The "Well, maybe..." of Redemptive History
The Old Testament Scriptures nullify every argument we could propose for man’s redemption of himself. They are a bright neon light flashing with the message that man needs a redeemer that is wholly other.
If we go back to the Garden of Eden, all mankind fell in Adam. Well, one thinks, "Maybe the next generation will do better than Adam and Eve." But that hope is dashed to pieces as we immediately witness Cain disregard life and murder his brother Abel.
Well, maybe man just needs a redo, the ability to start over. We just need a fresh start. We turn the pages of Genesis and find Noah, a righteous and blameless man in his generation. All mankind, except this righteous man and his family, are wiped out—a blameless man to begin the human race over. We may be prone to think that now mankind will be fine. But Noah emerges from the ark, plants a vineyard and quickly becomes drunk. Why do the Scriptures tell us this? Because a fresh start doesn’t solve the greatest problem mankind has. A fresh start can't be its redeemer.
Well, maybe if man had true unity, if there was peace and people could work together, then they would honor God and live righteously. However, we turn the pages and read of the Tower of Babel. Men did not use unity, peace, and ability to work together for the honor of God, but rather to try and become Him. Ideals don't work.
Well, maybe we just need a new nation, a whole new people. So Abraham is called from the Ur of the Chaldeas to journey to the land of Canaan. He is to become a great nation. However, it doesn't get off to a good start. He abandons his wife out of fear of men twice while on the journey and the new nation fails over and over just like its father Abraham.
Well, maybe if the people had a great law to abide by then they would seek God and return in subjection to Him. Surely the Law can be their redeemer. We turn to Exodus and see God calling Moses. Through him God gives His people the Ten Commandments, but while Moses is on the Mount receiving the Law of God the people are down below breaking it. And they continue to forsake His commandments time and again.
Well, maybe if a people had their own land with little to no pagan influence around them—a kind of holy ghetto like so many have tried to create in the history of Christianity. If we could just shield our children and live only with those who agree with us in our own place then we can overcome this struggle with sin. We just won't watch R-rated movies, drink alcohol, chew, or go with girls that do. We turn to Joshua to witness the nation entering the land. However, it is no sooner there then sin erupts. And it doesn't just erupt, it begins to dominate community life. No, neither land nor boundaries can be our redeemer.
Well, maybe we just need to be reminded of our sins by making morning and evening sacrifices to God. We need more effort, more good works; but even those were corrupted and offered to foreign gods.
Well, maybe man just needs the right judges—men and women that could lead and deliver and protect. But that didn’t help. Samson could deliver them for a time, but who could deliver Samson? And it was never enough. There was always the need for another judge, because the people kept returning and doing that which was good in their own eyes.
Well, maybe the right King could redeem us. The best that man has to offer—a tall, strong, and warrior man to lead them. But that didn’t help. Saul shows that even the best we have to offer do us no good.
Well, then maybe a King who doesn't look the part, but has a heart after God—a man of courage and worship. But David also failed, committing adultery, murder, and raising hellion children that tore apart the kingdom.
Well, maybe a wise King that would know how to use his power appropriately. And so, Solomon, the wisest man to ever live ascends the throne, but his wisdom is no redeemer. It cannot keep him from corruption, a harem, and a storehouse of sin.
Well, then maybe just some good prophets who could call the people to repentance and faith. They could speak with the voice of God to the people and surely the people will listen. How many prophets does it take to accomplish the job? They are continually ignored, persecuted, and even murdered. No, that didn’t work either.
The Old Testament Scriptures are clear: man is lost in sin and he desperately needs a savior that is wholly other. We are not good. Our ideals are fallen, our efforts are fallen, our world is fallen, and we are fallen. The Old Testament nullifies every argument we could propose for man's redemption of himself.
However, this isn't the only thing that the Old Testament Scriptures clearly display. They are also filled with the promise of this Savior who is wholly other. He would come. After every false savior has failed and man seems trapped in desperate misery, a virgin brings forth a son; and His name is Jesus, because He saves His people from their sins (Matt. 1:21).
There is that beautiful passage at the end of the Gospel of Luke when the resurrected Jesus is on the Emmaus Road with the two defeated and depressed disciples. In that passage we are told that, "Beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself." As the Good Shepherd, He opened the Old Testament Scriptures and showed them not only their need for a redeemer, but showed them the pervasive promise throughout the Old Testament of this One who would come to be their Redeemer. The One they needed. The One who surpasses any proposed savior we would offer. The One who is our only hope. And all the Old Testament Scriptures point us to Him.