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TEXT: II Timothy 3:14-15
SUBJECT: Gospel Changes #19: Reading the OT, Part III
The Gospel changes everything. This has been on Sunday afternoon theme for some time now, and we'll continue it today, with God's blessing.
Like most other preachers, I sometimes exaggerate for effect. But I'm not doing that today, because the Gospel does everything-and by 'everything' I mean everything without exception. The Gospel changes why we go to church, what we do with our money, even how we comb our hair.
I'm tempted to develop this third example, but if I do, we'll never get on topic, and so I won't. If you want to talk about it after services, I'd be happy to join you. But not now.
Today's topic is how the Gospel changes our Bible reading. Bible reading is an important part of life, but if we read it the same way an unbelieving scholar does, or a devout Mormon, or even a pious Jew, we're not reading it correctly. They can be better, smarter, and more learned readers than we are, but we're called to be Christian readers, readers of the Bible whose hearts have been opened to the Lord Jesus and the Word of God that that testifes to Him from cover-to-cover.
Does the Bible really witness to Christ? It does. Does this include the Old Testament? Yes. What parts of the Old Testament witness to Him? Well, the Messianic prophecies do, Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53 being the best-known examples.
These 'proof texts' are few and far between. Take every Old Testament verse quoted in the New Testament and applied to Christ and you've got less than 1% of the Hebrew Bible. What about the rest of it? The Law, the history, the hero stories, and so on. Are they about Jesus too? They are, and for my last two afternoon studies, I've shown you how some of them work. How they really speak to their time and place and particular situation, and-at the same time-point to Jesus many years later, and remain relevant to His People in every age.
I named four kinds of problem passages, verses that say nothing about Jesus directly, or even contradict His teaching and way of life. They are:
Time permitting, this afternoon we'll explore two other problem passages that confuse us in our search for Jesus in the Old Testament. They are:
It is hard to imagine any two Scriptures less alike than these. In one you have God commanding Israel to annihilate whole nations-man, woman, child, and sometimes even livestock! In the other you have 'practical tips for living', about working hard, saving your money, and not nagging your husband. Hardly anybody likes the genocide commands, and almost everybody thinks the world of Proverbs. But as different as they are, they have one thing in common: It's hard to find Jesus in them.
But He's there, and you'll find Him if you know how to look for Him. My directions are far from complete, but maybe I can point you in the right way.
THE GENOCIDE COMMANDS
We'll start with the Genocide Commands. There are several of them in the Law and elsehwere, but the one I know best is Deuteronomy 7:16-
And you shall destroy all the peoples whom the Lord your God delivers over to you; your eye shall have no pity on them.
Back in v.1 of that chapter seven nations are named-the Hittites, Gergahsites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites, and the Jebusites.
In the next verse, they're told to make no covenant with them. In other words, no peace treaties; they mustn't be given the option of surrendering to Israel and becoming their servants, or of moving to another place. The same verse says, You shall utterly destroy them.and not show mercy to them.
Many years later, King Saul was commanded to wipe out the Amalekites, and he almost did it. But he spared their king and finest livestock. God did not praise him for his magnanimity, but condemned him for his disobedience and took the Kingdom away from him. In one of the Bible's most dramatic scenes, Samuel, the old prophet, called for the Amalekite king, and-
Hewed Agag in pieces before the Lord in Gilgal.
These verses are in the Bible and nobody apologizes for them. Moses doesn't say, 'I know this sounds harsh, but.' And Samuel lost no sleep over the dismembered king. Though our Lord does not refer to these passages, He reveres the Old Testament more than any other man, and you never get the feeling that they would make Him blush.
But they do bother us. Because they're hard to square with the character of God who is love, and with the ministry of Jesus, who-
Did not come to destroy men's lives, but to save them.
WHAT TO DO WITH THE GENOCIDE COMMANDS
What do we do with the Genocide Commands, and how in the world can they point to Jesus?
Start with the commands, and here, a few things that need saying.
HOW THE GENOCIDE COMMANDS POINT TO CHRIST
This may justify the ways of God to some people, but it still doesn't bring us to Christ. When urged to nuke Samaria, our Lord said no, and accused the disciples of not-
Not knowing what spirit they are of.
What does this story mean? You can read it in Luke 9 when you have the chance. Some say it means, 'the disciples were vindictive men and Jesus was loving'. Right. It does mean this. But what it doesn't mean is, 'the disciples thought the Samaritans ought to be judged and Jesus thought otherwise'. No, our Lord was more offended by their inhospitality than the disciples were. He differed with them, therefore, not in renouncing all judgment, but by putting judgment where it belongs. Not now, but at the end of the Age.
Jesus came as both Savior and Judge. In that order. By dying on the cross, rising from the dead, pouring out His Spirit, founding the Church, calling missionaries, and so on, He is saving the world. But some day He will return in glory, finish saving His people from their sins, and then pass judgment on the people who would not have His mercy.
Jesus is the Savior of the world, but that's not all He is: He is equally, the Judge of the living and the dead.
This is how the Genocide commands point us to Christ. They anticipate His Second Coming to set the world right, which-because men are so stubborn-includes destroying sinners who refuse be saved.
AN APOLOGETIC TIP
Here's a witnessing tip. Most unbelievers don't know about the Genocide Commands, but those who do will be sure to use them against us and the Bible and Jesus. 'How can you say God is love if He commands soldiers to wipe out cities?'
Say something along these lines: Would you have God force people to be good, to turn them into pious puppets and righteous robots? They'll always say no to that. So, if some people won't be good, the world can never be good. Do you want the world to be good? They'll say yes. Well, how do propose to make it good with wicked and hateful people bunched up on every street corner? Well, you've got to reach out to them in love and offer them better lives. The Gospel does that. But if they won't take the better life it offers, what are you going to do with them? You've got to get rid of them. This is exactly what Jesus will do when He comes again to set the world right.
I don't recommend you turn every unbelieving friend to the Genocide Commands, but don't apologize for them either; they're God's Word and there's no reason to be ashamed of them.
THE PROBLEM WITH THE PROVERBS
Now we come to Proverbs, maybe the Old Testament's most used-and misused-books. What is Proverbs? It's a book of wisdom, and much of it seems to be little more than common sense, good advice from people who've lived awhile to people who haven't.
Proverbs 25:16 is a prime example-
Have you found honey?
Eat only as much as you need,
Lest you be filled with it and vomit.
Don't you think a lot of people who have never seen the Bible have said this to their kids who are stuffing themselves with candy or cookies or ice cream?
It's hard to think of anything distinctly 'religious' about the verse, no less 'Christian'. I suppose Muslim mothers warn their little ones this way, and so do moms who don't believe in God or any god.
Where is Jesus in the Book and how does the Gospel change our reading of Proverbs? This is the problem, and again, I don't have a complete solution. But what I say may stimulate mediation and lead you to a better solution than the one you have now-if you have one at all. If you're even aware of the problem.
JESUS THE WISE MAN AND SON
What is Proverbs? If you read the first chapter, you'll see it's a book of wisdom, written by a father, to make his son wise. The wisdom he imparts includes the head, but is centered in the heart. He's not keen on packing his son's head with facts and figures, but on developing his character, making him into a God fearing man who knows how to live a good life.
'Wise man' and 'Wise Son' turn our minds to Jesus, who was supremely both. Thus, when you read the 'practical advice' remember that Jesus embodied it and perfected it. Were Solomon and the other sages thinking about Him? I don't think they were, for they had never seen perfect wisdom in a man. But we have-in Jesus.
Take, for example, two verses that seem to contradict one another, Proverbs 26:4-5-
Do not answer a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him.
Answer a fool according to his folly, lets he be wise in his own eyes.
Scholars differ on what the verses mean, but I think they mean, 'Don't answer a fool foolishly, but give him the answer he deserves'. Our Lord struck just the right balance.
Jesus could hold His tongue. When Herod and Pilate interrogated Him with the fake promise of releasing Him if He gave the right answer, He opened not His mouth. Why should He? They weren't serious men and He had no intention of skipping out on His duty.
The thoughtful men who watched His life and heard the exchanges, knew He was what Solomon was getting at all the time.
This is doubly true when we think of Him as the wise Son. Proverbs 10:1 says-
A wise son makes a glad father.
And how strikingly this was fulfilled at His baptism, when the voice thundered from Heaven-
This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.
Proverbs tells us what a wise man and son is. Jesus shows us.
JESUS AND THE TWO WAYS
The Proverbs present two ways of life, wisdom and folly, and where they lead: to happiness and prosperity for the wise, and for the foolish, regret and ruination.
Jesus assumes for Himself what the Proverbs gave to wisdom-
I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but by me.
He's saying, real and lasting prosperity and happiness and peace are found in Me and nowhere else! And, how can it be found elsewhere? The Proverbs say these things are found only in relationship with God. And there is no relationship with God except in Christ.
Jesus is the Personification of Wisdom, the embodiment of everything the Proverbs called for. Thus Paul says that-
In Him are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.
Christ the wisdom of God and the power of God.
When the Proverbs command or recommend Wisdom, they're urging us to know and to follow Christ.
JESUS AND THE GIVER OF WISDOM
Finally, the Proverbs point to Christ by telling us that wisdom is the gift of God (2:6), and the New Testament adds, that God gives it through His Son. Thus, when we ask for wisdom to make hard decisions and face hard consequences, we can expect to get it, because it is just then-when human wisdom is at wit's end-that our Lord give it-
For I will give you a mouth and wisdom which all of your adversaries will not be able to contradict or resist.
So, if the Proverbs never refer to the Messiah, and most of the chapters make no mention of God, where is Jesus in the Book? Everywhere wisdom is, and that's on every page.
As this labored study indicates, reading the Old Testament is a distinctly Christian way is a real challenge. But you can do it, because the Lord wants you to, and will enable you, as you read His Word patiently and prayerfully, an with an eye out for His Son.
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