We Need to Embrace the Old Testament Not Ignore it
There is a growing trend in the church to focus solely on the New Testament. With the fight for people’s attention in this culture ongoing and the push back against what atheists see as the angry God of the Old Testament, it is easy to shy away from the Old Testament. Jesus is the center of our faith and fulfillment of the Old Testament Law, so why do we need to know all those old books anyway? Can’t we just unhinge from it like Andy Stanley recently stated?
I suggest that Jesus Himself provided the answer to this question in the first real Bible teaching of the New Testament church. It was a study led by Jesus Himself and involved only the Old Testament. Jesus explained Himself to His disappointed followers by guiding them through God’s Word from the bitter disappointment of life to joyful fellowship with the Lord. To understand Jesus deeply in the way that the early church did, we need to not only not ignore the Old Testament but gratefully embrace it.
Jesus Taught from the Old Testament
25 He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.
The Road to Emmaus is a familiar passage. It recounts one of the earliest encounter of the disciples with the Risen Jesus on the day of Resurrection. A disciple, Cleopas, and another unnamed disciple are leaving Jerusalem and headed to Emmaus talking about the events of the last few days. They discuss how they had hoped that Jesus was the Messiah, but that with His death all of their hopes are now dashed. This is no small thing for these men. If they are followers of Jesus like Peter or John, they had given up everything they had to go after Him. They left their homes, their professions and often their families. Since the Jewish leaders opposed Jesus, they would have suffered social and economic losses due to their association. They were likely put out of the synagogue. Now Jesus is dead and they are headed to Emmaus confused and sad. Interestingly, Emmaus was known for its hot springs at the time. It was a vacation destination. It is possible the two men were going home. It was also possible they are seeking a hot bath after life has beaten them up. Regardless, they are broken and defeated and leaving their time as Jesus’ followers behind them.
It is a sad picture made worse by the fact they express their disappointment in Jesus to Jesus.
About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. 20 The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; 21 but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place.
How embarrassing must that have been when they realized! They just expressed how Jesus failed them to Jesus, the Risen Messiah. If we are honest, we probably do the same thing in our private prayer life on a regular basis. “Why did you let me down Lord, I really wanted that promotion?” Our limited viewpoint sometimes seems so certain to us.
In response to their confusion, pointedly Jesus does not remind them of His words of the last three years of ministry. He does not bring up all the times He taught about His death and resurrection. He also does not rebuke them for not seeing the work of God walking with them. Instead, Jesus leads them through what was likely the greatest Bible study of all time. From Moses and the prophets, Jesus takes these two disciples through what we refer to as the Old Testament to explain what happened and why they should not lose faith. He expressed to the religious leaders the reasoning behind this Old Testament study.
The New Testament had not yet been written at this point. This is the Old Testament Jesus is referring to as testifying to Him. It bears witness to Jesus. It is God’s roadmap of redemption from the time God spoke the world into existence through Jesus’ arrival in Israel. Should we ever consider discarding a Book that Jesus says testifies of Him? The response of the two disciples is indicative of the importance of these Holy Scriptures:
They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”
Jesus came not to do away with the Old Testament but to fulfill it and to bring it to perfection. He came to be the Messiah that God repeatedly points to through books like Daniel, Isaiah, and Genesis. We would not know to look for the Messiah, Redeemer, Seed of a woman without the Old Testament. It is through our study of the New Testament that we understand the fullness of this Genesis prophecy but we need the original prophecy to see the whole picture. Yet there are many in the Body of Christ who have no interest in it. Even worse are those who argue that it has no relevance for the church today.
And I will put enmity
Between you and the woman,
And between your seed and her Seed;
He shall bruise your head,
And you shall bruise His heel.”
Jesus and the Apostles Built upon the Old Testament – So Should We
When Jesus was being tempted by Satan, He relied on quoting from the Old Testament to provide His defense. When Jesus was teaching about His resurrection, He referred to the prophet Jonah being three days in the belly of a whale. When he taught about the End Times and His second coming, He referenced Noah and the Ark. When Jesus hung upon the cross He quoted, among other things, Psalm 22, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” Jesus quotes the Old Testament at least 78 times in the Gospels. When Mary Magdalene finds the empty tomb with angels at the head and foot of where the blood of Jesus would have been poured out, we see a living picture of the Mercy Seat and Jesus’ perfect fulfillment of the Old Testament sacrificial system. When Peter, Paul, and Stephen presented the case for Christ in the first great sermons of the early church, what do they rely upon? The words God wrote in the Old Testament are the bedrock upon which to build their arguments. When Paul commends the Bereans for testing his words against Scripture, he is likely referring only to the Old Testament. It is part of the lifeblood of the Christian life. Examples could go on and on.
Without an understanding of God’s work in the Old Testament, we completely miss out on the significance of much of the words and actions of the New Testament. It is like watching a baseball game and not knowing the rules. We might enjoy some of the action but we will never get all of the points involved.
The teachings of God contained in the Old Testament are more than just backdrop for the New Testament. They are the very Word of God recorded for a reason. It is understandable that we love to read about the life and times of Jesus and of the early church. It is imperative that we direct the point of the teaching of the Old Testament to Jesus as He is the point of our faith. But the Old Testament is every bit of God’s Word as the New and is in there for our benefit. If we forsake it, we are missing out on a better understanding of God’s message to His people.