ABRAHAM'S OLD AGE
Long life is sought after by most people but it is also feared and dreaded when it comes near. Realistically, long life is not desirable when change comes. Solomon warned those who live excessively and foolishly to ‘Remember your creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come, and the years draw near when you will say, "I have no pleasure in them"; before the sun and the light and the moon and the stars are darkened and the clouds return with the rain; in the day when the guards of the house tremble, and the strong men are bent, and the women who grind cease working because they are few, and those who look through the windows see dimly; when the doors on the street are shut, and the sound of the grinding is low, and one rises up at the sound of a bird, and all the daughters of song are brought low; when one is afraid of heights, and terrors are in the road; the almond tree blossoms, the grasshopper drags itself along and desire fails; because all must go to their eternal home, and the mourners will go about the streets; before the silver cord is snapped, and the golden bowl is broken, and the pitcher is broken at the fountain, and the wheel broken at the cistern, and the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the breath returns to God who gave it.’ (Ecclesiastes 12:3-11)
Solomon wanted the young to recognise the truth about old age, their span of life and change. It is a time of letting go and turning our eyes and hearts towards heaven. Those people who resist and refuse to recognise their age and weakness are said to become unrealistic and silly. They become excessively in love as if nothing has really changed their condition of life. Or, in spite of everything, they aspire to be young and strong. A man, for instance, who marries a young woman eighty years younger is said to be in his dotage. This may be so. However, there are some men and women who keep on living well past the age of ninety and remain strong and intelligent. But, exceptions apart, Solomon paints the true picture and it is wisdom to recognise that old age is how he describes it to be.
ABRAHAM LAST YEARS ON EARTH
Abraham’s wife Sarah bore Isaac when she was one hundred years old. She died when she was one hundred and twenty seven. (Genesis 23:1-2) She was an exception to the laws of nature and greatly blessed by God as the mother of God’s chosen people, the Jews. When Sarah died Abraham was one hundred and thirty seven years old. He continued to live on for another thirty eight years. During that time he took another wife called Keturah who bore him many children. (Genesis 25:1-4) Abraham was greatly blessed by God. The Lord promised him that his offspring would be uncountable like the stars of heaven, and that he would be the father of many nations. Yet, whilst Abraham knew this, he also knew that it was only through Isaac that God’s covenant with himself would be fulfilled, and not through any of his other children, either through Hagar or later Keturah. God had made it clear that "your wife Sarah shall bear you a son, and you shall name him Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his offspring after him." (Genesis 17:19)
So whilst Abraham was surrounded by his children and grandchildren, which he enjoyed for many years after Sarah’s death, he recognised that he was getting very old. Whilst he was still living Abraham gave gifts to his sons and sent them away to the east leaving only Isaac and Rebekah to raise their own family alone and apart from Keturah’s children. Abraham knew that his offspring through Isaac had to be separated from his other children through Hagar and Keturah. Abraham believed God when the Lord told him that it was through Isaac that all nations of the earth would be blessed. God had promised that he would establish his covenant with Isaac and his offspring, only. Abraham had questioned whether it was through Ishmael that God’s covenant would be established. God said, ‘No, but your wife Sarah shall bear you a son, and you shall name him Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his offspring after him.’ (Genesis 17:19) Thus it became necessary to separate his other children from Isaac and make him the sole heir of all that he had.
ALL NATIONS SHALL BE BLESSED
The promise of God that all nations shall be blessed through Abraham’s offspring was a future promise. Abraham did not know what this blessing was to be. But the promise was one of blessing and not cursing. Just how God would bring about this blessing was unclear. But later Moses and the prophets spoke of One who would come from his chosen people; a Messiah, One who would be Israel’s king for ever and ever. That is because God’s covenant with Abraham was an everlasting covenant passing beyond the boundaries of time. It was not limited by the passage of time, or the rise and fall of nations.
The nature of this blessing was not hid from Moses or the prophets. But they grieved over Israel’s sins and foresaw judgment and exile of the people God had chosen to be his treasure. They saw that the covenant God had established with Abraham and his offspring was reciprocal requiring Israel as a nation to be a people holy and just, obeying God’s commands, being righteous and blameless in God’s eyes through their faith in God and their fidelity to him alone. They saw clearly that this was a personal as well as a national covenant bringing upon themselves God’s blessings or curses. Nevertheless, they believed that God would remain faithful to Israel and that despite Israel’s unfaithfulness, if they repented of their sins, God would save them from their sins and their enemies.
Righteousness and faith is God’s gift to the Jews first and then to the world. This is the message that links the Old Testament to the New. This they have done for as Jesus Christ said, ‘Salvation is from the Jews.’ (John 4:22) This salvation has always been from sin and death. ‘For the wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.’ (Romans 6:23) The Jews suffered exile in Babylon for their sins but the greatest exile that the Jews and all mankind suffer from is exile from God and a blighted future in hell. The Jews have brought this salvation to the world through the faith of Abraham and his offspring.
THE BIRTH OF JOHN THE BAPTIST AND JESUS THE CHRIST
We shall now see how this was achieved and by what means the hopes of the Jews and the hopes of the whole of mankind was fulfilled. As it was for Sarah, Abraham’s wife, so it was for Elizabeth. (Luke 1:13) She was getting on in years and was childless. Luke, a companion of Paul, and a doctor, investigates the background of Elizabeth in some detail. In a letter to Theophilus, he writes , ‘In the days of King Herod of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly order of Abijah. His wife was a descendant of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. Both of them were righteous before God, living blamelessly according to all the commandments and regulations of the Lord. But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were getting on in years.
Once when he was serving as priest before God and his section was on duty, Zechariah was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to enter the sanctuary of the Lord and offer incense. Now at the time of the incense offering, the whole assembly of the people was praying outside. Then there appeared to him an angel of the Lord, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was terrified; and fear overwhelmed him. But the angel said to him "Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John. You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He must never drink wine or strong drink; even before his birth he will be filled with the Holy Spirit. He will turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. With the spirit and power of Elijah he will go before him, to turn the hearts of parents to their children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord."’ (Luke 1:5-17)
MARY THE MOTHER OF JESUS CHRIST
When Elizabeth was six months pregnant, the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David.
He said, ‘Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.’
But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.
The angel said to her,
‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.’
Mary was astonished by the angel’s greeting and his words for she was a virgin, betrothed but not married to Joseph.
‘How can this be,’ she said, ‘for I am a virgin?’
The angel replied, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.’ (Luke 1:35,37) Then Mary said, ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.’ Then the angel departed from her. (Luke 1:38)
GOD’S WORD OF PROMISE
As it was with Abraham’s wife so it was with Elizabeth. The parallel is identical. Just as God’s promise to Abraham was fulfilled in Sarah, so the angel’s promise to Zechariah was fulfilled in Elizabeth outside of all human expectations. The event was so unlikely that when it occurred, according to the angel’s promise, there could be no doubt that the promise and meaning of John’s birth was from God in fulfillment of prophecy. (Isaiah 40:3) But to Mary was added the full blessing of being the mother of the Son of God, the Messiah. Hence this event underscored the hope of salvation, for the Jews first and then to the whole world. To John was given the spirit and power of Elijah who will go before him, to turn the hearts of parents to their children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord."’ (Luke 1:5-17) To Jesus was given the throne of his ancestor David. And his reign over the house of Jacob will be forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end. (Luke 1:32)
THE FUTURE KINGDOM OF GOD
Jesus Christ was the king of the Jews. His first words to the Jews were, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.’ And in another place he said ‘If it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come to you.’ (Matthew 12:28)
The kingdom of God had arrived on earth with signs and wonders that completely bewildered the scholars and doctors of the law who had no expectation of any other kingdom but that of David. That is because they did not realise the kingdom of God was the kingdom of heaven. The kingdom of God and the kingdom of heaven were interchangeable identities that only came to light in the New Testament. (Matthew 3:2; 4:17; 5:3; Mark 4:11; 4:26; etc) The Scribes, doctors of the law and priests were entirely governed by the Law of Moses, the writings, and their oral tradition. The prophets were never acknowledged as the bearers of a future kingdom beyond this life. The scribes did not even believe in life after death. The Pharisees, however, did but they were entirely ruled by tradition.
Over the centuries King David’s rule became the ideal future kingdom they prayed for. It was difficult to grasp that the kingdom of David would become the throne of Christ. But what does king David say of the Christ? Peter speaking to the Jews said, For David says concerning him, ‘I saw the Lord always before me, for he is at my right hand so that I will not be shaken; therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced; moreover my flesh will live in hope. For you will not abandon my soul to Hades, or let your Holy One experience corruption. You have made known to me the ways of life; you will make me full of gladness with your presence.’ (Acts 2:25-28) David was therefore aware of the coming kingdom of God distinguishing it from his own passing kingdom. He says to God, ‘Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and your dominion endures throughout all generations. The LORD is faithful in all his words, and gracious in all his deeds.’ (Psalm 145:13) David also called God my God and King: ‘I will extol you, my God and King, and bless your name forever and ever. Every day I will bless you, and praise your name forever and ever. Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised; his greatness is unsearchable.’ (Psalm 145:1)
This psalm of David foresaw the ultimate destiny of his throne which was not, in fact his but God’s and One would sit on it who was imperishable and eternal.
THE MESSIAH’S KINGDOM
The Messiah was not a replica of David or his reign, or his kingdom, for the Messiah’s kingdom, as Daniel foretold, was mighty in wonders and everlasting: ‘How great are his signs, how mighty his wonders! His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and his sovereignty is from generation to generation.’ (Daniel 4:3) The throne of David was to have a ruler unlike any other. His reign would extend into eternity where his children, the children of the kingdom, would rule with him. (Daniel 7:27) The Messiah would rule forever which makes his kingdom, like himself, holy and righteous, eternal and not hindered by the sinfulness and violence of this world. Pontius Pilate asked Jesus a direct question, ‘Are you the king of the Jews?’ (John 18:33) Jesus replied, ‘My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.’ (John 18:36)
It makes complete sense that the kingdom of God is the Kingdom of heaven, apart from this world, and the place where holiness and righteousness reigns in the hearts and lives of its children.
PREPARING FOR HEAVEN
Heaven is better than this world for this world is torn apart by suffering and death. And whilst this was God’s judgment on mankind, due to sin, God chose Abraham and his offspring to bring salvation to this world of sin and sorrow. Jesus, the Christ warned his own people, the offspring of Abraham, ‘I tell you, many will come from east and west and will eat with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the heirs of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ (Matthew 8:11-12) Jesus was under no illusion that the offspring of Abraham were the heirs of the kingdom of heaven but because they resisted God’s Word and God’s call to holiness and truth, they would be cast out of the kingdom. They were heirs of the covenant God gave to Abraham but relied upon the letter of the covenant and not the reciprocal love and obedience to God the covenant required. So I appeal to you, Christian and Jew to seek for righteousness and faith, not in doctrines or traditions that separate you from each other but to turn to God and his Son, Jesus in whom we have the forgiveness of sins and the gift of eternal life.