Tag Archive for: prophecy

The Psalms are the prayers of the body of Christ. While this is true of all of them, occasionally we have a clear and unambiguous testimony from the Holy Spirit. Peter and Paul both directly connect this Psalm to the passion of Christ. David’s own experience informs this psalm, to be sure, but only in a partial way, just as ours does. Yet Christ fulfills this psalm to the utmost. His own struggle with His enemies has become our own. His trust has become ours. His experience fills up and informs our own, because we are in Him.

Psalm 16 presents some difficulties, but may be divided into three sections: calling on God to deliver (verses 1-4), trust in God who provides (verses 5-8), and a blessing of God (verse 9-11). The exact issue prompting this psalm is not specified. However, since David refers to idolaters and the grave throughout the psalm, it is safe to say that he faces a peril from his enemies which threatens his life. Yet the primary focus of the psalm is not the danger, but the trust in God to deliver, so that even in the grave, God will not abandon His people.

A Miktam of David. Preserve me, God, for I take refuge in you.

You have said to the LORD, You are My Lord. My goodness is not apart from you.

The term “miktam” occurs here and in the titles of Psalms 56 through 60. Like so many of the other terms in the headings of the psalms, its exact meaning is uncertain. Some associate it with another word meaning “gold,” as in Job 28:19. If this is true, a miktam is a “golden psalm,” perhaps signifying its special importance. However, its usage also in Psalms 56-60 shows that we should be cautious of reading too much into such an interpretation. On the other hand, the Septuagint rendered miktam as “inscription,” suggesting that it is suited for use as an epigram. It is equally likely, however, that the term is either a tune name or a form of poetry.

David calls on the Lord to deliver him from trouble. While the first verse is thus straightforward, the next three are the most difficult to interpret in the psalm. The second verse begins “you have said” without specifying the subject. It seems most likely he is speaking to himself or to his soul, so that some translations insert “O my soul” to this verse. Others, following the Septuagint, modify the verb to “I have said,” which is more or less the same idea. God gives the soul, after all, and is its Lord (Ecclesiastes 12:7). All good that we have is also from God, so that apart from Him, we can do nothing (John 15:5).

To the holy ones who are in the land, they are the mighty ones. All my pleasure is in them.

Translations differ, sometimes widely, on this verses. The Septuagint and the Vulgate render it something like “To the saints who are in his land, he has made wonderful all my [or his] desires in them.” Some older translations like Luther and the King James render it differently: “But to the saints that are in the earth, and to the excellent, in whom is all my delight.” Many modern translations are similar to my own. Much of the difficulty comes from an unusual word order and several ellipses.

Following the translation I have given, David associates himself with the godly, especially against the ungodly. Identifying with the body of believers is another way of associating with God. If we group ourselves with the godly, then we are by extension grouping ourselves with the Lord to whom they belong. We are, after all, the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12). To leave off meeting together is to separate ourselves not only from other believers but also from God (Hebrews 10:25; 1 Corinthians 12:21).

They will multiply their pains. They have acquired another [god]. I will not pour out their libations of blood, and I will not lift up their names on my lips.

This verse can also be difficult, because the subject is not stated. However, since it seems to make little sense to interpret this in terms of the holy ones, David distances himself from the ungodly. Their way is a way of pain and sorrow, because they have sought another god. The verb translated here as “acquired” is identical to another verb meaning “to hasten” or “to run after.” However, as in Exodus 22:15, it can also refer to paying a bridal price. Idolators seek to betroth a false god to them, instead of the Lord who identifies Himself as the Husband of Israel (Hosea 2:16). “Hasten after,” however, carries the same idea, since they are pursuing another god.

Their libations or drink offerings may indeed be of blood, given the depravity of some Canaanite practices, but it is more likely that David means that their offerings are stained with sin (Isaiah 1:15). David also refuses to take up the names of their false gods on his lips. This is not literally avoiding naming them, since the prophets frequently give the names of false gods, but to avoid naming them in a way which shows them honor (Exodus 23:13; Joshua 23:7). There is, after all, no other name than Jesus by which we will be saved (Acts 4:12).

The LORD is the portion of my portion and my cup. You hold my lot.

The measuring lines have fallen for me in pleasant places. Indeed, a pleasing inheritance to me.

I will bless the LORD who advises me. Also, by night my kidneys discipline me.

I have set the LORD before me continually. Because [he is] at my right hand, I will not be made to stagger.

Having called on God to deliver, the psalm now confidently turns toward the fulfillment. There is no need to fear those who trouble us, because our inheritance is with God. Like the Levites, our inheritance is God Himself (Numbers 18:20). Indeed, the Lord is called the portion of Israel as a whole, because our hope and confidence is in Him (Jeremiah 10:16; Deuteronomy 32:9). He is our cup, because He is our salvation (Psalm 116:13). He holds our lot, because He has all things in His hand.

The imagery of “measuring lines” here hearkens back to the division of the land in passages like Joshua 17:5, where it is rendered as “portion.” The word itself means a rope or a cord, as in a surveyor staking out property. It is, however, a pleasant place, because the godly one delights in what God has given to him. It is not too small, as the portion of Joseph (Joshua 17:14-17), nor displeasing like the land of Cabul (1 Kings 9:12-13). What comes from God is pleasing, because it is meant for our good (Romans 8:28).

Kidneys in the Old Testament are regarded as the innermost part of man. This is why the word is frequently translated as “heart” in English, since we use the heart to denote the same idea. Since the heart shows the truth of the soul (as Jesus says in places like Matthew 15:34), it “disciplines” in a positive sense by calling to mind the words and promises of God. It is not necessarily a negative thing to be instructed or disciplined, as we often use the word. Rather, just as God counsels us through His Word, so He also calls forth in our memory those same words for our reflection.

Therefore, my heart is glad, and my glory rejoices. Indeed, my flesh dwells in security.

Glory here is a reference to the tongue, because we glorify God through praising Him with it. David also refers to his tongue in this way in Psalm 57:8, calling on it to awaken with God’s praises. Peter also, when he quotes this psalm in his sermon at Pentecost, renders it as “tongue,” following the Septuagint (Acts 2:26). His flesh or body dwells securely, not in a carnal way, but knowing that God cares also for the body (Matthew 6:25-34).

For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol. You will not give your pious one/faithful one to see the pit/corruption.

On the basis of this verse, both Peter and Paul refer to Psalm 16 in direct connection with Christ. The idea is straightforward. David expresses confidence in God, knowing that God will not abandon him even in the grave. He will not cast us off once we have passed into the pit or into corruption. Jesus Christ is the resurrection and the life (John 11:25-26).

Yet, as Peter says to the Jews at Pentecost, this cannot be fully true of David. David, after all, died, and his body fell into corruption (Acts 2:29). Yet Christ Himself fully fulfills this prophecy, because though He died, His body did not see corruption (Acts 2:31). Paul makes the same point to the Jews at Antioch in Pisidia (Acts 13:35-37). Thus, according to the testimony of the Spirit, Psalm 16 only indirectly speaks of David, but directly of Christ Himself.

The word rendered as “pious” or “faithful” can certainly be rendered as “holy,” but it also emphasizes the obedience of Christ. Jesus was obedient even to death on the cross, and thus God raised Him from the dead and exalted Him far above all things (Philippians 2:8-11).

You make known to me the path of life. Fullness of joy is before your face. At your right hand is delight everlasting.

David thus closes this prophecy with joy. In God and in God alone is a joy which knows no end. Because Christ lives, we also will live with Him to glorify Him forever. Christ is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Christ is our highest joy. Christ is our everlasting rest and delight. We have no reason to fear anything in this world, because Christ reigns triumphant at the right hand of God, exalted above all earthly things.

His interaction with a Canaanite woman takes Jesus to the north and west of Israel’s ancient boundaries. The region of Tyre and Sidon was never within the promised land, even at Israel’s Solomonic height. King Hiram of Tyre was a friend of Solomon’s and contributed cedars of Lebanon and laborers for the building of the temple. From that it may be inferred that he was a God-fearing Gentile, but nothing is said of how wide-spread his devotion to the Lord ever became in Tyre or Sidon.

The fact that the woman is called a “Canaanite” further emphasizes her foreign status. The Canaanites in their various ways worshiped idols and polluted the land to such a degree that the conquest of Israel was both due to the promise God gave to Abraham and also as a punishment for the sins of the Canaanites. The conversation, if we want to call it that, between Jesus and the woman further brings out the reality that she is a woman of unclean lips who dwells among a people of unclean lips. In this way it will be seen that she is the flip side of the immediately prior teaching of Christ about what truly defiles a man, namely what it is that makes a person clean.

There are many references in the Gospels about word getting around about who Jesus was and what he did. The obvious conclusion, then, is that the woman had heard about him and therefore was coming to him. In this she is not unlike like Rahab who had heard of God’s power at the Red Sea and was given faith. In faith, Rahab hid the two spies, and in faith, the Canaanite woman comes to Jesus for help her daughter’s great need.

Jesus’ silence toward the Canaanite woman furthers the dissonance. The universally comforting promises of Christ to “come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest” do not come with a similar promise about the timing of that rest. “Draw near to God, and at the proper time he will lift you up.” Experience bears out the fact that Jesus, like His Father, can be simultaneously imminent and distant. He is present and hears her pleas, but “answers her not a word.”

The tension between universal and particular is furthered as Jesus discusses boundaries. Still silent to the woman, Jesus speaks to the disciples and tells them he was not sent except for the lost sheep of Israel. Their request had been that he dismiss her, possibly meaning to grant her request so that she subsequently leaves them alone. His response indicates that they must have inferred that he help, or else why the statement about only being sent for Israel?

The more pressing question is whether he means it or not? The woman calling him son of David may factor in here. David’s son brings to view the later prophecies of the Christ which oftentimes have a primary focus on Israel’s restoration from exile. “Behold, the days are coming declares the Lord when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely …. In his days Judah shall be saved and Israel will dwell securely” (Jeremiah 23:5-6). “And I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he will feed them: he shall feed them and be their prince” (Ezekiel 34:23). Taken in isolation, references such as these may lead one to conclude that the Christ is the hope of Israel only. But this is an overly narrow view of the messiah as some of the key prophecies, especially in Genesis 3:15 and Genesis 12:3, speak of his mission for all of Adam’s descendants and all nations being blessed in him.

Why then does Jesus speak of an Israel-centric mission? Is such a thought wrong? Is he speaking tongue-in-cheek? Attempts to discern sarcasm in the Scriptures are usually a sign of grasping at straws, so it is better to assume he meant what he said and find the rationale in Scripture itself.

St. Paul says that he magnifies his ministry to the Gentiles in order somehow to make his fellow Jews jealous and thus save some. In this, he is only imitating his Lord who magnifies his ministry to Israel in order somehow to make this Gentile woman jealous and thus save her. The magnification of the messiah’s Israel-centered ministry does not exclude Gentiles, but actually draws them to Him. He becomes a light to the nations. As even the most Israel-centric prophecies foresaw: “Then the nations will know that I am the Lord who sanctifies Israel, when my sanctuary is in their midst forevermore” (Ezekiel 37:28).

The context of our reading further emphasizes this point. Jesus’ journey to Tyre and Sidon comes on the heels of a controversy with the Jewish leaders about what makes a man unclean. The Pharisees were upset that Jesus did not observe the traditions of the fathers related to ritual washings. Their thinking was that he and his disciples were therefore unclean to eat. Jesus clearly refutes the error of their thinking to show that it is not what is outside a man that defiles him, but rather what comes from the heart.

What has this to do with the Canaanite woman? In many ways she is the opposite of the Pharisees. She is not only a Gentile, but a descendant of Israel’s ancient enemies. If anyone would have been ritually unclean, it would be her. And yet, from the fullness of her heart her mouth speaks. She approaches the Lord with unwashed hands, and in all likelihood with no knowledge of the traditions of the elders. In that sense, it would not be “right” to give her the bread of the children. Humanly speaking, she is like a dog, an animal that is canonically understood to be synonymous with uncleanliness.

But by faith in the Lord Jesus, she is worthy and well-prepared to receive his blessing. Not only does she receive the crumbs that fall from the children’s table, but the affirmation of the Lord: “O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you believe.” The Pharisees earned the rebuke of the Lord as he quoted Isaiah: “This people honors me with their lips but their hearts are far from me.” By way of contrast, in the Canaanite woman, Isaiah’s other prophesy of the Gentiles also comes to pass: “I have been found by those who did not seek me; I have shown myself to those who did not ask for me.”

Repetition is the mother of all learning. Three times our Lord predicted his betrayal, his sufferings, his crucifixion, and his resurrection. (Luke 9:21-22, 44, 18:31-33) This repetition clearly conveys importance. Elisha was twice told that Elijah will be taken up from him (2 Kings 2:3-5). St. Paul prayed three times to have the thorn in his flesh removed but was told, “My grace is sufficient.” (2 Corinthians 12:8-9) The risen Lord grieved Peter with his triple, “Do you love me?” (John 21:17)

Sadly, though, the third repetition of our Lord’s passion and resurrection yields no better result than the first. If anything, things have only gotten worse. The triple prediction yields only a triple lack of understanding: “They understood none of these things. This saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said.” (Luke 18:34)

Their lack of understanding puzzles us who live after the resurrection. Why do they not understand? Could he have explained it better? Did he misspeak? Were they ill prepared?

Rather than finding fault with the Lord we should invoke the reality of the mystery of his rejection. Attention to the title used in the passion predictions is fruitful for meditation on the disciples’ lack of understanding. Jesus employs the title, “the son of man,” without fail in the passion predictions as recorded by Matthew, Mark, and Luke.

What do we know about the son of man? Most generically the phrase can simply be the equivalent of, “human.” (Psalm 144:3, Ezekiel 2:1 et alia) A son of Adam is one who is like his father. Fully man. But there are key passages that employ the phrase in more exalted terms. Psalm 8 speaks of a son of man who is Lord over every last detail of creation. Sheep, oxen, beasts, birds, fish, and every last sea creature are all under his sway. Daniel 7 fills out the title even more fully as the prophet sees in the night visions, “one like a son of man,” who is presented before the throne of God and given eternal dominion over all things, including what had previously belonged to the beastly kings of the earth. We may conclude then that “son of man,” is a title of cosmic majesty and everlasting dominion.

But on the lips of Jesus the regal title takes a mysterious path. He will be betrayed. Suffer. Be crucified. And only then, almost as an afterthought, arise. Certainly Isaiah spoke of, “my servant” who would suffer as the representative of and bear the sins of the people. But can that suffering servant be the same as the son of man?

Mysteries such as these can be put into words but not always explained. The lack of understanding in the disciples should not be construed as a failure on their part any more than we would fault our children for not being able to understand the full explanation of our love for them. There are some mysteries that can be expressed but not fully grasped until they are experienced. The passion of the Christ is chief among these.

That the son of man and his cosmic kingdom and eternal dominion must pass through the crucible of the passion is too much to comprehend. It is a mystery to be believed and only in the light of the resurrection can it be understood. Even then, on the road to Emmaus the Lord must explain and open the minds of his disicples so that they might understood all that was written.

This brings us then to the connection of the cryptic saying about the son of man’s suffering and the miraculous healing of the son of David. While even the twelve do not understand Christ’s clear words about the son of man’s passion, a blind beggar calls out to the son of David for mercy. What words cannot communicate perhaps works can.

The crowds announce the arrival of one they title, “the Nazarene,” but the beggar has a better confession: “son of David.” The son of David is a title reaching back to 2 Samuel 7:14. The confession overlaps with “son of man,” in that it is a royal title. The son of David is prophesied to be an eternal king whose rule will reach as far as the river and the sea (Psalm 89:25). He will be as a son to God and God as a father to him (Psalm 2:7).

But it is the plea for mercy connected to this title that comes to the fore from this blind beggar in Jericho. The eternal king is a merciful king. What Christ was explaining to his disciples in clear and explicit words is now shown in a healing. His kingdom will be a kingdom of mercy, healing and salvation which is received by faith. None who trust in him will be put to shame (Luke 18:42). Subsequently he will pass through Jericho and bring the day of salvation to the house of Zachaeus the tax collector (Luke 19:9). Once again, through his actions he is showing what the son of man’s suffering, death, and resurrection will accomplish for all. “The Son of man came to seek and to save the lost.” (Luke 19:10)

Son of man and son of David are not competing titles. Rather they are titles that converge in the one man, Jesus Christ. While his passion predictions may remain concealed and hidden for a time, nothing is hidden except to be made manifest (Luke 8:17). The result of his suffering, cross, and resurrection will be mercy, sight and the salvation for all who call upon his name. (Acts 2:21)

Everything that is written about the son of man will come to pass. And it will be understood, but only after the fact. “And now I have told you ahead of time so that when it does take place you may believe.” (John 14:29) Good teachers lay a foundation for future learning even when it can’t be grasped in the moment.

We may draw an analogy between the passion prediction in Christ’s earthly ministry and its reading on this day in the church’s lectionary. Just as the disciples heard the plain details of his cross but needed signs to understand so too the church will pass through the coming season of Lent and in those 40 days will see the signs of the son of man’s kingdom, which ultimately is inaugurated through the cross. Only after the fact, like the Emmaus disciples, will their eyes be opened and their hearts be set aglow (Luke 24:32). Likewise we, by following the Nazarene, the son of David, the son of man, Jesus, to the cross and empty tomb see the glory of the cross which brings mercy and sight to those in darkness and the shadow of death.

The prophets of old were mouthpieces of the Lord. Besides their words, their lives were also caught up in that calling, even when the Lord commanded them to do some unusual things. What would compel a man to marry a prostitute, to walk about naked for 3 years, to wear stocks around his own neck, and to eat bread baked over dung? What do any of these things have to do with the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ? And do these rather odd examples apply to the life of the Church? Join us for all this and more on this week’s episode.

Hosts: Rev. Willie Grills and Rev. Zelwyn Heide
Regular Guest: Rev. David Appold
Episode: 36

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The Lord God does not need any help to carry out His will, because He is perfectly capable of doing whatever He wills to do.  However, in His wisdom, God chooses to use His messengers, the angels, as a means of interacting with and protecting men.  The feast of St. Michael and All Angels provides an excellent opportunity for talking about the angels, perhaps mostly for dispelling common misunderstandings.

Angels are mostly anonymous in Scripture, but some of them are known to us.  Jude 9 refers to the “archangel Michael,” and Michael also fights against the dragon in Revelation 12:7.  Michael also appears in the book of Daniel, which appears to be the only reason why Daniel 10:10-14 and Daniel 12:1-3 are the Old Testament readings for this feast.  It is true that the most common “angel” in the Old Testament is the Angel of the Lord, which is a way of speaking of God Himself (Judges 6:22; 13:21-22).  The angels in general, while appearing throughout the Old Testament, are only rarely the primary focus of a passage (Psalm 91:11-12 is one example).  All of this should emphasize how little we know of the angels, which provides an excellent opportunity also for speaking about how we must remain silent where Scripture does not speak.  Even with this understanding, however, the readings from Daniel, chosen because they refer to Michael, violently rip up their context and lead to several misunderstandings.

They are part of the last major section of the book of Daniel, beginning at Daniel 10:1.  This vision comes to Daniel in the “third year of Cyrus, king of Persia.”  Cyrus, the Persian king who had conquered the kingdom of Babylon, made a proclamation in the first year of his reign that the exiles should return to Jerusalem and that the Temple should be rebuilt (2 Chronicles 36:22-23; Ezra 1:1-4).  Daniel himself lived in Babylon “until the first year of King Cyrus” (Daniel 1:21).  Therefore, this final vision of Daniel occurs after the exiles have returned from Babylon.  Daniel himself is not in Jerusalem during the time of the vision, for it happens while he is near the Tigris river (Daniel 10:4).  He has moved from Susa, the Persian capital further east (Daniel 8:2), westward as far as the river, but it is not clear whether he is now dwelling there or travelling.

While in mourning, Daniel sees a vision of a man.  While some of the details differ, this man is the same as the appearance of the Son of Man to the Apostle John in Revelation 1:12-20.  “Beryl” in Daniel 10:6 is too vague a term to determine actual color, but the wheels of Ezekiel’s vision are described as shining beryl (Ezekiel 1:16; 10:9), which may suggest that this word is meant to describe the brightness of the man more than the actual color of his body.  The primary difference between Daniel and Revelation is that the Son of Man in Revelation holds the seven stars (the seven angels), stands among the seven lampstands (the seven churches), and has a sword going out of His mouth.  However, Christ tells John that “I died, and behold I am alive forevermore” (Revelation 1:18). Therefore, the victorious Christ appears to John, while it seems that Christ who was yet to come appears to Daniel.

The message in both cases is also the same.  Christ raises up Daniel and John, both of whom had fallen as though asleep or dead at the sight, and gives to them a message of what is to come (Daniel 10:10-11; Revelation 1:17-19).  John suffered because of Christ and was on Patmos; Daniel may have been suffering because of the arrogance of the Persian kings (Daniel 10:13).  Daniel 10-12 and Revelation as a whole therefore have the same purpose:  they are a message to those suffering of what is to come so that they would not lose hope.  God in His Providence will bring all these things to an end, and He will reign triumphant.  “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever” (Revelation 11:15).  “But be on guard; I have told you all things beforehand” (Mark 13:23).

Daniel 11, being a detailed historical overview from the time of the vision until the time of the end, therefore shows that God knows all things.  History does not just happen by accident.  While an exhaustive overview of this chapter would run too long, it might be enough to say that Daniel 11:1-4 describes Alexander the Great, his conquest of the Persian empire, and the division of his kingdom after his death.  This may only be seen clearly after the fact, which should drive home Christ’s warning that “concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only” (Matthew 24:36).  Daniel is not given a key to determine by current events where he is on a timeline.  Daniel himself is told “Go your way, Daniel, for the words are shut up and sealed until the time of the end” (Daniel 12:9).  But even if we do not know when the Lord will accomplish His purposes, the prophecy tells us very clearly that it will come.  It is a divine comfort to know that, even though we must wait, God is in control of all things.

Michael, however, figures into this prophecy of the end, but he is not the main focus.  He is described as “one of the chief princes.”  He assisted God the Son in opposing the kings of Persia (Daniel 10:13).  He also is described as having “charge of your people,” or perhaps “standing over” (Daniel 12:1).  Angels therefore aid the Lord in carrying out His work, including His judgments, and they are also set over His people for their good (also perhaps over individuals in Matthew 18:10).  All of this may be inferred from the readings, to be sure, but it is not the main point of Daniel 10-12.  One should be wary of choosing texts solely because of word associations.

Date: December 4, 1930

The Scriptures must be fulfilled.Mark 14:49

IMAGINE that we have before us this evening a large pile of the so-called “sacred books” of all the non-Christian religions in the world and imagine that quite apart from this towering stack of queer and curious writings you place a single copy of our Bible. Do you know that one of the most striking of the many and notable differences that you could find between our Scriptures and all of these allegedly “holy” books would be this, that our Bible is the only volume which definitely and convincingly proves itself to be the truth of God through the remarkable prophecies and the still more remarkable fulfillments which its pages contain?

Remember that no other book has ever torn aside the veil that enshrouds the future as the Bible has. Of course, men have repeatedly tried to penetrate into the mysterious course of coming events, and I mean men who have employed thoroughgoing personal research and investigation, not the brazen and fraudulent fortune-telling, which is indicted by the Law of God and condemned by the law of practically every self-respecting community in the country. But even the best of their predictions have proved to be only conjectures and usually poor conjectures. The records of the official pronouncements of recognized scientific groups and university faculties reveal that within the last one hundred years, to confine ourselves to that period of modem advancement, these august bodies have relieved themselves of predictions which have proved absurdly impractical or impossible. In a very serious moment Thomas Jefferson prophesied to his friend John Adams that the time would come in America when people would drink much more cocoa than tea and coffee combined. About a year ago a loss of thirty-five billions of dollars in security values was sustained by people who thought they could foretell the rise and fall of financial affairs. For several years traffic experts and economists have made careful predictions of the expansion of the Panama Canal tonnage, claiming that a new canal would be imperative by this time. Now a presidential commission reports that none of these predictions have been correct and that it will be some time before the new waterway will be necessary. In a recent week, in one of our large cities, the United States Weather Bureau, with all the facilities of our national meteorological survey at its disposal, daily made inaccurate or incorrect predictions on the weather conditions of the ensuing twenty-four hours.

If men cannot successfully predict the turn of such material affairs in life, it will be self-evident that they stand hopeless and helpless before the future as it involves their souls. Think of the disappointment and disillusionment that have followed in the wake of misguided prophecies that have been made in the name of religion. Remember how frequently end-of-the-world prophets have repeated their delusion by claiming to reveal the exact hour of the earth’s collapse. Recall the suffering and despair which swept over our country in the forties of the last century when hundreds of people sold their homes and property, draped themselves in white robes, and went up on the tops of hills and mountains to meet Christ, but in reality to meet a rude shattering of their hopes. These and other equally tragic instances demonstrate that humanity, far from being able to draw aside the curtain that veils the future, gropes about blindly, hardly able to understand even the past, heedlessly conjecturing a score of contradictory interpretations of the present. After all is said, with the atom of intuition that we possess, you and I cannot predict with any degree of certainty what may happen to us tomorrow or within the next five minutes.

But the Bible can pierce the impregnable bulwark of the future. According to the divine testimony of our Savior in the words of our text, given on the night of His betrayal, “the Scriptures must be fulfilled.” And today, when men look for positive proof for the truth of the Word of God, when they cry out, in effect, “Prove it, and we shall believe it,” what better can we do than first of all hold up the remarkable and superhuman fulfillment of prophecy in the past history with which the pages of Scripture abound?


Challenging the idol-gods of Babylonia, the prophet Isaiah demands, “Show the things that are to come hereafter that we may know that ye are gods.” But the only answer to this challenge has been the dumb and sullen silence of defeat. Yet those who disdain the Bible take one of its prophecies after the other and witness the exact and literal fulfillment which has followed in the course of past history.

Here is the proud city of Nineveh, the mistress of the civilized East. In the heyday of her power and glory, when her grandeur and luxury attracted the admiration of the entire world, a lone Hebrew prophet, Nahum, arose to predict, “God will make an utter end of the place thereof.” Her “palaces shall be dissolved.” “She is empty and void and waste.” What happened? Today, in the vicinity of Mosul, the exact fulfillment of each syllable of this prophecy rises up before every traveler who sees the huge mounds covering the ruins and debris of this haughty city with all but impenetrable oblivion. Or here is self-sufficient Babylon. In the day when its winged armies swiftly annexed country upon country, it suddenly felt the wrath of God to which Isaiah had given prophetic expression 150 years before, when he declared, “Babylon, the glory of kingdoms, . . . shall never be inhabited; neither shall it be dwelt in from generation to generation; neither shall the Arabian pitch tent there; neither shall the shepherds make their fold there, but wild beasts of the desert shall lie there.” 2,500 years later a pioneer archeologist looks at the ruins of ancient Babylon and writes, “Shapeless heaps of rubbish cover for many an acre the face of the land . . . and render the site of Babylon a naked and hideous waste. Owls start from the scanty thickets, and the foul jackal skulks through the furrows.” Here, in these and a hundred other instances of fulfilled prophecy we have abundant and compelling reason to rise up and defend the truth of the Old Testament in a day when it is fashionable, even in certain theological seminaries, to speak disdainfully of the Old Covenant and to brand its contents as half-savage morality and as historically incorrect and untrustworthy. After nineteen eventful centuries of human affairs we echo the Savior’s verdict, “The Scriptures must be fulfilled.”

But far more vital and precious than these fulfilled prophecies, which pay their testimony to the power and the truth of God, is that sacred, golden chain of pledges which testify to the unfathomable and immeasurable love of God, the rich promises concerning the coming of our Lord and Savior to which the Advent season once more directs our attention. Christ says of the Old Testament pages, “They are they that testify of Me”; and who is there that can begin with Moses, as the Savior Himself began when He walked with His disciples on the Emmaus road, and not find unfolded there the divine forecast of His life and death of love? The gates of Paradise Lost swing closed upon the human race, but not before a Redeemer, “the Seed of the woman,” has been promised, to lead humanity to Paradise Regained. Centuries roll on, and a more explicit prophecy tells men that this Redeemer is to be a descendant of Abraham. Then, of Abraham’s posterity the tribe of Judah is chosen and of the tribe of Judah the house of David and of the Davidic lineage the little town of Bethlehem.

Again, when men strained their vision to the future and asked, “Who is this Redeemer?” the clear voice of inspired prophecy rang out to bring the assurance that this Christ was not to be a mere mortal human being like you and me, but that by His very virgin birth, by His superhuman nature, this Child that is born to us and the Son that is given to us must be called “Wonderful, Counselor, The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace”; that He is, as the Second Psalm declares, none other than God’s Son, begotten of the Father from eternity. Nor was the life of our Savior so enshrouded in the haze of distant centuries that His career remained a mysterious enigma for those who yearned to know of His days in the flesh. We think of the beginning of the Savior’s public life, and we hear Isaiah’s prophecy of John the Baptist, the divinely ordained forerunner of Christ, as “the voice of Him that crieth in the wilderness”; and when we hear the prediction, “The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light,” we have a prophetic indication of the Savior’s incipient ministry in the Galilean countries and along the coast. Or, to skip over the intervening prophecies, when we come to the end of His ministry and behold His triumphal entry into the city of Jerusalem, the cries of hosanna and welcome raised by the motley throngs at the roadside were but the echo of Zechariah’s prophecy five centuries before.

And when men tried to pierce the shrouded future and find the reason of the Messiah’s coming and the blessings of His advent into the flesh, the prophetic books of the Old Testament answered with definite beauty and precise promise. Those who saw His suffering and death with such clarity that centuries before Jesus was crucified they could predict that He would be sold for thirty pieces of silver, deserted by His disciples, mocked by His fellow countrymen, rejected by the Gentiles; that His hands and feet would be perforated by the nails of death, that the soldiers under the cross would cut up His garments and cast lots for the mantle that was without seam; that, although this Christ would be condemned as a common criminal and therefore destined to burial in the potter’s field, He was nevertheless to enjoy the repose of an honorable death in the rock-hewn tomb of a wealthy follower; and that finally He was to prove His divine power by His exemption from the corruption and disintegration of the grave;—those who saw all this and preserved it in their prophecies as an everlasting memorial to the power and truth of God knew that He came to bear our sins and carry our griefs, to be bruised for our iniquities and wounded for our transgressions, to offer us without money and without price the joy of our salvation and the certainty of our redemption. They knew, as Jesus knew, that “the Scriptures must be fulfilled.”


Now all this has been fulfilled. The fullness of time has come. All things are now ready.

What the fathers most desired,

What the prophets’ heart inspired,

What they longed for many a year,

Stands fulfilled in glory here.

Tonight, as we enjoy the priceless privilege of beholding that Christ face to face in His Word, as the great panorama of fulfilled Messianic prophecy unfolds itself before us, let us remember that, if there is one practical deduction that we can make from this remarkable harmony that exists between prophecy and fulfillment, it is this: The same God who so unmistakably proved His divine power and love in the past by keeping His pledged promise of the world’s Redeemer, will continue the demonstration of His faithfulness in the future. The assurance that the Scriptures have been fulfilled literally is the divine warrant and guaranty for this truth of personal and direct importance that they will be fulfilled with the same power and love in your life. The divine promise for all ages to come remains, “The Scriptures must be fulfilled.” For here, in the everlasting faithfulness of God in Christ, is the power that gives men “beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness.” Here is the great impulse that makes Christianity essentially the religion of supreme happiness, the practical solution to the difficulties and the complexity of modern life, the force that leads men to Christ and to heaven’s happiness.

Someone has counted the promises of Scripture and has found that they number more than 30,000. But how sorely this tired, aching, feverish world needs every one of these assurances of a God who has helped and who will help! We like to pride ourselves on the conquests of human ingenuity that have been recorded in this marvelous age; but I often think that deep below the veneer of smug self-satisfaction there is the aching heart of a disillusioned humanity that has plucked the last fruits from the tree of human ambition and achievement only to find that they crumble to dust beneath its greedy grasp.

Are you troubled with sin and disturbed about the selfishness that abounds in your life? Listen to this sacred promise of an ever faithful God, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Are you distressed by sorrow and worry and anxiety? Here is the promise penned by inspiration for you: “Cast all your care upon Him, for He careth for you.” Are you anxiously concerned about providing food and warmth and shelter for your family? Are you near the end of your resources, with no human agency able to help you? Tonight the Scriptures, which have never made a promise that has not been kept, tell you, “God shall supply all your needs according to His riches in glory by Jesus Christ.” Are you lying on a bed of sickness and pain? Have you been shut in for years and shut off from much of the joy of life? Remember that it is to you especially that the gentle Savior, who devoted so much of His time and energy to the sick and the maimed, speaks these comforting words, “Your sorrow shall be turned into joy, . . . and your joy no man taketh from you.” Do you want a friend and counselor and guide when all human agencies have proved to be pitifully frail and faulty? Come to Christ; for He, who is the Truth, tells you, “Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.” Do you cry out in the night of sorrow and disillusionment and helplessness, as you plead for some one that is firm and everlasting, true and faithful, superhuman and divine, “Oh, that I knew where I might find Him!”? Then prepare to make the pilgrimage of faith and hope and love to the manger in Bethlehem; turn your thoughts away from the distracting influences that are so frequently associated with much of the preparation for Christmastide, lift your hearts to God, and remember that, if there is any need that confronts you, any sorrow that oppresses you, any danger that besets you, you can trust God and find in His promise the divine serenity which gives you the confidence to tell yourself in Jesus’ name; “The Scriptures must be fulfilled,” and to confront a hostile and unsympathetic world with the challenge, “He that spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?”“all things” for time; “all things” for eternity; “all things” for life; “all things” for death; “all things” in Christ, through Christ, for Christ—the gracious King of His Church. Amen.

Published with the permission of The Maier Center, Concordia University, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48105.