One of the great difficulties we encounter when we seek to preach Christ from the Old Testament is the challenge of being able to rightly apply the text--both in its original context and then to our own. After all, a chasm of thousands of years exists between the life of the patriarchs and monarchs of Israel and us. What does their experience have to do with ours? How could Christ be preached to them centuries before His coming, and still be preached to us from the same events, teachings and texts? One of the illustrations that I have found to be most helpful in answering this question is that of an ultrasound. So how can ultrasounds better help us understand how to preach Christ from the Old Testament?
For expecting parents the numerous ultrasounds they undergo during pregnancies can be both a blessing or a great trauma. My wife and I have been blessed with four sons, each of whom was born healthy and each of whom we saw in utero via the ultra sound. We also lost a child in utero while living in the UK. Ultrasounds can bring good news, or bad news.
Ultrasounds give an insight into what is to come--a long expected baby. A typical two-dimensional ultrasound provides a rough and somewhat blurry picture of the little one inside its mother. The new three-dimensional ultrasounds provide even more detail of the little one in the womb. Parents all over the world live in anticipation of the ultra sound – will their child be healthy, or will there be problems in development and growth?
A good report of a child progressing normally is accompanied by that wonderful ultrasound picture, which--in turn--gets framed or placed in a scrap book. Just about everyone is shown the picture, and we all try to make out the various features of the unclear image – a hand waving, and arm or foot, or even a nose. Yet sometimes the ultrasound provides hard, sad or even tragic information. Abnormalities in measurements, abnormal heart beats or even no heart beat. Yet, still a picture of the little one. Perhaps that is all the parents will have of that little one for years to come – a picture, but not a happy ending, at least in this life.
What does all this have to do with hermeneutics and exegesis? The Old Testament is filled with “ultrasounds” of the Lord Jesus Christ. Yes, I believe--as our own David Murray has said--“on every page”, we will find our Savior, if we only have the eyes to see Him. He does however, appear in the rough and sometimes two-dimensional form that ultrasounds present our children in the womb. As in the picture, so in the text: it is not always clear how our Lord is seen, and sometimes even more difficult to see why things are as the way they are.
Perhaps we can pursue the ultrasound analogy even further. There are blessed ultrasounds of Christ – His kingly reign and majesty, His glory, His care for his flock in protection and teaching, etc. These picture Christ as a the great King and Prophet of his people. And there are others which speak of his sorrow, pain, suffering and death. Here, He is pictured as the High Priest offering up himself as a sacrifice for sins. We see Jesus in death, burial and resurrection-glory throughout all of Scripture.
What do we make of these old testament “ultrasounds”? Whether the child is healthy or sick in the womb, the picture is always precious. It moves the parent with love and tenderness and sometimes sorrow. The picture is cherished. This is what God provided to ancient Israel -“ultrasounds” of the child that would be born “to save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21).
From the promise of the seed of the woman and Christ-like Judah in Egypt (Gen.3; 44), to the Passover Lamb (Ex. 12-13), the whole burnt offering (Lev.1), the bronze serpent lifted up (Num. 21), the prophet like Moses (Deut. 18), the commander of the armies of the Lord (Josh. 5), the true judge of Israel who would judge with righteousness and equity (Judges), the kinsman redeemer (Ruth 4), Hannah’s prophecy of the Messiah (1 Sam.2), the Davidic line of Judah (2 Sam. 2), the divided kingdom of Israel made right by Messiah’s reign (1 & 2 Kings), the temple and priestly service fulfilled in Christ (1&2 Chronicles), the raising up of Cyrus to set the captives of Israel free (Ezra 1), Nehemiah the builder of the walls of Jerusalem (Neh. 3), the ministering, suffering and restored Job (Job 1-2, 42), to the 150 references to Christ in song (Psalms 1-150), the wise son of Proverbs (Prov 1-9), the God-fearing worshipper (Ecclesiastes 5), the wooing of his bride (Song of Solomon), the Servant songs (Is. 42-53), the prophecies of the new covenant (Jer. 31), the cries for restoration to a merciful God (Lamentations), the prophecies of God’s Shepherd and temple vision (Ezek. 34; 41ff), the terrifying vision of the man clothed in white linen (Dan. 10), Hosea’s relationship with his wife (Hosea 1), the prophecy of the Spirit of Christ and new covenant blessing (Joel 2), the restoration of the Davidic monarchy (Amos 9), the day of the Lord (Obadiah), the three-day burial in the belly of the fish (Jonah 2), the ruler born in Bethlehem (Micah 5), the typical judgment on Nineveh for rejecting God (Nahum), the Lord remembering mercy in wrath (Hab. 3), the conversion of the nations and the King in the midst of his people (Zeph. 3), the restoration of the glory of the Temple (Hag. 2), the clean garments of Joshua the High Priest (Zech 3) to the preparatory ministry of John the Baptizer (Mal 2-3)...we see Jesus, from Genesis to Malachai.
So too did Israel...or so they should have! This is just a fraction of the thousands of reminders through teaching, prophecy, experience, events and song that Israel received concerning their Savior. This is what makes the Jewish rejection of their Messiah all the more appalling. They had a legion of “ultrasounds," shadowy pictures by which to see the coming Savior, but they didn't. Pictures of joy, victory, vindication, blessing, and yet often of the most horrific suffering. They should have seen the Lord coming, but they did not.
And yet these “ultrasounds” are history. When a child is born, the ultrasound is usually put away in a safe place. After all, why keep the picture to show everyone, when you hold the babe in your arms? And yet we do go back to the OT pictures of Christ. They remind us of a time and place that was. They are our personal Ebenezers – “hither to has the Lord helped us.” That is one primary reason why we read the Old Testament. That is where we see Christ, not only because He is there, but because it reminds us--page after page--that God never changes. He is always faithful and always keeps his promises. Those reminders are not simply for theological observation – God forbid that we ever preach Christ, without preaching his saving and sustaining power! That is why, “on every page”, for Israel and now for the church, Jesus is ever present.
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