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JESUS ON EVERY PAGE
10 SIMPLE WAYS to SEEK and FIND CHRIST in the OLD TESTAMENT
By DAVID MURRAY
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2013 David Philip Murray
All rights reserved.
WHERE DID THE OLD TESTAMENT GO?
You'll find our text this morning in the Old Testament ..."
I know this is a rare announcement today, but when you heard it last, what did you think?
Oh no! Not another historical lecture.
We're going to get a whipping with the law today.
Why? I came to church to hear about Jesus.
What do Israel and Babylon have to do with my family struggles?
Or maybe you didn't just think it. You said it or e-mailed it to the pastor afterward. And pastors are feeling the pressure. Some surveys put the ratio of Old Testament to New Testament sermons at 1 to 10. Some would like it nearer 0 to 10.
But might this imbalance in the spiritual diet of most Christians explain many of the spiritual problems in the modern church and in modern Christians? Or as theologian Gleason Archer put it: "How can Christian pastors hope to feed their flock on a well-balanced spiritual diet if they completely neglect the 39 books of Holy Scripture on which Jesus and all the New Testament authors received their own spiritual nourishment?"
Change of Diet
It wasn't always like this. The church used to have a much more balanced diet. So how did we get here? Consider these reasons:
Liberalism. The sustained attack on the Old Testament by liberal scholars has shaken many Christians' confidence in this part of the Bible.
Ignorance. It is almost impossible to understand large parts of the Old Testament without knowledge of the historical context and geographical setting. This knowledge was once widespread, but many Christians now know little or nothing of biblical history.
Irrelevance. Some look at the historical and geographical details of the Old Testament and wonder, what possible relevance can events and places from thousands of years ago have for me? And anyway, the New Testament teaches that many Old Testament practices have stopped. So, why study them?
Dispensationalism. Although unintended, the dispensational division of Scripture into different eras tends to relegate the Old Testament to a minor role in the life of the church and of the individual Christian.
Bad examples. Bad examples of Old Testament preaching and teaching are easy to find and even easier to ridicule. The malpractice of some, however, should not lead to the nonpractice of others.
Laziness. Studying the Old Testament is often more intellectually demanding than studying the New Testament. The familiar paths of the Gospels seem much more inviting than Leviticus, 2 Chronicles, or Nahum.
Christ-less preaching. Perhaps the greatest reason for so little interest in the Old Testament is that there has been so much Christ-less teaching from the Old Testament. At a popular level, Old Testament preaching has often degenerated into mere moralism, for example, "ten lessons from the life of Moses." At an academic level, there seems to be a determination to downplay and even remove any possibility of Christ-centeredness in the Old Testament. Little surprise that many turn away from the Old Testament and toward the New in order to find and enjoy Jesus.
Official, not personal. Although in recent years some preachers and teachers have worked harder at showing the Son of God's presence and work in the Old Testament, their efforts have often failed to satisfy because of the technically correct decision to use the official title Christ rather than the personal name Jesus in their Old Testament sermons and writings.
Jesus means "God saves," and it is the personal name given to the Son of God when He was born in Bethlehem two thousand years ago.
Christ means "anointed" or "sent and equipped by God," and it is the English translation of the Hebrew word Messiah. It's less personal—more of an official title or role like president—and is usually used when speaking of the Son of God prior to His earthly life.
One of my passions is to help Christians know Jesus more personally and intimately, so I decided to use Jesus as much as possible in this book. It not only brings Him closer to us than the official title; it reminds us that the Christ of the Old Testament is the same person as the Jesus of the New Testament.
When I use Jesus to speak of the Son of God's work in the Old Testament, I'm not saying that the man who was later born as Jesus was doing the work. I'm saying that the same person who was born as Jesus two thousand years ago was also at work in the Old Testament before then.
How Do We Get the Old Testament Back?
These are powerful and discouraging trends. How can we fight and even reverse them? We must combat liberal theology by treating the Old Testament as the inspired Word of God. We must patiently study biblical history and geography and learn how to profitably connect the past to the present. We must avoid the weaknesses of dispensationalism. We must identify and avoid bad practices, as well as search for, value, and learn from good preaching and teaching models. And we must be willing to put in the hours, the sweat, the toil, and the tears as we break up the long-untilled ground of the Old Testament. Above all, despite the prevalence of Christ-less moralism and the pressures of Christless academia, we must strive to find and enjoy Jesus in the Old Testament. That alone makes Old Testament study profitable and enjoyable. We can also minimize the disconnect caused by the overuse of Christ and bring Jesus nearer by using His personal name more than His official title.
It looks like a long and hard way back. Is it worth the effort? I believe it is. A few years ago I started to walk this difficult path; I learned a lot of valuable lessons along the way, and I'd like to share them with you. Let me begin by telling you about my own road to Emmaus.
WHAT'S THE OLD TESTAMENT ALL ABOUT?
I spent the first ten years of my life in the Baptist church, where both of my parents were converted to Jesus. In my early teens, my father moved our family to the Presbyterian church. But a question puzzled me in both churches: What's the Old Testament all about? As far as I can remember, apart from Bible stories in Sunday school, we rarely opened the Old Testament in the Baptist church. And although we did open it from time to time in the Presbyterian church, I would probably have been less confused if we had left it shut.
I couldn't figure it out. We heard Old Testament stories in Sunday school but hardly ever in sermons. Or if we did, it seemed more like a history lesson about distant, dusty places and people rather than anything relevant and useful for my life. What was the Old Testament all about? I knew the New Testament was about Jesus, but the Old Testament? Israel? The Law? Lots of blood and guts—animal and human?
Embarrassment and Apologies
Sometimes a preacher would make a fairly miraculous connection between the Old Testament and Jesus, but that seemed more like intellectual gymnastics or some spooky numbers gig. Admittedly I was not converted and had little interest in the gospel, but my fundamental impression was that the Old Testament was a bit of an embarrassment to everyone and that usually we referred to it only to apologize for it or contrast it with the New Testament.
When the Lord graciously saved me in my early twenties, I started reading the Bible as I'd never done before. But even then, most of my reading was in the New Testament. Any Old Testament study was centered on my interest in the creation-versus-evolution debate in Genesis 1–2.
When I was converted, my mother shared her group Bible study on Joshua with me, just to help me start reading my Bible. It was interesting but not very enlightening. Was I to get an army together and start driving out the heathen in Glasgow? Joshua did have the Hebrew name for Jesus, but that didn't get me very far either.
Eventually I got into the Gospels, and Jesus soon became very real and precious to me. My study really just confirmed to me the seeming uselessness of the Old Testament.
And yet something still niggled away at me. Why would God have given us the majority of the Bible in the Old Testament?
I was repeatedly drawn to the book of Proverbs and kept reading there about "the fear of the Lord" being the beginning of wisdom. I was on a mission trip in Hungary at the time, and I asked the group I was traveling with if we should fear the Lord. The whole minibus jumped down my throat. "Of course not. That's Old Testament religion!" they exclaimed.
I sheepishly closed those dated and irrelevant Proverbs and returned to the safe ground of John's gospel. And that's where I stayed for a few years, with a few Epistles thrown in as well.
But the niggle still niggled, especially when I started listening to my future father-in-law, Angus Smith, preaching powerful Christ-centered sermons from the Old Testament. I couldn't quite figure out the why or the how, but it seemed much more plausible and reasonable than anything I'd heard before. In fact, it sounded like the same gospel as the New Testament.
When I felt called to the ministry, I entered a Presbyterian seminary and looked forward to finding the golden keys to Old Testament interpretation. I was sorely disappointed: lots of Hebrew and lots of technical work with the text but not one key. The Old Testament still seemed to represent a very different religion from the Christ-centered one I'd come to love through reading the New Testament. After a particularly tedious lecture on the sacrificial ritual, I did venture to ask how to preach a "Christian sermon" from such texts only to be told, "That's for you to figure out."
I was still trying to preach Old Testament sermons from time to time, but they were more of the gymnastic, "spooky numbers" variety than my father-in-law's approach. Mostly I avoided them, not wanting to pass on my confusion to others.
Then my denomination asked me to become our professor of Hebrew and Old Testament.
The Short Straw
yes, you read that right. I was in a small Scottish Presbyterian denomination, and we wanted to start our own seminary to train our students for the ministry. But our church couldn't find anyone to teach Hebrew and Old Testament, especially the Hebrew part. Because I was one of the most recent graduates from seminary and therefore could at least recognize the Hebrew alphabet, I was pressured into accepting this part-time post. I still remember a godly elderly pastor cornering me and saying, "David, if you don't do it, we can't have a seminary."
I returned home from these church meetings with a mixture of disbelief, anger, fear, and confusion. I'd just been appointed to teach our students Hebrew and Old Testament, and yet I hardly knew anything about either. I remember saying to some of the other newly appointed lecturers, "Well, I got the short straw, didn't I?" They nodded ... and laughed.
Looking back, I now see that though it was a highly unconventional path to training pastors, it was the Lord's way of forcing me into studying the Old Testament as I had never done before and never would have without this motivation.
First Steps on the Emmaus Road
I started contacting seminaries throughout the world to ask them for any Old Testament courses they could send me. Multiple large boxes of books started arriving from Amazon as I clicked "Buy" on anything that looked remotely helpful. Eighteen-hour days became the norm for years as I tried to balance a busy pastorate with this new "burden."
Lo and behold, the subject I dreaded, I started to enjoy. Yes, many of the books and courses were similar to some of the confused teaching I'd already been exposed to, but here and there I discovered some long-sought-after keys that began opening up the Old Testament and persuasively showing me Jesus in a way I'd never seen Him before.
I found the first gospel key on the Emmaus road.
For years, I'd been asking myself and anyone who would listen, "What's the Old Testament all about?" The Author, the divine Author behind the human authors, had already given the answer to similarly confused disciples about two thousand years ago. Jesus told them the Old Testament was all about Him.
Having patiently listened to His still-mourning disciples tell of their disappointed messianic hopes, the freshly resurrected Jesus intervened with a rebuke of their foolish ignorance and unbelief: "O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Ought not the Christ to have suffered these things and to enter into His glory?"
Jesus told them that their account of His life and death matched exactly the predictions of the Old Testament prophets. They had believed some of the prophets' writings—the parts that spoke of the Messiah's glory. But they had not believed all that the prophets had spoken—especially the parts that spoke of the Messiah's sufferings and death.
Having rebuked their foolish ignorance, Jesus then gave the disciples a full interpretation of the Old Testament Scriptures in the light of recent events. That insight was a critical turning point for me. I had heard academics say again and again: "We must not use the New Testament to interpret the Old Testament." I know of one Old Testament professor who banned the use of the New Testament in his classroom. Talk about trying to study in the dark.
The Gospel Interprets the Old Testament
And yet here, Jesus Himself used New Testament light to interpret the Old Testament scriptures. He used the light of New Testament events to preach from the Old Testament. Old Testament scholar Graeme Goldsworthy wrote: "We do not start at Genesis 1 and work our way forward until we discover where it is all leading. Rather we first come to Christ, and he directs us to study the Old Testament in the light of the gospel. The gospel will interpret the Old Testament by showing us its goal and meaning."
Jesus titled His Emmaus road sermon "The Things Concerning Himself." He took a big text—Moses, all the Prophets, and all the Scriptures. And it had two main points—His sufferings and His glory. In other words, the whole Old Testament was about Him, specifically His sufferings and His glory.
I went back and started reading the Gospels again and discovered that this note didn't just emerge at the end of Jesus' ministry. Right from the start He presented Himself not as a complete contrast to the Old Testament but as its climax and fulfillment. My daily Bible reading was filled with new excitement as I began to search the Scriptures to see if these things were so or if I'd taken another wrong turn. Soon, another gospel key landed in my lap.
"Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad."
I'd read it many times before, but this time these words of Jesus transformed Abraham from a theistic Jew into a Christian brother. Abraham had more than a general belief in God; he had a joyful, Messiah-centered faith. I wanted to know more. When did Abraham see Jesus' day with joy?
Although Jesus did not answer that question in John 8, He gave us more details years later through the apostle Paul. Reflecting on God's promise to Abraham in Genesis 12, when He called him to leave Ur, Paul wrote, "The Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel to Abraham beforehand, saying, 'In you all the nations shall be blessed.'" That call and promise are often portrayed as coming out of the blue. But remember, they were building on the already-known promise of a Redeemer who would bless the world by defeating Satan. Abraham was being told, "The world-blessing Redeemer will come from your family." That's why Paul could say that God "preached the gospel to Abraham."
Genesis 12:1–3 was not the whole gospel, but on top of Genesis 3:15, it was enough of the gospel to enable Abraham to obey God's call by faith and to see Christ's day by faith and be glad. And when that happy day finally came, both Mary and Zacharias rejoiced in it as the fulfillment of the promises given to Abraham.
Paul repeatedly presented Abraham as the prototype and example of saving faith, which is not exactly motivational if he and we believe different gospels. But we don't. We all believe the same gospel. The vocabulary was different, the clarity was different (Abraham believed in the shadows; we, in the sunlight), and the direction was different (Abraham looked forward to Jesus, whereas we look back), but the core, the essence, the focus was the same. His faith wrapped itself around the promised Satan-crushing, world-blessing, life-giving Seed of the woman, just as ours does. And the result is also the same—"he believed in the Lord, and He accounted it to him for righteousness."
Excerpted from JESUS ON EVERY PAGE by DAVID MURRAY. Copyright © 2013 David Philip Murray. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
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