By Amy Storms
Literature was my favorite subject in school. Reading hardly felt like homework. I loved reading novels and discussing the literary concepts behind the stories. Most often, though, my teacher pointed out insights that had never crossed my mind.
“Notice the symbolism here?” she’d ask. I hadn’t.
“This foreshadowing is quite obvious,” she’d say; but it wasn’t obvious to me.
I could follow the basic plot, it seemed, but still miss the real point.
Perhaps missing literary elements in a novel isn’t that critical. But when it comes to biblical literature—to the story of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection foretold and fulfilled in Scripture—I can’t afford to miss the point. And what better books to read this Christmas season than Jesus’ Gospel biographies and his foreshadowing through the prophet Isaiah?
I love to look at prophecy about the Christ in the Old Testament and then find its fulfillment in the New. As Peter Stoner noted in his book Science Speaks (Moody, 1963), the science of probability says that Jesus’ fulfillment of prophecy is more than just coincidence. The chance of one man fulfilling just eight Old Testament prophecies, Stoner said, is one in 1017 (that’s the number one followed by 17 zeros)—and of course, Jesus fulfilled hundreds. Talk about obvious foreshadowing! That’s hard to miss, even for me. “Christ is coming,” said Isaiah, and through his life, death, and resurrection, Jesus proved, “I am he.”
Compare Isaiah’s description of Christ’s life to Luke’s account: “He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground,” Isaiah foretold. “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him” (Isaiah 53:2). Similarly, Luke explained, “Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man” (Luke 2:52). In other words, when Jesus lived on earth—when God put on flesh and walked among his people—he grew up like every other boy. Not especially attractive, but admirable. Not flashy, but faithful. Christ lived in humble obedience and those who follow him must do the same.
I heard someone ask a well-known minister, “What concerns you the most about young church leaders today?”
He answered without hesitation, “Everybody wants to be a rock star.” The look-at-me, rock star mentality could not be further from Christ’s. “Not so with you,” he said, and he lived for others, not for himself.
Oh, to live a life of humility and faithfulness! Lord, let my life reflect yours. Let me live not to be served, but to serve.
Christ’s death, too, was prophesied by Isaiah and fulfilled in the Gospels—more foreshadowing I can’t afford to miss. John tells us that soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear and that Jesus showed his scars to Thomas—both of which Isaiah had foretold hundreds of years earlier: “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5).
Isaiah continued, “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6).
“The Christ will be pierced,” Isaiah predicted, “but he will be pierced for us. He’ll take on our sin for us, he’ll be punished in our place, and his wounds will heal us.”
Christmas is not just about the manger—God with us. It’s about the cross—God for us. We celebrate that he came to live among us, but more importantly, that he came to die for us.
It reminds me of something I read about Rembrandt’s painting, The Raising of the Cross (1633), the first of his five-piece series on Christ’s passion. In the depiction of Christ’s crucifixion, most of the crowd is painted in dark colors, but Jesus and another man shine brightly. The man, art critics say, is Rembrandt himself. Rembrandt painted himself in the scene—and in his follow-up work, The Descent from the Cross (1633)—to acknowledge that his own sins nailed Jesus to the cross.
Rembrandt knew what Isaiah foretold and Christ fulfilled: the Suffering Servant took our punishment. What better place for a self-portrait than at the foot of the cross? May I never forget. May I live every day in gratitude for that day, and may Christ’s substitutionary death for me permeate and transform my whole life for him.
The story—in both Isaiah and the Gospels—doesn’t end there. Consider a third (and most important) element predicted by Isaiah and fulfilled in the Gospels: Christ’s resurrection.
“On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus” (Luke 24:1-3). The Gospel writers go on to recount details of that miraculous resurrection morning, which an inspired Isaiah had foretold hundreds of years before:
It was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the Lord makes his life an offering for sin, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand. After he has suffered, he will see the light of life and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities. Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors (Isaiah 53:10-12).
“After he has suffered . . . he will be satisfied.” Satisfied! Paid in full. And not just enough, but prosperous! “The will of the Lord will prosper in his hand.” In the Old Testament and New—in his life, death, and resurrection—Christ reigns victorious!
Victorious over sin—Jesus lived a sinless life. Victorious over death—he rose again to “see the light of life,” as Isaiah predicted. Later John made this comparison: “In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind” (John 1:4). The story of Christmas is that Jesus is the light of life. He lived a humble life and died a painful and humiliating death in our place. He was raised to see the light of life in order that he could be the life—the light of all mankind.
“The light shines in the darkness,” John continued, “but the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5). Which brings me back to literature class again, and those literary elements I didn’t understand. “Notice the symbolism,” my teacher would say. “Don’t miss the foreshadowing.” The Christ is too important to miss! We simply can’t afford to remain in darkness and misunderstand the truth.
May we be diligent students of “literature.” May we study God’s living and active, infallible Word in order to know him. May we examine him in Old Testament prophecy and in New Testament biography, and may we rejoice that in his life, death, and resurrection we can know Jesus Christ, the light of life.
Amy Storms is a freelance writer in Joplin, Missouri.
Sharing Christ’s Story
When’s the last time you told someone the story of Christ? Think through the main events and ideas of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection—you might even want to jot a few notes. Pay special attention to the parts of the story that move you the most, even if they don’t seem like the most important parts. Run through the story a few times in your mind, on paper, or talking in the mirror. Now share the story with your family and friends.