I believe, we will see this most clearly. In Zechariah 9:9, we read, “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”
Here, Zechariah, prophesying two centuries after Isaiah, foretold the arrival of that coming King. This passage, of course, recalls Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem on that first Palm Sunday (cf. Matthew 21:5). On that day, He came and was hailed as a “king.”. But notice carefully Zechariah’s threefold description of this coming King. We are told that He would be “righteous,” that is “altogether just” in all His ways. We are further told that He would come with “salvation.” He would be a “Savior.” And finally, we are told that He would be “humble.” No man who ever lived was as “humble” as He.
There is only One who ever filled this description, and that was our Lord Jesus. In His Messianic office, He alone is our “prophet,” “priest,” and “king.” He, therefore, is uniquely suited to be the One whose long-predicted arrival we now recall and celebrate this season of the year.
When He left the glories of heaven to live for a time among His creation, He did so with a plan. This was no mere “exploratory mission” that He would embark upon in order to bring information back to the Father. It served the purpose of fulfilling God’s eternal plan, set in motion from before the foundation of the world. And that thought leads us to next consider...
The objectives of Jesus’ life (Isaiah 11:2, Psalm 78:2, Isaiah 35:5-6).
In a word, Jesus’ life-goal was to live a perfectly sinless life. That alone would qualify Him to be sacrificial “Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). And there was never a doubt that this would happen. Although the trials and temptations that He faced were as genuine and real—indeed, more so—than those faced by any mortal being (cf. Hebrews 4:15), because “all the fullness of the God” resided in Him (cf. Colossians 1:19), He would not sin. He could not sin. After all, He was “God with us” (cf. Isaiah 9:6).
It is one of the great mysteries of Scripture that we may never fully understand, that though being impeccable in His nature, His temptations were genuine and real. To read of His bouts with Satan in the wilderness (cf. Matthew 4:1-11) and again in the Garden of Gethsemane (cf. Matthew 26:36-46) does not strike us with the same force that facing them and overcoming them would have. And we should assume that our Lord faced many additional similar trials throughout His life and ministry...trials to the extent that we are never called upon to face.
Though He was and is fully God, in order to become one with us He must also take upon human flesh and identify with us in every way. As a fellow member of the human race, He too must lean upon the empowering grace of God through the strengthening ministry of the Holy Spirit in order to live in obedience to the Divine will. It is not surprising, therefore, that the Scriptures tell us that it is He to whom the Spirit was given “without measure” (cf. John 3:34). We observed these words from Isaiah (11:2) in an earlier message: “And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD.”
Elsewhere in Isaiah (42:1) we learn that it was God’s good pleasure and sovereign prerogative to place His Spirit upon His Servant. But just how would this unique manifestation of God’s presence be recognized and affirmed in the life He would lead? Primarily in two ways, through the words that He spoke and through the miracles that He did.
Regarding the words that He spoke, we read in Psalm 78, verse 2, that this One who was to come would “open (His) mouth in a parable...(and) utter dark sayings from of old.” Jesus often taught by means of parables, and in so doing illumined the understanding of those who would hear and learn, while dulling the senses of those who would not (cf. Isaiah 6:9-10 with Matthew 13:11). Of Him, even His opponents said, “No one ever spoke like this man!” (John 7:46). It was said that at the conclusion of His Sermon on the Mount that “the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes (cf. Matthew 7:28-29).
As for the miracles that He performed, they were for the express purpose of authenticating the words that He spoke. John records seven of them in his Gospel account, referring to them as “signs.” Near the end of his record, John even attaches this statement: “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:30-31).
Once again it was Isaiah who had said that the Messiah would be recognized by the miraculous deeds He would perform. Writing in chapter 35 and verses 5 and 6 of his prophecy, Isaiah said, “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy.” With the touch of His hand or through a spoken word, Jesus did things like this...and more.
While imprisoned, from where he would soon have his life taken from him, John the Baptist—the very one who was His forerunner and who announced His arrival—sent word to Jesus asking Him, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” (Matthew 11:3). We can excuse this mere mortal for his weakness of faith at what he had anticipated—along with so many—the soon arrival of Jesus’ kingdom. In response to John’s question, Jesus replied to the messengers that had been sent to Him, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor hear good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me” (John 11:4-6).
By undertaking His mission from God, the main objective of Jesus’ life was to demonstrate the immutability of His sinless life and through His teaching and the miraculous deeds and to call people to repentance. By flawlessly fulfilling this charge, He proved Himself to be the spotless “Lamb of God” who would provide for full and final sacrifice for man’s sin.
So, what was the result? In some ways—certainly in our lives today—that storyline is still being written. Did the life of Jesus Christ accomplish what it was intended to accomplish? The prophetic Scriptures provide for us an advance-preview of...
The outcomes of Jesus’ life (Psalm 118:22, Isaiah 60:3).
Long before Jesus went to the cross, the “battle line” had been drawn. Our Lord had made that clear when He said, “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters” (Matthew 12:30). Even some who were “with Him” initially later turned away when He called for undivided allegiance and total commitment (cf. John 6:66).
It became clear that Jesus had never meant to “gain a large following.” He was no “sideshow miracle worker” passing out elixir for “whatever ails you.” The Gospel He proclaimed was one of “repentance and faith,” concepts that cannot justifiably be separated. Those who would be His disciples were those who were willing to “renounce all” in order to follow Him (cf. Luke 14:25-33). They were the ones who not only knew Him as “Savior,” but also as “Lord.”
The Old Testament writers were aware that the coming Messiah would create a diving wall between people. It was first of all a stumbling block to the Jews. In Psalm 118:22, it was foretold that “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.” This would later become one of the most frequently quoted verses in the New Testament (cf. Matthew 21:42, Mark 12:10, Luke 20:17, Acts 4:11, 1 Peter 2:7, and Romans 9:33). In each case, the most prominent feature of the “rejection” of the “cornerstone” is that it was by those to whom He had been sent.
The “cornerstone” is the first stone set in a building project. It is the most important stone because it determines the direction of the walls and establishes plumb line for the entire building. If that “stone” is misaligned, the entire structure will be crooked and risks collapse. The writers of Scripture applied this figure of speech to Jesus...as did He Himself.
It was Peter who references Christ by citing Isaiah 28:16, “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” He then inserts the quote from Psalm 118:22, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,” before concluding that Jesus is “A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense” (1 Peter 2:6 and 8). In other words, the “cornerstone” has become “a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense” (cf. Romans 9:33)...just as it remains to many today.
While those words were initially directed to the Jews who had rejected their Messiah, they are addressed to every person who fails to see Christ as the most important—indeed, the most utterly essential—foundation upon which to build one’s life. To miss Jesus Christ is to forfeit the gift of eternal life altogether.
Years ago, I recall hearing a sermon by J. Vernon McGee entitled “The Cross Divides Men.” Even now whenever I look at a mounted cross, such as the one on the wall behind me, I picture people aligned on one side of that cross or the other. Lost without Christ...or found by Him? There is no neutral position when it comes to Jesus. On which side of His cross do you find yourself this morning? The Scriptures tell us that “to all who...receive him, who believe(d) in his name, he (gives) the right to become children of God” (John 1:12). But those who reject—or even neglect—Him, “the wrath of God” remains (cf. John 3:36).
Often it is those who are the least-expected among us who find themselves humbled and brought near to the cross of Christ. The very fact that you may be a follower of Jesus quite probably bears witness to that this morning. A careful reading of the Old Testament tells us that, even though God selected one nation from among all the others who would bear witness to His great name, He did not exclude any others who were willing to repent of sin and trust in Him. The Lord never intended to pledge Himself to geographic boundaries or ethnic identities. “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:13).
Most of those to whom Jesus came, however, missed Him. Nearing the end of his prophetic word, Isaiah (60:3) said of the coming Messiah that “Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.” Earlier, this same prophet had written, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them light has shone” (Isaiah 9:2). Just as Jesus was a stumbling block to the Jews, so He would be a light to the Gentiles. Indeed, He would be shown to be “the light of the world” (John 8:12).
In describing his conversion experience to King Agrippa near the end of the Book of Acts (26:12-18), the Apostle Paul recounted that Jesus had sent him to the Gentiles in order “to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.” It was a commission the apostle faithfully fulfilled and a story he never tired of telling, and the New Testament bears witness to the fruit of His ministry. In Acts 13(:48), for example, we read that “When the Gentiles heard (the message of the Gospel that he had proclaimed), they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed.”
It was the stated mission of the One whose birth we will soon celebrate to fulfill the plan of God in providing salvation to lost sinners. He did this by perfectly carrying out the roles of prophet, priest, and king. And He did this by living sinlessly among us and authenticating His divine authority through the words that He spoke and the miracles He performed. When He willingly laid down His life and hung dying on a cross, His final words were “It is finished” (John 19:30).
Of Jesus’ life, the Book of Acts simply says of Him, “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him” Acts 10:38).
It would be incorrect to refer to the Gospel accounts—either individually or collectively—as “biographies” of Jesus Christ. While two of them (Matthew and Luke) discuss the circumstances and events surrounding His birth, only one gives any mention to what may have occurred before beginning His public ministry. Instead, we have these huge gaps...from infancy to a single day in His twelfth year, and then again to the age of “about thirty” (cf. Luke 3:23). The greater part of Jesus’ earthly life seems to have been lived in obscurity.
That bothers some people. Of course we would love to know more, but providing biographical details of the life of Jesus is not the intent of the Gospels. That is not why they were written. In fact, Luke begins his introduction to the Book of Acts by referring back to the Gospel he wrote and telling us that its purpose was to deal “with all that Jesus began to do and teach” (Acts 1:1). The significant aspect regarding the life of Christ, you see, is not that Jesus lived, but rather the purpose for which He lived.
He was born to die...and He died so that we might live. No greater irony has ever been put forth, and no greater story has ever been told. But the story doesn’t end at the cross anymore than it began at the manger. For you see, thirty-three years after His birth and three days after being crucified, the eternal Son of God rose from the dead with a life that would never again taste death. It is that same life—His life—that He offers to everyone who will turn from their sin and acknowledge Him as Lord and Savior.
The life of Jesus leaves with us one simple challenge, and it is this: “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Have you responded to and received God’s gift?