Where’s Waldo and Merry Christmas

So how do we find the gospel message in the Old Testament?  How do we find Christ in the Old Testament?  Let’s start with a distinct advantage we have for finding Christ that the Pharisees, the first century Jews, or even today’s lost person does not have when they read the Old Testament.  We know what Christ looks like!

This is so important to finding Christ in the Old Testament.  Because we have embraced the message of Christ; because we have “received” Christ; because we have Christ living in us, we personally know the Christ we are looking for in the Old Testament.  Jesus could explain Christ in the Old Testament to the men on the road to Emmaus because He knew – better than anyone! – what Christ looks like.  After all, He is the Christ!

Paul could say in Romans chapter one with confidence that the gospel of the Son of God appeared in the Old Testament because he personally knew Christ.  In Paul’s journeys to establish the New Testament churches, he constantly preached Christ from the Old Testament.  Paul knew what to look for because he knew Jesus.  And we know Christ too.  We know His character, His attributes, and His salvation.

An illustration I heard from John MacArthur has been helpful here.  Do you remember the Where’s Waldo books?  I am guessing they were either a part of your childhood or something you explored with your kids.  We could eventually find Waldo in that crowd of 10,000 medieval knights, or 10,000 Egyptian mummies, or 10,000 Italians dining al fresco because we knew exactly what Waldo looked like!

Imagine opening the Where’s Waldo book to a middle page without ever seeing a picture of Waldo; without having any idea of what Waldo looked like.  In fact, we may not even know Waldo was a person.  We might have thought he was an elephant or who knows what.  Without an idea of what Waldo looked like, we would have never found him.  The only way the book made sense or was any fun (if that is your idea of fun) is because we knew exactly what Waldo looked like.  We knew the attributes of who we were looking for.

So when we read the Old Testament, we can ask ourselves some questions to help us see Jesus and the gospel message.

  • What is God doing for His people in this story?
  • What aspect of the old covenant arrangement do we see in this passage?
  • What problem or tension remains that the people in this passage cannot solve on their own?
  • How does this passage point toward the cross and our need for Christ?
  • How is the problem/tension solved or fulfilled in Jesus?
  • What is the hope that we have because of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus?

When we return from our Christmas break, we will explore some Old Testament stories and ask ourselves these questions.  I hope it will bring the Old Testament to life for you.

By the way, did I just write “Christmas”?  Yes it is that hap-hap-happiest time of the year.  Or at least that is what I hear on the street.  We know that God has created families in many different ways and with many different experiences.  And the feelings this time of year can be all over the map.

Given the variety of our Christmas’ past and present, can I leave you with this message of encouragement.  May you experience Emmanuel this Christmas.  May you experience “God with us” this Christmas.  And with whatever you are facing this Christmas and in the year ahead, may the grace and love of God reach to the very depths of your heart and bring you peace and joy.  Love, Jay and Rhonda.

The Gospel in the Old Testament

We learned last time that the old covenant, the old arrangement, has ended.  Remember, the word arrangement is a great help in understanding what “ended”.  At the cross, the old arrangement ended.  At the cross, the requirements of the old covenant ended.  At the cross, the condemnation of the old covenant ended.  But even with all this ending, there is great value in reading, studying, and dwelling upon the Old Testament.  And it starts with the gospel message found in the Old Testament.

Did I say, “gospel message?”  Yes, the gospel message is first found in the Old Testament.  It is a message that points to our need for Christ, points to the coming Christ, and points to the work of the coming Christ.  These themes are found all over the Old Testament.  And many of these pointers are familiar.

Prophecy concerning Jesus’ birth are especially on our radar this time of year.  But there are also prophecies about His identity, His death, and His suffering that all point to Jesus of Nazareth as the Christ.  Also, passages such as Isaiah 53 and elsewhere point to Jesus as the source of our salvation.  But I believe the gospel message of the Old Testament is so much more than just our familiar prophetic passages.

Think about this fascinating exchange in Luke chapter 24.  Jesus meets a couple of fellows on the road to Emmaus on the evening of His resurrection.  After a short back and forth, Jesus takes the lead in the conversation.  “And beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, Jesus explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures” (Lk 24:27).  Jesus explained the gospel message of the Old Testament.

Or look at Paul’s introduction to the book of Romans.  “Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning His Son, who was born of the seed of David according to the flesh, who was declared with power to be the Son of God by the resurrection from the dead” (Rom 1:1-4).  Here Paul marries the gospel of the Old Testament (“promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures”) with the New Testament reality of the resurrection.

So to put the Old Testament into perspective for today, we can summarize it this way.  At the cross, the requirements of the old covenant ended.  But the gospel message of the old covenant, formerly hidden, has become fully exposed and continues on.  How we find the gospel in the Old Testament will be our topic next time.

Is the Old Covenant “Obsolete and Gathering Dust?”

The author of the book of Hebrews also compares and contrasts the old and new covenants.  His conclusion is found at the end of chapter 8.  But let’s start with some background to the book of Hebrews.

The newly-believing, Christ-following Jews of the first century were tempted to go back to an old covenant system that they were familiar with.  The author of the book of Hebrews, apparently in response to this, does a painstaking job of explaining all the new and improved of the new covenant.

The word “better” is a prominent theme in the comparison between the old and new covenants in the book of Hebrews.  Jesus the personification of the new covenant is better than Moses the personification of the old (Heb 3:2-6).  Jesus gives us a better hope (Heb 6:19-7:19).  Jesus is a better priest than the priesthood of Aaron and the Old Testament (Heb 7:21-8:2).  Jesus is a better sacrifice than the goats and calves of the old covenant (Heb 9:11-28).  Jesus is a better offering (Heb 10-1:16).  And it all adds up to Jesus “becoming the guarantee of a better covenant” (Heb 7:22).

In Hebrews chapter 8, we have the most detailed explanation of the covenants.  “But now Jesus has obtained a more excellent ministry, by as much as He is also the mediator of a better covenant, which has been enacted on better promises” (Heb 8:6).  Jesus ushered in a better covenant enacted on better promises.  It really is new and improved in the fullest sense of the phrase.

The author continues, “For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion sought for a second.  For finding fault with them God says [now quoting from Jeremiah], ‘Behold days are coming when I will effect a new covenant…’ ” (Heb 8:7-8).  (We believe this is the new covenant promised by Jesus in Luke 22 that came to us through His blood.)

The writer continues his long quote from Jeremiah in verses 8 through 12 about the promise of the new covenant and concludes with this thought in verse 13, “When God said, ‘A new covenant,’ He has made the first obsolete.  But whatever is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to disappear”  (Heb 8:13).

The Message Bible says it this way, “By coming up with a new plan, a new covenant between God and His people, God put the old plan on the shelf.  And there it stays, gathering dust” (Heb 8:13).  There it stays, gathering dust.  What a word picture.

So I think we can see in the New Testament a clear message that the Old Testament, the Old Covenant, the old arrangement is over.  So what do we do with that information?  Do we just tear out the obsolete and outdated Old Testament from our Bibles and move on?  We will talk about it next time.

The New Covenant

The New Testament is the message of the New Covenant; a brand new arrangement between God and man.  The new covenant is not an add-on to the old covenant (the old arrangement of the Law) that we discussed last time.  It is something brand new, never before seen or imagined.

Jesus introduced us to the idea of the new covenant in the gospel of Luke.  “Jesus took the cup after they had eaten, saying, ‘This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood’ ” (Lk 22:20).  In this one sentence, we learn that the new covenant will be ushered in somehow through Jesus’ blood.  And the rest of the New Testament unpacks the how’s, what’s, why’s, and promises of the new covenant.

In summary, the new covenant has two parts.  In part 1, Christ’s shed blood on the cross set us free from the penalty of sin.  When we agree to God’s new arrangement by acknowledging our guilt, accepting the free gift of Christ’s death in our place, and embracing what Jesus says as true, we have been set free from the requirements of the old arrangement (the Law).  We have been set free to eternal life.

In part two of this new arrangement, Christ’s shed blood on the cross set us free from the power of sin to live a new life in the freedom and the power of the Spirit and the new nature God has given us.  And we have been set free from the ongoing condemnation of the old arrangement.  We have been set free from the, “you are never going to be enough, never going to do enough” to win God’s favor.

You have a new identity, a new purity, a new disposition, and a new power as part of the promise of the new covenant.  The condemnation of the Law as it affects living the life is over.  “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom 8:1).

With that in mind, let’s turn now to a comparison of the two covenants – the old and the new – in II Corinthians chapter 3.  Paul uses the words “New Covenant” in verse 6 to describe his ministry.  Then the apostle goes into a long comparison where I have added parenthetical labels to help us identify when Paul is talking about the old covenant and when he is referring to the new covenant.

“God made us ministers of a New Covenant, not of the letter (Old Covenant), but of the Spirit (New Covenant); for the letter (Old Covenant) kills, but the Spirit (New Covenant) gives life.  But if the ministry of death (Old Covenant), in letters engraved on stone (Old Covenant), came with glory, so that the sons of Israel could not look intently at the face of Moses because of the glory of his face, fading as it was, how shall the ministry of the Spirit (New Covenant) fail to be even more filled with glory?  For if the ministry of condemnation (Old Covenant) has glory, much more does the ministry of righteousness (New Covenant) abound in glory.  Indeed, in this case, what once had glory (Old Covenant) has come to have no glory at all, because of the glory (New Covenant) that surpasses it.  For if what was being brought to an end (Old Covenant) came with glory, much more will that which remains (New Covenant) have glory” (II Corinthians 3:6-11).

The old covenant is a ministry of the letter, the law, of death, of condemnation; and has come to an end.  The new covenant is a ministry of the Spirit, of righteousness, of life, of surpassing glory; and is ongoing.  “Brought to an end” in verse 11 is a powerful Greek word, katargeō.  And it is a clear picture that the old covenant has ended.

So what does the “old covenant ended” mean?  And specifically, what does it mean for us today?  We will investigate next time.

The Old Testament

Because the theme of this blog is the New Covenant and all the promise and power that come with it for living the Christian life, you haven’t seen much about the Old Testament on these pages.  So where does the Old Testament fit into our new identity in Christ? How are we to read the Old Testament?

Let’s start with the word “testament”.  I don’t know about you, but “testament” is not a word I commonly use or hear in daily conversation.  And I don’t think it appears in the actual pages of Scripture as far as describing the two parts of our Bible.  So a word I prefer is “covenant”.  It is a word that the Bible itself uses referring to the Old Testament as the Old Covenant and the New Testament as the New Covenant.

So the words “testament” and “covenant” are basically interchangeable, such that our Bible can be summarized like this.  The Old Testament is describing the Old Covenant between God and man.  And the New Testament is describing the New Covenant between God and man.  But just as with “testament”, “covenant” is also a fairly uncommon word.

So a third word that I find helpful is “arrangement”.  The Old Testament = the Old Covenant = the Old Arrangement.  The Old Testament is describing the old arrangement (prior to Christ) between God and man.  And the New Testament = the New Covenant = the New Arrangement.  It describes the new arrangement (after Christ) between God and man.

And arrangement is a good word to use.  It is word that is commonly understood and it fits what a testament is.  Think about a last will and testament.  It is a description of how someone wants their affairs “arranged” after their death.  So what kind of old and new arrangement with God are we talking about?

Put in its simplest form, the old arrangement is the Old Testament Law.  When God had led His people out of Egypt, He established a law arrangement with them on Mount Sinai.  Just prior to writing the Ten Commandments on stone tablets, God described this law arrangement to Moses and the people in Exodus chapter 19.

And the people agreed to this arrangement.  “So Moses came and called the elders of the people, and set before them all these words which the Lord had commanded him. And all the people answered together and said, ‘All that the Lord has spoken we will do.‘ “ (Ex 19:7-8).  The old arrangement was the Law.  And the children of Israel agreed to this arrangement.

Now we know that the rest of the Old Testament is essentially the story of the children of Israel not keeping their part of the arrangement.  But that history lesson is for another day.  For now let’s just park on the fact that the Old Testament, the Old Covenant, the old arrangement was the Law.

So what about the new arrangement?  What about what comes next?  What did Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection have to do with blowing up the old arrangement?  Or did it?