The Exodus of Israel and the Gospel

One of the most comprehensive pictures of the gospel in the Old Testament is the exodus of God’s people from Egypt, their wandering in the wilderness, and their overdue arrival in Canaan – the land promised to their forefathers.  The experience of the Israelites laid out in the Old Testament books from Exodus to Joshua is an expansive narrative, a fascinating saga, and full of gospel symbolism.

Let’s jump right to the gospel application and then work backward through some of the passages and their symbolism.  The Israelites in Egypt represent the lost person; the person without Christ.  The Israelites enslaved by their Egyptian taskmasters are a picture of the lost person enslaved by sin.  The apostle Paul wrote that before we embraced the gospel and received new life in Christ, we were slaves to sin.  We were under sin’s penalty, sin’s consequence, and sin’s power.

But just as the children of Israel were rescued by God Himself from their slavery in Egypt, so we too have been rescued by God through Jesus Christ.  Recall that the Israelites were “saved” by the blood of the Passover lamb sprinkled on their doorposts on the night the angel of death visited Egypt.  Likewise, we have been saved by the “precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ” (I Pet 1:19).  The children of Israel, enslaved in Egypt, represent the lost person without Christ.

Moving to the end of the story, the promised land (Canaan) is a picture of new life in Christ that is characterized by a restful walk in the Spirit.  (It does not represent heaven even though this is a common theme in our hymnals.)  Life in Canaan for the New Testament believer is marked by the recognition that the Christian life is lived by faith, not self-effort.  It is experiencing Christ living His resurrection life through you.  It is not trying to attain something that we already have – victory in Christ – by our own power and prowess to live the life.  It is fully resting in what Christ has done for us in delivering us from the penalty and power of sin.

Is it possible to believe the gospel, place our faith in Christ for salvation, and not experience this restful walk of faith?  The New Testament makes clear that yes it is possible to believe in Jesus, but have a life marked by carnality, walking in the flesh (our own power), and a lack of living faith (not to be confused with saving faith that all who are in Christ have).  This is the third type of person represented in our Old Testament story; the believer in the wilderness.

You see, the space between the lost person (Egypt) and the believer at rest in Christ (Canaan) is the wilderness.  The wandering life of Israel in the desert is a picture of the wilderness Christian; the believer who, for whatever reason, is not experiencing “Christ in you”, the Holy Spirit at work in their lives, the power of faith, and freedom from the power of sin.

The biblical basis for this wilderness Christian idea is found throughout the New Testament, and we will head to some of those passages next time.  To summarize today’s post:  the children of Israel in Egypt represent the lost person.  The wilderness represents the believer who has yet to experience what God has promised and accomplished – wholehearted life in Jesus.  And the promised land, Canaan, is the believer who has entered a life of restful walking in the Spirit by faith.

The Gospel and the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53

One of the clearest pictures of the gospel in the Old Testament is Isaiah chapter 53; a passage referred to as The Suffering Servant.  It is the fourth and final Servant Song found in the book of Isaiah.  It identifies the suffering servant as our sin-bearer.

“Who has believed what he has heard from us?  And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?  For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.  He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not” (Isaiah 53:1-3).

“Who has believed?”  Unbelief in the servant was natural.  He was obscure and outwardly unimpressive.  He was despised, rejected, and acquainted with sorrow and grief of various sorts throughout his whole life.

Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.  But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed.  All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned – every one – to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:4-6).

Here, in the heart of the passage, we see the servant bear the sins of others.  Acting as a substitute, with no understanding from those he is rescuing, the servant took upon himself the bitter consequences of our sin.  “All we have gone astray.”  There is none righteous.  We all needed the rescue of our sin-bearer.

“He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth.  By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people?” (Isaiah 53:7-8).

The servant died in innocence.  “Like a lamb led to the slaughter” represents the servant’s innocence, his submission, and his refusal to open his mouth in his own defense.  But despite his innocence, the servant is wrongly condemned.  Oh, how this chapter is saturated with Jesus Christ, the spotless Lamb of God!

“And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth” (Isaiah 53:9).

The parallels between the description of the servant in this verse and the death of Jesus are striking.  The servant was condemned as a criminal “with the wicked”.  Jesus died with the wicked; with a thief on each side of Him at His crucifixion.  The servant was connected to a rich man in his death.  Jesus was buried in the tomb of a rich man, Joseph of Arimathea.  The servant in Isaiah 53 had “done no violence and there was no deceit in his mouth.”  He was completely innocent in deed and word.  Jesus was completely innocent in deed and word.  Jesus was a person of complete and perfect moral purity, a true substitute for sinners.

“Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand.  Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities.  Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong, because he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors” (Isaiah 53:10-12).

The servant was crushed, but victorious.  His “offering for guilt” – his sacrificial death in our place – was for our guilt.  His “offspring” are those who strayed (vs 6) who have now returned as his children.  “Prolong his days” highlights that death is not the servant’s end.  He will live forever.

When the servant makes “many” to be accounted righteous by “bearing their iniquities”, it shows us that his salvation is for all the world, not just Israel.  And his sacrificial death will lead to glory.  Why?  Because he “poured out his soul to death” and “bore the sins of many”.  He now “makes intercession for us, the sinners”.  His intercession secures our acceptance before God.

And we know that this intercessor is Christ Himself.  “For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all” (I Tim 2:5-6).

Wow!  I have gone over my normal length and have still only scratched the surface of the richness of the gospel in Isaiah 53.  (You can find more in the ESV Study Bible notes where much of this material came from.)  Over 700 years before Christ, Isaiah was directed by the LORD to put down on paper this powerful record of the coming Christ.  The suffering servant who died in your place on Good Friday so long ago was announced many many years before.  Jesus Christ clearly fulfilled this announcement.  Jesus Christ is our suffering servant.  Jesus Christ is our rescuer.  Jesus Christ is our redeemer.  Jesus Christ is the one and only deliverer of our souls.  Amen!

Cain, Abel, Crouching Sin, and the Gospel

Way way way back in the beginning, Adam and Eve had two sons.  Cain, their firstborn was a farmer.  Abel was a keeper of the flocks.  Somewhere along the way, Cain brought an offering of crops to the Lord.  Abel brought an offering of firstlings from his flock.  Abel’s offering was accepted by the Lord, and Cain’s offering was rejected.  Cain became angry and jealous.

Recognizing the temptation Cain was facing, the Lord said to him, “Why has your countenance fallen?  If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up?  And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at your door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it” (Gen 4:6-7).

We know from the rest of the story that Cain did not master the “sin crouching at his door”, but was mastered by it.  So Cain rose up and killed his brother Abel.

Fast forward to today.  Sin is still crouching at our door.  Sin is still seeking to master us.  The stark contrast between us and Cain and the struggle with sin is what the gospel is all about.  Cain was clearly instructed that he must “master” the sin crouching at his door.

But it is not that way for us.  By the grace of the gospel, we are not called to “master” sin.  Rather, Christ through His death and resurrection has “mastered” sin for us.  There is an interesting connection with the word “master” between God’s instruction to Cain and His promise to us in Romans chapter 6.

Look at God’s instruction to Cain.  “You must master it” (Gen 4:7).  The responsibility was all on Cain’s shoulders.  Now look at His promise to us; to those who have placed their faith in Christ.  “Knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, that our body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin … Even so, consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.  Therefore, do not let sin reign in your mortal body that you should obey its lusts … For sin shall not be master over you” (Rom 6:6,11,12,14).

Rather than calling on us to master our sin, Christ has promised that our sin shall not be master over us.  Sin’s dominion and power have already been taken away.  What a powerful promise!  What a powerful reversal of Cain’s problem with crouching sin!

But the removal of sin’s mastery over us does not eliminate our own temptations with sin.  What it does change is our approach to it.  Cain had no power or promise to overcome his crouching sin.  He only had the will-power and self-effort that he could drum up.

We, on the other hand, have the resurrection power of Christ living in us.  When sin comes knocking, we do not have to answer the door.  We are not compelled to open the door.  We do not need to invite him in.  For the believer, sin cannot crash the door down.  He must be invited in, and you have the power to say to crouching sin, “No thanks, just move along, there is no one here that you are compatible with.  There is no one here wishing to serve you.  You are no longer my master.”

When crouching sin comes knocking, what will your answer be?

Joseph and the Christ to Come

The life of Joseph, son of Jacob, is another picture of the gospel in the Old Testament.  Over the course of his life, recorded in Genesis 37 and following, the parallels between Joseph and Jesus Christ are unmistakable.  But first, a quick summary of the facts of Joseph’s life.

Joseph was one of Jacob’s twelve sons.  His brothers hated him.  They sold him into slavery to travelers on their way to Egypt.  There Joseph endured adversity, false claims against him, and prison.  But God exalted Joseph in the end, and he rose to second-in-power over all of Egypt.  Joseph’s high position allowed him to be a “savior” to his brothers and all of Egypt during a time of great famine.

Now the lessons.  Let’s compare the lives and ministries of Joseph and Jesus.  First, they were both deeply loved by their fathers.  Remember the coat of many colors?  An expression of Jacob’s love for Joseph.  In comparison, the gospels are replete with references to Jesus as “God’s beloved Son” (i.e. at Jesus baptism, Colossians 1:11).

In contrast to their fathers’ love, they were both hated by their “brothers”.  In Joseph’s case, it was his literal brothers.  They hated him enough to consider killing him before they sold him into slavery.  This hate was accompanied by rejection.  His brothers rejected Joseph’s dreams.  They grew weary of him mentioning them.

Jesus was also rejected and hated by his “brothers”.  In this case, his “brothers” were the Jewish nation.  “He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him” (Jn 1:11).  Not only was Christ rejected, but He was hated as well.  “If I had not done among them the works which no one else did, they would not have guilt; but now they have both seen and hated Me and My Father as well.  But they have done this in order that the word may be fulfilled that is written in their Law, ‘They hated Me without a cause.’ ” (Jn 15:24-25).

Both Joseph and Jesus were falsely accused and punished.  Joseph, in the episode of Potiphar’s wife and being sent to prison.  Jesus, at His various trials, beatings, and ultimately His crucifixion during the passion week.

But with both figures, God was about to turn all this hate, rejection, false accusations, and evil into good for the nations.  As Joseph said to his brothers near the end of the story when all was revealed, “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive” (Gen 50:20).

Let’s look at the good that resulted in both Joseph and Christ.  Joseph literally saved his brothers.  Because Joseph rose to a position of power in Egypt, he was able to bring his whole family to Egypt for protection from the serious and spreading famine.

Likewise, Jesus saved His “brothers” as well.  The early church was almost entirely Jewish.  To the Jewish multitude gathered on the day of Pentecost, Peter said, “Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  For the promise is for you and your children, and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God shall call to Himself” (Acts 2:38-39).

But Joseph and Jesus did not just save their brothers.  Their salvation extended to all people.  Joseph’s wisdom and planning prompted Egypt to store up their crops during the seven good years in preparation for the upcoming famine.  Joseph saved the Egyptians (could be thought of as the Gentile world) as well as his brothers.

Likewise, Jesus’ salvation extends far beyond His Jewish brothers.  Those of us “who are far off” (referring to the Gentiles) are also saved by Jesus’ death and resurrection.  The blessing of Joseph’s salvation reached all of Egypt.  The blessing of Jesus’ salvation reaches all over the world.

This “all over the world” is so beautifully pictured in John’s vision of heaven.  “After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palm branches were in their hands; and they cry out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Salvation to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb’ ” (Rev 7:9-10).