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Hidden in the History

March 31, 2021
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Dominoes - Marcia Lebhar - MediumYou’ve probably seen them…videos of dominoes cascading through multiple rooms, over and under furniture, setting in motion all sorts of events that eventually arrive at a fantastic finale. The narrative story of the Bible is a bit like that. After Adam and Eve’s reach for control in the opening chapters of Genesis, God promises that one day their descendant will deal a death blow to the serpent who tempted them to sin. This is an initial domino in the story of redemption, and many more follow. Later God declares in Isaiah 46, “For I am God and there is no other; I am God and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done…I will accomplish my purpose…I have spoken and I will bring it to pass; I have purposed and I will do it.”

But how will God’s people recognize the one God sends to rescue them from themselves…rescue us from ourselves?

Both the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament declare that the dominoes will be hidden for a time, travel under a table as it were, until God chooses to reveal the rescue he has set in motion. [1] In 2021 we are tracing the threads that travel through the whole narrative of God’s big story, and this first unfolding theme of sacrifice stands out clearly. Our distance from the developing events makes the pattern clear. C. S. Lewis says this about history, and it applies supremely to the biblical story: We ride with our backs to the engine. We have no notion what stage in the journey we have reached….A story is precisely the sort of thing that cannot be understood till you have heard the whole of it.[2]

Jesus alludes to God’s intentionality when he says at the beginning of his ministry, “The time promised by God has come at last!” [3] He says to the Pharisees, “Abraham saw this day and rejoiced.” [4] On the road to Emmaus, it seems to me that Jesus takes an almost whimsical pleasure in revealing what signs have been hidden in their history. And the apostles all put the story together for their listeners, over and over. [5]

If I could put myself in any scene in the Scriptures, in any story, it might be as a note-taking eavesdropper on the Emmaus road. How did Jesus explain? What made their hearts “burn within” them? 

Here’s the way I see the dominoes travel through the story, and the implications make my own heart burn within me.

God requires a blood sacrifice. We see this in the story of Cain and Abel. Cain is not at first condemned, simply instructed to come to God in the way God has apparently prescribed. [6]

God will provide a substitute blood sacrifice. When Abraham is instructed to sacrifice his son, God provides a substitute sacrifice. [7]

The blood of a substitute sacrifice will release God’s people from bondage. The blood of a lamb over their doorposts in Egypt will spare God’s people from a death sentence and initiate their freedom. And the specific characteristics of the lamb are important: a spotless lamb, none of its bones broken, to be shared by the whole family, and foreigners (Gentiles!) may be included as long as they bind themselves to God’s family. [8]

God will allow a transfer of guilt to the substitute sacrifice. Once in the Wilderness, God’s people receive the nation-defining law of God from Mt. Sinai. In it, God describes a Day of Atonement, a remarkable visual in which the priest lays hands on a substitute sacrifice and it receives the sin of the people. [9]

The ultimate substitute sacrifice that frees God’s people from death and bondage and receives the transfer of their sin…will be a person! And through the prophets God gives a host of identifying details about this person. A descendant of David, born of a virgin, in Bethlehem, he will be a Nazarene, ministering in Galilee, healing and doing wonders but rejected by rulers. He will come into Jerusalem on a donkey, as a king, yet later be betrayed by a friend with whom he shared bread. He’ll be tortured and crucified, pierced in hands and feet, though none of his bones will be broken. Lots will be cast for his garments and he’ll be offered vinegar and gall. He will rise from death and take many with him to his father’s kingdom. All this will occur before the destruction of the Second Temple. And in the future, he will return, his feet once again standing on the Mount of Olives. [10]

So when Jesus of Nazareth walks over a Judean hillside at the beginning of his ministry and John the Baptist declares, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” [11] the dominoes begin to fall in the hearts of Jesus’ Jewish followers, and they are eventually commissioned to share the story with the world. We Gentiles owe the Jewish people an enormous debt because they did so.

One thing in particular stands out to me in all this: God sets the terms. Because he is Lord of history, executing his plans, we must come to him in the way he provides and prescribes. It was no more acceptable for Cain to bring veggies, or Israelite slaves in Egypt to substitute some other kind of blood for that of a spotless lamb, than it is for us to suggest an alternative path to the Father when Jesus himself has said, “No one comes to the Father but by me.” [12] 

My brain feels too small for this. I say with the Psalmist, “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too great for me to understand.” [13] Not only does God control all the dominoes of human history, unfolding his plans, but he holds my history in his hands, allowing me to step into his big story through grace and obedience. 

This much is certain, if God planned, foretold, and unfolded all these events, we can be sure Jesus will come again, as he promised. We can say with Job, “In my flesh I shall see God.” [14] History will have an end. Speaking of the second coming, Lewis says, “When the author walks onto the stage, the play is over.” [15]

Lord, prepare us for your certain return!

[1] Is. 48:6; Jer. 33:3; Mt.11:25; Eph. 3:9; Col. 1:26

[2] C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

[3] Mark 1:15, NLT

[4] John 8:56

[5] Luke 24; Acts 3:11-26; Acts 7; Acts 8:26-35; Acts 13:13-43 (for starters!)

[6] Genesis 4:3-7

[7] Genesis 22:1-19

[8] Exodus 12

[9] Leviticus 16

[10] Micah 5:2; Isaiah 7:14; Isaiah 9:1 and 11:10; Zechariah 9:9; Psalm 41:9; Psalm 22; Psalm 69:21; Psalm 16:10; Daniel 9; Zechariah 14:4; Acts 1:11(and there are more!)

[11] John 1:29

[12] John 14:6

[13] Psalm 139:6 NLT

[14] Job 19:26

[15] C.S. Lewis, “Historicism” in Christian Reflections