Why did Jesus have to come and die on a cross? Could God simply have created a world with no sin? Could He not have gotten people into heaven without having to die? It’s His wrath, could He not withhold it if He wanted to? Why worship Jesus? Why celebrate Him? I’m so glad you asked. There are many people who are unable to answer these types of questions. Yet, they are the questions that matter, the questions that prove the validity of the Christian worldview if answered correctly. These are the questions that cause people to reject the Christian worldview if left unanswered. Why Messiah?
Today, I am going to diverge from my normal pattern (a lectio continua exposition of the text). Instead of scrutinizing a single verse to bring out the depth of meaning, I am going to attempt the opposite. No, this is not a topical or systematic sermon. Perhaps you didn’t even know there was a third way to present the Bible. I am going to present to you a biblical theology of Christ. To do biblical theology is to trace a motif in the Bible from its inception to its resolution. Where does the Messiah motif begin? Where and how is the Messiah motif resolved? Finally, why does the Christian have such a unique hope in a man who claimed to be the Most High God?
Genesis 1-11 are the divine prelude of the biblical narrative—Law, Prophets, Gospels, Epistles, and the Old and New Testament Writings. Genesis 1-11 were written by Moses as a prelude to the generational accounts of early Israel and the Mosaic Covenant. In the divine prelude, we read about the creation of the world, the great deluge, the scattering of the Cushites and confusing of their languages, and the introduction of Abraham—the great patriarch of the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim worldviews. The genre and historicity of the divine prelude are debated. Though I believe the account to be a reliable historical account, there are doubtless elements that seem to fit into the myth genre. Upon a close reading of Genesis 1-11 and the early Mesopotamian and Egyptian myths, one notices that Genesis 1-11 employs some of the language of other myths in such a way as to set the Mosaic system in opposition to the other religious systems of the day. I classify Genesis 1-11 as anti-myth or, to use a term more recognizable in our culture, satire—but satire that accurately depicts history. Genesis 1-11 provide the foundation for the biblical worldview—sound Judaism and Christianity. The root of the Messianic hope is first realized in the divine prelude, particularly In Genesis 3:14-24.
God created the world and humankind in His image (cf. Genesis 1:26), which meant humanity was to be the picture of God within material creation to all of creation. By humankind’s rule, God was exalted and glorified. Humankind, though, sought her own righteousness, knowledge, and life when she disobeyed God and sought to become like God—not merely like God but trying to become gods. Because they chose not to pursue their God-given purpose, to represent God rather than themselves, and try go take for themselves the glory that belonged to the creator, they deserved to be destroyed (cf. Genesis 2:17). There was, however, one logical problem. God is perfect. He doesn’t make mistakes or take missteps. How could God’s purpose fail? Well, God created people with a will because they are created in His image. Since they were not Him, their wills were different from His. God was concerned about His own glory, so His image bearers would necessarily be concerned about their own glory. The human will, which God designed, was their downfall. We now arrive at Genesis 3:14-24:
The Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, Cursed are you more than all cattle, And more than every beast of the field; On your belly you will go, And dust you will eat All the days of your life; And I will put enmity Between you and the woman, And between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, And you shall bruise him on the heel.”
To the woman He said, “I will greatly multiply Your pain in childbirth, In pain you will bring forth children; Yet your desire will be for your husband,
And he will rule over you.”
Then to Adam He said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree about which I commanded you, saying, ‘You shall not eat from it’; Cursed is the ground because of you; In toil you will eat of it All the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you; And you will eat the plants of the field; By the sweat of your face You will eat bread, Till you return to the ground, Because from it you were taken; For you are dust, And to dust you shall return.”
Now the man called his wife’s name Eve, because she was the mother of all the living. The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife, and clothed them. Then the Lord God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of Us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might stretch out his hand, and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever”— therefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden, to cultivate the ground from which he was taken. So He drove the man out; and at the east of the garden of Eden He stationed the cherubim and the flaming sword which turned every direction to guard the way to the tree of life.
Notice that God did not respond by scrapping His creation and starting over. Instead, He made a promise. A humankind merely created in God’s image would always fall short of the glory of God because she necessarily only cared about her own glory. The only way for God’s design to be completed is if humankind, the image of God, was brought out of its own self-righteousness and into God’s righteousness for His glory. The only way to accomplish such a feat, to complete a creation by which only God is glorified, is to show the image-bearers within that creation that they fall short of God’s glory—to make sin part of the paradigm as a means of divine glorification. God’s glory is not accomplished in creation without an image bearer or without clothing that image bearer in the glory of God rather than the glory of the image. Do you realize that God wasn’t creating the world merely to have created something? Everything about creation was specifically designed to accomplish God’s own glory. It was not arbitrary. God didn’t create because He needed anything. He created everything in order to glorify Himself in that creation, which required what we call sin; God’s image bearers needed to represent Him but be humbled away from their self-wills, self-righteousness, and self-glory.
Instead of scrapping His creation, God promises to redeem it and bring those who receive life to victory over those who continue to pursue self glory (the offspring of the serpent). God slaughters the first animal to symbolically cover the shame of Adam and Eve. Through such a sacrifice, the offspring of the woman become living people under the promise rather than dead people under the curse of the serpent.
God humbled His people, covered their shame because of sin, and glorified Himself in them. He could have created a world without sin and death if His purpose was not to glorify Himself. He could have given people natural desires in line with His law. To have a creature made in His own image meant having a creature that asserted her own will, desire, righteousness, and glory. He created the world with the intent to establish it in His own glory, not the glory of His creatures (cf. Jeremiah 33:2). Creating an image bearer within His creation was only the beginning of God’s plan for creation; That image bearer would be established, and all creation with her, in God’s righteousness and glory alone. Atonement, redemption, justification, salvation, and so on primarily accomplish God’s glory. Death, condemnation, wrath, and so on also primarily accomplish God’s glory. The story is not centered on humankind, like Adam and Eve initially thought. The story, and all of creation, is centered on God. In order to win His own glory, God revealed Himself as the only glorious, righteous, and providential one. Everything we see after Genesis 3 in the narrative and in the world today is being worked together to accomplish God’s basic purpose for creation—His own glory. Such a realization helps us to understand the desperate need the world has for a redeemer who is God. It helps us to understand why God would insert Himself into the world as a human being. It helps us to understand why such hope is placed in the person of Jesus Christ. It helps us to see why the biblical worldview is the only sensical worldview.
The Old Testament
In Genesis 15, God revealed that every nation on the earth would be blessed through Abraham’s descendants. In Exodus, God chose the nation of Israel, which descended from Abraham. Throughout the Old Testament, we witness the history of national Israel and God’s work in her midst. In 1 and 2 Samuel, God provided a king through whom His own throne was established. The prophets prophesied about the one who would forever occupy that throne. Isaiah 9:6-7, a popular Christmas passage, captures the Old Testament messianic hope perfectly:
For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on His shoulders; And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace, On the throne of David and over his kingdom, To establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness From then on and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will accomplish this.
The messiah would be a human child, but His name would be Mighty God and Eternal Father. Further, the zeal of the Lord of hosts would accomplish great deliverance, justice, and unending peace.The eternal Father and mighty God would be born in the flesh to rule not only over His creation but in it. From the time the Messiah came onward, the government of the world would rest on His shoulders alone and there would be no end to the increase of His government. His people who bear His image would then live according to His righteousness, and He would rule the earth justly to the glory of the Father. What a promise!
- God created people in His image, but they could only seek their own glory because they were like God.
- God introduced sin (cf. Romans 11:32) to bring people out of their pursuit of self-glory, which resulted in human-caused injustice.
- People could not keep God’s law or bring justice to the world.
- So, God Himself entered into creation, fulfilled all righteousness on behalf of His people, and brought justice and peace to His world for His own glory.
If our works make us righteous or keep us righteous, the glory is ours and not God’s. If God does not fulfill all righteousness, even to the point of death in the flesh, then He is neither revealed in His creation nor glorified. If God would have created a world without sin and death, He would have been an unsearchable, deistic god—unable to receive glory by His creation. Messiah is necessary if God alone is to receive all glory by way of His creation, and our messianic hope is to become proper image bearers of God, be clothed in His righteousness and glory alone, and see justice finally be realized on the earth.
The New Testament
In about 4 BC, a baby was born in a manger in Bethlehem, Judea. Angels gathered around Him and sang:
Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased (Luke 2:14).
The government rests on this child’s shoulders, depends on His sustenance. In Jesus’s incarnation 2,025 years ago, He fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy and brought peace and justice to the earth. The angels proclaimed the fulfillment of the promise 2,025 years ago. His government is ever-increasing and bringing peace to the whole world as He establishes it with true justice in His righteousness alone. The problems we experience today have nowhere near the potency of those in previous ages or eons. Christ is fulfilling the messianic promise in a measurable way, which should cause us to place our faith in and devote ourselves to Christ alone. Instead, there are many people who still believe justice and righteousness and world peace either depend on them or are only reserved for a time far off in the future. They seek their own glory; They try to make the world a better place but fail. Or, they are pessimistic about the world because they think the messianic promise is only for a later time on a brand new earth. Consider, for a moment, the social justice movement of the late 2010s and early 2020s. The movement touted free expression and equality for every color, creed, and identity. Since it was so human-centered, it actually elevated minorities over majorities, brought about destruction and violence, measured people according to the color of their skin and sexual identities, forced identity politics to partially determine the outcome of a presidential election, caused Christians to become bitter, and contributed to the division of people in the United States of America. As a human race, we yearn to see the work of the Messiah accomplished. When we go about it our own ways, we fail to accomplish what Jesus is already accomplishing in the world. You want justice in the world? Get into a healthy church and sit under the tutelage of King Jesus. His government is currently increasing. He is currently bringing justice and peace to the earth in a measurable way. He is currently accomplishing His purpose despite human depravity and wretchedness. He is not doing His work through human methods but through His Gospel. The Christian hope goes beyond merely getting to heaven and some distant future ethereal victory. Getting to heaven is cool, but the establishment of all creation with justice and peace is everything we yearn for as creatures. For some reason, the church has failed to share this part of the Gospel message. Follow Christ. He is bringing justice and peace now for the Father’s glory. We’ve seen how vain it is to put these types of hopes in worldly leaders, cultural movements, or worldly philosophies. They have not been able to accomplish what Jesus is accomplishing. Turn to Christ and follow Him without reservation. His track record sings for itself.
In the Gospels, Jesus announced, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand,” not “The kingdom of heaven will come in a few thousand more years…” (cf. Matthew 4:17). He called the nations to repentance. All authority was given to Him, and He did not come to take the world by force but, instead, by making disciples of all nations (cf. Matthew 28:18-20). He did not come to condemn the world to destruction but that the whole world might be saved through Him (cf. John 3:17). He came to establish justice and peace on the earth by grace and according to the Father’s mercy, fulfilling the promise of atonement in Genesis 3:20 and Isaiah 9:6-7, saving the offspring of the woman, and bringing final victory over the offspring of the serpent. Through the great commission and the instruction for His church not to neglect the gathering together of believers (cf. Hebrews 10:24-25), we understand the importance of prioritizing the church meeting; It is the means through which Jesus is peacefully making disciples and bringing real justice and peace to the world through His gathered people. Reflecting on the finished work of the Messiah, Paul, a Jew of the Pharisee theological camp, wrote:
But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. Where then is boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? Of works? No, but by a law of faith. For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law (Romans 3:21-28).
John, a Jew and elder of the Christian church in Ephesus, wrote:
Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing (Revelation 5:12).
Why was Jesus given as a propitiation in His blood? He was slain in order to receive all glory. It was not because He had to in order to save as many people as possible. If that were God’s purpose, I’m sure He would have simply created a world without sin and death; Then, no one would rebel against Him, die, or go to Hell—We would be like the animals. God did not create a sinless or deathless world, did He? Sin and death did not catch Him by surprise and force Him to come up with a plan b in order to save as many people as possible. He is creator; He is sovereign. God handed people over to sin for the purpose of revealing His own righteousness. God caused His Son to be incarnated and killed as an atoning sacrifice in order to demonstrate His own righteousness. He passed over sins previously committed for the sake of displaying His own righteousness. He worked all of history together in order to show that He is just and justifies those who have faith in Jesus. That is why He designed a world in which people would always fail to bring justice and peace to the world despite all their efforts. We cannot boast in our own works as if we accomplished anything. Jesus is the one who actually succeeds at bringing justice and peace to the earth in a measurable way. He is exalted. God alone receives all glory. Islam believes justice and peace will come through Jihad or simple intolerance commanded by sharia, causing unjust human war waged in God’s name by people. Buddhists believe peace and justice will come through human meditation and human work to become one with the cosmos, enabling injustice by ignoring it for the sake of self-actualization. Hindus believe justice comes through the process of karma and reincarnation based on human works, causing them to be unjust in the way they treat others (cows are more valuable than lower caste members). Atheists believe justice and peace come through human governments and social movements; We’ve seen how that has worked out for us, we’ve seen more injustice than justice as a result of the social movements in our time. Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that peace is only in heaven and that justice comes through human striving, causing their cultish religiosity and exclusive views about everlasting life. Many people who claim to be Christians feel compelled to condemn the whole world to destruction and, like the Mormons and Jehovah’s witnesses, give themselves over to cultish religiosity and an exclusive view about getting to heaven as the final destination. That sort of belief system causes people to have superiority complexes and treat others unjustly. Biblical Judaism and Christianity, the biblical worldview, recognizes that God is the only one who can bring people into His kingdom, bring His kingdom to earth, and establish peace and justice forevermore. He is accomplishing this for His own glory. If God exists and created the world, a God-incarnate messiah is necessary. Else, we are left striving without hope, sin exists in vain, and God is an unjust being. Since God, by definition, is just and receives all glory as creator, there is no feasible way for creation to exist without Messiah.
You want to know what hope we celebrate during the advent season (and every other season)? I will tell you. The Old Testament saints yearned for the one who would bring justice and peace to the whole world. We are seeing Jesus do that in our time as He conquers the world. They yearned to see the kingdom come and God’s will be done. We are seeing Jesus do that in our time as He conquers the world. Our current hope is to see this work, the work of Messiah, finally accomplished. It is accomplished through the incarnation, mortal life, and death of the God-man. The incarnation is the reason we can boldly cling to the hope we have and trust that God is establishing the world in our time. The incarnation is the reason we can gather together and encourage one another. The incarnation is the reason we can invite people to come join us as we assemble to celebrate what God is doing. The incarnation is the reason we don’t have to fear when things seem to go terribly wrong from our limited perspectives. The future is bright. We can, therefore, be generous, gracious, gratuitous, thankful, trusting, optimistic, happy, joyful, kind, and so on. Won’t you join us in having this great hope? Won’t you gather with us to rightly celebrate what Jesus Christ is perspicuously accomplishing? All the things every person yearns for are found only in Christ Jesus.
Acts 1:1-11–Ken Duffy – The Ninety-Five
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