The Promise of the Messiah

While there is no command in Scripture to celebrate the birth of Christ at a particular time of year, the event is certainly something that God’s people should celebrate. And it provides an opportunity to remind ourselves how the entire Scriptures focus on the work of Jesus Christ. What does Genesis 12:1–9 tell you about how God expects you to respond to the coming of his Son?

See God working out his promise. God prepares a people for himself. The genealogy of Shem is God preparing a line. Adam and Eve had sinned, but God promised a Redeemer. Sin continued to grow. The Flood condemned sin, while at the same time it brought deliverance for Noah and his family. Babel shows that the heart of mankind continues to be rebellious. The implication of the death of each member continues in the genealogy of Genesis 11, parallel to Genesis 5. The rest after the Flood does not mean the end of sin or its consequences. The situation is bleak and God graciously renews the promise of the coming Messiah. God is establishing a separate people. The coming Redeemer, though truly one of us (a descendant of Eve and of Abraham–born of a woman, born under law, Gal 4:4) would be unlike us, in that we are sinners and rebels, but he is perfect. Therefore God chose a separate people. Trust in the coming Redeemer would require a break with idolatry and immorality. What made Abraham different from the people around him? Similar background and language doesn’t seem to have been a barrier. The difference is that Abraham is building altars and calling on the name of the Lord. Abraham is walking in fellowship with God and in obedience to him. Although there is separation from the world, God’s blessing involves the world. As God called Abram to leave his family, Ur, etc., his concern is not just “spiritual” things in the narrow sense. God’s saving work involves and affects your daily life. As those who are God’s chosen people today, you are called to a similar separation, 1 Peter 2:9–12. God’s people expand to include the nations at Pentecost, but they still contrast with the world, particularly in the ethical sense.

God renews his promise. A crucial element in God’s dealing with his people is the idea of the covenant. It is so basic, that the promise of the Messiah is framed in terms of the coming of the Messenger of the Covenant. The elements of the covenant were there as God dealt with Adam, although the term is not used. They include the self-identification of the covenant maker, requirements, blessings, and curses. The language of covenant had been used with Noah, Genesis 9:9. God’s covenants are sovereignly imposed, rather than mutually negotiated. Now, with Abraham the concept of the covenant becomes more explicit in the ceremony in Genesis 15, and in the language of Genesis 17. With Abraham God renews the promise of the Messiah. The families of the earth are blessed in Abram. God’s blessing was to go with Abram. All nations were to be blessed in Abram. That promise comes to fulfillment in Christ, Galatians 3. God narrows the covenant line–in order to expand it in the future. He was busy making the time full in order to send his Son.. Understand the sovereignty of God in this–and take heart in your difficulties. “God placed Adam in a garden, and he promised Abraham a fertile land. God expresses the universal scope of the commission by underscoring that the goal is to ‘bless’ ‘all the nations of the earth.’ It is natural, therefore, that in the initial statement of the commission in Gen. 12:1–3 that God says to Abraham, ‘Go forth from your country. . . . And so be a blessing. . . . And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.’” (G. K. Beale, A New Testament Biblical Theology, p. 48)

Trust the promises God makes. Rejoice in God’s promises. God made a series of promises to Abram. God promised to make Abram a nation (at 75 and childless). God promised to bless him. God promised him a great name. God promised to make him a blessing. Then there is the promise that the nations will be blessed in Abraham, a promise that could be fulfilled only in the Child who would come of Abraham’s line. At the heart of the covenant is the promise to be God to Abram and to his descendants forever, Genesis 17:7. God’s covenant promises are fulfilled in Christ Jesus. In him the blessings of the covenant belong to you, as Jeremiah anticipated, Jeremiah 31:31. He kept the law of God. He faithfully fulfilled the requirements of the covenant. He bore the curse, the judgment of the covenant (don’t forget the graphic imagery of Genesis 15). Don’t lose sight of the cross as you rejoice in the incarnation. God’s promise to bless is made to you, in Christ, as certainly as it was to Abraham. No matter how uncertain your life seems, no matter how big the problems you face are, rejoice in the fellowship with God. Give thanks for his promised blessings.

Trust your God in Jesus Christ. The heart of your response to God is faith. Faith, now that the promised descendant (singular!) of Abraham has come, involves receiving and resting on him alone. We spoke earlier of the response of worship and obedience. God’s blessing didn’t come because Abraham or you was so faithful in worship, such an outstanding example of obedience. Just keep reading the story of Abraham, just look at your own life, and you are humbled. There is no more important question you can ask yourself today than, “Am I trusting in the Lord Jesus? Am I turning from sin and depending on him alone?” As you trust in Christ, you receive God’s covenant blessing. You are sons and daughters of Abraham. You have been baptized into Christ. That covenant sign calls you to live as God’s child. It challenges you to profess your faith in Christ. It assures you of God’s grace as you trust Christ. Abraham knew that more was involved than real estate in Palestine. He looked for a city with foundations, Hebrews 11. The new heavens and earth are yours—as children of Abraham. “The keynote is not what Abraham has to do for God, but what God will do for Abraham. Then, in response to this, the subjective frame of mind that changes the inner and outer life is cultivated…. [T]he all-important thing is that God has acted in the past, is acting in the present, and promises to act in the future.” (Geerhardus Vos, Biblical Theology: Old and New Testaments, pages 93–94)

Walk by faith. God calls you to leave and follow. God called Abram step by step. He left Ur, left his father at Haran, and parted ways with Lot. Step by step God built the faith with which Abram responded. Step by step God shapes your life, sometimes using small challenges, seemingly unimportant decisions, to draw you to rest in him and to walk by faith. The covenantal structure through which he deals with Abraham becomes the structure through which God continues to work with all his people. God calls you to covenantal faithfulness. It may not be a call to leave everything and everyone, but… God does call you to give up worry, even when you don’t have a good idea of what the future holds. God’s call is a call to total commitment to Jesus Christ. He calls you to surrender pride that keeps you aloof from family. In Christ, God has entered into a covenant relationship with you. Faith in him is not externals, but is a faith, as Paul describes it in Galatians, that is working in love.

What makes you different? What gives you confidence in the uncertainty around you? Not what you can do for God, but what he has done for you in giving you his Son. Let that mold your attitude and your actions.

About jwm

I serve as pastor of Trinity Presbyterian Church, Newberg, Oregon.
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