Why Study the Old Testament?

Our new sermon series on the life of David gives us a great opportunity to renew our love for the Old Testament. This too is the Word of the Lord! For further thoughts, check out Matt Meyer’s post below:


Why Study the Old Testament?

By Matt Meyer for InterVarsity

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The Old Testament can be kind of a pain. It prompts debates about evolution. It’s full of obscure laws that we don’t even bother to follow, difficult-to-pronounce names, and hard-to-understand poetry.

And what do we even begin to make of the portrayal of God in the OT? In The God Delusion, evolutionary biologist and author Richard Dawkins writes:

The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.

Yikes. I mean, sometimes it seems like the Old Testament is more trouble than it’s worth. Maybe it’s best to sort of just forget about it or gloss over it on our way to the important part of the Bible. You know—the good part. With Jesus.

Is the OT really worth the effort it takes to read it?

Faith, Love, Jesus, and Donkeys

The more I’ve studied the Old Testament the more I’ve come to see how important it is for Christians to understand it and how tragic it is that the OT can be so neglected and underappreciated. So here’s my list of why I think we as Christians should become OT experts.

1. The OT reveals God’s patient and tenacious love. The OT unfolds over thousands of years. (The New Testament, by comparison, spans less than 100 years.) And in the OT we encounter people who are a lot like us: sinful, stubborn, prone to wander away from God and to make stupid choices. And yet we see a God who chooses to stick it out with this messed-up group of people.

Reading through God’s interactions with his people in the OT helps me remember just how steadfast God’s love really is.

2. The OT helps deepen our faith. As Richard Dawkins points out, the picture of God in the OT can be troubling and confusing. But instead of running from the questions the OT raises for us, we have an opportunity to dive head-first into the questions.

In fact, the OT is filled with examples of people who have plenty of their own questions to hurl at God: Job, Elijah, and Jeremiah, just a name a few! Dealing with the sticky issues helps our faith grow and mature, and it shows us that we’re in good company when we ask tricky questions. If God can handle the questions that came from those folks, God can handle our doubts and questions too.

3. The NT tells us to know the OT. Ever read 2 Timothy 3:16-17? “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” Paul wrote that before any of the NT was Scripture—in other words, back when the only Scripture in town was the OT. So we can take these verses as a strong exhortation to get to know the OT.

4. It’s fun! Bears tearing young hoodlums to pieces? Family drama that could rival any soap opera? A talking donkey? All these stories and more are treasures to be found in the OT.

5. The more you understand the OT, the more you will understand Jesus. We often forget that Jesus was thoroughly Jewish. He was immersed in the world of the Hebrew Scriptures. In fact, it’s hard to overstate how much the OT shaped his life and mission. If we want to become like Jesus, we can’t get around the OT.

Is the Old Testament sometimes tricky? Yes. Maybe even boring in spots? Yeah. But growing in our faith is worth the hard work of poring through the OT and discovering the riches it contains.

See also: Jesus on Every Page: 7 Reasons to Study Your Old Testament by David Murray

Strange Surprise

"Strange Surprise" by Malcolm Guite

None of this need have happened, all of this,
These unexpected gifts, this overflow
Of things we know, and things we'll never know,
None of this had to be, but here it is,
The here-and-now, in all its strange surprise;
A space to be ourselves in, and a grace
That spins us round and turns us to the source
Whence all these gifts and graces still arise.

And now the one through whom all this was made,
Whom we ignore, on whom we turn our back,
Whom we denied, insulted and betrayed,
Gathers and offers for us all we lack,
Voices on our behalf creation's praise,
And calls us to become the song he plays.

 

Ascension Day

The Ascension of the Lord

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From the Presbyterian Mission Agency:

The seven weeks of the Easter season include the festival of the ascension of our Lord — Ascension Day. Throughout the earliest centuries of the church, every Sunday celebrated the unitive festival of the paschal mystery: the passion–death–resurrection–ascension of Christ, the giving of the Spirit, and Christ’s coming in glory at the end of time. Over the years, however, Christ’s redeeming work was gradually separated into individual feasts on specific days. For instance, by the late fourth century, the Lord’s ascension and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit we commemorated as two distinct aspects of Christ’s redeeming work. Ascension Day’s exaltation of Christ, however, still looks both back to Transfiguration and Easter and forward to Christ the King (or Reign of Christ).

In that John Calvin’s theology placed great importance on the ascended and regnant Christ, Ascension Day is in some ways the Presbyterian feast day. Christ is Lord of the world and head of the church, we proclaim. Christ’s ascension, therefore, concerns us not only with ecclesiastical matters but also with social and political ones. If Christ has ascended, then there are no other rulers — all others are merely pretenders. Christ reigns supreme.

With the raising of Christ to a position above all worldly powers, the earthly ministry of Christ begun at Christmas’s incarnation now concludes. The path of faithfulness obediently followed by Christ traveled through the suffering of the cross to the exaltation of the glory. From glory to suffering to glory again is the shape of Jesus’ ministry as well as ours. We too, are destined for the glory we share now in Christ only by faith. “It does not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when Christ appears we shall be like him” (1 John 3:2).

A Prayer:

Most High God, we are witnesses to the life of Jesus Christ: written in the Law, promised by the prophets, sung by the psalmists; given in love for the world, risen from the dust of death, lifted up in heavenly glory. Let our lives proclaim Christ's life. Wrap us in your power and presence so that we may worship you always, continually blessing your name; through Jesus Christ our Savior, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Image credit: Icon of the Ascension by the Russian painter Andrei Rublev (1360-1430)

Reflections on Maundy Thursday

Tomorrow is Maundy Thursday.  What on earth does that mean?

On Maundy Thursday the church remembers the last evening Jesus shared with his disciples in an upper room before his arrest and crucifixion.  During this evening, Jesus washed his disciples' feet and shared his "last supper" with them.

  Image credit: Diane Herring

Maundy Thursday begins the Triduum, the three-day period from sunset on Thursday to sunset on Easter Sunday.  The name “Maundy Thursday” comes from the Latin mandatum novum, referring to the “new commandment” Jesus taught his disciples (John 13:34).*

At First Presbyterian Church, our worship service on Maundy Thursday is the primary midweek event during Holy Week.  As such, our service also draws attention to Good Friday and the suffering, death, and burial of our Lord.  The removal of the elements from the sanctuary represents the humiliation, nakedness, and abandonment of Jesus as he was arrested and crucified.  As we leave in silence, we contemplate the darkness of his death on the cross for us.

This is a sacred and a somber time.  Yet it is not a time without hope, for we gather as a people who know that out of the darkness of the tomb will shine the brilliant light of resurrection on Easter morning. 

It may be Thursday... but Sunday's coming.

Blake

P.S. - Take a look at the other resources for reflecting on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday:


“What Happened on the Cross?" - N.T. Wright responds

"Countdown to Calvary" - a new BBC series chronicling the last days of Jesus' life

A Blessed Lent

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Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of the season of Lent. If you didn’t grow up with Lent (and I know many of you didn’t, myself included), here’s a bit of background. The word “Lent” comes from the Old English word for “springtime.” It refers to the length of time before Easter, traditionally forty days, when the Church prepares to commemorate Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. Just as Advent helps us prepare spiritually for Christmas, Lent helps us prepare spiritually for Holy Week and Easter.

You may be asking, Do I have to observe Lent? The first answer is, Of course not. But the second answer is, Why wouldn’t you? This season is a gift to us wherein we may pause and reflect on our lives in light of Jesus Christ. So, I encourage you to observe it this year. Typically folks use this time as a chance to give something up: certain foods, certain media, certain habits. In recent years it’s become popular to take something on: daily prayer, for instance, or journaling and letter-writing. Regardless, the goal isn’t self-promotion (pride) but self-effacement (humility). What will help you humble yourself over the next forty days, so that you can see Jesus more clearly? Whatever the answer is, do it.

Much more can be said — but for now I’ll leave you with the sage words of St. Ambrose of Milan. Let’s pray this together, and mean it:

O Lord, who has mercy upon all:
take away from me my sins,
and mercifully kindle in me
the fire of your Holy Spirit.
Take away from me the heart of stone,
and give me a heart of flesh,
a heart to love and adore You,
a heart to delight in You,
to follow and enjoy You, for Christ's sake,
Amen.

Image credit:  Agnolo Gaddi, “Crucifixion”

Do You Want to Get Well?

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Today we heard the story of Jesus healing an "invalid" at the pool of Bethesda (John 5:1-18).  Jesus asks a probing question: "Do you want to get well?"  The man does, and Jesus heals him. 

One-fifth of all the material in the Gospels is concerned with Jesus' healing of some form of physical disease.  This has dramatic implications for our life today as Jesus' followers.  The Son of God came to save us and to heal us - in body and in soul, in this life or in the life to come.  

Take a look at these extra resources, especially the Wilson article I referenced in my sermon.

- Blake


We modern people think of miracles as the suspension of the natural order, but Jesus meant them to be the restoration of the natural order. The Bible tells us that God did not originally make the world to have disease, hunger, and death in it. Jesus has come to redeem where it is wrong and heal the world where it is broken. His miracles are not just proofs that He has power but also wonderful foretastes of what He is going to do with that power. Jesus’s miracles are not just a challenge to our minds, but a promise to our hearts, that the world we all want is coming.
— Tim Keller, "The Reason for God"

Image credit: Rembrandt, “Christ Healing” 

Come and See

Then Jesus turned, and seeing them following, said to them, “What do you seek?”
They said to Him, “Rabbi, where are you staying?”
He said to them, “Come and see.”
- John 1:38-39

Week 2 in John’s Gospel finds us making the turn from knowing about Jesus to following after Jesus. John the Baptist acts as our guide, helping us (and those first disciples) get their bearings for this new adventure. What will you do when he comes calling, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world?

- Blake


We need to pledge ourselves anew to the cause of Christ. We must capture the spirit of the early church. Wherever the early Christians went, they made a triumphant witness for Christ. Whether on the village streets or in the city jails, they daringly proclaimed the good news of the gospel.” - Martin Luther King, Jr., Strength to Love

"Those who aren't following Jesus aren't his followers. It's that simple. Followers follow, and those who don't follow aren't followers. To follow Jesus means to follow Jesus into a society where justice rules, where love shapes everything. To follow Jesus means to take up his dream and work for it." - Scot McKnight, One.Life: Jesus Calls, We Follow

 John the Baptist and the “pointing hand” (Grunewald’s  Isenheim Altarpiece )

John the Baptist and the “pointing hand” (Grunewald’s Isenheim Altarpiece)

The Light Has Come

“In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.” - John 1:4

Today we started our new study of John. Here are a few of the things I mentioned. Hope you can join us in reading and praying along through this beautiful Fourth Gospel. 

 - Blake

“John flies like an eagle above the cloud of human weakness and looks upon the light of unchanging truth with the most lofty and firm eyes of the heart. And gazing on the very deity of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which he is equal to the Father, he has striven in this Gospel to confide this above all...” - Thomas Aquinas

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From Falling Up by Shel Silverstein, gettin’ all theological: 

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“Of the Father’s Love Begotten” (because sometimes hymns say it best):

And never, ever forget: 

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