Earlier this month, I was honored to speak, along with my mom, at Family Worship Center’s two-day in-house Sisters’ Retreat. If you were not able to attend, let me tell you that God was there – His Spirit was palpable, and His glory reigned. The only two words I’ve yet come up with to describe the weekend are precious and powerful. Because I believe that God gave me the topic and words I was to speak that weekend, I’ve chosen to post them here.
This morning, we’re going to talk about the Old Testament. Just saying the words “Old Testament” can induce a couple of yawns! Maybe there are some of you who see the Old Testament only as judgment, wrath, and a whipping with the law. Maybe there are some of you who just really need to hear about Jesus – His love, His grace, His desire for a relationship with you. Maybe you don’t see THAT in the Old Testament!
But if you’ll stay with me, I’m fairly sure we can gain a new perspective about the Old Testament, and we can even see Jesus come to life, extending His hand of mercy to each one of us through the Scriptures of old. To be sure, the Old Testament can be difficult to read and even more difficult to understand sometimes. But truth be known, the Old Testament is chock-full, to the brim, and overflowing with grace, redemption, and relationship. Are you ready to see it? Let’s go find some grace in the Old Testament, shall we?!
Jesus said in John 5:39 that the Scriptures testify about Him, and He’s speaking of the Old Testament. Remember, the New Testament wasn’t the New Testament when the New Testament was being lived out. The spiritual diet on which Jesus and the Jews found their spiritual nourishment, was the 39 books of Holy Scripture that we call the Old Testament. John 1:45 says “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and whom the prophets also wrote – Jesus of Nazareth...” When speaking about what the Old Testament is all about, Jesus points to Himself. “Me! Me. It’s all about me!”
A wise teacher once said, “The [Bible]…is a tapestry…pull on a thread in the NT and you will follow it to the OT. Pull a thread of the OT and it will lead you to the NT.” 1 Peter 1:20 tell us that Christ was chosen before the creation of the world to become the spotless lamb of sacrifice, and Ephesians 1:3 and 4 tells us that before the foundation of the world we were chosen to be the blessed beneficiaries.
Grace. Old Testament grace. Before sin. Before law. Before man ever drew his first breath, there was grace. Can you begin to see it?
1 Timothy 2:5 tells us that there is one – one – mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus. The truth of the Trinity assures us that the person and work of Christ has been alive and well, functioning in His role of mediator long before coming to earth as a baby.
We see His role of mediator and His functional grace played out in the very 1st story of mankind, the story of Adam and Eve. When Eve took the 1st bite of the forbidden fruit, the earth shuddered. When Adam followed suit, the whole earth began its groan for redemption, and it’s never stopped (Rom. 8:22). Yet, in that one painful and devastating moment, grace was found. Christ, the Son of God, the 2nd person in the Trinity, the one and only Mediator, stepped directly between the holy justice of God and the stench of sinful man, and declared:
Grace. After sin. Before law. Grace. Can you see it?
It’s tempting to look at the Old Testament only as law and the New Testament only as grace, and in the book of Galatians, the apostle Paul makes a distinction between law and grace. But the distinction he makes is between the Old Testament rightly understood and the Old Testament warped and perverted. Galatians 3 tells us that when God made His covenant with Abraham in Genesis 12, no law given from that time forward could ever annul the ratified covenant. Verses 8 and 9 tell us that “Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham…so those who rely on faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.”
The law, given 430 years after God initiated the promise of grace, could never render the promise void. It has never been God’s intention that man be saved by his own efforts, but only through grace. The inheritance – all the blessings to be inherited by Abraham’s literal and spiritual children – was given freely, without consideration of the works of the law.
This is grace. After sin. Before law. Pure and simple grace. Can you see it?
Even in Exodus – the book where the law was given – we see 19 chapters of salvation and relationship before we ever get to the 10 Commandments. “You have led in your steadfast love the people whom you have redeemed, you have guided them by your strength…” the people of Israel sang out. It was not until He had redeemed a people unto Himself that He established the way they were to respond to His love and salvation. The idea that Old Testament salvation was brought by obeying the law is a distortion of Scripture. The gracious relationship God had established with His people was prior to the holy requirements God gave.
In truth, both God’s intended and His revealed grace were in the giving of the law itself. In Exodus 19, God articulates the movements of grace: Redemption, requirement, and reward. And verses 4 and 5 show us these movements. “You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagle’s wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession.”
The basis – the very foundation for this divine “obey” that He calls His people to is grace and redemption. Always has been, always will be. What amazing grace that God would love us, choose a relationship with us, redeem us fully, show us how to respond to Him in gratitude, and then promise even more reward for obeying Him. One author says this: “The gospel of Abraham was the gospel of Moses. And both were the gospel of Jesus.”*
This, ladies, is grace. After sin. In light of law. Grace. Can you see it?
The placement of items inside the Tabernacle in Exodus 25 is yet another testament to God’s Old Testament grace. The ark of the covenant held the 10 commandments – the “testament” which stood in judgment of the Israelites and condemned them for their failure to keep God’s law. The ark was placed inside the Tabernacle with the Mercy Seat directly above it. The Mercy Seat was the solid gold lid for the ark, and was where the blood of atonement was applied to cover the sins of the people.
Any guesses as to what was above the Mercy Seat? The presence of the almighty God. It was only possible for a holy God to dwell in the midst of His people on the ground of accepted sacrifice – a sacrifice foreshadowing Christ. God in His grace drew a people to Himself, provided a way for the forgiveness of sins, and accepted it.
Grace. After sin. In light of broken law. Grace. Can you see it?
The book and story of Jonah is a remarkable statement of God’s grace to both Jonah and Ninevites. God does not give just one shot at responding faithfully to His call. He is, praise His name, a God of second, indeed third and more, chances. And the grand narrative of grace continues on and on: Genesis tells us that Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord, Hosea presents an intimate picture of God’s passion for His wayward people, Isaiah portrays the crucified Christ, and Ruth’s four short chapters contain 23 words built on the root word “redeem”, combining relationship and redemption.
In book after Old Testament book we see God pleading with His people to come back to Him. His love and grace pour off the pages as He declares in Jeremiah, “I have loved you with an everlasting love; Therefore I have drawn you with lovingkindness.” In Hosea, “I led them with cords of human kindness, with ties of love. To them I was like one who lifts a little child to the cheek, and I bent down to feed them.” And in Lamentations, “Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning, great is your faithfulness.” Psalm 103:10 tells us that He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities.
If this is not grace, then I don’t know what is. After our sin, after I’ve broken God’s law, there is grace. Can you see it?
Ladies, I encourage you, even amid the busyness of life, to take a retreat for yourself and read the Old Testament. It truly testifies of the grace and relationship Jesus wants with you. Pray that God will open your eyes anew to His Word, and then get to know it. Find out who wrote each book, to whom it was written, why, and when. Thankfully, the grace of the Old Testament gives way to the greater grace of the New Testament – the Gospel, the man Jesus Christ. Yet when you look for the person, work, and grace of Jesus in the Old Testament, you will find it…On every page.
Grace. Can you see it?
In His name and for His glory,
* David Murray, Jesus on Every Page