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Pastor Scott Richards, First United Methodist Church, Post

The Revelation of Who God Is

Published March 15, 2012 @ 5:23 p.m.

I went to see the play at Post’s Ragtown Gospel Theatre this past Saturday.  It was hilarious and entertaining!  I thoroughly enjoyed the show and would recommend it to those who have not seen it.  Also, as is true of many of Ragtown’s shows, the play raises some important theological issues.  Among these is the seemingly “long” time it has taken Jesus to return.  We know throughout the New Testament the writers often speak as if they expected Jesus to come at any moment.  Two Thousand years later we are still expecting Jesus to return any moment.  Also in question is the religious sincerity of televangelist such as “Joey Hallelujah”.  The question that I wish to tackle in this article is the relationship between the Old and New Testaments.

Yes, to some extent the debate offered in the play is contrived.  John of Patmos, whether the Apostle or not, would not have had any difficulty with thinking of the Old Testament as scripture.  He would not have known what the New Testament was and likely would not consider it “buried” because it wasn’t at the front of the book.  And yet, since Paul first began his teachings to the Gentiles the church has struggled with the nature of the authority of the Old Testament in the times of the New Testament and the answers are as varied as the Christians who have given them.  I do not write this article to say that my ideas are somehow authoritative on the issue but maybe someone who is struggling with the relationship will find some insights in my own understandings.

Let’s begin in a strange place – at the end.  The Old Testament has no power to save.  That isn’t just my argument.  It is the argument of Paul in Romans, Galatians, and Colossians (Yes, I think Paul wrote Colossians though I recognize that many scholars disagree.)   Paul understood the Law to be a tutor that shows sin to be sin.  But though the Law shows us that we are filled with sin it has no power to take us out from under the power of sin. 

The seventh chapter of Romans is more than an autobiographical portrait of Saul. It is rather, the picture of every person who is attempting to be so good on their own that God somehow will have to accept them into heaven.  That is why the first few verses of Romans 8 are so powerful for so many people – “Therefore, there is now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus … for what the law could not do weakened as it was by the flesh, God did sending His own Son … so that the righteous requirement of the Law could be fulfilled in us who walk, not according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.” (Romans 8:1-4 in passages) 

But that doesn’t mean that the Law, the prophets and the writings are of no value.  On the contrary, they are a reflection of God.  In the Old Testament we see God being revealed in God’s commandments, in God’s dealing with the people Israel, and in the writings of those who long mused about God as the Lord revealed God to be.  “All scripture is God breathed.”  (2 Timothy 3:16)  

We see God in the Old Testament the same way we know people in real life; by God’s interactions and communications.  How do you know your best friend?  You know your friend by the conversations you have had, the things you have done together, the price you have paid for one another’s wellbeing.  These are the things that make for knowledge of any person.  In the Old Testament we see the conversations God has with the people of God, the communication God has given to God’s people, and the interactions between God and His people. 

Thus, in the Old Testament we discover that God is Holy, God is all-powerful, God is not one who suffers fools and will not be taken advantage of. We see that God is loyal to those who worship the Lord.  God is long-suffering, kind, but also can be moved to wrath and indignation.  In short, most of our idea of who the Father is comes through the Old Testament.  Not only that, but we learn the things that please God and the behavior that God expects of His people. 

The Old Testament is a revelation of who God is.  The Old Testament is not the revelation of who God is.  That distinction belongs to Jesus Christ.  And yet, those who dismiss the Old Testament do so at their own peril.  Jesus Himself said that the Law would never pass away.  Paul’s argument was not that Jesus replaced the Law but that Jesus fulfilled the Law.  Not only that, but those are in Christ Jesus, who walk according to the Spirit, also fulfill the Law of God.  In other words, in the Old Testament we see who we are as well. 

What we also learn in the Old Testament is that humans born in the following of Adam can never aspire to fulfill the Law of God.  It is for this reason that the Gospel of John speaks of being “born from above.”  The term is not “born again.”  This is the misunderstanding (and a play on words) that Nicodemus has of what Jesus is saying.  Rather, what is needed is a full exchange; our nature for God’s nature.  That exchange is accomplished in Jesus Christ.  The nature of God is applied to our lives in the Holy Spirit. 

But what is equally evident from the Old Testament is that we have to die in order for the exchange to take place.  As we approach the yearly celebration of Jesus’ death and resurrection we are reminded by the Old Testament that we have to enter into Jesus’ death if we are to gain Jesus’ life.  Adam can never be pleasing to God.  We need a last Adam, a new progenitor, to fulfill the Law of God.  The Old Testament shows us who God is and we find that we are not God nor can we be like God or with God in our own power.  The New Testament tells us that what we cannot do God has done in Jesus Christ; given  us life in the likeness and image of God. 

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