Preaching Christ: the Hope of Redemption

It can be easy to become atomistic in the way we handle the Bible. By this I mean that we can unwittingly break its message down into its component parts in a way that fails to appreciate its organic unity. Even though, as the Westminster Confession of Faith indicates, it does indeed have many ‘parts’, there is ‘consent’ [agreement] between them all (WCF 1.5). Since this is so, we need always to bear in mind where this consent and convergence of all the parts is found. It does so ultimately in Christ.

We see this most clearly in light of God’s promise concerning ‘the seed of the woman’ and redemption (Ge 3.15). The English philosopher, A.N. Whitehead made the comment, ‘It is as though the entire Bible is a footnote to this verse’.

We see its force almost immediately in the Genesis record in terms of how it clearly gripped Adam and Eve. The naming of their three sons, Cain, Abel and Seth, seem to point to hopes raised through the new life God had granted; only to be dashed through the futility of life that seemed to be inescapable. Nevertheless, faith and hope in God’s promise of the conquering seed continued through the line of Seth, via Noah into the believing remnant that God was preserving for himself in the patriarchal era.

The theme of the promised ‘seed’ is never far from the surface in those early chapters of Genesis – both in the corruption of original sin and in the hope of the deliverance God had promised. But it comes into sharp focus in God’s dealings with Abraham. When he called Abram out of Ur of the Chaldeans, God said to him,

I will make you into a great nation

and I will bless you;

       I will make your name great,

and you will be a blessing.

                     I will bless those who bless you,

and whoever curses you I will curse;

       and all peoples on earth

will be blessed through you.” (Ge 12.2-3)

This was God’s clearest statement yet in identifying the one through whom the promise of the seed of the woman would ultimately be fulfilled – he would be a descendant of Abraham. But, of course, there was a major problem with this in the eyes of the patriarch. His wife, Sarai, was barren and he himself was getting older. So much so that, even when God reminded Abram of his promise, Abram questioned its credibility since he was still childless (Ge 15.1-2). And, when God explicitly announced to him that the promise was still very much in place, Abram ‘laughed’ (Ge 17.15-22). So too when God appeared in person to Abraham and Sarah together and told them exactly when the child would be born, Sarah also laughed (Ge 18.10-12). Yet the sheer impossibility of all this to human eyes only served to highlight the greatness of what God would ultimately provide in order to make good on his great promise of redemption. The salvation the human race so much needed would not be provided from within its own natural resources; it would manifestly be a salvation that ‘belongs to the LORD’ (Jon 2.11) – a deliverance that he himself would provide and he would do so by means of a unique individual who would one day be ‘born of a woman’ and come through the line of the great patriarch.

Paul picks up this theme from Genesis in his letter to the Galatians – a letter written to churches that had taken their eye off Christ. The apostle draws their attention to the Abrahamic promise and reminds them, ‘The promises were spoken to Abraham and his seed. The Scripture does not say “and to seeds”, meaning many people, but “and to your seed” meaning one person, who is Christ’ (Ga 2.16).

The apostle takes this further several chapters later when he says in the first place, ‘So then, the law was our guardian [paidagogos] until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith’ (Ga 3.24). The entire Old Testament epoch was provisional and anticipatory and would ultimately be superseded by a new and better epoch when the Christ finally appeared. In so doing he drags the Galatians out of their childish fixation with the Old Testament and turns their eyes towards its fulfilment.

He then tells them explicitly how and where this came about through the birth of Jesus: ‘But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons’ (Ga 4.4-5). He was the incarnation of everything God required to fully provide everything he had promised in Eden after the fall.

In other words, this thread of promise concerning the hope of redemption that begins at the very beginning of the Bible leads ultimately and unmistakably to Christ as its fulfilment. As Peter declared to the Sanhedrin when he and John were arrested and brought before the Sanhedrin for preaching Christ to the crowds in Jerusalem, ‘Salvation is found in no-one else, for there is no other name under heaven, given to men by which we must be saved’ (Ac 4.12). Christ is the hope of redemption. So, if we are to proclaim this hope with confidence, we must preach Christ, who is our salvation, as we trace that thread through both Testaments. The salvation we need cannot be divorced from the Saviour in whom alone it is found.

Mark Johnston