The sleepy village witnessed little of note for centuries—until the invasion. In the early morning hours, the church bell roused the inhabitants to fight a fire near the village square. Above the sleepy villagers’ bucket brigade, scores of pale, round flowers blossomed in the heavens and soundlessly drifted to earth. It was June 6, 1944, and American paratroopers of the 82nd Airborne Division had jumped into St. Mere Eglise. Later, General Eisenhower announced over the radio that the Allied forces had begun fulfilling their promise to liberate Europe from the Nazis.
Another sleepy village, far removed in time and space from St. Mere Eglise, had witnessed little of note for centuries—until an invasion occurred there. On that historic night, no alarm bells disturbed the village, crowded with temporary visitors and occupying troops. But above the surrounding hills, a bright cloud appeared in the heavens. Foreign dignitaries in the capital miles away noted this celestial beacon. And then a messenger announced its purpose to stunned shepherds, almost the only ones awake at that hour. “ ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.’ ”1 God’s invasion of this sin-occupied planet had begun in earnest; He had begun fulfilling His promise of liberating earth from sin.
Messianic foreshadowing: generic or specific?
Looking back, New Testament authors saw many scriptures that predicted or foreshadowed the coming of Jesus. The predictions are easy to understand. For example, Micah specifically predicts that a mighty ruler will be born in Bethlehem.2 That’s clear enough. But, if you’re like me, you’ve wondered about some of the so-called “foreshadowings”—passages or even events that supposedly “point forward” to the coming of Christ. But were these Old Testament prophecies and foreshadowings pointing forward specifically to Jesus of Nazareth, or just some generic, hoped-for deliverer?
Take the passage in which Matthew quotes from Isaiah 7 about a virgin giving birth to a son: “ ‘The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel.’ ”3 But the birth of that Child was recorded in chapter 8. How could it also be a prophecy of Jesus, to be born centuries later? Or what about the time Matthew cites the prophet Hosea: “ ‘Out of Egypt I called my son.’ ”4 In that passage, God told Hosea He loved Israel enough to deliver them from Egyptian slavery. How can that be a prediction about the life of Jesus, to come many years in the future?
Let’s look at it this way. In World War II, the Axis nations occupied Europe and North Africa, and the civilian population lacked the power to free themselves. So, military necessity dictated that the Allies had to invade these lands from the sea.
Now suppose someone living in St. Mere Eglise in 1942 had written, “My hopes are in the Allied invasion that will liberate Europe.” Would he have been referring specifically to Operation Overlord, the Normandy invasion? Not really. Overlord had not been planned or named in 1942. And yet this same villager might have looked up at the American paratroopers as they glided to earth and truthfully declared, “This is what I’ve been waiting for!” And looking back, he could easily have seen that the Allied invasions of North Africa and Italy had foreshadowed the Normandy invasion that ended Nazi domination of Europe.
When Satan and sin occupied this planet, God faced a similar problem. Those living under the domination of sin lacked the power to free themselves. Spiritual necessity dictated that only an invasion of divine power could defeat sin and destroy Satan. Immediately after Adam and Eve sinned, God declared war on Satan and sin. He said to the serpent, “You and this woman will hate each other; your descendants and hers will always be enemies. One of hers will strike you on the head, and you will strike him on the heel.”5 One of Eve’s descendants would strike a mortal blow against Satan and sin.
All God’s dealings pointed to Christ
But that didn’t mean that Adam and Eve’s sin caught God by surprise. God didn’t dispatch His only Son to earth as a last resort, when all else failed. No, Jesus, “the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world,”6 was God’s first and only plan to remedy the sin problem. So both by design and necessity, all of God’s dealings with His people were always leading up, “pointing forward,” to Christ.
The Lamb. Of all Old Testament symbols, the sacrificial lamb most clearly pointed forward to Christ. When Adam and Eve sinned, they did not die, because animals died in their stead. God clothed them in animal skins to cover their shame. This foreshadowed the sacrificial death of Jesus, which covers our sin. The blood of the lamb on the doorposts of the Israelites caused the Angel of Death to “pass over” during the terrible tenth plague on Egypt.7 And when Isaac on Mt. Moriah asked Abraham, “Where is the lamb?” the ultimate answer came from John the Baptist as he pointed to Jesus: “Look, the Lamb of God.”8
The Anointed One. Because God always planned to send Jesus, every human He used to deliver Israel foreshadowed the Deliverer to come. When God used Moses to deliver Israel from slavery in Egypt—mentioned by Hosea—Moses’ actions foreshadowed God’s deliverance of all who believe in Jesus from slavery to sin. When Isaiah proclaimed, “Comfort my people,”9 the words point to Jesus, the ultimate comfort of God’s people. When the prophet Haggai declared, “ ‘The desired of all nations will come,’ ”10 we recognize that Jesus fulfills the desire of all people, everywhere, to deliver them from sin. And when we hear the words of Job, “I know that my Redeemer lives,”11 we know he, too, hoped for the deliverance only Jesus could give. And that promised birth in Isaiah? Why, it foreshadowed the miraculous birth of the Promised One—Jesus!
But God also warned that these champions would not escape unscathed, the serpent would “strike his heel.” So when King David suffered betrayal by a close friend, it prefigured Jesus’ betrayal by Judas, one of the disciples.12 And Jesus on the cross echoed the psalmist’s anguished cry, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me?”13 because He fully experienced the pain and hope expressed in Psalm 22 centuries before.
Maybe, like me, you’ve had your doubts about some of the Old Testament passages relating to Jesus. What better time than now, with Christmas in the air, and perhaps a few minutes of solitude, to read the old story again?
Select a modern translation that’s easy to read, but one that you don’t know well. Otherwise, the familiar words and phrases will lead your mind down well-worn paths. Read one of the Gospels through in one sitting. Or read the Old Testament stories again. Let Christ become the lens through which all the rest of Scripture comes into focus.
The sounds of battle have faded, and St. Mere Eglise is once more a sleepy village. But in Bethlehem, the clatter of small-arms fire, the shouts of angry youths throwing stones, and the occasional bomb blast crowd out the memory of the Prince of Peace. All the more reason to remember the glorious story of Jesus and once again hear the angels sing.
Ed Dickerson writes from Garrison, Iowa.