3. Jesus and Abraham
As we continue this series on “Seeing Jesus in the OT”, there are 2 important principles that we need to keep in mind as we look at some of these OT passages.
1. Scripture interprets scripture. How we understand one part of the Bible will be impacted by what other parts of the Bible have to say on that particular matter. This is especially true when it comes to understanding the OT. Much of what is said there is brought more fully to light when we turn to the NT and see how it interprets what is being said
2. Progressive revelation. Often what is only revealed in seed form in the OT, is elaborated on much more extensively later on in the NT. Augustine’s famous statement: “The New is in the Old concealed, the Old is in the New revealed”
And these principles are very relevant to our study this morning, as we turn to one of the most important people in the OT, in the whole Bible for that matter, Abraham. It would require a whole series of messages to examine everything that happened in Abraham’s life, (we’ll probably get to that at some point), but this morning I want to focus on the ways in which Abraham points the way to the coming of Jesus. And I would encourage you to go home and read through the whole story of Abraham (Gen 12 – 25)
Probably no other OT character is more closely connected to Jesus than Abraham. The very first sentence of the NT begins by reminding us that Jesus was in fact a direct descendant of Abraham. (Matt 1:1)
And in the Gospels, we find Jesus making reference to Abraham on at least a dozen different occasions. So obviously Jesus saw Abraham as being very important.
In the opening chapters of Genesis, after the great flood, Noah’s descendants begin to spread out and populate the entire world.
In Gen 10, there is the “Table of Nations” which explains how all the nations originally descended from Noah’s 3 sons.
But then in Gen 12, the focus of the story shifts dramatically. Suddenly it narrows down to one individual, this man named Abraham, who was born in the city of Ur, in modern-day Iraq.
So how can we see Jesus in the life of Abraham, when he lived almost 1800 years before Jesus was even born?
At least 3 ways that I want to focus on this morning:
1. Abraham believes the promise regarding Christ’s future coming. In Gen 12, God calls Abram to leave his home and go to a land that God would show him. Then he gives him a promise which has 2 important parts to it:
“I will make you into a great nation” and
“All the peoples (or nations) of the world will be blessed through you”
Later in Gen 15 God elaborates on this same promise by saying that his descendants would one day be as numerous as the stars in the night sky. The only problem of course was at the time he first received this promise from God, Abraham had no children of his own, and he was already 75 years old, and his wife was 65, well beyond the usual child-bearing age. From a human point of view, it seems impossible that he could ever become the father of a great nation.
But Abraham and Sarah will still have to wait for 25 more years for God to finally see this promise fulfilled when their son Isaac is born, when Abraham is 100 and Sarah is 90 years old.
But nevertheless Abraham “believed the Lord, and the Lord counted him as righteous because of his faith” (Gen 15:6)
Later in the NT, the apostle Paul explains that Abraham is the father of all of those who would eventually come to faith in Christ.
Gal 3:7-8 “Consider Abraham: "He believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness." Understand, then, that those who have faith are children of Abraham. Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: "All nations will be blessed through you."
Paul is telling us 2 key things about Abraham:
God announced the gospel in advance to Abraham.
Abraham was justified by faith in the gospel just as we are
But some may ask: how could Abraham be saved by faith in the gospel? if Jesus hadn’t yet been born, hadn’t yet died on the cross.
Paul explains that the gospel was actually announced in advance to Abraham through the promise that God gave him that all the nations would be blessed through him and his offspring. As we saw last week, Paul later explains that when the promise looks ahead to Ab’s offspring, it is in fact talking about Christ, his future descedant.
Gal 3:16 “The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. Scripture does not say "and to seeds," meaning many people, but "and to your seed," meaning one person, who is Christ.”
And so the promise looked forward to a day, 1800 years later when Christ would come and save Abraham and all who believed in the gospel. It doesn’t matter which side of the cross we live one, we are all saved in exactly the same way, through faith in Christ. Abraham may not have known everything about Jesus that we do, but he believed the promise and that was what saved him. And so you and I must be justified by faith in Christ just as Abraham was.
Abraham has a personal encounter with Christ.
There are 3 different times in Genesis where it says that the Lord to Abraham. The first is in Gen 12:7 which we read earlier, but then again in Gen 18:1. Would you turn with me there:
“The Lord appeared to Abraham near the great trees of Mamre while he was sitting at the entrance to his tent in the heat of the day.
He looked up and noticed three men standing nearby. When he saw them, he ran to meet them and welcomed them, bowing low to the ground. "My lord," he said, "if it pleases you, stop here for a while.”
The reason this encounter is so extraordinary is because of who it is that is visiting Abraham here. While these 3 visitors have the appearance of men, later in the next chapter (19:1) it turns out that 2 of them are actually angels, who go to visit the city of Sodom.
But we also discover as we read on in Gen 18, that the 3rd visitor is none other than the Lord himself. Also known in Hebrew as “Yahweh” (or Jehovah). The Lord informs Abraham that the promise is finally going to be fulfilled, that he and Sarah are going to have a son the following year.
So who exactly is this that visits Abraham here?
If you read this passage carefully we discover that it is none other than God himself making an appearance as a man.
The Bible says that “No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, he has made him known.” (John 1:18 NIV)
So whenever the Lord makes an appearance in human form, it seems evident that it must be the 2nd person of the Trinity. This is what is called a Christophany, a visible appearance of the pre-incarnate Christ. There are a number of these amazing appearances in the OT, which I hope to explore in more detail a couple of weeks from now. But I believe that Abraham is having a personal encounter with the Son of God, the One who was with God from the beginning, who later became “flesh and made his home among us”
Later, Jesus himself seems to comment on his encounter with Abraham: “Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad." (John 8:36) When the Jewish leaders heard this, they were startled: "Wait a minute: You are not even fifty years old, and yet you have seen Abraham?!" "Very truly I tell you," Jesus answered, "before Abraham was born, I AM!"
The Hebrew name for God Yahweh, is a form of verb “I am”. When Moses asks God his name at the burning bush, do you remember what God says? Exod 3:14 “God said to Moses, "I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: 'I AM has sent me to you"
In the same way, Jesus wants to have a personal encounter with you just as he did with Abraham.
He wants to come and make himself known to you in a personal, life-transforming encounter. What did Jesus say?
“Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me… The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them." (John 14:19,21)
So Abraham believes the promise. He has a personal encounter with Christ. But perhaps most importantly:
Abraham looks ahead to the cross of Christ.
Would you turn with me to Gen 22. I’m sure you are probably familiar with what happens in this story. Hebrews summarizes it this way:
“By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had embraced the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son” (Heb 11:17)
We don’t have time to unpack everything that happens in this chapter. That’s another whole message. But we can say that this will become the great moment of truth, the great crisis of faith in Ab’s life. If his life was made into a play or a film, this moment would have to be the climactic scene. It is the culmination of everything that God has done in Ab’s life up to this point.
For 40 yrs Abr had lived a life of incredible faith & obedience. Now God was going to test that faith one more time, by asking him to give up the very thing that he loved most in the world, his very own son.
Now notice what happens in 22:7 as Abraham and his son journey together towards Mt Moriah, Isaac asks the inevitable question: “Father, The fire and wood are here, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?" Abraham answered, "God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son."
Even tho there was much that Abraham didn’t understand about what he was going through at this point, one thing he knew. God would provide. God would find a way to keep his promise. And of course, God does exactly that. When they reach the top of the mountain, Abr builds an altar, & just as he is about to take the terrible step of plunging the knife into his son, suddenly he hears a voice from heaven "Do not lay a hand on the boy! Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son."
And there in the thicket, is the ram that God provides as a substitute, the one who would be sacrificed in place of Isaac.
“So Abraham called that place “Yahweh Yireh” (or Jehovah Jireh) which means “The Lord Will Provide”. (Gen 18:14)
And 2 Chronicles 3 tells us that 800 years later, King Solomon would build his temple, Where? Right on this very same spot on Mt Moriah, which is today called the Temple mount in Jerusalem.
And not far from there, yet another 1000 years later, at the place called Golgotha, the place of the Skull, at almost the exact same spot where Ab laid his son Isaac on an altar to be sacrificed, God would offer up his own son, as a sacrifice for our sins on a cross.
And so just as the ram was provided to Abraham as a substitute for Isaac, a substitute has been provided for you and I as well. Jesus took your place, he paid the penalty for your sin. 2 Cor 5:21:
“For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ. “
And so you see, just as Abraham received the promise that thru his offspring Jesus, all the nations of the world would be blessed. Just as he had a personal encounter with Christ, and just as he received the ram as a substitute for his own sacrifice, so today you and I are called to put our faith in the same Christ that Abraham did. Through his willingness to offer his own son, Abraham gave us a picture of how one day God would offer up his own son for us.