Family Devotional 4/22/2020: “The Gospel of Jesus Christ in The Old Testament”

April 22, 2020

Scripture: Jonah 1:16; Luke 24:27, 32

Good evening, Toccoa First family, and welcome back to my series of video devotionals. It’s Wednesday, April 22. 

Since we’re in the Easter season, I want to talk more about Easter Sunday—the first Easter Sunday. Let’s look at Luke chapter 24, and the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. Some of you have been on the “Walk to Emmaus”; well, this is where the name of that Methodist retreat comes from. One of the two disciples is named Cleopas; Luke apparently doesn’t know the name of the second disciple. But in John 19:25, we’re told a woman named Mary, the “wife of Clopas,” is at the cross. It could be that Clopas and Cleopas are the same person, in which case this Mary could be the other disciple mentioned here. “Mary” was the most popular Jewish name in the first century.

Anyway, these two disciples believed in Jesus—they believed that he was the Messiah. But now that Jesus is dead, as far as they know, their hopes are dashed. They don’t yet understand that the Messiah was supposed to suffer and die for their sins—and later be resurrected. So they’re returning to their home in Emmaus, which is seven miles away from Jerusalem. But while they’re on their way, the resurrected Jesus meets up with them. Luke tells us that “their eyes were kept from recognizing him.” And then in verse 27, Luke tells us something remarkable:

And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.

“Beginning with Moses and all the Prophets” is Luke’s way of saying that the entire Bible at the time—all of the Old Testament pointed to Jesus, his gospel, his suffering and sacrificial death on the cross, and his resurrection. It’s not just a dozen verses scattered here and there. It took Cleopas and Mary at least a couple of hours to walk from Jerusalem to Emmaus. Can you imagine how much of scripture Jesus explained to them—how many scriptures in the Old Testament Jesus interpreted for them?

A couple of years ago, a well-known megachurch pastor preached a sermon in which he famously said—or infamously said—that we Christians don’t absolutely need the Old Testament. In fact, he said that if the Old Testament proves to be a “stumbling block” to you in your faith, you can, quote, “un-hitch” it from your Christian faith… and still be a Christian.

In this pastor’s defense, I know he has a heart for evangelism; he has a passion for reaching the lost that I wish more of us shared. I also know that this pastor himself believes in the Old Testament—he was just trying to reassure potential converts in his church that if the Old Testament confused them, or troubled them—because of its stark depictions of God’s judgment and wrath—that’s okay, he said, because you don’t really need it. All you need to do is to believe in Jesus and his resurrection. You can still be Christian, he said… and just set the Old Testament to one side.

Well… plenty of very smart Bible scholars and theologians rightly criticized this pastor, and I don’t need to pile on. Suffice it to say, I don’t think you can be a faithful disciple of Jesus and “un-hitch the Old Testament.” Not even close! I mean, for one thing, the early church described in the Book of Acts didn’t have a New Testament yet; they had the apostles’ testimony and teaching. But… if you asked any of the apostles, they most certainly had a Bible; that Bible was the Old Testament, and it was at the very center of their lives and their faith. In Acts chapter 7, when the apostles appointed the seven deacons to assist with food distribution to widows, Luke tells us that the apostles did so in order to “devote [themselves] to prayer and the ministry of the word”—and make no mistake: for them that “word” was, in large part, the word of the Old Testament.

Not to mention in 2 Timothy 3:16, in which Paul says that “all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,” the scripture he has in mind is the books of the Old Testament. And of course we can apply those words to the New Testament as well, but the fact remains that the Old Testament is necessary for us Christians, too!

My point is, the apostles simply didn’t perceive any conflict between what God revealed in the Old Testament and what God reveals in the New. When properly interpreted, both parts of the Bible are in harmony. This is the clear teaching of Jesus and the New Testament.

So I share this conviction. When I preach from the Old Testament, for example, you’ll notice that I’m still preaching Jesus and his gospel, because I find always find them there!

But you know what? I would be lying if I said that my convictions about the Old Testament—even as recently as ten or twelve years ago—were nearly as strong as they are today. Back then, I never would have said that I didn’t believe in the Old Testament; it’s just that I used to spend so little time reading it, studying it, preaching it, or teaching it, that I may as well have “un-hitched” it from my Christian faith. I was showing through my life and my example how little I valued it.

Well… I repented, I promise. 

And my change of heart happened, at least in part, because of something I read many years ago that blew me away. I was reading a commentary on the Book of Jonah written by a well-respected Anglican theologian named Phillip Cary. In the book’s introduction he wrote the following:

First of all, this is a Christian reading of the Scriptures of Israel, which Christians call the Old Testament because it contains the ancient covenant to be fulfilled by Jesus Christ. Like the whole Bible, the book of Jonah is about Christ and therefore about all those who find their life in him.

Like the whole Bible… this book is about Christ… the whole Bible? In my three years of seminary training and three more years of preparation for ordained ministry, I never heard anyone speak with such clarity and conviction about the authority and truthfulness of the Old Testament! 

And then, in the commentary itself, Dr. Cary constantly pointed to ways in which Jesus and the gospel were revealed!

For example in Jonah chapter 1. Recall that God is angry at Jonah because he has refused God’s call to preach judgment against Nineveh, whose citizens were bitter enemies of Israel. Instead of heading east to Nineveh Jonah runs away as far in the other direction as he possibly can. He boards a boat bound for present-day Spain, on the western side of the Mediterranean. 

As far as Jonah knew, this was as far away from the place to which God was calling him as he could possibly go—it was the other side of the world!

But as many preachers have pointed out—and as Jonah soon discovered—you can’t run away from God!

When Jonah is onboard the ship, God sends a terrible storm or cyclone his way—one that threatens not only Jonah’s life, but the lives of everyone on board the ship—including the captain and his crew, who are Gentiles and pagans. They are convinced—correctly, as it turns out—that someone’s god was angry at someone on board the ship. The captain wants to find out who’s responsible. And Jonah fesses up. And he says to the captain: “I’m a Hebrew. My God, who created both the sea and dry land—in fact, he created everything, so it was pretty foolish on my part to think I could get away from him… Anyway, my God is angry at me for my disobedience. Throw me overboard, and this terrible storm will stop, and you’ll be saved.”

Reluctantly, with great fear and trepidation, these men do so. And what happens? The sea becomes calm. They are saved. And not only that… These men—pagans and idolaters, one and all—begin worshiping Jonah’s God, Yahweh. Jonah 1:16: “Then the men feared the Lord exceedingly, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows.”

This “making vows” indicates that the men resolved to follow Jonah’s God, the one true God, the rest of their lives. These pagans were converted, in other words.

Where is Jesus in this text?

Consider this: Apart from the free gift of salvation available through Christ, it’s as if we’re the ones on board that ship, which will soon be destroyed by a violent storm. Like Jonah, we’re facing God’s wrath because of our sin. And like Jonah, we’re about to be thrown into the deep, dark abyss—which for us means hell, eternal separation from God. It’s what our sins deserve.

Unless someone steps forward and volunteers to take our place, to suffer the death penalty that we deserve… and that someone, of course, is Jesus Christ, our Savior, God in the flesh. 

Like Jonah, Christ chooses to sacrifice his life to save ours, except it’s not for his own sins he’s making this sacrifice, but for yours and mine. By doing so, he turns away God’s wrath so we can have peace and reconciliation with God. 

And, like Jonah, after three days, Christ was given new life—so that we could have eternal life both now and on the other side of death and resurrection.

So this is one small example of how we see Jesus and his gospel in the Old Testament. I hope it inspires you to read it perhaps more than you’re doing so now. And to read it with Christ at the center—the way our Lord intended. Getting back to Luke 24, when describing their encounter with the risen Lord, Cleopas and Mary said, in verse 32, “Did not our hearts burn within us while [Jesus] talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?”

I pray that Jesus would “open the Scriptures” to you as well! Amen?

But you may need help, and so you might consider getting a good study Bible. I use this one, the ESV Study Bible. One of its very best features is an appendix called the “History of Salvation in the Old Testament Preparing the Way for Christ.” It cites specific verses in each book of the Old Testament that point to Christ.

Let’s pray…

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