Reading the Old Testament As Pointing to Jesus
For many churches during Advent (the four Sundays before Christmas) this season is a time of looking forward to Jesus’s coming, just as people in Old Testament times looked forward to the coming of the Messiah. One way of reading the Old Testament is with eyes that see it pointing over and over again to Jesus. Let me give you an example. Psalm 91:4 says about God: “He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge.”
In that verse God compares himself to a bird, and we are compared to the baby birds who find safety and protection underneath the wings of their mother. Specifically, part of the mother bird’s body, her wings, protect the babies from danger. The full force of a potential attack against them is absorbed by the mother’s own body.
“That’s fine,” you say “but, unlike a bird, God doesn’t have a body we can go hide behind. God is a spirit who is invisible and immutable. Also, God is infinite and incapable of being harmed in any way like the wings of the mother bird could be damaged.” So, the Biblical picture of God protecting us under his wings seems to break down when we consider who God is.
Yet the New Testament proclaims, and Christians believe, that the infinite and invisible God (who is a spirit), inexplicably to our minds, humbled himself, came down to our level, and became a human being with a human body. (We further believe that on the cross Jesus bore the full brunt of the attack of sin and death against us.)
I Peter 2:24 says about Jesus, "He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed." In other words, God became human in Jesus, he bore the penalty for our sins on the cross, and the wounds he bore in our place not only lead to healing of our relationship with God but also to all kinds of healing—even to physical healing—see verse below.
Matthew 8:16-17 quoting Isaiah 53:4, says: “When evening came, many who were demon-possessed were brought to him, and he drove out the spirits with a word and healed all the sick. This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah: ‘He took up our infirmities and bore our diseases.’ "
Isaiah 53:4 is another of those Old Testament verses that we believe point forward to Jesus. The very next verse, Isaiah 53:5, to me shows that both consecutive verses are pointing to Jesus (specifically to his death on the cross) when it says “but he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities, the punishment that brought us peace was upon him and by his wounds we are healed.” (The Hebrew word translated peace is “shalom,” which can include physical healing.) So Psalm 91:4 and Isaiah 53:4–5 are just two examples of Old Testament passages that look forward to Jesus.
Back to the image of the mother bird, Psalm 91:4 says she interposes part of her body, her wings, between her chicks and danger. I am reminded of the hymn “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing,” which says about Jesus that “to rescue me from danger (he) interposed his precious blood.” Jesus, the fulfillment of Psalm 91:4, put his body between us and danger.
Last Sunday, the first Sunday in Advent, I was in church and the pastor talked about Jesus saying that one of the things he had come to do, prophesied in Isaiah 61:1, was to “preach good news to the poor.” He pointed out that some of the Greek and Hebrew words translated “poor” can mean someone who is crouched down and oppressed. So, when Jesus talks about the poor, he means someone who is materially poor, but there can also be a spiritual meaning. Similarly, when Peter talks about our being healed by the wounds of Jesus, I believe he refers both to physical and spiritual healing.
Unfortunately, some Christians (in a very un-Hebrew way which does not emphasize the importance of our physical bodies) believe primarily in the spiritual meanings of Bible words. They don’t emphasize that Jesus came for those who are literally poor or for those who are literally sick. I believe he came to heal physical disease and also the sickness of sin and of spiritual and emotional disorder. I believe Jesus came to preach good news to those who are materially poor, and also to those who are poor in spirit or emotionally poor. And I believe in a myriad of ways, the Old Testament points to Jesus!
Winfield Casey Jones is a retired pastor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. This column first appears in the Pearland and Friendswood Reporter News.