The Promise of Christmas: Seed of Abraham and Isaac

manger-hero-980x380[This post is more ministry than media related, but I hope you will enjoy it.]

If you have been around church at Christmas time you always hear about the virgin birth, and being born in Bethlehem, etc… But when was the last time you heard some one point to the manager and exclaim, “Look, it’s Isaac’s seed!” It’s not often that churches focus on prophecies that describe Jesus as the Seed of Abraham, Seed of Isaac, and Jesus being the way that all nations would be blessed through Abraham.

To be honest, normally when I think about biblical prophecies surrounding Jesus, whether from birth or life, I normally focus on the part where Jesus fulfilling them helps to prove he was who he said he was, and is who we believe him to be. But, while the prophecies do that, they are made for a reason, and in a time period. They have meaning and context. They have significance that spans eternity . I thought it would be interesting to see what the significance of some of these other, less well known Christmas prophecies were.

1. Seed of Abraham.

I will keep My covenant between Me and you, and your future offspring throughout their generations, as an everlasting covenant to be your God and the God of your offspring after you.  And to you and your future offspring I will give the land where you are residing—all the land of Canaan—as an eternal possession, and I will be their God.” Genesis 17:7-8
 In blessing I will bless you, and in multiplying I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heaven and as the sand which is on the seashore, and your descendants shall possess the gate of their enemies. In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed… Genesis 22:17-18

On the surface, this prophecy is fulfilled in the 1st chapter of Matthew that records the genealogy of Christ, and lists Abraham as an ancestor. Galatians 3 goes further:

Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say “and to seeds,” as though referring to many, but referring to one, and to your seed who is Christ. And I say this: The law, which came 430 years later, does not revoke a covenant that was previously ratified by God and cancel the promise.  For if the inheritance is from the law, it is no longer from the promise; but God granted it to Abraham through the promise. Why then was the law given? It was added because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise was made would come. Gal 3:16-19a

This was a promise made by God to Abraham. A promise made before the Law was given. God is establishing the Covenant here. This is the Old Covenant in the Bible. He promises to multiply Abraham’s descendants, and he promises that a seed from Abraham would bless all the nations of the earth.

In many ways the Bible is the story of how God kept this promise to Abraham.

Before this, there was no Israel, no Jewish religion. Abraham didn’t join an existing organization. He heard God’s voice, and responded. Through this man’s line of descendants God eventually brought Jesus Christ into the world. Jesus, who truly blesses every nation by offering a way back into relationship with God. It is the Seed of Abraham that fulfills God’s promise.

2. Seed of Isaac.

“Then God said, “Yes, but your wife Sarah will bear you a son, and you will call him Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him. Genesis 17:19

Again,  Matthew 1 provides the surface fulfillment of this prophecy.

At first I didn’t think much about this. It seemed like a simple continuation of the promise God had made to Abraham. God promised Abraham would have descendants like the stars. That promise is continued through Isaac. Then I remembered that Abraham had another son…

He first had a child called Ishmael through Sarah’s servant Hagar. But God was clearly saying that it was through Isaac, not Ishmael, that the covenant continued. Paul wrote in Romans about this:

It is not as though God’s word had failed. For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel. Nor because they are his descendants are they all Abraham’s children. On the contrary, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” In other words, it is not the children by physical descent who are God’s children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham’s offspring For this was how the promise was stated: “At the appointed time I will return, and Sarah will have a son.” Romans 9:6-9

Though Abraham’s “ill conceived” (bad dad joke) son had his blood, Ishmael was not the line from which God would bring the Messiah. For the very first time, God is saying that it is not blood that maintains the covenant. It’s not simply a physical thing. There is something more to the promise.

(On a side note, Abraham and Sarah did not trust God, and tried to do things their own way. Then when God worked according to his own timing and Isaac was born, they cast out Hagar and Ishmael. Islam, one of the fastest growing religions in the world, claims the seed of Ishmael. They reference Genesis 21 where God said he would make a nation out of Hagar’s child, and trace their start back to Abraham’s first born son. What if Abraham and Sarah had fully trusted God? Would Islam still exist? Or if it did, would it be a different sort of faith? Those are questions we can’t answer. But we do know that sometimes our decisions can have impact for generations.)

Why is this prophecy important? This is the first time we see that the relationship with God is not tied to the physical blood in our bodies. Romans specifically says it’s not about “physical descent”. Not every person with Abraham’s blood is included in the “promise”. And conversely, as we see in the New Covenant, the promise given to Abraham is not limited to just Jews. Jesus. who is the Seed of Isaac, makes a way for people to be included in the Promise, regardless of blood.

3. Blessing to all nations.

Referenced in Genesis 22, but earlier mentioned here:

Then the Lord said, “Should I hide what I am about to do from Abraham?  Abraham is to become a great and powerful nation, and all the nations of the earth will be blessed through him. For I have chosen him so that he will command his children and his house after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just. This is how the Lord will fulfill to Abraham what He promised him.” Genesis 18:17-19

The book of Acts records how this was fulfilled:

 You are the sons of the prophets and of the covenant that God made with your ancestors, saying to Abraham, And all the families of the earth will be blessed through your offspring. God raised up His Servant and sent Him first to you to bless you by turning each of you from your evil ways.  Acts 3:25-26

This prophecy happens right in the middle of the Sodom and Gomorrah story. God wants to tell Abraham what he is about to do to those sin filled cities. Both the Genesis and Galatians passages reference the behavior of those who will come after Abraham. How will the promise be kept? The children of Abraham will follow God’s ways. How will nations be blessed? Each person will turn from their evil ways. And in Genesis 18 God is about to wipe out two cities to make sure this happens.

We look at this through the glasses of a modern history where Jesus has already come and changed the world. It offends our sensibilities to think that anyone could just decree such death, but God is the only being that has the right to do it. God is the judge of who lives and who dies. He can judge everyone because of who he is. Even so, God relented when Abraham asked him to spare the cities if he could find just 10 righteous men. But there weren’t even 10 righteous men.

So why did God do this? Because Sodom and Gomorrah were sinful. But also, because God wanted to keep Abraham and his children on the right path. God obviously doesn’t destroy every haven of sin in the world. Look at Chapter 19. Lot had already begun to slip away, moving from the outskirts of the city to being a city leader. Later in the chapter, the influence of Lot raising his family there can be seen when his own daughters chose to get their father drunk, after the fall of Sodom and death of their mother, and lay with him (so they could bear children), rather than trust God would provide.

Throughout history God has taken extraordinary measures to preserve Israel until the birth of Christ. God protected his people, the line of Abraham, the descendants of Isaac. Even in exile, there was always a remnant. Why? Because through this line the salvation of the entire world comes. The entire world, all nations. Not just Israel, not just those tied to Abraham by blood. But all nations will be blessed by the promise God made to Abraham.

God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, and protected Abraham’s descendants throughout history, so that they could keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just, and the promise would be fulfilled.

ALL the nations of the earth. Jesus is for all, the GOSPEL is for all.This is the first time we see that God desires that every person in every nation be reconciled to God. This is only a prophecy related to Jesus birth because it is through Jesus that all have the opportunity to be saved, to be blessed. All families of the earth can be blessed if they will turn from their evil ways.

How serious is the “All” ? Christ’s return will not happen until all nations have heard.

Matt 24:14″This good news of the kingdom will be proclaimed in all the world as a testimony to all nations. And then the end will come.

So here are these 3 prophecies, all tied together. All made thousands of years ago. Look at the progression:

  1. The fulfillment of the great promise God made to Abraham is the coming of Jesus Christ. (The Seed of Abraham)

  2. Being part of the promise God made is not tied to a physical relationship (bloodline), it is a spiritual state. (The Seed of Isaac)

  3. All people can be a part of the promise God made to Abraham through the work of Jesus Christ, if you will turn from your evil ways. (All nations will be blessed)

Has God kept his promise to Abraham?

There are 2.2 Billion Christians in the world today. There have been billions who have come before now. As that kids song says, father Abraham truly did have many sons. But there are more “nations”, more people-groups to be reached.

Are you a part of the promise? I’m not asking if you’re Jewish, or a member of a church. That’s not what the Bible says is required to be a part of the promise:

So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.  If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. Gal 3:26-29

The only determining factor: Do you belong to Christ?

How can we be part of this blessing? Belong to Christ. That happens by acknowledging that your sin has separated you from God, and that there’s nothing you can do to fix that relationship. But, if you believe that God sent the Seed of Abraham and Isaac down through the centuries of time to make a way back to himself, through his son Jesus Christ, and you are willing to accept that and turn away from your evil ways as described in Acts 3, then you can be a part of the promise, you can belong to Christ.

3 prophecies made thousands of years ago, foretelling the coming of Christ, and the fulfillment of a promise God made to Abraham. And we can be blessed, and be a part of it.
Advertisements

Violence and Jesus on the Cross at Christmas Shows

Manger Jesus is safe.

I think that’s why Christmas became more popular than Easter. That and free stuff under a fir tree.

Christmas and the image of baby Jesus are non threatening. Sure, we sing carols about how a King was born, but even a nominal Christmas/Easter church attender knows that he wasn’t a “real” king, he doesn’t have armies and a castle of stone with a moat. Jesus in the manger doesn’t make people uncomfortable. He is a cute baby in swaddling clothes. So warm and cuddly.

Jesus on the cross isn’t like that. That’s where he took the pain we deserved. It gets personal. Being born, that’s cute. Let’s eat cookies and sing carols. Being whipped to a bloody pulp and nailed to a tree to hang until you die, then turning the world upside down by coming back to life… all so you and I could once again be reconciled to the creator of the universe… Well, that’s a bit more. It’s not safe. It requires a reaction from us.

So I can understand why some people could have been disturbed by the depiction of Jesus on the cross, Jesus being whipped, bloody and hurting Jesus, in our recent Christmas production.

IMG_4599Don’t get me wrong, it’s not “Passion of the Christ” level of blood and violence. It’s more TVPG violence. I felt comfortable having my sheltered, homeschooled 9 year old watch. I had my 6 year old close her eyes. We didn’t have the skill, time or budget to really recreate the horrible violence Jesus Christ suffered for each of us. We did a good job with what we had, and I was pleased with the final result of the footage. It’s took almost 2 hours to get the makeup done for the scourging scene. This cross scene is some of the most powerful imagery I’ve ever shot.

Lots of churches stop the story at Christmas with the wise men bringing their gifts. And I don’t fault them for it. That is the story of Christmas. Other churches tell the entire life of Christ. Because Jesus didn’t just stay a toddler getting some gifts from the Magi. He had a greater purpose. When sharing the gospel in Christmas productions you can talk about that purpose, or you can show it. We chose to show it.

I’ve been to a lot of church productions that put a guy in white shorts/loin cloth on a cross and we pretend that’s what Jesus looked like. It’s not. A cursory read of the biblical accounts would show you that’s wrong. A closer, more in depth look at the torture and execution methods of the day would shed more light on the gruesome visage of our savior, willingly dying on a cross for us.

I think people who are upset by violent reminders of what the Lord went through for us are mostly upset by being reminded of it, not about seeing it. I was “disturbed” by scenes of Mary in labor. My first reaction was that I wished we hadn’t included that. When I stopped to think about it, I realized it was because I don’t really think about the fact that Mary had a normal child birth for the time. It was the immaculate conception, not immaculate delivery. It made me uncomfortable.

People don’t want to come to a Christmas show to be made uncomfortable. They want the warm feelings and carols. But the story of Christ doesn’t stop at the manger, it ends with an empty tomb. The path from manger to tomb is disturbing. If we choose to show it, then we must choose to do so as accurately as we can. That means there will be some disturbing images, not for the sake of showing violence, but to remind us of what our salvation cost.

How to Build a Tomb Set

The project we have been working on for Christmas has included quite a bit of set construction. This past week week we needed to build the open tomb for a scene with the resurrected Christ. I got to learn how to do it.

First, you need a flat with a door opening. We used old set piece from a previous Easter production.

IMG_4629

Then we braced it upright near the side of a hill. We started adding wire mesh to build a framework into the hillside. We made the opening smaller, to make it more historically accurate.

IMG_4634

IMG_4635

We started applying the texture, and realized that the mesh should be covered with some paper.

IMG_4637

IMG_4643

We used a texture that comes in two propane-sized tanks, under pressure. The contents of the two tanks mix in the nozzle to create a foaming, slightly-expanding substance that is very sticky.

IMG_4717

IMG_4647

When it’s done, allow the texture to dry. Then apply spray paint. The result looks surprisingly good on camera.

IMG_4699

IMG_4706

Here’s the back. (Note the graffiti) Hard to believe that plywood, mesh, paper and some spray texture could work so well.

IMG_4701

One word of caution, if you are in a high wind situation, make sure to anchor your bracing. The day after the shoot we found this:

IMG_4718

We were done shooting, so this wasn’t an issue, but it could have been very bad if we had pushed a scene to another day. With any outdoor set, weather is a factor. There wasn’t much chance of this lasting outside until Easter, anyway.

We have one more shoot, very early tomorrow. Then we are done with the capture phase of this project. Watch for another post with pics from the last shoots. Next… edit, ADR, and everything post!

Cultural Amnesia and Religious Freedom

flag[Begin Rant]
There are days I wake up and I just wonder, “Are you people crazy? Did you wake up and forget everything from the last thousand years or so? When did you develop cultural amnesia?”

I hear about news stories questioning evangelical adoption and threatening court martials for “Proselytizing” in the military, and I wonder if these people just stepped out of a cultural bubble. These are just a couple of recent examples, but this is a trend in America.

America has its problems, but we are still the greatest nation on earth. People literally risk their lives to come here. People kill themselves to stop our way of life. We are the land of opportunity, we are the land of the free.

This didn’t happen in a vacuum. Our culture developed over time and had lots of influences, and one of the big ones was the faith of our own people. I could list quote after quote of founding fathers, and point you toward different books that explore what the world would be like if Christianity wasn’t around, and tell you all the good things that came out of people believing in Jesus Christ. And I could disarm the critics by pointing out how many people were killed in the name of religion versus how many have been killed by people without religious belief. And we could go a couple of rounds debating the merits of faith in the public square.

But I don’t have to. Because good or bad, religion has been a major part of western civilization and a major part of the USA.

And look at how good we turned out.

Even if you hate organized religion, you have to admit that the basic tenet of freedom of religion hasn’t stopped America from becoming the greatest nation on earth. Even if you think that belief in God is the root of all idiocy, the USA still did OK.

So this new wave of vehement animosity about faith really bugs me. No one is making you believe in anything. No one is forcing your kids to believe in anything. So people talk about their faith? Get over it. You have the freedom to talk about whatever you believe, or don’t believe. Don’t want evangelicals to adopt kids? Go adopt all of them yourself.

What’s that? My religious morality is infringing on your new found moral code? You think the world would be even better if we would just keep our views to ourselves? Odd, I think it would better if irreligious people kept their views to themselves. You don’t like it when religious people campaign for laws that reflect their viewpoint? Tough. Welcome to a Democratic Republic. Don’t like the laws? Vote for people to change them. I’ll do the same.

This country was founded on freedom. It was founded on a lot of other things, too, but we can all agree that freedom is a huge part of our Constitution.

So, lets get back to that. Constitutional Freedom. And stop acting like we don’t have a past that includes freedom of religion. Stop using “tolerance” as a baseball bat to crush anything different from your view. Go live your life, and be free. And let religious people do the same.

[/rant]

Ministers of The Reconciliation

All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 2 Corinthians 5:18-20 ESV

I was doing my reading in my new plan from the Youversion Bible App and I hit one of my favorite passages, 2 Corinthians 5.

I love this. God could have used anything, anything to spread the Gospel. But he chose to use us. WE are the ministers of reconciliation. We are ambassadors for Christ. God chooses to work through us, to make his appeal for reconcilation to himself through us.

Want to know why I do the ministry work I do? Because we are ambassadors for Christ. I am a minister of reconciliation.