Jesus in the Old Testament (Part 1)
This morning we begin a series on a subject that has strengthened my faith and deepened my awe of God for 37 years—the amazing phenomenon that Jesus’ death and resurrection was foretold by the Old Testament scriptures centuries beforehand. Over the next several weeks, we’ll study several key examples of this unfolding prophetic picture. I hope you’ll join us for this entire study, and I hope your life will be transformed by what you learn.
The disciples on the road to Emmaus
Although this series is about Jesus’ death and resurrection as predicted in the Old Testament, we will begin by looking at an event that took place in the New Testament—in Lk.24:13-32. It is the story of how two men were restored from despondency to hope by learning about this topic. This story begins on the Sunday after Jesus was crucified, when two of Jesus’ disciples (not among the 12) were walking from Jerusalem to (probably) their home town of Emmaus.
Read 24:13-24. You can see that these men are despondent. Their sadness was written across their faces (24:17). If we could have seen them, their walks would show it. If we could hear their answer to Jesus, we would hear it in their voices.
Why are they despondent? The key is in 24:21—“We were hoping...” They were hoping that Jesus was the One who would “redeem Israel.” They had heard Jesus authoritative teachings and seen Jesus’ miracles. They had put all their hopes in Jesus setting up his kingdom in Israel. “We were counting on him—but he didn’t come through. He was a prophet, mighty in word and deed—but he couldn’t even handle the chief priests and rulers. We were banking on him—but he got himself killed.” So despondent were they that even the women’s testimony concerning the empty tomb and the angel’s announcement was disqualified (24:21b-24 – “but him they did not see”). They were hoping—but now they’re going back to their home-town with shattered dreams and hopes.
We learn from this that despondency is the result of putting our ultimate hope in something or someone who disappoints us. We are hard-wired to put all our hopes in something or someone, to make someone or something our ultimate hope—to worship. The Bible says that God hard-wired us this way, and that we were created to put our ultimate hope in him. But since humanity turned its back on God, we retain the necessity of ultimate hoping—but now we are aversive to God, so we put our ultimate hope not in the infinite and utterly reliable Creator but in his good but finite and unreliable creation (Rom.1:18ff.). We make good things into ultimate hopes. So we are doomed to have our ultimate hope fail us, and when that happens we are devastated and despondent.
“I was hoping that this romantic relationship would fulfill my longing to be delighted in as someone special.” “I was hoping that getting into that college and getting that degree would make me respectable in the eyes of.” “I was hoping that this career would satisfy my desire for purpose and identity.” “I was hoping that working for this social/political cause would give me significance.” “I was hoping that my children would authenticate me as a good parent by fulfilling my dreams for them.”
What happens when these hopes get dashed and you become despondent? Tragically, most people find another false hope. Our culture has lots of them, and our media makes them appear very appealing and reliable. When that fails, some people decide to hedge their bets by not putting all their hopes in any one person/thing—an emotional insurance policy that protects you from despondency but makes you a little less alive. Others give up living—either by killing themselves, or by medicating themselves with drugs/alcohol or media distraction, or by self-protective cynicism (spiritual suicide because we must hope to be truly alive).
There is another alternative—you can make Jesus your ultimate Hope. In the Old Testament, God is called the Rock, because he is (unlike all idols) utterly solid and dependable. Jesus claimed to the Rock in Matt. 7:24-27 (paraphrase). If we build our lives on anyone or anything but him, we will be disappointed and our lives will be shattered. But if we build our lives upon him, though we will experience “storms,” we will never be shattered or abandoned. On the night that I was despondent because the girl in whom I had put all my hopes left me, Jesus came to me and told me that if I put my hope in him I would be secure. Maybe he’s telling you the same thing today. Maybe he is speaking to you in the midst of your despondency and challenging you to make him your ultimate Hope.
But here’s the twist: Even followers of Jesus become despondent. These two men are proof of this, and every person in this room who has followed Jesus for any length of time can identify with these men. How do we explain this? How can Jesus be who he claimed to be—the only valid ultimate Hope—and yet his followers still suffer despondency? The answer is that you can agree in your head that Jesus is your ultimate Hope, and yet re-make the real Jesus into the facilitator of your actual ultimate hope (Jesus as Genie & Christian religion as “rubbing the lantern”).
Look closely at 24:21. What was their actual ultimate hope? Was it Jesus? No, it was that Jesus would “redeem Israel.” In other words, their real hope was that Rome’s rule over Israel would be broken, and (we know this from other passages) that they would enjoy the perks of being on the winning side at this time. That was their actual ultimate hope (as it was for virtually every devout 1st-century Jew), and they saw Jesus as the facilitator of that hope. They read the Old Testament scriptures about the Messiah through this grid—focusing on the passages that confirmed this hope and ignoring the passages that said something else. They heard Jesus’ words in the same way—seizing on his claims to be Messiah to confirm this hope, and ignoring the rest of what he said about his mission. So when Jesus died, they were despondent—not because he failed them (as we’ll see), but because he didn’t facilitate their actual ultimate hope.
But these two men are not unique! Many people who claim to believe in Jesus as their ultimate Hope in reality relate to him as the facilitator of their actual ultimate hopes. And what happened to these two men happens to them—when their actual ultimate hope doesn’t happen, and they become despondent and their faith in Jesus is shaken or broken altogether.
This is one reason why cults are so appealing to people. They offer a supposedly biblical Jesus who will be your Genie and facilitate your real hope (2Tim.4:3,4; financial prosperity; physical health; etc.). They always use the Scriptures to back up their Genie-Jesus, but they always ignore what the rest of the Scriptures say about the real Jesus. And this is why people who have been burned by cults are the hardest ones to lead to Jesus. They believe that they trusted the real Jesus and he let them down.
But we don’t need to get caught up in a cult to wind up like these men. They lived with the real Jesus for three years—and still turned him into a facilitator of their actual ultimate hope. And we can do this, too. No matter how orthodox you are, no matter how much you believe in the inspiration of the Scriptures and read them, you will find that deep within your heart you still have actual ultimate hopes other than Jesus. And you will find an incredibly deep (though very subtle) inclination to relate to Jesus as the facilitator of your actual ultimate hopes. I don’t know of anything that exposes my depravity more painfully than this. We usually do this in one of two ways:
Some of us keep the same ultimate hopes we had before we met Jesus—and expect him to provide them for us. “I was hoping that you would provide me with a spouse by age 30.” “I was hoping that you would guarantee me success in school or at work so I can feel significant.” “I was hoping that you would make my children make good decisions so I could avoid pain and feel like a successful parent.” “I was hoping that you would exempt me from all painful adversity so I could feel comfortable and secure.”
Some of us change our actual ultimate hopes into “spiritual” ultimate hopes—and expect Jesus to provide them for us. “I was hoping you would give me this role in church by now so I could be someone.” “I was hoping you would make other people respond positively to my spiritual influence so I could feel competent.” “I was hoping you would make me more successful than others in my ministry so I could feel significant.” I wish I could say that I had culled these hopes from counseling other Christian workers—but they each come from my own heart. And on and on it goes. How do you know when you’ve turned a legitimate spiritual desire into an ultimate hope? When you become despondent when you don’t get it.
So what if you are a despondent Christian? The first thing to understand is that despondency is an opportunity. When our false hopes seem to be working, we are not teachable. But when our false hopes have been dashed, even though this is incredibly painful, we often become humbly teachable and open to deep instruction from Jesus and the recovery of real hope. Let’s see how Jesus restored these two men.
First, notice that Jesus took the initiative (24:15 - “he approached them”) to come to us in the midst of their despondency. They weren’t on their way to a seminar on repentance—they were on their way home as despondent drop-outs. But Jesus came to where they were, joining them as they walked away, to offer them real hope.
And that’s what he does with each one of us. The real Jesus is far more accessible to you when you are despondent than when your false hopes seem to be working. He is walking right next to you, even though you may not recognize him when you feel despondent.
Read 24:25-32. By asking them questions, Jesus exposed their false ultimate hopes (24:21). Then he gently reproved them for ignoring the Scriptures that didn’t fit into their false ultimate hope (24:25). “Foolish” doesn’t mean “silly” or “ignorant”—it means “rebellious” or “deliberately ignoring.”
This is a painful but necessary step—we have to let Jesus show us how we did this, and we have agree that we foolishly adopted a false ultimate hope and expected him to facilitate it for us. He doesn’t insist on this because he is mean and vindictive—he insists on it because it is true, and so that this ruinous inclination can be broken more deeply.
Next, he explained these Old Testament scriptures to them and showed them how his death was both predicted and necessary for his Messianic mission. They weren’t wrong in believing that Jesus was the Messiah; they were wrong in their expectation that he would usher in God’s kingdom on their time-table. Unless he cam first to die for their sins, they could never be admitted into his kingdom. Jesus’ death didn’t prove God’s unfaithfulness or lack of love for them; it proved his utter faithfulness and amazing love for them. And as soon as they began to grasp this (even before Jesus revealed himself to them), hope was re-ignited in their hearts (24:32) like a match on dry tinder.
This is the always the crucial lesson we need to learn (and re-learn). At the root of our despondency is always doubt that God is really wise and in control and loves us because he didn’t facilitate our ultimate hopes. What does Jesus show us to convince us that he is in control and loves us? He always shows us from the scriptures something about the Cross. The Cross proves that God’s wisdom is perfect, because he predicted it centuries in advance. The Cross proves that God is control because he fulfilled his plan even through the evil choices of his enemies, and because he raised Jesus from the dead. And above all, the Cross proves that Jesus loves us because he voluntarily endured this social humiliation and physical agony and the wrath of his Father’s judgment for us—even though we are doubting idolaters! If he did this for us, we can entrust our lives and our hopes to him (Rom.8:32). And the moment we receive Jesus’ explanation of the Cross, hope is re-ignited in our hearts.
One of the best ways to lay hold of this hope (whether a seeker or a Christian) is to do what these men did—allow Jesus to teach you how the Old Testament foretold his death and resurrection. There is amazing power in these prophetic pictures to convince you that Jesus really is the Messiah, that God really does love you because he planned to die for you, that his Scriptures really can be trusted, that Jesus’ death and resurrection really is the key to your life, etc. Let Jesus teach you these passages, and experience the hope he wants to give you!