For the past couple of weeks, we’ve been looking at the Bible as a History of Hope. Sometimes it’s difficult to put the whole Bible together – to see how one story connects with the others – to see how the old Testament fits with the new Testament. But over the past couple of weeks, we’ve been trying to do just that and what we’ve discovered is that the whole Bible is actually the Christmas story. Everything in the old testament points us ahead to the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ – and everything in the new testament is the result of the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Jesus Christ the central figure of the Bible. He’s the central figure in world history. All of history is HIS STORY.
And so today we’re going to continue looking at God’s story. Just by way of a quick recap: Two weeks ago we started in the beginning – with God creating the heavens and the earth. And He setup mankind to have a perfect life. As long as mankind looked to God as the source of everything they needed and as long as they acknowledged God as their ultimate authority, their relationships would be sweet and life would be awesome.
But of course, we know that Adam and Eve chose to reject God as their source and to reject Him as their authority – and as a consequence, their relationship with God and with each other was broken. Life became very difficult and painful for them – and all of us. The consequences of their sin would effect mankind for the rest of history, but God made a promise to Adam & Eve – that one day He would set things right again.
Then last week we fast-forwarded to Mount Sinai – where God made a covenant – or an agreement with the Israelites. And the basic gist of that agreement was that as long as the Israelites looked to God as the source of everything they needed and as long as they acknowledged God as their ultimate authority, their relationships would be sweet and life would be awesome. Sounds familiar doesn’t it?
But the trouble was, 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 that they, (or anyone else for that matter), could possibly obey all of the terms of that covenant that God had just made with them. Our sinful nature makes it impossible for us to fully obey God.
But of course, God knew that, and so in that covenant, He gave the Israelites another glimpse of hope. Even though the penalty for sin was death, God allowed the Israelites to bring an animal and offer it in place of the person who had sinned. Instead of the person being put to death for their sin (as they deserved), the animal would be put to death in their place. It would take their punishment and it’s blood would temporarily cover their sin.
Of course, the blood of those bulls and goats couldn’t take away their sin, but it served as a symbol of hope – hope that one day, God’s promised Messiah – the Lamb of God – would come and would die in their place and His blood would take their sins completely away.
So that was last week – now again today we’re going to be doing a lot of fast-forwarding – we’ve got about 1000 years to summarize and nearly 35 books of the Bible to go through – so let’s jump right in.
After the Israelites entered into that covenant with God at Mount Sinai, God led them into the promised land. This is the land that God promised to give to Abraham and his descendants – we talked about that just briefly last Sunday. It was a long time coming, but they finally arrived. Joshua leads them into battle against the inhabitants of the land and eventually they wipe out and take over most of the people living there. So they settle into cities and towns and start living happily every after. Sort of.
As we’ve expected all along, the Israelites don’t do a very good job of obeying the terms of their covenant with God – their sinful nature just keeps leading them astray. And so it doesn’t take long for people to reject God’s authority once again and soon everyone’s off doing their own thing. And there is a verse that really summarizes this time in history really well. We’ve mentioned it several times recently in our study of Samuel. It’s the last verse in the book of Judges – Judges 21:25
25 In those days Israel had no king; all the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes.” Judges 21:25
No longer did the Israelites do what was right in God’s eyes – following the terms of the covenant – everyone did whatever was right in their own eyes.
This verse is probably pretty descriptive of today too. Everybody does what’s right in their own eyes. You do what you think is right and I’ll do what I think is right. We’ll each decide for ourselves what is right and true.
This kind of thinking seems to be indicative of our sinful human nature! We want to be our own source of truth and our own authority! That’s what Adam & Eve did and that exactly what the Israelites were doing some 4000 years ago. And of course, that only leads to a giant mess. We saw that with Adam & Eve, we see it on our world today, and that’s what happened during the time of the judges.
You see, as the Israelites persisted in disobeying God, (doing whatever seemed right in their own eyes) God would respond by sending some of the surrounding nations to harass and oppress them – just like He said He would do in the terms of their covenant. This would serve as a wake-up call the Israelites – hopefully stirring them to repent and change their ways.
And I think sometimes God does that today too. Sometimes He allows hard things to come into our life to get our attention – to get us to repent of some of our sinful actions and attitudes – and to cause us to draw close to him! Of course, that’s not the only reason we have hard things in our lives, but sometimes that’s exactly why God allows such things to happen.
And this wake-up call for the Israelites was usually successful (at least during the time of the judges). After a few years of being harassed and oppressed by their enemies, the Israelites would finally recognize that they had done wrong and would call to God for help and he would then send them a rescuer to save them from their enemies. This is where we get all the judges like Ehud and Samson and Gideon.
But this was the cycle for a couple hundred years – the people would sin, God would send oppressors, the people would repent, God would send a judge to save them. And then they would do it all over again – sin, oppressors, repent, a judge to the rescue… judge after judge after judge.
Well, eventually, the people of Israel decided that they wanted a king to lead them – instead of all these judges. All the other nations around them had kings, so they wanted one too. Well, God knew that wasn’t the best option for them, but He gave them what they wanted. And so God chose a king for them and his name was Saul.
And Saul started off really good, but before too long, he too started doing whatever seemed right in his own eyes, (there’s that sinful nature again) – so in the end he wound up being a pretty lousy king. And so to make a long story short, God rejected him and his family as kings of Israel. His sons and grandsons would not be kings after him. God was going to choose a new royal family – a new line of kings. And of course, the first of that new line of kings was King David.
Now David was one of Israel’s greatest kings. He was a great military leader – He was the guy that killed Goliath when He was still a boy – and He was a great spiritual leader. In fact, the Bible calls David “a man after God’s own heart”. Now that’s sure not to say He was perfect – David had a sinful nature too. Probably his most notorious sin was that he committed adultery with Bathsheba and had one of his good friends murdered to cover it up. However, when he was confronted by the prophet Nathan, he sincerely confessed, and repented and did his best to make things right again. So even though He wasn’t perfect, He was a man after God’s own heart.
And so God made a unique promise to David – and this promise is very significant to our story – to the Christmas story – to this whole history of Hope.
So take a look with me at 2 Samuel chapter 7 – starting at verse 8. Here’s the promise that God gave to David.
“Now go and say to my servant David, ‘This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies has declared: I took you from tending sheep in the pasture and selected you to be the leader of my people Israel. 9 I have been with you wherever you have gone, and I have destroyed all your enemies before your eyes. Now I will make your name as famous as anyone who has ever lived on the earth! 10 And I will provide a homeland for my people Israel, planting them in a secure place where they will never be disturbed. Evil nations won’t oppress them as they’ve done in the past, 11 starting from the time I appointed judges to rule my people Israel. And I will give you rest from all your enemies.
“‘Furthermore, the Lord declares that he will make a house for you—a dynasty of kings! 12 For when you die and are buried with your ancestors, I will raise up one of your descendants, your own offspring, and I will make his kingdom strong. 13 He is the one who will build a house—a temple—for my name. And I will secure his royal throne forever. 14 I will be his father, and he will be my son. If he sins, I will correct and discipline him with the rod, like any father would do. 15 But my favor will not be taken from him as I took it from Saul, whom I removed from your sight. 16 Your house and your kingdom will continue before me for all time, and your throne will be secure forever.’”
2 Samuel 7:8-16
Now these are some impressive promises. God told David that he would make his name famous. God would give Him rest from all his enemies – AND (this is probably the most significant part of these promises) God would establish David’s house, his throne, and his kingdom forever.
That word ‘forever’ gives us a clue that there is more here than just what meets the eye. This is not just God telling David that there will be generation after generation after generation after generation of kings that come from David’s family. As you read through the rest of the Old Testament, you realize that this is a promise that from David’s family line there will be A single king who will rule Israel forever.
Now, why would that be significant?
Well, let’s jump back to the promise that God made to Adam & Eve. Remember how He told the serpent in Genesis 3:15…
And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.”
That was basically a promise that one day a descendant of Eve would crush Satan’s head. Satan would be utterly defeated and sin and it’s consequences would be no more.
Then many years later, God made a promise to Abraham in Genesis 12:2-3
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.”
This was a promise that one day a descendant of Abraham (who would of course be a descendant of Eve) would be a blessing to every family on earth.
Now God is making this promise to David (who happened to be a descendant of Abraham who was a descendant of Eve) that one day a descendant from his family would rule Israel forever.
Do you think there is a connection here? Could that same person who was going to crush Satan’s head and defeat sin once for all – could He be the same person who was going to be a blessing to every family on earth – could He be the same person who would rule over Israel forever?
You probably know where I’m going with this, but let’s keep following the timeline to see what happens next.
After David died, his son Solomon became king. And God absolutely blessed the socks right off Solomon and the entire nation of Israel. They had never had it so good. They were wealthy – they were at peace – they were the envy of the world. But when Solomon’s son Rehoboam became king, things went downhill fast.
Under his leadership, Israel split into two nations – ten of the twelve tribes split off, choose a new king, and kept the name Israel. The remaining two tribes stayed loyal to David’s family – keeping Rehoboam as their king and they took the name Judah.
So now the Israelites have become two separate nations – Israel & Judah. Well, to make a long story short, not a single one of Israel’s kings from this point on followed God. They were all evil. They led the Israelites to worship idols and they completely forgot about obeying God and his covenant. This is the part of the Bible where you read about the Israelites serving the gods of Baal and Ashtoreth and making altars to these gods on every hill and under every tree. And during this time, God sent many prophets to warn them and to plead with them to change their ways – but they didn’t listen.
And so finally, after a few hundred years of evil king after evil king after evil king, God had enough and He sent the Assyrians to attack Israel and basically wipe them off the face of the earth. The few remaining survivors were shipped off to different parts of the world and they pretty much disappeared from history.
2 Kings 17 gives us a bit of a summary.
7 This disaster came upon the people of Israel because they worshiped other gods. They sinned against the Lord their God, who had brought them safely out of Egypt and had rescued them from the power of Pharaoh, the king of Egypt.
13 Again and again the Lord had sent his prophets and seers to warn both Israel and Judah: “Turn from all your evil ways. Obey my commands and decrees—the entire law that I commanded your ancestors to obey, and that I gave you through my servants the prophets.”
14 But the Israelites would not listen. They were as stubborn as their ancestors who had refused to believe in the Lord their God. 15 They rejected his decrees and the covenant he had made with their ancestors, and they despised all his warnings. They worshiped worthless idols, so they became worthless themselves. They followed the example of the nations around them, disobeying the Lord’s command not to imitate them.
And the people of Israel persisted in all the evil ways of Jeroboam. They did not turn from these sins 23 until the Lord finally swept them away from his presence, just as all his prophets had warned. So Israel was exiled from their land to Assyria, where they remain to this day.
2 Kings 17:7, 13-15, 22-23
So that was Israel. Completely disobedient and eventually annihilated! Now the nation of Judah, on the other hand, they did a little better. The kings of Judah – The royal family of David – ruled Judah for about 400 years. There were several of them that followed God and did very well. Kings like Asa or Hezekiah or Josiah. But there were also many kings that did not follow God. And so it wasn’t too long after Israel was destroyed, that God sent the Babylonians to conquer the nation of Judah because they too, had forgotten about obeying God and were worshipping idols.
2 Kings 21 tells us God’s response to Judah. Verse 13:
“King Manasseh of Judah has done many detestable things. He is even more wicked than the Amorites, who lived in this land before Israel. He has caused the people of Judah to sin with his idols. 12 So this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: I will bring such disaster on Jerusalem and Judah that the ears of those who hear about it will tingle with horror. I will judge Jerusalem by the same standard I used for Samaria and the same measure I used for the family of Ahab. I will wipe away the people of Jerusalem as one wipes a dish and turns it upside down. 14 Then I will reject even the remnant of my own people who are left, and I will hand them over as plunder for their enemies. 15 For they have done great evil in my sight and have angered me ever since their ancestors came out of Egypt.”
2 Kings 21:13-15
So by about 600 BC, things were looking pretty bleak.
These descendants of Abraham, this nation of Israelites that God had chosen years ago to be his special possession – He would be their God and they would be His people – These same people who were once the envy of the world under the rule of King David and King Solomon – now found themselves in exile in Babylon. More than 80% of their population had been wiped out. Their homes destroyed. Their cities in ruins.
They were experiencing all of the curses that God had promised them if they refused to follow and obey God. It was a time of great sorrow and despair. It truly was Israel’s darkest hour.
But even in that darkest hour – even in the midst of God’s judgement and punishment – God gave them hope.
About 100 years before Judah was destroyed by the Assyrians, God send a prophet named Isaiah to deliver a message to the people. And it was kind of a two-part message. The most of it was a warning. God reminded them one more time of the curses that would come if they continued to disobey God. But in with those warnings was a message of hope.
Look at Isaiah chapter 9 – verse 1.
Nevertheless, that time of darkness and despair will not go on forever. The land of Zebulun and Naphtali will be humbled, but there will be a time in the future when Galilee of the Gentiles, which lies along the road that runs between the Jordan and the sea, will be filled with glory.
2 The people who walk in darkness will see a great light. For those who live in a land of deep darkness, a light will shine.
jump down to verse 6….
For a child is born to us, a son is given to us. The government will rest on his shoulders. And he will be called: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 7 His government and its peace will never end. He will rule with fairness and justice from the throne of his ancestor David for all eternity. The passionate commitment of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies will make this happen!
Isaiah 9:1-2, 6-7
God had been promising ever since Adam & Eve that someone was coming to make things right. Someone was coming to crush Satan’s head and defeat sin once for all time. Someone was coming who would be a blessing to every family on earth. Someone was coming who would be king for all time. And that someone would be called: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His government and its peace would never end. He would rule with fairness and justice from the throne of his ancestor David for all eternity.
You can see what an incredible hope that was for the Israelites. After so many years of suffering the consequences of sin – You can understand why they were longing for this person – for this coming king they called the Messiah – to show up and make things right again.
And that’s exactly what makes the Christmas story so incredible. After all this time – after all this waiting and hoping – finally all the promises that God has made over the course of some 4000 years – were finally going to be fulfilled.
And when you read through Luke chapter one, you can’t help but notice how clearly the Bible tells us that these promises were about to be fulfilled in Jesus Christ.
Turn with me to Luke 1:26. Look for all the subtle and not-so-subtle hints that this baby Jesus was the one they had been waiting for.
26 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a village in Galilee, 27 to a virgin named Mary. She was engaged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of King David. 28 Gabriel appeared to her and said, “Greetings, favored woman! The Lord is with you!”
29 Confused and disturbed, Mary tried to think what the angel could mean. 30 “Don’t be afraid, Mary,” the angel told her, “for you have found favor with God! 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. 33 And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end!”
I don’t think it could have been much clearer – This was exactly what all of Israel had been waiting for! This baby who would be born would be the one to crush Satan’s head and defeat sin once for all. This baby would be the one who would be a blessing to every family on earth. This baby would be the one who would be King forever. God was about to undo the damage that was done way back in the garden of Eden. God was going to crush the head of Satan and do away with death and sin once for all – and He was going to make things right again.
And in fact, further down in Luke Chapter 1, Zachariah – who was the cousin-in-law of Mary, says this:
68 “Praise the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has visited and redeemed his people. He has sent us a mighty Savior from the royal line of his servant David, just as he promised through his holy prophets long ago. Now we will be saved from our enemies and from all who hate us. He has been merciful to our ancestors by remembering his sacred covenant—the covenant he swore with an oath to our ancestor Abraham. We have been rescued from our enemies so we can serve God without fear, 75 in holiness and righteousness for as long as we live.
And I think it’s that last line that really gives us the true significance of Christmas. Because of Jesus Christ, coming to earth as a little baby – fulfilling all the promises of God – dying on a cross in our place, and coming back to life again three days later – Because of all that we can be rescued from our sin so we can serve God without fear, in holiness and righteousness for as long as we live. That’s the meaning of Christmas right there.
Through faith in Christ, we don’t have to be slaves to sin anymore. We can choose to serve God. We can accept His forgiveness and be freed from our sinful nature. We can have our relationships restored and we can one day again, enjoy life as God intended it. We can serve God without fear in holiness and righteousness forever!
But of course, there’s still a couple questions that remain: If God fulfilled all those promises way back 2000 years ago when Jesus was born, why are we still here – living in a sinful world – today? If Satan’s head was crushed, why does he seem so active in the world around us? If sin and death were defeated, why do we see so much of it in our lives today?
Well I don’t have time to address all that today, you’ll have to come back next week and we’re going to talk about those questions exactly. God’s story still isn’t over. There are still a few promises that God will fulfill in the future. We’re still in the middle of this history of hope.
But for today, why don’t we pray together and just thank God for all his promises – both the ones that He has already fulfilled in the birth of Jesus Christ – and for the ones that He will fulfill in the future.