Why the Old Testament is Important

Today is the last Sunday we will all meet together for worship in 2019 and next Sunday morning, we begin a brand-new year together.  And I don’t know what your New Year’s resolutions may be for the coming year, but I hope they include a resolution to spend more time in worship and study of God’s Word in 2020.

            Several years ago, Sueanne and I had the opportunity to go out to Pasadena, California to watch the Rose Parade in person on New Year’s Day.  And if you have never had the opportunity to do that, you need to put it on your bucket list.   It was a great experience.  But I heard a story recently about the Rose Parade that happened right before World War II. 

            The theme of the parade that year was “Be Prepared”.  But, right in the middle of the parade, there was one beautiful float that suddenly sputtered and quit.  The truck pulling it had run out of gas.  And the whole parade came to a halt until somebody could go get a can of gas.  But the really amusing thing about this story is that this float represented the Standard Oil Company. With all its vast oil resources, their truck was out of gas.

            And there is a sense in which we can find ourselves making the same mistake.  Paul tells us in Romans 1:16 that the gospel is “the power of God for salvation”.   The Greek word for “power” there is “dunamis”.  It’s the word from which we get our English word “dynamite”.  The gospel is God’s power.  We all have this power at our disposal, but sometimes we find ourselves sputtering because we haven’t spent enough time with God’s Word.  We have access to all this power, but we don’t have any in our tank.

            And so, I’m very excited about a new sermon series that I plan to begin next Sunday morning.  In this coming year, 2020, we’re going to be “Exploring the Bible”, going through the Bible and taking a look at each book, to get an overview of what’s in it, and then see how that book fits into God’s overall message.

            And if you’re someone who feels like you don’t know the Bible very well, or not as well as you’d like to, this sermon series will be of tremendous value to you.  It will help to give you the big picture and show you how each book fits into God’s plan, so that you won’t feel so lost when you’re jumping from Deuteronomy to Proverbs to Ezekiel.

            And if, on the other hand, you’re someone who feels like you already know the Bible pretty well and you think maybe this sermon series isn’t going to be much help to you, then I think you’re going to be surprised.  I really believe you’re going to enjoy this sermon series as well.  Because each week, along with the sermon, I’m going to be showing a video out of the Bible Project series.  And I can almost guarantee that every week, you’re going to learn something new, even from those books that you thought you already knew pretty well.

            To show you what I mean, I want to begin by sharing with you a video that gives an overview of the entire Old Testament.  Let’s watch the video and then afterward, I want to share with you some reasons why I think it’s important for us to read the Old Testament.

            Show VIDEO (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ALsluAKBZ-c)

            That’s a lot of material!  If you feel like you missed some of it and you’d like to go back and see it again, I’ve attached the YouTube link on your sheets so that you can do that when you get home.

            But there may be some of you here this morning who would prefer that I just skip right over the Old Testament altogether and start in the New Testament.  Because, after all, the Old Testament is made up primarily of the Law of Moses, the history of the nation of Israel, writings by Israelite kings, and prophecies for the Jewish people.  It wasn’t written directly to the church.  So, there are some people who wonder, is it really all that important for us today?  

            One of the people I know who has felt that way was my mother.  Growing up, I can remember that she had absolutely no interest at all in the Old Testament.  She would read from the Psalms and a little bit from the Proverbs, but other than that, she ignored the Old Testament because she didn’t see any value in it.  Fortunately, she has changed a bit over the years.

            But I think it’s a question we all need to ask — Why is it important for us to read the Old Testament?  This morning, I want to give you six reasons why I think it’s important.

1.         The Old Testament is important because it is part of God’s Word

            In terms of sheer volume, the Old Testament makes up 75% of God’s Word.  That means that if you ignore the Old Testament, you’re ignoring 75% of what God had to say.

            The apostlePaulsaid in 2 Timothy 3:16 that “all Scripture is breathed out by God.”  Some translations translate this verse to say that all Scripture is “inspired”, but I prefer the term “breathed out by God” because we sometimes use the term “inspiration” in a more generic way.  We may say that Beethoven was inspired to write a piece of music, or Michelangelo was inspired to paint a painting. 

            But that’s not what Paul is saying here.  The Greek word that Paul used is literally translated as “God-breathed”.  Just as you breathe out the words that you speak, God breathed out the words written in scripture, so that scripture becomes God’s own words. 

            Furthermore, when Paul said, “all scripture is God-breathed”, he was specifically talking about the Old Testament because that was the only written scripture that most Christians had at that time.  That was the only scripture that Jesus had; it was the scripture that he taught from.  When Jesus was questioned by the religious leaders, he went to the Old Testament scriptures, looking to them as the Word of God. 

            Paul said that God breathed out those words.  And if God said it, then you would have to say that it’s obviously important.

            Speaking about the Old Testament, Peter said, “For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” (2 Peter 1:21),or as the Contemporary English Version puts it, “The prophets did not think these things up on their own, but they were guided by the Spirit of God.”

            What we find in the Old Testament is not just the words of men.  It is the words of men who spoke words from God.  The Old Testament is part of God’s Word, and that makes it important.

2.         The Old Testament is important because it was written for Christians

            While it is accurate to say that the Old Testament was not written to Christians, it is just as true that the Old Testament was written for Christians.

            Peter said regarding the Old Testament prophets, “It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you…things into which angels long to look.” (I Peter 1:12).

            Peter said there were some things that the Old Testament prophets said that the Jewish people didn’t understand.  There were, in fact, some things that the prophets said that the prophets themselves didn’t fully understand.  And perhaps, most amazing of all, Peter says there were some things that the prophets said that even the angels didn’t understand, but they wanted to.

            Because the Old Testament authors understood that they were writing for a future audience –– they were writing for the benefit of those of us who are Christians.  Peter said, “they were serving not themselves but you.”

            Paul was also convinced that those Old Testament writers wrote for our benefit.  He said in Romans 15:4, “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction…”

            And in I Corinthians 10:11, “Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction…”

            It has been said that “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”  If we don’t learn from our past, if we don’t learn from the mistakes we’ve made, we can’t expect to do any better in the future.  And that learning goes beyond our own personal experience.  Studying history and the success and failures of other people can help us to make better decisions in our own lives.

            And that’s what Paul is saying here.  These things in the Old Testament happened to those people long ago, but God made sure it was written down so that it could teach us.

            Paul said the same thing to the young man Timothy.  Reading from the New Living Translation, he said that, “All Scripture is…..useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right..” (2 Timothy 3:16, NLT).

            Keep in mind, this is the Old Testament that Paul is talking about here.  That’s why, over and over, the New Testament writers used passages from the Old Testament and examples of people who lived in the Old Testament as a basis for exhorting Christians.  They knew that God intended for us to learn from the things that happened in the Old Testament.

            The Old Testament may not have been written toChristians, but it most certainly was written forus.

3.         The Old Testament is important because it helps us to understand the New Testament

            The key to fully understanding the New Testament is to see in it the fulfillment of those things that were written about in the Old Testament.  The Old Testament points forward in time, preparing God’s people for what he does in the New Testament.

            Like any other story, the Bible is meant to be read chronologically as it was written. You wouldn’t read any other book by starting in the middle, or ¾ of the way through.  You start at the beginning.  The Old Testament may be old, but it’s the beginning of the story.  The story of mankind, the story of sin, the story of the gospel.  If you want to understand the whole story, you’ve got to go back to where it all started.

            In fact, I would go so far as to say that there are parts of the New Testament that are impossible for us to understand without the Old Testament.  I don’t think you can fully understand the kingdom of God in the gospel of Matthew without an understanding of the kingdom in the Old Testament.

            In books like Romans and Galatians. Paul makes extensive arguments from the Old Testament  The book of Hebrews is almost entirely an argument based on how the Old Testament and its sacrificial system prepared us for Jesus Christ and his sacrifice.

            In Galatians chapter 3, Paul argues extensively about the covenant and the promises made by God.  But it’s the Old Testament where we learn what that covenant was and what those promises were.  How can you possibly understand or appreciate what God has done for us without learning about the promises that God made to Abraham, or the promises made to King David, or the promise of a new covenant in Jeremiah 31?

            Paul tells us in I Corinthians that we are the temple of the Holy Spirit, but it’s in the Old Testament that we learn what the temple was and what its significance was.

            The Old Testament builds anticipation for a better king, a better mediator, a better covenant and better blessings.  The Old Testament shows us how things got so messed us, and then points us to the New Testament where we see how God solved all of our problems and fulfilled his promises. 

            We need the Old Testament to fully understand how God has worked throughout history.  Walter Kaiser has said that a church that is cut off from Israel in the Old Testament is “a church that floats in the air and has no roots.”  And I think that’s a good description.  We need the roots of the Old Testament to help us to understand and appreciate what we have in the New Testament.

4.         The Old Testament is important because it shows us who God is.

            The Old Testament is where God first introduces himself to the world, where he first communicates with mankind. And the Old Testament shows God to us in so many ways.  God’s holiness, justice, faithfulness, love, wisdom, and power was demonstrated in story after story throughout the Old Testament.  If we only study the New Testament, we deprive ourselves of a rich supply of God’s revelation about who he is. 

            In fact, I think it’s accurate to say that the Old Testament reveals the character of God in a way that the New Testament doesn’t.  Because while the New Testament was written over the course of one generation, the Old Testament spans thousands of years.  And as we see God’s character manifest throughout the history of the Old Testament, we find a certain depth and richness. 

            For example, it’s one thing to read about God’s patience in 2 Peter 3:9, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promises . . . but is patient with you.”   It’s quite another to see God’s patience in action with his rebellious people in the wilderness.   And then again in the Promised Land, through the time of the judges, and the kings, through exile, and even beyond.  

            It’s the same God we see in the New Testament.  The same patience.  But as we see God’s character displayed across so much history, there is a depth and a richness that we just can’t experience in the New Testament. 

            And it’s important to keep in mind that it is the same God in both Testaments.  I know what some people say — “But isn’t the Old Testament God one of wrath and punishment, whereas the God of the New Testament is all about grace and forgiveness?”  But if you look carefully at both the Old and New Testaments, you find that that’s not the case at all.

            Perhaps the most foundational statement of God’s character is found in the Old Testament, Exodus 34:6, “The Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.”  And the Old Testament reasserts this truth over and overGod’s grace fills the Old Testament, just as it does the New Testament. 

            And we also find a God of wrath in the New Testament.  There are examples of God’s mercy and his wrath in the Old Testament, and there are examples of both in the New Testament.  It’s the same God.  And that’s important because it helps us to know him better.  Throughout the Old Testament, we come to know a God who is faithful to keep his promises both to bless those who do what is right and to punish those who do what is wrong.

            But, more than that, we see the holiness of God, the patience of God, the love of God, the wisdom of God and the power of God.  The Old Testament shows us who God is.

5.         The Old Testament is important because it teaches us how to be better people

            What better place is there to learn about faith than to look to the story of Abraham?  What better place to learn about perseverance than the story of Joseph?  What better place to learn about how to deal with suffering than the story of Job?  But perhaps the most important lesson we learn in the Old Testament is the lesson of love.

            Jesus said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the great and first commandment.  And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.  On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:37-40) 

            What Jesus is saying is that, in the Old Testament, love was what Godcalled Israel to do; all the other commandments simply told them howto love.  All the Old Testament commandments were intended to show the Jews how to love God and to love one another.

            In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them”.  We’re very familiar with that verse, we call it the Golden Rule, but we usually leave off the last part.  “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them. for this is the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 7:12).   

            Despite what we sometimes think, love wasn’t some new concept that Jesus introduced.  It was the very essence of everything in the Old Testament.

            Paul put it this way in Galatians 5:14, “For the whole law…”  He’s talking about the Old Testament law.  “The whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

            God expects those of us who are Christians to live lives that are characterized by love. But that’s nothing new.  God expected the people of Israel to do the same thing.  The difference is that God gives us the ability to do what he commands, and we also have the example of Jesus Christ.  But there is so much in the Old Testament that can teach us how to be a more loving people.

            But perhaps most important of all…

6.         The Old Testament is important because it points to Jesus Christ

            Paul said regarding some of the Old Testament commands, “These are only the shadow of the things to come, but the reality is Christ!” (Colossians 2:17, NET).  In other words, the purpose of what we see in the Old Testament is to point us to Christ.

            After Philip met Jesus, he went and found Nathaniel and said to him, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth…” (John 1:45).   If you want to see and appreciate Jesus as much as you possibly can, then you need to find him in the Old Testament.

            As Jesus himself said, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me.” (John 5:39)

            And in Luke 24, when Jesus was walking with the two men on the road to Emmaus, it says that, “Beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” (Luke 24:47)

            If you read the Old Testament looking for Jesus, you’ll be amazed at how often you find him.  He’s there in Genesis 3:15 when God punished Adam and Eve but promised that the seed of woman would crush the serpent’s head.  He’s there in Genesis 12 when God promised Abraham that one of his seed will bless the earth.  He’s there is all the sacrifices in Leviticus.  He’s there in the story of Moses, the lawgiver and mediator.  He’s there in the promise made to David that one of his descendants would rule forever.  He’s there all through the Psalms.  He’s there in the prophets.

            Throughout the Old Testament, Jesus the Messiah is foreshadowed again and again. Through pictures, types, and direct prophecies, God continually promised to send a Savior to save His people from their sins. In order to understand more about Jesus, it’s important to know all the things that were said about him and how he was described before he even came to earth.  If you want to know more about Jesus, you need to read the Old Testament, because it points to him.

            I’m very excited about our journey that lies ahead.  Next week, we’ll get things started with the book of Genesis.  If you want to prepare in advance, read the first 11 chapters of that book.  Our journey begins!

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