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The Rev. David W. Hall (PhD, Whitefield Theological Seminary) is married to Ann, and they are parents of three grown children. He has served as the Senior Pastor of Midway Presbyterian Church (PCA) since 2003. After completion of his undergraduate studies, Pastor Hall studied at Swiss L’Abri and then enrolled at Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri, graduating in 1980. In addition to pastoring, David Hall is the author or editor of over 20 books and numerous essays.

Column: First Truths from the First Gospel by David Hall

If the Good News is Old News, does it become Bad News?

December 23, 2014 •

Read: Lk 1:30-34; Is. 7:14; Luke 2:1-7, 10; Gal. 4:4

What if you received the same edition of a newspaper every day for a week? Or for a year? Or what would you call a website that had the same update daily? You would likely stop your subscription, wouldn’t you!? Or if you turned on the morning news, and has the very same news—way outdated, kinda like the Bill Murray/Andi McDowell movie GroundHog Day—you would stop thinking of this as news.

The very notion of news seems to be the telling of something that was not known before.

As consumers of news, we become quickly bored with a repetition of antiquated news. With our wide tendencies toward A.D.D., we always crave novelty. Many think, the “new is true, the old is mold.” This is what C.S. Lewis labeled ‘chronological snobbery,’ the belief that we who come later in the parade of knowledge automatically have the advantage of being smarter. Accordingly, those who come before us are thought of as not nearly ‘enlightened.’

To show that such is not unique, there were people 2000 years ago with this same problem. Acts 17, in fact, depicts the Athenians as always pining for something new.

So, this Advent, would you discount the Good news if it is old news? Many would. And the causes range from the following:

  1. We like to be entertained. And if we’ve seen, known, or experienced something before, it is not as entertaining in subsequent iterations.
  2. Sometimes, we think repetition is lazy—if you really wish to dazzle, then do something novel and creative—thus all of the contemporary movements of Christianity.
  3. We assume that once we’ve learned/heard something, we know it entirely—never again to need a review.
  4. Others will get ahead of us in experience if we do not get announcements first.
  5. If we’ve ever heard the story before, we tend to tune out, saying, “Oh, I know that one.” Plan your work week/holiday while this sermon drones on.

So, this week, do we treat the good news of Jesus’ birth as Old News that is unworthy of our highest praise or joy?

It may still be unexplained but why weren’t people on their tiptoes, peering ahead, awaiting Christ?  Maybe the news was so old that they discounted it.                                       

What if you had to wait 250 years for God’s promises to come true? How long a time is that? That’s about the time span between where we live today and the American Revolution. That’s a long time; and that’s not news.

In the 2.5 centuries before Jesus’ birth, the Pax Romana prevailed. Rome was a dominant power. She ruled the western world, bringing stability and peace, even if by military force. The Romans built Roads, social progress was made, and the arts and commerce flourished. All of this prepared the way for the spread of the gospel of Jesus. Had the empire declined into chaos or had there not been the integration of many areas, it would have been harder for the faith to spread as it did in Jesus’ time. The Greek language was tailor made to capture the message of Jesus

Slavery was a feature of this Empire; Rome was far from the kind of liberties we enjoy, but it was huge progress for its day. And for 250 years, there was no Messiah. People were waiting. Some were forgetting and moving on as if without God.

Could you wait 250 years, or would you treat the good news as bad news if it took that long to arrive? Compare to the span between US Colonies/Revolution and now.

The leading cities in the world in 1764 were Paris, Rome, and London.
NYC was recently New Amsterdam. There was no Kuala Lampur, Hong Kong, or LA.
No TV broadcasting, no internet—communication was by Paul Revere.
People and Families lived in one town for most of their life.
Here’s what was new: a couple of colleges and a few pamphlets by ink.
Doesn’t that seem like a long time ago? Another world, really? But let’s go longer.

What if we had to wait 500 years—the time from Malachi and other Minor Prophets until Christ’s birth?

Malachi was the last book of the OT. By its time, the people of Israel had abandoned God. And at the same time, they thought they were just fine. But the Lord confronts them with a number of charges through Malachi. He warns them against bringing inferior sacrifices, as if the Lord would not know that (ch. 1). The priests also (2:1-10) were largely living for themselves instead of teaching and upholding the law. Judah was as unfaithful as an adulterous spouse. Still she persisted in claiming that she was just fine.

In that context, 5 centuries before Jesus’s ministry, God said that he would send his Messenger of the covenant to prepare the way for the Lord. And when he came, it would be like the blast of a fiery furnace. He would come and refine the Levitical priests. God would clean up the religion, and make no mistake, when the Lord comes, the arrogant, the evil (4:1) would be cauterized, and the sun of righteousness would rise with “healing in its wings.” Great joy and deliverance would occur. That was the good news. And if it took 500 years, it was still great news. No amount of time could tarnish the coming of Jesus.

About that same time, Micah predicted that Bethlehem was the least of the rulers of Judah, but out of her would come the Messiah. The Wise Men marked this prediction and looked for it. Will you look for the good news, even if it is dated? Is it not still fresh to you? Does it not still call you to sing, serve, and exalt? Are there not retellings that are so rich with meaning that they can be repeated?

A little earlier, Zechariah 14 predicted that the Day of the Lord would come, and all God’s enemies would be subdued. They would look at him that they pierced (14:10), a sure prophecy of Jesus’s death. Is God’s promise not worth waiting on?

600 years before Jesus came, it was told that he would enter Jerusalem, riding on a donkey (9:9). He would bring peace and the Lord would appear. God will save his flock (9:16).

500 years ago from our time, the new was:

Printing Press
Decentralizing governments
And actually, the beginning of news outlets, crude but growing.

WOULD the news be worth less if it took 5 or 6 or 7 centuries? Interestingly, Jesus did not consider these prophecies as old or less important. Doesn’t the time taken to bring the good news actually teach us several important things about God?

Don’t we see in this how amazingly competent he is both in planning and also in bringing things about? Who, but God, could do this?

How long was our loving God working on the Advent of Christ and the plan of salvation? And doesn’t his great, long-standing love move you? This good news may lose some of its newness, but it loses none of its goodness.

What if this plan was 1000 years old? 700 years before Jesus arrived, Isaiah foretold his miracu-lous birth. He would defy reproductive biology. Isaiah announced that “a virgin shall conceive.”   Is. 7:14 teaches how Jesus would be born—by a virgin—pretty miraculous, we must admit.

Jesus the Messiah would come out of Galilee. He would be like a great light, shining amidst the shadow of death. To us (Is 9:6-7), the Messiah would be born a child, the one born to a virgin, and the govt would be on his shoulders. He would be a child but also an unrivalled ruler. He would be called, “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” And the prediction was that Jesus would reign on David’s throne (9:7) and establish it as justice. To be sure, the promises to David would come about. There was no chance that it would fail. It was 1,000 years between David and Jesus. That’s how old that news was.

To David, God had promised that he would always have a descendent on the throne. And while corporate Israel collapsed and deserted God, the Lord still brought about a Son of David, Jesus, from his line to be the everlasting ruler. In Luke 1, when the Angel Gabriel speaks to Mary, he promises this virgin that “The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, his kingdom will never end.” (32-33)

But there are some prophecies of the Advent news that are even older. Dt. 18: 15 predicts that the Lord will raise up a Prophet from among the people of Israel. God would give a mouthpiece who would speak to the people. And he would not be like any other prophet. This one would speak in God’s name and never be wrong. In contrast, if a prophet spoke and things did not come about (18:22), that was assuredly not a prophet of God. Jesus was that prophet, and he is an infallible, inerrant prophet. He is never wrong, never mistaken. All that he says is absolutely trustworthy.

And here is a real, old one: Gen. 3:15-16 is often called the “First Gospel.’ In that passage, right after the Fall of mankind, God judges/curses various players. He curses Eve with the intense pain of childbearing—that still occurs. He curses the ground and work itself for Adam—it will never be easy in our occupations.

And Satan is judged in Eden, too. Satan is cursed, thousands of years ago, but the news still unfolds, with crawling on his belly in the dust. And this serpent will be in a continual fight with the Seed of Woman, who is Jesus. Satan will lash out as Jesus, the woman’s Seed, and bruise his heel. That happened on the cross, but Jesus will crush, trample, render ineffective the head of the serpent in the process.

How wonderful, how detailed, how incredible the prophecies of Christ. The news was told long in advance. And its antiquity, far from being boring, is thrilling!

Think about Advent. How could you possibly predict things this far in advance? With hundreds of years in between, with thousands of storms, movements, uprisings, and events—all which would shake out differently.

Do you know the “Butterfly Effect”? Our world’s unfolding history is so delicate that if a small butterfly, flutters its thin wings, even that small breeze may alter a chain reaction. A slightly stronger breeze may have an impact that, when spread out over time and space, makes a larger than expected difference.

Multiply all the butterflies, all the events, over thousands of years, and what kind of odds would you put on all these prophecies coming together, at just the right time, in just the right manner? What would it take to ensure that such happened?

More to the point, how could you ensure that they would come about, including:

  • The exact city of birth
  • The birth to a young virgin
  • The rise of evil Herod who would try to extinguish the Messiah
  • The providential use of the Roman census to get Joseph’s family to Bethlehem.
  • The miraculous birth of John the Baptizer to fulfill Malachi’s prophecy to send the forerunner.

Out of 8 prophecies, Prof. Peter Stoner found that the chance that any man might have lived down to the present time and fulfilled all eight prophecies is 1 in 1017.

Suppose that we take 1017 silver dollars and lay them on the face of Texas. They will cover all of the state two feet deep. Now mark one of these silver dollars and stir the whole mass thoroughly, all over the state. Blindfold a man and tell him that he can travel as far as he wishes, but he must pick up one silver dollar and say that this is the right one. What chance would he have of getting the right one? Just the same chance that the prophets would have had of writing these 8 prophecies and having them all come true in any one man, from their day to the present time, providing they wrote using their own wisdom.

Now these prophecies were either given by inspiration of God or the prophets just wrote them as they thought they should be. In such a case the prophets had just one chance in 1017 of having them come true in any man, but they all came true in Christ.

Suppose we add 8 more prophecies to our list, and assume that their chance of fulfillment is the same as the eight just considered. The chance that one man would fulfill all sixteen is 1 x 1028 x 1017 or 1 in 1045.

And all this specificity, exactness, phenomenal planning, was driven by the Divine Love, the infinite compassion.

“What Wondrous Love is this, o my soul.”

Jeremiah says it this way: “I have loved you with an everlasting love.” Paul dates it, several times, to “Before the foundation of the world . . .”

This plan was no afterthought; no, it was crafted in the divine mind of God before the foundations were ever laid. And it is a perfect plan

God’s plan is old. But it is not stale or boring. It is still new . . . and renewing. This news is so spectacular that it never grows old.

Unless, our hearts are hard or dull.

Retelling is not a bad thing. Only if the story itself is not that good does retelling it make it weak. Face it, a normal story can be passed on 3-4 times, or a killer one, maybe 10-12 times. An epic may be retold hundreds of times.

But this news is retold:

  • Year after year;
  • In country after country;
  • To child after child. To new believer after new believer;
  • To homeless people and to the incredibly wealthy;
  • To long time church members;
  • To brand new converts;
  • In war time or in peace time;
  • When the economy is thriving or during depression;
  • In churches that meet under trees in Haiti or in grand, stone cathedrals.

Yes, it may take a little humility to listen to this story and to see that you, too, are a needy person. You, too, have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. You, too, need a Savior—a Divine Redeemer. And you need your heart warmed or reborn this year. You need to be adopted by your Creator and brought into fellowship with the only, Living God. We need this news more than ever.

It always will be. It is unchanging!! And this is a GOOD announcement. It tells us that God has done what we could not do. Enter, trust, believe. And then follow.

And just because it is an old, old story (as the words of the hymn assert) does not make it bland. The Old news is still the good news.

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