We are looking at the overall message of the bible. Why? Because I am not sure that we have always really got it. We sometimes have so narrowed and personalised it that we are left with a message that is about me personally and Jesus. Jesus said “God so loved every individual that he gave…”. No he didn’t he said “the world”. God’s World, a world that he made beautiful and good giving to us to enjoy and look after but which mankind has spoiled by letting evil into it. So that not only are people infected by this disease called sin but the very ground itself is cursed. What is God to do? What did the almighty do in all his wisdom? Cue Genesis 12 and the story of Israel.
What is the Old Testament about? Why is it there? Why couldn’t there just be a New Testament and no Old Testament? Do we need to read it, understand it etc? The New Testament tells us that it is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, training etc. We only understand the Jesus story if you first understand the Israel story e.g. who has seen the film “The Lord of the Rings”? Here is a clip. Did you know what was going on? If you haven’t seen the first part then it won’t make sense to you. Why is a short bloke making such a big deal about carrying a gold ring around with him? Why are those shadowy creatures after him? The point is you need to understand the first movie to know what’s going on with the rest. It is only then that we really know what is going on in the Old Testament that we can really get to understand what is happening in the New. So don’t give up on the Old, sometimes we just need some help with it for it to make sense. What to you is hard to understand or make sense of in the Old Testament?
What is the Old Testament the story all about and what is God’s big story saying to us?
1. The plan & the people
Genesis 12 –The plan of God to put the world to right really gets under way. The body of the Old Testament carries the story of how Abraham’s family become the people through whom God’s solution is taken forwards. The irony is that as the OT reveals they themselves are part of the problem. Abraham himself nearly blows it with Hagar! Ishmael was Abraham’s idea not God’s. Look at the problems! Isn’t it amazing how we try to force things sometimes, in our impatience, what happens we mess things up? But God knew that already, he knew that if he were to launch a rescue mission from within this would happen. God doesn’t parachute a pure solution into the world but works from within, using imperfect people like us!!! Let’s pause there – it is good news that that is how God works. We wouldn’t be here otherwise! God wants to use us, imperfect though we are, though we mess up, though we get in the way, God will work through us.
But the promise, the covenant is to do with a people, a place and a promise that the world will be blessed because of Abraham. That is what the rest of the OT is about. It seems that God’s purpose is to set up a nation in the Promised Land, who will be the people of God, who will act as a signpost to the nations, pointing them towards the one true God and ultimately from whom his Son, the Saviour will come. Moses gives them a Law that will if followed mean that they will indeed be light in the darkness with the glory of God might shine out to all the earth. Israel continually frustrate this purpose, turning from God e.g. God rescues them from a wicked powerful empire enslaving them. But when the people are freed, they behave themselves in a thoroughly pagan manner, as they continue to do in the period of the Judges, and then in the monarchy.
David, the man after God’s own heart, is himself deeply flawed. For a while under David and Solomon something like God plans takes place. People come and marvel at Solomon’s wealth, wisdom, the Temple of the Lord is full of the glory of the Lord. Before too long the king manifest s divided heart and after his death the kingdom. Divided kingdom – story, prophets - divides and the northern kingdom are lost forever and God concentrates on the nation of Judah. For them exile threatens, looms, and then Babylon comes and sweeps away the Temple itself and, though the people return two generations later, all is still not well. Pagan empires still lord it over them as they continue to be unfaithful to the covenant.
As we survey all this we can see that God has a plan to bless the whole world. His plan is to bring his rule, his glory to bear in the world reversing and undoing what was done by the Fall. God is still doing this. He is still using imperfect people in doing so. He has called us to be a people who reverse the effects of the fall where we meet them by allowing the glory of the Lord to shine through us.
The promised one
So Israel, the bearers of the solution, have themselves become part of the problem; so God promises that from within Israel will come a true King, who will be utterly faithful to God, who will be full of God’s Spirit, the Messiah (Is. 11). He will establish God’s kingdom (they don’t really get that it is also foretold that he will suffer in so doing), his kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom, and his reign will never end. He would usher in a rule that is saving, healing, restorative because God has yet to complete his original plan for creation, he will restore a balance to a world out of kilter and bring to glorious completion and fruition the creation, teeming with life and possibility, that he made in the first place. The Old Testament ends with this sense of disappointment in Israel but hope that one day this figure will emerge. This comes together in the New Testament and in Jesus.
This then is what the OT is about. It is about God rescuing the world from the mess that humanity has got it into. Despite being constantly hindered & frustrated by the people he had chosen. God wants them to be a light to the nations, showing them how to live, pointing them to God, living as God’s holy people as a kingdom of priests. This is never fully realised, but God knew that would be the case and planned on sending a Messiah who would inaugurate his kingdom rule, the subjects of which would be a blessing to all nations. Are you a blessing? Are you light in the darkness? The encouragement is that in spite of our weaknesses God can and will work through us. That is why god has saved us, not just to get our butts into heaven. It is to be a blessing, to be what Israel by and large failed and continues to fail to be (the church isn’t always that good either). This is God’s great story, his plan, the Message of the bible.