When Jesus was confronted by the Judeans because they believed He was breaking the Sabbath and because they could see that by calling God His Father, He was making Himself equal with God, He said to them, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness to me.” On the very day of His resurrection when he encountered the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, He opened all of Scripture to them to show that all that had transpired did indeed have to come to pass so that He would enter into His glory. The last two Wednesdays showed us that this Jesus was the one promised by God in the Law and the Prophets. Tonight we look at the third part of the first testament, the writings, looking at Job, Psalms, and Proverbs particularly, as the writers, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, saw how God was with His people Israel, and pointed to the One who was to be the King, Judge, Suffering Servant, and indeed, the very Presence of God among His people, gathered from Israel and from all the Nations of the earth.
One of the questions that theologians have mulled over down through the ages, is, which is more important, incarnation or atonement? But it is always dangerous to make an either/or out of what is in fact a both/and. The two go hand in hand. The incarnation occurs for the purpose of atonement. Without the nativity, there can be no atonement. God reconciles sinners to Himself through the incarnate Son. And without the atonement, there is to reason for the incarnation. The Nicene Creed makes it quite clear: after establishing that from eternity He is God of God and Light of Light, one substance with the Father, it declares that He is the One “Who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven . . . and was made man.” There are some schools of thought that ask the question, If humanity had not fallen into sin, would God have still taken on human flesh, perhaps to identify Himself with creation? In view of course, of the fall into sin, the question merely becomes idle speculation, and quite frankly, we really don’t have the time, nor should we have the inclination, to indulge in such speculation. We need not, indeed we dare not, speak to you of a Christ who is not the Christ who came for you.
Though the Nicene Creed was written about 300 years after the New Testament Scriptures were written, the bishops, that is, the overseers, of the church who prepared the Creed had searched the Scriptures thoroughly to see that the writings of the first testament, including that part known as the writings, clearly testified of Christ as the fulfilment of that testament, and that He is the God who is. In talking about the tendency of human wisdom to reject the foolishness of the cross, St. Paul refers to Christ as “the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor 1:24). Christ is God’s Wisdom, who sets all things in order. Indeed, the book of Proverbs notes this. The universe itself, the laws by which it operates, and the laws which we call the “moral law” are established by God’s Wisdom. See Prov 3:19-20. It is our innate human rebellion that thinks that the moral code set forth in the ten commandments somehow restricts our freedom to reach our full “potential,” where rebellion against the created order is seen as a good thing, when in fact the created order and the moral code put forth in natural law is in fact that which prepares us for a life properly fulfilled. Some ethicists have suggested in fact that when we violate God’s order it is not so much that we break God’s law, but that rather in the end God’s law breaks us. And that, repeatedly, is what happens, both individually and corporately.
Some people get the impression that by focusing in this season on the nativity, we somehow put Christ’s atonement in the background, almost forgetting that it is there. But a look at the hymns for the season, we should put this idea to rest. The beautiful hymn, “What Child is This,” in its second stanza points to the reason for the season, and does not forget why He came: “Nails, spear, shall pierce Him through, the cross be borne for me, for you.”
Since we have been broken by the law, God sent forth His Son, His Wisdom, who opens our eyes to our true condition and who for us and for our salvation became both our High Priest and the sacrifice for our sins. Jesus points to Psalm 110 and the opening words, “The LORD says to my Lord, ‘Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.” Here he establishes the fact that He is both David’s son and David’s Lord. Yet this one who is to rule is also the one who is the final, once for all sacrifice for sin. In verse four, David declares, “The LORD has sworn and will not change his mind, ‘You are a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek.’”
Melchizedek, whose name means “King of Righteousness,” is in Genesis 14 said to be the King of Salem, that is, King of Peace. He appears, and then disappears just as quickly, described in Hebrews as being without father, mother, or genealogy, unlike any other important personage in the Old Testament. He receives a sacrifice from Abraham, the one who would be ancestor of Levi, the priestly tribe of Israel. Jesus, as the High Priest of this Order, has performed the ultimate sacrifice, the once-for-all sacrifice for the sins of the world, for your sins and mine. The sacrifices of the Levitical priests needed to be performed daily, and for both the sins of the priests and the sins of the people. Only the sacrifice of the King of Righteousness, that is of the Righteous King, can avail for all of us. He is truly the LORD our righteousness.
The immensity of this sacrifice is noted in Psalm 22, as Jesus takes this Psalm to Himself by speaking those opening words from the cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” He describes the piercing of His hands and feet, the dividing of His garments, the mocking of His accusers in graphic detail, the irony being that His tormentors did not see themselves in this Psalm as they spoke the words, “He trusts in the LORD, let him deliver Him!”
Yet deliver Him the LORD did! Not by stopping the sacrifice, but by using it for His purposes, so that we who fear the LORD will praise Him. Taken up into heaven, the gates of heaven lift up their heads, and the King of Glory has come in (Psalm 24). Sitting at the Father’s right hand, His enemies are made His footstool. The nations may rage, the rulers of the world may plot against him, but God holds them in derision, for the Son has already won the victory. He is the Redeemer who lives, the one whom Job in the midst of his own suffering and desperation fully expected to see on the earth. He trusted that this Redeemer would raise his own body from death so that His eyes would in the end behold Him.
Jesus is indeed the King who is enthroned in the heavens, clothed in glory and honor as Psalm 8 notes. He is the King that comes from the line of David, the same David who ruled Israel a thousand years earlier, descendant of Solomon, who exemplified God’s wisdom through much of his rule on earth. He is the one like unto a Son of Man, seen in Daniel’s vision, who will come with His angel hosts, and will open the books, judging all men, and judging us to be righteous, since our sins have been thrown into the depths of the sea, never to rise again.
The writings show us: He is the one who was, the Wisdom of God who brought the world into being and set it on its course and put all things in order. He is the one who is, born into this world to redeem it to pay the price to buy us back for the Father. He is the one who ascended into heaven and rules with the Father until such time as He will return. He is the one who is to come, the one who will judge the living and the dead and usher us into the life of the world to come. This is the Jesus of whom all the Scriptures testify. Amen.