It would have been jolly frustrating if Jesus had not been born, because so many of the rituals, sacrifices, ceremonies, stories, songs, prophecies and promises in the Old Testament would have been left hanging without some sort of answers to explain them.
If you’d been an Israelite, for instance, and told in Leviticus 6:8-13 to bring one of your best bulls, sheep or goats to the entrance of the tabernacle where the animal is killed, its blood drained and sprinkled around the altar, its skin stripped off and its intestines and legs washed, and the meat cut in pieces and burned at the altar all night, with the priest getting the animal’s skin as his fee for the job, what would you have made of it? What relevance would it have had to anything in your daily life? Clearly it was all very important, but why?
The only real hint that it all had a purpose was in Moses’ comment in Deuteronomy 18:15, that “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own brothers.” And that stuck with the Israelites – all through their history too – as we see in John 1:21, when John the Baptist was asked if he was “the Prophet.” And when Jesus fed 5,000 from just a few loaves of bread and fish, the response in John 6:14 was, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world,” and again in John 7:40, after hearing Jesus speak, the response was, “Surely this man is the Prophet.”
So the Israelites always carried with them this promise of someone special coming, kept alive through the centuries by Samuel, David, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel and even the fake prophet, Balaam, in Numbers 24:17. But then the Old Testament ends, and no sign or clue as yet as to who this Prophet is. But it never stopped Israelite or Jew looking and longing for him to come.
And it’s the longing that becomes so real, as we see when Jesus starts his ministry and thousands of people leave work and home and head out to hear him speak – without even thinking of bringing food with them too.
So what were they longing for that life up to that point had not supplied? And what was Jesus saying that for many of those listening met that longing?
Well, it started with John the Baptist because he was sent to prepare people for Jesus and what Jesus was coming for. And people in their thousands turned out to hear him speak too. And what was John’s main topic? Luke 3:3, “He (John) went Into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”
And that’s what drew people out in their thousands to hear John and be baptized by him. There was something about “forgiveness” that touched a nerve, and the chance to have one’s past buried in a symbolic baptism and to start afresh with a clean slate.
It also prepared people’s minds for what Jesus had come for, because when John spied Jesus coming toward him he cried out, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world,” John 1:29. Which led to Philip announcing in verse 45, “We have found the one Moses wrote about.”
Philip was the first to see the connection between “the Prophet” and Jesus, and what the Prophet had come for as well, to forgive and take away sins. And that now made sense of all those sacrifices and offerings in the Old Testament too; they all tied in with how sin would be forgiven and dealt with.
But it also tells us what these Jews and Israelites were longing for; it was having the guilt stored up in their heads from the mess they’d made of their relationship with God and with people removed and buried forever. Thanks to “the Prophet” it could all now be forgiven and forgotten. No more being eaten up by past guilt.
And that does something to you, doesn’t it? It’s like a new beginning or a new chapter in your life opening up, and who knows where it will now lead us? But God set it up this way from the very beginning when Adam and Eve were tempted into sin and immediately felt the dreadful power of guilt. And if Jesus had not been born that guilt would have remained and eaten us all up too.