The Gospel and the Divided Kingdom

Let’s turn now to a more obscure Old Testament passage and look for the gospel message. During the last years of King Solomon’s reign as king, his heart turned away from the Lord (I Kings 11:4), and he did evil in the sight of the Lord (I Kings 11:6). He became a brutal ruler over his people.

So when Solomon died (I Kings 11:43), the children of Israel appealed to the new ruler, Solomon’s son Rehoboam, to lighten up. As He considered their request, he turned to the elders who served Solomon for advice. Their counsel was, “If you will be a servant to this people today, and will serve them and grant them their petition, and speak good words to them, then they will be your servants forever” (I Kings 12:7).

But Rehoboam rejected their advice and sought input from the young men that he grew up with. They foolishly advised the new king to be even harder on his people. Giving heed to their advice, Rehoboam proclaimed three days later to the gathered children of Israel, “My father made your yoke heavy, but I will add to your yoke; my father disciplined you with whips, but I will discipline you with scorpions” (I Kings 12:14).

Upon hearing this proclamation, the people rebelled and essentially left the kingdom. They formed a new kingdom of Israel and installed Jeroboam, Solomon’s former servant, as their new king. This action fulfilled the prophecy from God to an aging Solomon that the kingdom would be torn from Solomon’s family (except for the tribe of Judah) and given to his servant. The prophecy came true to the last detail.

The gospel message in this story is to compare and contrast with the servant king that is yet to come. Look again at the wise elders’ advice. “If you will be a servant to this people today, and will serve them and grant them their petition, and speak good words to them, then they will be your servants forever” (I Kings 12:7).

Compare this with Jesus’ words, “Whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant; and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be servant of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many (Mark 10:43-45).

The unresolved tension in the I Kings passage was an onerous king that led ultimately to a longstanding divided kingdom. The solution we find in Jesus is just the opposite. We have a servant king, whose service has a forever quality. His greatest act of service was to give His life as an eternal ransom for us. This is the gospel message.

A related tension in Rehoboam’s story is the heavy yoke he promised to put on his people. Compare this to more of Jesus’ words, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).

Come to the servant King. Embrace and accept His ransom for you. Embrace and accept His forgiveness for you. Embrace and accept his rest. Come to the servant King whose yoke is easy and whose burden is light.

Jonah and the Gospel of Grace

As we continue our tour through the Old Testament, let’s make a stop in the familiar story of the prophet Jonah. His story is about much more than just a big fish.

Jonah was a Hebrew prophet called by God to preach a message of warning and repentance to the pagan city of Nineveh. But Jonah was not too keen on the idea and immediately set sail in the opposite direction. God sent a mighty storm of such magnitude that the superstitious crew cast lots to see who was at fault. The lot fell to Jonah. He confessed his disobedience, and convinced the sailors to throw him overboard. Immediately, “the sea stopped its raging” (Jon 1:15).

A large fish scooped Jonah out of the water and it spit Jonah out three days later. God called Jonah again and Jonah complied. He preached God’s message in Nineveh, and the city – all the way up to the king – repented. God spared the city. Chapter 4 is an object lesson with a plant regarding God’s compassion.

1. What gospel themes are present in the book of Jonah?

The book of Jonah is a picture of God’s grace and compassion shown throughout the story. In chapter 1, God spared the crew from the storm, and He ultimately spared Jonah through the means of a great fish. God showed compassion and grace to Jonah and the crew.

In chapter 3, Jonah is given a second chance by God’s grace to go to Nineveh and proclaim God’s message. And by God’s grace, the people of Nineveh repented and were spared the calamity that had been predicted.

Finally, Jonah’s complaint in chapter 4 is exactly a complaint about God’s gracious nature. Jonah is actually upset with God’s forgiveness of Nineveh and lodges this angry complaint, saying to God, “Was this not what I said while I was still in my own country? Therefore, in order to forestall this I fled to Tarshish, for I know that You are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abundant in mercy, and one who relents concerning calamity” (Jon 4:2).

2. What tension remains unresolved in the story that is solved in Christ?

In the Old Testament, God’s grace – just like His Holy Spirit – was intermittent. It appeared at appropriate times as God saw fit. It came and it went. Because God’s grace was not an indwelling presence, failure to obey, just as Jonah did, was somewhat inevitable for the Israelites. Their track record of complaining, murmuring, and leaving God’s path is a large part of the story of the Old Testament.

How is this solved in Jesus? The short answer is that through Christ’s death in our place, we are now under a permanent grace, a permanent indwelling of God’s Spirit. God’s grace has appeared (Titus 2:11) to bring us pardon and power.

The pardon of grace is being set free from the penalty of our sin. The power of grace is the energizing of His indwelling presence to live the Christian life. The Old Testament saints and prophets were living under a law system that only brought condemnation, sin, and death, and was powerless to bring about real change.

Self-effort and sin-management cannot bring lasting change. The inevitability of failure is one of the pictures we see in the book of Jonah. The New Testament message, the gospel of Christ, is full of hope, life, and God’s Spirit inside us. Our failure is not inevitable. The tension of how we live the Christian life with power was solved in Jesus.

The Gospel in the Book of Ruth

So let’s dive into a few examples of finding the gospel of Jesus Christ in the Old Testament. Let’s start with the small book of Ruth and answer a few questions to guide us. But first, a short summary.

In the book of Ruth, a man named Elimelech and his wife Naomi move from Bethlehem to the land of Moab. Elimelech dies.  His two sons marry Moabite women, Orpah and Ruth.  Then the sons died.  So Naomi plans to return to Bethlehem but asks her daughters-in-law, Orpah and Ruth, to stay with their Moabite people.  Orpah finally stays, but Ruth declares her loyalty to Naomi, and goes to Bethlehem with her.

1. What problem or tension remains that the people cannot solve on their own?

Upon their return to Bethlehem, the problem for these two women, Naomi and Ruth, is their lack of husbands and extreme poverty; a poverty problem that they literally cannot solve on their own.  Naomi announces to her Bethlehem friends, “Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me.”

But God provides a solution.  As Ruth is gleaning, gathering the leftovers from the harvest, she finds herself in the field of Boaz, a relative of Naomi.  Boaz learns who Ruth is and after some back and forth, chooses to redeem Ruth.

(Just as an aside, when Boaz first meets Ruth, he welcomes her because he had heard of her loyalty to Naomi.  There is nothing wrong with using this to teach a lesson on loyalty. Just because our focus here is on finding the gospel, do not overlook the moral lessons for us and our children in these Old Testament stories.)

Back to the story.  Boaz chooses to redeem Ruth.  Boaz takes on the role of kinsman-redeemer, a legal transaction in which someone enters into an obligation to redeem a relative facing extreme hardship.  And Boaz does this for Ruth.

2. How does this passage point toward the cross and the need for Christ?

Naomi and Ruth faced abject poverty with no hope of solving it on their own. We face a spiritual poverty with no hope of solving it on our own. We need a kinsman-redeemer.

3. How is this solved in Jesus?

Jesus is our kinsman-redeemer.  He saved us when we could not save ourselves.  In the last chapter of Ruth, where the redemption process takes place (Ruth 4:4-10), the word “redeem” appears 6 times. With a clear pointing to Christ, Boaz “purchases” Ruth as his bride, just as Christ purchased us (the church) as His bride. We have been redeemed!

Another way we see Christ in this story is in the Messianic line of Jesus’ forebears. Boaz and Ruth have a son named Obed who becomes the father of Jesse who becomes the father of King David who becomes the father of … eventually Joseph, the husband of Mary, the mother of Jesus.  So even their family tree points to Christ.

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.