Sermons

Summary: Five stories from Old Testament that demonstrate God’s graciousness. (Grace is not just a New Testament concept.)

In the second century, a hundred years or so after the death of Jesus and the birth of the church, lived a man named Marcion. Marcion was a Christian. Well, not exactly. Marcion called himself a Christian, but he had his own perspective about what that meant, a perspective shared by his followers, a perspective not shared by the church.

Marcion read the Old Testament and concluded that the God described there, the creator God, was tyrannical and judging, and not at all like the loving, gracious God described by Jesus. He decided that these were two different Gods, and that with the coming of Jesus, the merciful redeemer God defeated the cruel creator God. Jesus, Marcion said, was not the Messiah proclaimed by the prophets, and the Old Testament should not be regarded as scripture.

Marcion was not the first person to find themes of judgment in the Old Testament that seemed at odds with the message of grace in the New Testament. He was just the first person to put together a systematic theology based on this impression and gain a following for his views.

The second century church concluded that Marcion was wrong and his theology was heresy. Jesus is, in fact, the Messiah proclaimed by the prophets. The God of Jesus Christ—the God described in the New Testament—is one and the same as the God described in the Old Testament. Love, mercy, redemption, and judgment are all attributes of God’s character, and they always have been.

Love, mercy, redemption, and judgment are all attributes of God’s character, and they always have been.

Marcion was not the last person, either, to find themes of judgment in the Old Testament that seemed at odds with the message of grace in the New Testament.

Over the years that I have been in ministry, and even before, I have heard lots of people—new Christians and long-time Christians—wonder out loud if God didn’t somehow undergo a personality change between the Old Testament and the New Testament. They usually don’t go so far as to suggest that these are different Gods altogether, of course. That dispute was settled in the second century. But they wonder if maybe God mellowed with age.

When they read the Old Testament, they envision God with a stern face, his eyes full of wrath, quick-tempered and short on mercy.

When they read the New Testament, the face in their mental image softens, the eyes are full of compassion, and God’s arms are outstretched in mercy. Or, for some, the mental image of God the Father remains stern, and they imagine Jesus as the loving, merciful redeemer who extends grace to save people from the Father’s wrath. (These mental images are understandable. I’ve even come across the occasional preacher who presented the message of redemption this way. We’ve all got tapes in our head about God that are hard to erase and hard to record over.)

I know some of you watch football every once in a while. Do you remember that scripture reference that always seems to be on a sign somewhere behind the end zone so that it flashes on TV whenever there is a field goal or a point after? John 3:16.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

And continuing in the next verse: “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”

Love, mercy, redemption, and judgment are all attributes of God’s character, and they always have been.

The Father and Jesus are on the same page of the play book, and they always have been.

Of course, even some who know and accept the truth of this statement still struggle with the feeling, deep in their gut, that somehow God in the Old Testament is all about judgment while God in the New Testament is all about grace.

I don’t know all the reasons for this, but it has something to do with how the way we read colors our perceptions.

The New Testament is mostly short stories, parables, brief lessons, and succinct propositional statements. Grace practically jumps out of almost every page. It’s easy for the words of judgment to fade into the background. They are there, you know—words of judgment, that is.

The Old Testament is mostly epic narratives. The character of God is revealed in long, sweeping historical sagas. These narratives have all the makings of a TV mini-series—drama, passion, intrigue, violence. Judgment is in the details, and it captures our attention. It’s easy for the message of grace to fade into the background. It’s there, though—the message of grace, that is. You’ll begin to see grace on almost every page, if you learn to look for it.

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