Going Back to Our Roots

A scroll of the Hebrew Torah - Courtesy of teachmiddleeast.lib.uchicago.edu
A scroll of the Hebrew Torah – Courtesy of teachmiddleeast.lib.uchicago.edu

You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me [Jesus speaking to the Jews]. – John 5:39

There is a disturbing undercurrent in some Christian circles to practically exercise the Old Testament from the Bible.  I do not mean by this that folks are literally seeking to rip the pages of the Old Testament out of the Bible, but rather by placing so little emphasis on the Old Testatment, they have effectively done so.  In order to present a condensed view of the Gospel, it is common to print pocket versions of the New Testament excluding the Old Testament.  This practice does save space, as the Old Testament occupies approximately 75% of the volume of the entire Bible.  Unfortunately the printer’s practice of eliminating the Old Testament to save space has led to some of take this same approach in their theology.

This “New Testament only” thinking has seeped into the Christian water table.  It shows up in our drinking water when we use phrases like “New Testament church” or say things like “thank God I live under grace and not under the law.”  The Old Testament has come under attack among secularists and even liberal Christians for its prohibition of certain sexual practices including, but limited to homosexuality.  Mention the concept of tithing, giving 10% of one’s income to God, and the stingily-minded will be quick to put out that tithing was instituted under the law.  The first Biblical example of tithing predates the giving of the law.  It occurred when Abram gave a tenth of his spoils of war to Melchizedek, the king of Salem and priest of the God most high (Genesis 14:18-20).

Some may feel the God of the Old Testament was not very gracious.  That God while at times severely chastised his chosen people but never abandoned them is a testimony to his grace.  Others may see the Old Testament as particularly gruesome and violent, chronicling war and slaughter.   Was there ever a more violent act described in the pages of scripture than the torture and crucifixion of Jesus Christ which incidentally occurs in the New Testament?

To have an appropriate appreciation for the New Testament, we must read and understand the Old Testament. I read comic books growing up as a kid, and there’s been a trend in recent years to bring super heroes to the big screen.  To truly understand and appreciate a super hero, you must understand his or her origins story.  How did he get his super powers?  What prompts him to fight on the side of justice?  How did his nemesis arise?  You understand why Spider-Man took on the persona of a spider when you realize he received his powers after being bitten by a radioactive spider.  You understand why Batman is portrayed as a brooding and dark figure when you learn that as a child his parents were murdered in front of him.

The Old Testament lays the foundations and origin of the Christian faith.  It is impossible to truly understand the faith without the underpinnings of the Old Testament.  In the Old Testament, we see the God of the Universe who is complete in himself make humankind simply because he was desirous of being in relationship with them.  God made man with freewill and the ability to choose between good and evil.  We see that man elected to choose evil instead of good.  God did not reject man after his choice, but continued to pursue a love relationship with him.  We see man spurn God’s advances of love and relationship at every turn.  We see God call a chosen people unto himself through whom he could manifest his love that they might be a light to the rest of mankind.  We see his chosen people, the Jews, do in microcosm what the rest of mankind did in aggregate, and continue to reject God.  We see a Holy God establish his law and standards that sinful mankind were hopelessly unable to keep.

The Old Testament is the “super hero origin story” for heaven’s only hero – Jesus Christ.  With the Old Testament as a back drop, we understand that mankind was hopelessly and utterly lost.  We understand that Jesus in the greatest act of love conceivable paid the price for our sin debt by sacrificing his own life, paving the way for us to be in relationship with God the Father.  In speaking of himself, Jesus told his disciples in John 15:13, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.”

This is what the just concluded celebration of Easter is all about.  The drawing power of God’s love for his people is the central theme of the Bible, both the Old and New Testaments.

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