Hey I'm Josh Hawkins, welcome to episode 39 of Opening Up the Gospels. In the last three episodes - episode 36, 37, and 38, we've developed the message of John the Baptist as it's recorded in Luke 3 and Matthew 3. We talked about how John was preparing the way for Yahweh, and that Yahweh's coming to the people of Israel would be something that divides them. The analogies John used were the wheat and the chaff and the tree and the stump. We looked at how the people of Israel had put their confidence in their ethnicity to guarantee them participation in the promises that God had made to Abraham, and how John was undermining that confidence and calling Jews to be baptized. We spent some time looking at Isaiah 6 and Isaiah 66, and how Israel falsely believed that they were not going to be recipients of the fire of judgment on day of the Lord. John was announcing that the very God of Israel was coming to them and if they wanted to be part of the righteous remnant that would inherit the promises that God had made, they would have to bear the fruits of repentance.
Today I want to work through the bigger picture of John's message, because it's so necessary for understanding what's really happening. I want to go all the way back to Genesis and I want you see the continuity between the story of the Old Testament and the story of Jesus' first coming. And I want to preface everything I'm going to say in this episode - that there's so much more detail that could be added. I'll go a couple minutes longer than usual in this episode and I just want to give the basic storyline so you can see the significance of John the Baptist and the first coming of Jesus.
It all begins with Genesis 3:15 in the Garden in Eden, where we have the basic promise of restoration and regeneration, where what was lost in the garden would be restored by a physical descendant of Eve. This is the story that scripture is telling - not how we can all go to heaven when we die, not how we can just be forgiven and blessed and have a good life now, but how God is going to bring back and restore what Adam and Eve lost in the Garden because of sin. There's a couple of New Testament verses I'll just mention here that so clearly talk about this idea of the restoration of all things or the regeneration - there's Matthew 19:28 where Jesus talks about it directly, but the big one is Acts 3:21 where Peter says all of God's prophets have been speaking about the time of the restoration of all things.
So let's go back to our basic timeline. After the promise in Genesis 3, there's a break off very early on between Cain and Seth. We see this in Genesis 4:
And Adam knew his wife again, and she bore a son and called his name Seth, for she said, “God has appointed for me another offspring instead of Abel, for Cain killed him.” To Seth also a son was born, and he called his name Enosh. At that time people began to call upon the name of the LORD. (Genesis 4:25–26 ESV)
Now, why are men calling on the name of the Lord here? One reason is because of the promise that was given that there would be a descendant of Eve would would restore what sin had ruined. Some time had passed and that descendant hadn't come yet. Now the name Cain means "judged" and Seth means "appointed". Appointed for what though? Well, in context, Seth is a son of Adam and Eve, and since Cain was clearly not the one who would restore because he had killed Abel and God had judged him, Eve called her latest son Seth, hoping that he would be the appointed seed to restore everything. Unfortunately, he wasn't the one.
Now, fast forward a couple chapters to Genesis 6 and to the great flood where God winnowed down all of humanity to one man and his family. That man was Noah, who was a son of Seth. Don't forget the story and the main point here - we're looking for a descendant who would restore, and the question has been for a few generations now, who would that descendant be? Well after the flood, it's very clear who this promise of restoration will come through, because there's only one family left. What happened to the rest of mankind? According to Genesis 6, all the rest of humanity was cut off - they died in the flood. Do you see what's happening here?
So moving forward, the next event I want to highlight is the tower of Babel in Genesis 11. Just a few generations after the flood, mankind once again was rebelling against the Lord. That deep seeded thing inside of us called depravity reared its ugly head. What did the Lord do at Babel? He came down and broke up humanity into different languages, different people groups, different families. In other words, nations were formed. And sticking with the question of our storyline here, who will the seed come from? Now that there's nations and many families on the earth, what family will that deliverer come from?
Well, the very next chapter after the Tower of Babel is Genesis 12 and there we're introduced to a man named Abram, who of course would later be called Abraham. And of course Abraham is the one chosen to be the family or people group from which this deliverer would come. Let's look at what the Lord said to Abraham in Genesis 12:
“Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.””
(Genesis 12:1–3 ESV)
Do you see that? God said that through Abraham's family all of the families of the earth would be "blessed". Now who are those "families" or "nations"? They're the ones that were just split up by God at the tower of Babel just a chapter before. So Abraham's family is the one who's going to carry on this promise, where a descendant would come and restore everything. Now I hope you can see that in context, this word "blessing" is not a generic term like we use it today. For Abraham, it's pointing directly back to Genesis 2 and 3. "Blessing" referred to the original blessedness of the garden and inheriting the glory of that restoration. Old Testament scholars point to this so clearly. So again - God made a covenant with Abraham and said "Abraham, you're the family I've chosen - one of your descendants will be the one who restores everything." And jumping forward a few chapters to Genesis 17, God comes to Abraham again and tells him to do something very specific to his descendants:
“And God said to Abraham, “As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations. This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised.”
(Genesis 17:9–10 ESV)
Why did God tell Abraham to circumcise every male in his family? This isn't just random, just think about it in context to the story of a descendant coming through his family to restore everything. Circumcision was the physical sign of procreation and was God's way of indicating that a child was going to come from Abraham's family and not from another family. It was very purposely meant to say "you are the physical means and there will be a baby that comes one day, just like I've promised." The sign of circumcision was the promise of the inheritance that was given to Abraham. This of course is very significant to the rest of the story. We'll talk more about it in a moment.
So, continuing on, we have Abraham's sons - Isaac and Ishmael. And the question is again, which son will the promise of restoration come through? And of course we see in Genesis that Isaac is the one who's chosen and given the same promise that God gave to Abraham. You can see that in Genesis 26:3-5.
Now Isaac has two sons - Jacob and Esau. And of course Jacob is the one chosen, and the story and the promise is still going strong.
Now after Jacob, everything goes corporate. And instead of just one individual, there's a big group of people - 12 tribes who are all of Jacob, all called the nation of Israel. As we see, throughout scripture, God continually says that Israel is his chosen, that they are his elect ones. But the question I hope you're asking here is "elect for what?" What were they chosen for? The answer is not forgiveness, it's not going to heaven when they die, but it's that they were chosen to be the ones who inherit the promises made to Abraham, and within that framework was the promise of the seed from Genesis 3, the one who would restore the blessedness of the garden. Does that make sense? Do you see that?
The story continues of course among the 12 tribes. More specific promises are given when the tribe of Judah is chosen from the 12, then God makes a covenant with a member of Judah's family named David. The Davidic covenant is what we looked at in the supplemental episode called Biblical Foundations of Messiah and Christ. The basic promise was that God would choose a descendant of David to rule Israel as king from the city of Jerusalem forever. All of this is still within the corporate structure of the 12 tribes, just a more specific promise within that framework.
Now let's fast forward a bit for the sake of time. As we talked about in Episode 34, there's 400 years between the time when Malachi, the last prophet in the Old Testament prophesies and the first coming Jesus. And just as we've seen in the episodes on John the Baptist, the nation of Israel is still thinking they are the seed of Abraham, they're still thinking that since God marked them out with the law and they are physical descendants of Abraham and are circumcised, that they are the ones to whom all the promises apply - the promises of a kingdom led by the son of David through which all the nations of the earth will be blessed and the earth will be restored to its original blessedness. But the question that remained in their minds was "when was this going to happen?" I mean, it was obvious to them that it hadn't happened - there was no glory in the temple, that had left in Ezekiel's day, Rome was controlling them, and there was no Davidic king on the throne in Jerusalem. The nations of the earth weren't being blessed by Abraham's descendant, and they clearly had not received the promises given to Abraham.
And so this brings us up to the moment when John the Baptist comes on the scene. The reason why I wanted to go through all of this is to show you that what's happening with John is not something new. Throughout history, God had always winnowed down humanity and clarified who it was who would actually inherit the promises. So John comes on the scene and says to Israel in Luke 3 and Matthew 3: don't say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father. Something more than just your ethnicity and your physical descent from Abraham is needed in order for you to be a recipient of those promises." John says a division is coming, and that God is going to cut through the nation and make it clear who will actually inherit the blessing and who won't. Now, connect this with the other things I've talked about related to John - the imagery of the axe and the trees, the wheat and the chaff, and I hope you see how important John is to rightly understanding the first coming of Jesus.
We're out of time for this episode, but I hope this brings some clarity to you. I'd encourage you to go back and read the book of Genesis with this lens. I think it will really open up to you. If you've missed the past few episodes on John the Baptist, check out Episodes 35 through 38. You can find them on my website, www.joshuahawkins.com/gospels. Well, blessings to you, see you next time.