Monday, December 06, 2010

The Promise of Christmas Part 1

I often feel that Christians handle prophecy rather poorly. Normally, when someone hears someone speak about prophecy, we think of visions of apocalyptic doom. I get a little bit squirmy when most people talk about prophecy, and if a prophecy lecture were like a bus-ride, I try and get off the bus at about the point where folks begin to talk about scorpions being helicopters, China being Magog, and speculating that if President Ahmadinejad puts on a purple turban then he is indeed the anti-Christ. I can, however, stomach charts which have up and down arrows representing the time of the "rapture."

Fortunately, prophecies are easier than all that silliness that usually passes for prophetic interpretation, and they are aspects of it that are far more important than speculating on the identity of the country who is Gog. I am speaking of the prophecies concerning the Immanuel, whose birthday we are about to celebrate. Are the prophecies concerning the advent of the Messiah clear or not? I believe that they are clear; I just don't think the average Christian has given them much thought. This is tragic both to personal faith and for credibility towards those who are looking from the outside in. It is, for example, far more important to understand what the Old Testament has to say about the Messiah than it is to get the greeter at Wal-Mart to say "Merry Christmas!" instead of "Happy Holidays!" Yet we see where many invest the majority of their energies. Indignation is easier than study.

So I thought that we might start at the very first Christmas prophecy, Genesis 3:15. The scenario is bleak. Satan, that old serpent, has just talked Adam and Eve into a vain power grab. Satan told them that God had withheld the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil because God knew that if they ate it they would become like God themselves. They coveted God's authority, power, beauty, and Being, and so they ate. Ironically, they did come to know good and evil. They now knew good as a memory, for everything good that they had ever known had come from being in right fellowship with the good God who made them. They knew evil as their reality; evil is being alienated from God.

Into this predicament steps God Himself. He seeks out the man and woman, and He curses them for their own good*. He also has these words for that old serpent Satan, He says:
Because you have done this, cursed are you above all livestock and above all beasts of the field; on your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life. I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.

Two things, two very important things are foretold here by God. He says that the serpent will "eat dust" all his life as he "crawls on his belly." This does not simply mean that, as a serpent, he suddenly became legless. It means that the serpent, who is the devil, will suffer continual defeat forever. He will never triumph. He will always eat dirt. In the prophecy of Isaiah, Isaiah sees a day when, "The wolf and the lamb shall graze together; the lion shall eat straw like the ox, and dust shall be the serpent's food" (Isaiah 65:25). You see that, even in the restoration of all things when all manner of beasts live in harmony, the serpent is still eating dust. The enemy of men, the devil, will still live in abject defeat when God restores all things.

The second important prophecy is how this ultimate defeat is going to come about. It will happen through a battle with the "seed" of the woman. This person will be bruised by this seed in the battle. His heel will be bruised, indicating a crippling, but not life-threatening wound. The serpent, however, will have his head bruised, indicating a mortal wound. (It can be translated "crushed in both instances instead of bruised. It indicates more than a superficial wound.)

The rest of the Old Testament develops this idea of who this seed will be. Is it Cain? Abel? Seth? We must wait to find out the answer to that as the Biblical narrative unfolds. Who will crush the head of Satan? Who will usher in the time when the wolf shall graze with the lamb?

I'll take a look at how the story is revealed as Christmas approaches, and I hope that you will see that it all leads to a manger in Bethlehem and a cross in Jerusalem.


*That God designed the curse for our good may sound ridiculous, but I very much believe that it is true. Going into all those details will require another post all its own.

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