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“Why Preach from the Old Testament?”



          In a few weeks we will begin a series of messages from the Old Testament book of Daniel.  This morning I want to set the table for this upcoming series of messages by answering the question—“Why preach from the Old Testament?”  For some of you, that may seem like a foolish question but just two weeks ago I heard a prominent North American pastor confess that in almost 40 years of Sunday morning pulpit ministry, he has preached exclusively from the New Testament.  His rationale seemed to be that because the New Testament fulfills the Old Testament, if you preach the New Testament, you are therefore in some sense giving the people all they need from the Old Testament. With due respect to my brother in ministry, this morning I want to give reasons why preaching and teaching from the Old Testament is not only a good thing to do, it is mandated by Scripture.

In the process of making this case, my hope is that you will also more clearly see the great value of studying the Old Testament.  The timing here is I trust, providential because in a few weeks we as a church begin another cycle of reading through the Bible in a year.  Perhaps the biggest reason people give up on that worthwhile discipline is--they get bogged down somewhere in the Old Testament (often in the statutory law section of Leviticus) and decide God must not be in this discipline.  My hope is that as you hear Biblical arguments validating the great value of the Old Testament, you will be motivated to plow through the difficult sections and reap the rich rewards that come from being literate in Old Testament truth.  Finally, I trust that our time this morning will enable you to read the Old Testament the way the Holy Spirit intends you to read it—not solely as the Hebrew Scriptures that are wrongly seen to be disjointed from the New Testament, but as part of a unified Bible that is Christ-centered from Genesis to Revelation.

The first reason to preach/teach/study the Old Testament is: To Know God more fully.  This only makes sense.  The Bible is fundamentally a book about God—it is his record of his redemptive history.  Of the 1189 chapters revealing God and his work within redemptive history, 929 are in the Old Testament.  That means if you want to know God, you had better know the Old Testament.  Some might argue that Colossians 1:19 says that in Jesus Christ “all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell” therefore if you see Jesus, you have seen God.  One flaw in that logic is the New Testament never claims to give a comprehensive picture of Jesus.  In fact, the gospels are very selective about what they share about him.  That means that most of the Biblical data on the character of God is in the Old Testament.  Much of what we think about God and his attributes we simply would not know without the Old Testament.  For example, the Old Testament speaks at length and in much detail about the sovereignty of God—his comprehensive rule and reign over the universe. 

Job 42:2 says of God, “"I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.”   God’s purposes for you, your family, your job, your marriage will be fulfilled.  The book of Daniel delves deeply into God’s sovereign rule.  King Nebuchadnezzar gives an astonishing testimony of God’s sovereignty in 4:34.  “for his dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation;  35all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, "What have you done?"  God is not restricted from accomplishing his desires by anyone or anything and he answers to NO ONE.  That glorious truth--from the lips of this pagan king in Daniel.

          Proverbs 16:33 tells us the extent of God’s sovereign control.  In 16:33 it says, “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord.”  Long before Jesus says in Matthew 10, that not one sparrow “will fall to the ground apart from your Father,” the author of Proverbs said (in today’s terminology) that every time you flip a coin, the outcome is controlled by God.  God is absolutely sovereign and we learn that conclusively from the Old Testament. Not only do we see God’s sovereignty, but his primary attribute—his holiness is also consistently on display in the Old Testament.  God declares his holiness in places like Leviticus 19:2 where he tells Moses, “Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them, You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.” Also, long before the creatures assemble around God’s throne in Revelation chapter four praising their thrice-holy God, in Isaiah chapter six, the seraphim are pictured around the heavenly throne crying out in loud, temple-shaking voices, “…Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts, the whole earth is full of his glory.” [6:3] 

          Not only does the Old Testament loudly declare the holiness of God, it shows us the consequences when a holy, sin-hating God confronts sinful humanity.  His banishment of Cain and the withering destruction of the Genesis flood—his mass destruction of the wicked Canaanites through his people Israel, and his exile of his own rebellious people from the Promised Land are simply overt expressions of God’s holy character.  His holiness is manifest in his Old Testament laws that repeatedly call his people to live separated, consecrated lives before Him.  Dozens of other attributes of God are found primarily in the Old Testament, but one that is frequently overlooked is the massive amount of Old Testament Scripture testifying to God’s steadfast love.

          We see God’s love on display through his persistent desire to dwell among his people.  We first notice this in the garden with pre-fall Adam and Eve as he walks with them in the cool of the day [Gen. 3:8].  Later, he has Moses build a tabernacle so he may dwell among his flock.  Later still, Solomon builds a temple in which he may dwell on earth among his elect people. The New Testament incarnation of Christ—“God with us”—is simply the most dramatic expression of a series of expressions—begun in the Old Testament--of a loving God’s desire to be with his people.  We see his love for his people in the extreme patience he displays as he waits for them to repent of their sin.  After building the temple, Solomon warns God’s people that when they sin, they must humble themselves, pray, seek his face and turn from their wicked ways.  Following that warning, Israel sins rampantly for 230 years before God finally activates his covenant curse and exiles them from the land. 

That time period roughly equates to the time that has elapsed since the Declaration of Independence was signed—the entire span of our nation’s history.  This is the patient, longsuffering, steadfast love of God.  If that weren’t enough, God then waits another 140 years before he purges the Southern kingdom who lived almost all of that time in serial disobedience.  We see God’s steadfast love in his grace-saturated ministry to his people through the prophets.  Rather than banish his people from the land when they rebel against him (which was his right), he instead graciously sends them prophets who warn them.  He raises up his hand chosen, anointed servants and sends them into the meat-grinder of Israel.  When his people torture and kill one batch of prophets, he sends them another and another and another.  Contrary to popular opinion, The Old Testament is chocked full of God’s steadfast love.  The Old Testament enables us to know God more fully. 

A second reason to preach from the Old Testament is:  To help us grow to spiritual maturity.  Think with me for a moment about some key New Testament texts that discuss the Bible.  Paul tells Timothy in 2 Timothy 3:16, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,” When we read that text delineating the great profitability of inspired Scripture, we must not forget that when Paul says, “All Scripture” he was doubtless thinking of the Old Testament.  That was his Bible.  The Old Testament is profitable for “teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.”   That is enough to energize us to move through Leviticus!

 Another great New Testament text on the Bible is Hebrews 4:12.  The author tells us, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”  Although this text describing how the word of God works within us clearly includes the New Testament, the person who wrote it had only the Old Testament.  The Old Testament is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword.  The Old Testament pierces, divides and discerns us for the purpose of our spiritual growth.  Finally, in Second Timothy 4:2 when Paul charges Timothy to “Preach the word” he was referring primarily to the Old Testament because that was the only assembled canon of Scripture they had at the time.

In First Corinthians chapter 10, Paul specifically mentions God’s purpose for a couple of Old Testament narratives.  He cites two incidents recorded in the book of Numbers.  In Numbers 25 several of the Hebrew leaders had become involved with the Moabites and were idolatrously worshipping their pagan god.  God has Moses hang all those leaders and Moses has his aids kill all the other men who sinned.  In Numbers 14, ten spies come back with a bad report about the Promised Land and cause the nation to grumble and rebel against God.  God subsequently destroys those spies with a plague. Referencing those two Old Testament events, Paul says in verse 11, “Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come.”  The implication of that text is that we should look to the Old Testament stories or narratives as examples and for our instruction.

We must use the Old Testament this way.  For instance, as you read through the narratives in Joshua and Judges of Israel’s conquest of Canaan and you see how hard it is to fight against your enemies and take back enemy-held territory even with God’s empowerment, that should instruct us about the Christian life.  It’s a war and God will get us to the Promised Land, but the battle can be fever pitched.  If your life doesn’t in some way have a militant flavor to it, it flies in the face BOTH testaments.  God’s people are birthed not only into a body, but also into an army.  Don’t read the numerous militant sections of the Old Testament without asking—what am I supposed to learn from this?

Finally, we know that preaching from the Old Testament brings spiritual growth because of something we said earlier.  In Second Corinthians chapter three, Paul says spiritual transformation, or in his words being “transformed… from glory to glory” happens to us as we, “with unveiled face behold the glory of the Lord.” [3:18]  Is not the Old Testament inundated with glory of the Lord?  Certainly Jesus uniquely exemplifies this glory, but God’s “weightiness”—his glory is all over the Old Testament.  As we look at his glory shown through his holy law--as we gaze upon it displayed through his miraculous deliverance of the Jews from the iron furnace of Egypt, as we behold it through the resplendent display of his attributes, we will be transformed by that glory seen so clearly and frequently in the Old Testament.

A third and final reason we must preach from the Old Testament is: To see and worship Jesus Christ.  You may ask, “Where do you find Jesus Christ in the Old Testament?” and the answer is—all over the place.  The Old Testament is all about Jesus and we know that from the lips of Jesus himself.  He says to the Pharisees in John 5:39, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me,  40yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.” Jesus says here in effect, “The Old Testament Scriptures are all about me—they point to me.”  We hear this again in Luke 24.  Jesus has, unbeknownst to most people, raised from the dead and he appears to two men on the road to Emmaus.  He conceals his identity, but engages them in conversation and is astonished they are so discouraged by the events of the passion. Verse 27 says, “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the [Old Testament] Scriptures the things concerning himself.”  

Jesus gives these two men what was doubtless a tour de force lecture in Biblical theology and his consistent theme is that the Old Testament is all about him.  He started with Moses, but he could have gone back still farther.  In the Old Testament we find a long parade of characters whose ultimate function in the Bible is to point to and set the stage for Jesus.  We could begin all the way back at the beginning with Adam.  Adam points to Jesus because according to Luke 3:38 Adam was the “son of God.  As God’s son, he had certain responsibilities. Genesis 1:26-27 says God commissioned Adam and Eve to take dominion over the earth—to subdue it.  Because they sinned, they failed.  But God in Genesis 3:15 promises that one day “the seed of the woman” (who we know to be Jesus) would appear and crush the head of the serpent, thereby wrenching this world out of his control. In Daniel 7:13-14 Daniel sees a vision of Jesus as “the Son of man” who is pictured receiving dominion over all things.  Verse 14 says, “And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.”  Jesus succeeds where Adam failed.  First Corinthians 15:22 says, “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.” 

There is also a second son of God treated in the Old Testament that likewise finds “his” fulfillment in Jesus.  I am speaking of the son of God referenced in texts like Exodus 4:22.  God tells Moses what to say to pharaoh and he instructs him, “Then you shall say to Pharaoh, 'Thus says the Lord, Israel is my firstborn son,”  Hosea 11:1 says, “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.”  National Israel was God’s son.  Adam rebelled against his father and failed.  National Israel persistently rebelled against “his father” and failed as a son.  When you move into the New Testament, if you are familiar with this truth about God’s two failed “sons,” you be looking for this promised new Son.  Who will this successor to Adam be who will crush the head of the serpent?  Who is Isaiah speaking of in 49:3 where he speaks to the “Servant” and says, “…You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified?  Who will this new son, Israel be who will succeed where national Israel failed? 

When you come to Luke 3:22 with that Old Testament background, you exult in the account of Jesus’ baptism.  There we read, “and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, "You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased."  As a believer, when you read the fall of Adam and the repeated, gross failures of Israel, your first response should not be, “Why did they have to fail?”  No, it should be to exult in CHRIST because where Adam failed and national Israel failed; Jesus is the promised Son with whom God is well pleased.  The failures of Adam and Israel magnify the glory of God’s Son, Jesus.  That’s part of the reason God put them in the Bible.

          Moses, like Adam, points to Christ in so many ways.  First, we know Moses was the pre-eminent Old Testament prophet—he spoke with God face to face, he did signs and wonders—he was in a prophetic class by himself.  In Deuteronomy 18:15, he says, “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen”  Moses says in effect—“I am just the first edition, a significant upgrade is coming.”  He was of course speaking of Jesus and Philip testifies to this in John 1:45.  He tells Nathaniel, “…We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”  Jesus sees himself as a prophet, saying in Luke 4:24, “no prophet is acceptable in his hometown.”  Moses the prophet points to Jesus the prophet who not only spoke the word from God, but WAS, according to John one—THE Word made flesh, God’s prophet par excellence. 

          Moses also functions as the priest of Israel as he intercedes for his people along with Aaron the High Priest.  The Old Testament priestly, sacrificial system was ultimately established for the purpose of preparing the way for Jesus, the ultimate High Priest who offered Himself on the cross to satisfy God’s justice to reconcile sinners to God and who now makes continual intercession for us.  He is not only the ultimate Priest; he is according to 1 Corinthians 5:7 “our Passover Lamb” who was sacrificed for us. Moses was also the Lawgiver and in doing so he was ultimately setting the stage for the Law fulfiller, Jesus.  Moses established the way of righteousness in the Law. Jesus perfectly lived out that righteousness.  Moses laid down God’s righteousness in written form.  Jesus, through his perfect life became our righteousness (1 Cor. 1:30).  Moses was the shadow, Jesus, the reality.

          David likewise lived fundamentally to pave the way for Jesus.  David was the preeminent King of Israel, the man after God’s own heart.  He was a warrior, defeating nearly all the enemies of God’s people.  Jesus comes as the Warrior King—the one who would fulfill all the Davidic hopes.  Isaiah 11 calls Jesus the “shoot from the stump of Jesse.”   In his first advent, Jesus fulfills his Kingly office by on the cross doing what was necessary 1.  To defeat his enemy Satan and 2.  To subdue a people who would submit to him as King.  In his second coming, he will complete the fulfillment of his Kingly office.  When we see him in Revelation 19 as the great returning Warrior King, we are beholding the One to whom David pointed.  David was also a Shepherd-king and we see him fulfilling that role in John 10 where he calls himself “the good Shepherd.” 

          David’s son, Solomon also clearly points to Christ in at least two ways.  First, as the preeminent sage or wise man of the Old Testament.  In Luke 11, referring to the wisdom of Solomon, he says of himself, “something greater than Solomon is here.”  When Jesus comes on the scene, he says in Matthew seven that the defining difference between a wise and a foolish man is the wise man will obey his words while the fool will not.  Paul says of Jesus in First Corinthians one that “He is our wisdom.”  Second, God makes a covenant with David in Second Samuel chapter seven and says of his Son, “I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom.  He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.”  Though that was fulfilled partially in Solomon, its ultimate fulfillment is in Jesus, the eternal Son of David.

          It would take days to exhaustively speak of how the Old Testament is all about Jesus.  We haven’t yet even mentioned all the Old Testament Messianic prophecies.  That he would be born of  a virgin, from the tribe of Judah, from the house of David, in the town of Bethlehem, anointed by the Spirit, preceded by a messianic prophet, would perform miracles, would cleanse the temple, would be rejected by the Jews and die a humiliating death that would include rejection, silence before his accuser, mocking, the piercing of his hands and feet and side, that he would be crucified with thieves, buried in a rich man’s tomb and lots cast for his clothes—that he would rise from the dead, ascend into heaven and sit at the right hand of God.  All of that (and more) is prophesied in the Old Testament about Jesus.  It is a book all about Him.

          To quote a chorus we sing, these are the days of Elijah as THE Word of the Lord, Jesus is declared.  These are the days of Moses as the righteousness of Christ is restored through his justification and enabling of his church.  These are the days of Ezekiel as God is regularly through Jesus raising up the dry bones of spiritually dead people to become an army of his saints.  These are the days of his servant David as a temple of praise is being raised as Jesus builds his church, the temple of God and as Christ reigns as the Lord and King to which King David provided a sign post.  If you want to see Jesus, look in the Old Testament, not just the new.  As you begin your new Bible reading schedules and you spend time in the Old Testament, look for Him.  God has given us a Bible with TWO Christ-centered Testaments.  May we by God’s grace become entranced and transformed by BOTH of them as we immerse ourselves in the unity that is God’s word.


Page last modified on 9/24/2006

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