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Symbols of Hope

Last week we started looking at the Christmas story. Mind you, we didn’t get very far. We started in Genesis chapter one and we made it all the way to Genesis chapter 3. There’s just 927 chapters to go before we get to the part about the baby in a manger. But that’s ok. You’ve probably heard that part of the Christmas story before anyway.

You see, most people are familiar with the shepherds and the wisemen and the angels – but they might not have heard the parts of the Christmas story that come before all that.

Because as we talked about last week, the whole Bible is the Christmas story. It begins in Genesis with Adam and Eve and it goes right through to the end of time in Revelation. All of history is the Christmas story. 

And so we started in the Beginning – when God created the heavens and the earth. And He set up the perfect design for the perfect life. God designed life to operate by three basic principles that would make life on earth awesome and amazing. And these were the three principles.

#1. God is the source. #2. God is the authority. #3. Life is all about relationships.

And with these three principles in place, Adam & Eve enjoyed a perfect life. 

With God as the source, Adam & Eve had everything they needed. God gave them life, God gave them an amazing place to live, God gave them delicious food to eat, a fulfilling job to do – He gave them close relationships – both with Himself and with each other. It was really the perfect life.

As long as Adam & Eve looked to God as the source of all they needed and as long as they recognized that God was their authority (living within the bounds that He had set), their relationships would be sweet and life would continue to be amazing. That was God’s design. That’s how God intended the human experience to be. That’s the kind of life that God wanted you and I to live.

But unfortunately, as we talked about last week, one day that all changed. Adam & Eve decided to reject God as their source and to reject God as their authority by taking and eating the fruit from the tree that God commanded them not to eat – and as a result, their relationship with God and their relationship with each other was broken. Life would become very painful and hard for Adam and Eve, and all of Creation would suffer.

In fact, to this very day, we suffer the effects of sin in the world. All of us have broken relationships both with God and with each other. Our experience is far from the perfect life that God intended for us to live! But the good news is – there is Hope. The entire Bible is a History of Hope. One day, God would undo the damage that was done in the garden of Eden and we would again experience life as God intended it.

And that part comes a little later in the story, but today, we’re going to continue looking at God’s story, the Christmas story – to see how God continued to give mankind hope throughout the course of history – even as they struggled with the consequences of their sin.

Now this morning, we’re going to cover a lot of ground in quick hurry. Last Sunday we ended in Genesis chapter 3 with God offering a glimpse of hope to Adam and Eve. Even though they messed up big time and basically turned God’s perfect plan for a perfect life upside down, God promised them one day He would make things right again.

But for now, they had to live with the terrible consequences of sin. And there a lot of consequences. Banishment from the Garden of Eden. No more access to the Tree of Life. Broken relationships with each other. A broken relationship with God. And that’s just the beginning. One of the continuing consequences they had was that each of their children and their children’s children, and each of their children’s children’s children (etc, etc) would all be born with a sinful nature – a default desire to rebel against God as their authority and as their source. It was like a hereditary disease that every person on earth would be born with and would have to suffer the consequences of.

In fact, the next few chapters of Genesis paint a grim picture for us of just how terrible this disease of man’s sinful nature was. In chapter four of Genesis, we read how Adam & Eve’s first born son, Cain, murders his younger brother, Abel. Later on in that same chapter we read of one of Cain’s descendants murdering another man.

By the time chapter 6 rolls around, evil had only multiplied. This is what we read in verse 5.

“The Lord observed the extent of human wickedness on the earth, and he saw that everything they thought or imagined was consistently and totally evil.”

Genesis 6:5

Life on planet earth was just about as far from God’s original design as it could possibly get. People had completely rejected God as any type of authority – they had no concept of God as their source – and as a result, they were very literally destroying themselves. Verse 11 of chapter 6 tells us that the earth was filled with violence. It was becoming painfully clear that life as God intended it was getting further and further from reality.

And I wish I could take you chronologically through the Bible now, story by story, to show you how they all fit into this narrative, but because we’re jamming the entire world history into four weeks, we’re going to have to fast-forward through a lot of it. But I’ll try to give you a quick overview as we go.

The next major event after God observes all the wickedness of man is, of course, the flood. Everyone except Noah and his family are wiped out. The earth and mankind get a fresh start. But that doesn’t solve all our problems – Noah and his family still have that disease of the sinful nature. And we are reminded of that by an incident in Genesis chapter nine involving Noah and his son Ham. Man’s sinful nature was still causing problems.

Well, about ten generations after Noah, Abram (Abraham as God renames him) comes on the scene. And here again, even in the midst of all this sinfulness, God gives us a sneak peek at His plan for restoring Hope to mankind. Look at Genesis chapter 12, verse 1 through 3.

The Lord had said to Abram, “Leave your native country, your relatives, and your father’s family, and go to the land that I will show you. 2 I will make you into a great nation. I will bless you and make you famous, and you will be a blessing to others. 3 I will bless those who bless you and curse those who treat you with contempt. All the families on earth will be blessed through you.”

Genesis 12:1-3

Now at first glance, this might seem pretty important to Abraham, but rather insignificant to us. It just sounds like God just really likes this guy Abram and is promising to take good care of him. But there’s that little line at the end… “All the families on earth will be blessed through you.” Now how could one man who lived thousands of years ago be a blessing to every family on earth – including your family?

Well, I don’t think Abraham could see it at the time – but we can certainly see it now as we look back at history – the answer is through Jesus Christ. Jesus would be born as a descendant of Abraham – both Mary and Joseph were from that family line. And Jesus, through his death and resurrection, would make the way possible for every person on earth to have a restored relationship with God. Through Jesus, every family on earth could experience life as God intended it. Through Jesus, every family could have hope. That is how every family on earth would be blessed through Abraham.

And we’ll talk more about that next week – that’s not really my main point today. That certainly sets the stage for where we’re going, but we gotta keep zipping through history…

Abraham has a son named Isaac, Isaac has a son named Jacob, and Jacob has 12 twelves sons and eventually God changes Jacob’s name to Israel. And so it’s from Jacobs twelve sons (or Isreal’s twelve sons) that we get the 12 tribes of Israel.

It’s right at this time that the families of Jacob’s sons – now known as the Israelites, begin living in Egypt. That all happens in the story of Joseph – you can read about that in the last chapters of Genesis. 

Well, the Israelites live in Egypt for about 400 years and they have a lot of babies. The Bible records that there are about 600,000 Israelite men – so maybe about 2 million people in all. With this huge number of people, the Egyptian become concerned that the Israelites will one day rise up and fight against them, and so to prevent that, they force the Israelites to serve them as slaves. And that’s when Moses comes on the scene.

Moses, following God’s instructions, leads the Israelites out of slavery, out of Egypt and into the desert. And it’s here that God begins the next major phase of His plan to put things back to the way they were when He created the world.

So what happens in the desert with this nation of Israelite slaves?

In a nutshell, God made a covenant with them. Now what’s a covenant? A covenant is like a contract – an agreement between two people. And so God makes this covenant – this agreement  or contract – with the Israelites. All those Old Testament rules and regulations (like the thou shalt not do this and thou shalt not do that) are the terms of this agreement.

Of course, the most famous part of these terms were the ten commandments. But God’s covenant with the Israelites actually wasn’t just ten commandments – there were a whole pile of commandments and instructions. Basically last half the book of Exodus and pretty much the entire book of Leviticus are the terms of this contract.

So what’s this contract all about? And what does it have to do with Adam & Eve and the Christmas story? What does this have to do with God making everything right again?

All very good questions! 

To help us figure it all out, let’s go to Deuteronomy chapter 28.  This is after God has given all the terms of the covenant to the Israelites. It says in Deuteronomy 28:1…

  “If you fully obey the Lord your God and carefully keep all his commands that I am giving you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the world. 2You will experience all these blessings if you obey the Lord your God:

 3 Your towns and your fields
will be blessed.
4 Your children and your crops
will be blessed.
The offspring of your herds and flocks
will be blessed.
5 Your fruit baskets and breadboards
will be blessed.
6 Wherever you go and whatever you do,
you will be blessed.

Deuteronomy 28:1-6

Alright. Sounds pretty good, right? Now jump down to verse 15.

 “But if you refuse to listen to the Lord your God and do not obey all the commands and decrees I am giving you today, all these curses will come and overwhelm you:

 16 Your towns and your fields
will be cursed.
17 Your fruit baskets and breadboards
will be cursed.
18 Your children and your crops
will be cursed.
The offspring of your herds and flocks
will be cursed.
19 Wherever you go and whatever you do,
you will be cursed.

 20 “The Lord himself will send on you curses, confusion, and frustration in everything you do, until at last you are completely destroyed for doing evil and abandoning me.

Deuteronomy 28:15-20

That’s some heavy stuff. And this is actually just a small sampling of that chapter – there’s more, but I think you get the idea. God’s making sure that the Israelites know how this works. If they obey God, God is going to bless their socks off. Life will be awesome. But if they disobey God, life is going to stink.

It sounds very much like the choice that Adam & Eve had. They could obey God (accepting Him as the source of everything they need and submitting to Him as their authority) and life would be sweet. Or they could disobey God (rejecting Him as the source and as their authority) – and life would become very painful.

So this is a very similar arrangement to the one that God had with Adam and Eve, although there is one major difference this time. You see, Adam & Eve were perfectly capable of choosing to obey God. They had no sinful nature at that time. They actually had to deliberately choose to sin.

But everyone of the Israelites was already born with a sinful nature. Every single one of them was already naturally inclined to reject God. Sin was their default. And with that sinful nature, there was NO WAY they could possibly obey all of the commandments that God had just given them. You see, our sinful nature makes it impossible to fully obey God. We just can’t do it.

Romans 3:10 says…

“No one is righteous – not even one. No one is truly wise; no one is seeking God. All have turned away; all have become useless. No one does good, not a single one.”

Romans 3:10-12

We just can’t pull it off. History is proof of this. No one is perfect. Everybody sins. You do. I do. We all do. It’s because of this sinful nature that we are born with.

So for the Israelites to obey everything that God had said really was impossible. In fact, ironically, at the very moment that God was giving Moses all these commands at the top of Mount Sinai, the Israelites were at the foot of the mountain breaking those commandments. They had made a golden calf and were worshipping it, instead of God. That was rule number one – to worship only God. Rule number two was not to make any idols. So already, they had broken the first two commandments before they even got started.

So what was God thinking when He gave them all these rules and regulations to follow? Didn’t He know about their sinful nature? Didn’t He know that they simply wouldn’t be able to obey all those commands? 

Absolutely He knew that. That’s part of the reason why He gave them those commandments. He wanted to show them that as long as they had that sinful nature within them, they would never be able to fully obey Him – and they would never be able to have the perfect life that they were created for.  They could try really hard but, it simply wouldn’t be enough.

And it’s important for us to realize that too. So many people try to make things right with God by being good. They think that by being a good person, God will accept them. But the Bible doesn’t teach that. The Bible doesn’t teach that God weighs our good deeds against our bad deeds to see which one is the majority. The Bible teaches us that even just one little sin breaks our relationship with God.

Romans 6:23 says… “For the wages of sin is death.”

Any sin in our lives keeps us separated from God. The penalty is death. So what do we do? If we’re born with a sinful nature, and if our sin keeps us from the life we were created to have – what do we do? There’s nothing we can do. And frankly, that’s the point. There is nothing we can do save ourselves from the consequences of sin. 

There is nothing you can do. 

But maybe, just maybe, God can do something.

Remember, this is a history of hope. This is God’s story. And He loves people way too much to just let us die without hope. So here’s what He did:

Mixed into that covenant that God made with the Israelites – in with all the thou shalt do this and thou shalt not do that – God laid out a temporary system for dealing with sin.

Now the details of this temporary system were quite complexed and lengthly – as I said earlier – it fills up the second half of Exodus and almost all of Leviticus. So this morning I won’t explain all the details, but I’ll give you just the very basics. 

The basic idea was that, when someone sinned, because the wages of sin is death, someone or something had to die. So God allowed people to bring certain animals to the tabernacle or the temple and the animals would be killed in place of the person who had sinned. So in essence, the animals would take the punishment for that person’s sin. 

But there was a problem with this system – and we read about that problem in Hebrews 10:1-4

The old system under the law of Moses was only a shadow, a dim preview of the good things to come, not the good things themselves. The sacrifices under that system were repeated again and again, year after year, but they were never able to provide perfect cleansing for those who came to worship. 2 If they could have provided perfect cleansing, the sacrifices would have stopped, for the worshipers would have been purified once for all time, and their feelings of guilt would have disappeared.

 3 But instead, those sacrifices actually reminded them of their sins year after year. 4 For it is not possible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. 

Hebrews 10:1-4

No matter how many times the people would bring their sacrifices to the temple – no matter how many animals died in their place – the people couldn’t get rid of their sinful nature. As this verse says, it is not possible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.

The Israelites would go home and they would sin again. Their sinful nature would get the best of them and they would sin. They would reject God as their source and as their authority and they would sin. They would try hard not to, but they would sin anyway. They were slaves to sin. And their relationship with God and their relationships with each would be continue to be broken.

So what was the point? Why lay out all these rules and regulations if the people couldn’t possible obey them anyway? And why make up this whole system sacrifices if the blood of the animals couldn’t take away our sin? 

Well, the point of the sacrificial system was never to take away our sin. The point was to give us hope. The point – was to point us to Jesus. It was God painting a picture for the Israelites of how God would one day fix the problem of sin for good.

God’s Son, Jesus Christ, would be born into the world as a human baby and He would do what the old testament sacrifices could never do.

Jesus Himself would become the sacrifice. As the perfect Son of God, he would obey all of God’s commands. He never sinned even once. He was the one person who didn’t deserve to die. But yet, he would allow sinful men to nail him to a cross where he would die in our place and his blood would be spilled for us. And unlike the blood of bulls or goats or lambs which couldn’t take away sin, the blood of Jesus takes away our sin once and for all.

This is why Jesus is often called the Lamb of God. John the Baptist refers to him in that way in John 1:29.

“The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”

John 1:29

Jesus’ death and resurrection provided a way for us to not only have our sins forgiven – but to have our sinful nature taken away. We wouldn’t have to slaves to sin anymore – we could actually choose to obey God and by doing so, we could actually experience the life that God created us to have.

This is the hope that God gave the Israelites through all that Old Testament Law. Every lamb that was sacrificed served as a symbol of hope – that although they were powerless to save themselves from sin and it’s consequences, Jesus Christ, the baby in a manger, the Lamb of God, would one day defeat sin and man could once again enjoy life as God intended it.

But of course, we’re not quite there yet. While God has made forgiveness possible for us, and through Christ we can be free from sin, God has not yet fully undone the damage that was done in the Garden of Eden. It’s important to remember that history – that HIS STORY –  is not over yet. 

There is still sin and death in the world and we suffer the consequences of that. But we don’t have to be slaves to sin any longer. We can choose to live life acknowledging God as our source and as our authority – and we can have a sweet relationship with God and with others.

And furthermore, we have the hope that one day, one day soon, Jesus will return and He will finally do away with all sin and death for good. And every one of us who have accepted God’s gift of forgiveness will forever enjoy life exactly as God intended it.

So my question for you this morning is, do you have that hope? Have you put your faith and trust in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sin and the gift of eternal life?

Because there is nothing that you can do – there is no amount of good things you can do to outweigh your sin – and no animals you can sacrifice to take away your guilt.

The only way to be free from the slavery of sin and all of it’s terrible consequences – is to trust that Jesus did it all. Our hope is found in the baby who was born of a virgin and laid in a manger – the Lamb of God who would die on a cross in your place, rising to life again after 3 days, and who will one day come again to put an end to all sin and death forever.

He is our only true source of Hope. Will you put your hope in Him?

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