This got chopped out of an upcoming sermon for SAS.
The Old Testament (OT) seems strange and dense to us. It seems so much the thing of another time and place: the writings of an ancient Palestinian culture about their dealings with a powerful, mysterious God (is he even the same as Jesus’ loving Father?). Why should we read the OT as Christians today? How could it be relevant to us? I’m sure there are many good reasons but there is one reason that alone should compel us. We should read the OT because it points us to Jesus.
Let’s have a brief look at a couple of places where the New Testament (NT) refers to the OT. The NT had not been collected when its various authors were alive, so whenever we see the word scripture in the NT, it’s typically referring to the OT itself.
Jesus has just appeared to his disciples after he’s come back from the dead. They’ve realised, astonished, that it is truly him, and Jesus spends some time showing them that his shocking reappearance was actually to be expected:
44 [Jesus] said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.” 45 Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. 46 He told them, “This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem”.
At first glance, that sounds like a very strange summary of the OT! Here’s how our Lord Jesus retells the entire OT in one sentence: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. Sorry, what? That strikes me as unusual! The disciples seem to have been somewhat confounded themselves. I guess I need to keep reading to see if I can get the Jesus’-eye view on it!
2 Timothy 3:14-17
Paul writes to Timothy,
14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, 15 and how from infancy ou have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
By the time of Paul’s writing, the apostles may have begun referring to each other’s writings as Scripture, part of God’s revelation. Even so, Paul is still referring predominantly to the OT, so verse 15 contains a remarkable statement: the holy Scriptures — that is, the OT — are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. Now, did you ever find yourself thinking that? I need wisdom for salvation so I’m going to… search the OT. I need faith in Christ Jesus so I’m going to… look in the OT. Isn’t that odd? Paul is saying that the OT contains wisdom for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus! On top of that, the OT is God-breathed so it’s useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. It sounds like the complete package. I gather that if we didn’t need the teaching and interpretation of the apostles, we wouldn’t even need the NT!
Jesus and his apostles say that the OT is hugely important for us. And they say that it’s important because it points to Jesus. If you want to be learning about Jesus, you need to be reading your OT! Let me put it to you strongly: The NT does not make sense apart from the OT. Jesus does not make sense apart from the OT. Our Christian faith does not make sense apart from the OT. The OT is not an option if you want to go a bit deeper. If you’re a Christian believer, the OT is vital to your life as part of God’s people. We need to read the OT in our personal devotions, study it in our small groups, teach it on Sunday nights. As Jesus said (Matthew 4:4), ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God’. (Did you know he was quoting the OT?) Every word that comes from the mouth of God is vital for us: it’s essential for us to have life. If we miss out on the OT, we’re missing out on some of God’s words. Let’s get all we can out of God’s words.
Arthur Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.