One of the most rewarding marks of a Christian is to be able to read the Old Testament for all its worth. This series titled “One Story” is prepared for just that. As we go through a number of Old Testament passages, we will see one thing: That the bible does not tell so many stories, but it tells one story in so many different ways.
The best place to start is Luke 24:13-35. The Emmaus Road experience. The reason we are starting here is two-fold: it is in this passage of scripture that we see how we wrongly read the Old Testament, and two, Jesus Himself in this same passage teaches how to read the Old Testament.
Two sad disciples are walking down to Emmaus when Jesus meets them, but they are kept from seeing Him. He asks them what they are talking about:
“18 Then one of them, named Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” 19 And he said to them, “What things?” And they said to him, “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20 and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. 21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened. 22 Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning, 23 and when they did not find his body, they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. 24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.” 25 And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and pall the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.
“28 So they drew near to the village to which they were going. He acted as if he were going farther, 29 but they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent.” So he went in to stay with them. 30 When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. 31 And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight. 32 They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?””—Luke 24:18-32 (ESV).
Before we delve into what Jesus teaches us about reading the OT, it is important that we understand how we read it today. This very passage does that very well.
The OT (and the entire Bible) in our churches today is read as if it is about us—helping us attain our best life now with a little help from God. Just like these two men who thought that Jesus was coming to establish a Kingdom on earth when they said: “But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel” (v 21b). Their Kind of story was one in which they were the main cast, and Jesus played a supporting role who only came in to swing His magic wand when the need arose. To be more specific, there are majorly two dangerous ways in which we approach the Old Testament.
One, Moralism. For the most part, I grew up being told that the stories in the OT were meant to be examples for me to learn from. Don’t get me wrong, the Bible has a lot of examples we should learn from, but that is not the primary reason those stories are there. Abraham’s faith, Noah’s obedience, Moses’s stewardship, Joshua’s leadership, Gideon’s courage, etc. all these stories are not there make us good people, of moral astuteness. Sermons and books about how to “sly the heads off the giants in your life like David” are all too common, but they miss the story. In fact, moralism and legalism that plague the church to this day is because nearly everyone has been taught to read the Bible this way. In the end, it is our goodness, instead of Jesus’ cross and blood that we front in the hope that we will be justified.
Two, self-help. We live in a self-help culture, not just that, we are all natural born do-it-yourselfers since Genesis 3. This habit tends to creep into our bible reading when we to look for social and cultural cues in our bibles so that we will implement them for a smoother living. “Give me some biblical principles on how I can get out of debt,” then “Seven steps to Christian growth.” These are all too common. To stress this even more, our churches today are more inclined to the culture than they are to our sin problem and its atonement. Sermons are about “Raising obedient kids,” “Managing finances,” “Motivation,” “Tribalism and Racialism” etc. and ‘experts’ are brought to teach on these, using the bible as a manual. This is no different from yoga and other Zen habits.
This way of bible reading is popular because it puts us in the driving seat and hands all the control to us to make up a kind of god who will specifically meet our unique needs using our own methods on our terms—a custom made God! When we do this, we make the entire bible about us and our betterment (the evangelical word used here is transformation).
At the core, this kind of bible reading and study showcases the Christian, not the Christ.
When we bring this mind-set to Bible reading, we will miss Jesus just like the two guys on the Emmaus road. Our eyes will be closed so that we will only see ourselves in the story, instead of seeing the promised and presented Messiah—the one God intends for us to see.
Another thing that I need to point out is Jesus’ initial response “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!” (v. 25). Paul in Romans 10:17 writes that faith comes by hearing and hearing the Word of Truth (Law and Gospel) alone, there was no way these guys would receive faith to believe in anything. What they had read from their bibles was not the “Word of Truth,” they were instead preoccupied with their selfish desires of political independence, self-improvement, and deafening grandeur. What we glean from here is that if we are ever going to receive the gift of faith from God, we must hear the gospel, not ourselves; His story, not our story; one story not many stories. Because it is by His gospel, not in our fantasies that we are granted God’s gift of faith.
Have you heard people say that majority of Jesus’ teaching is about money, so God wants us to be rich? I don’t think that is so. The reason Jesus uses money in His illustrations and parables, I believe, is because money is the only language all the perverted generations after Adam actually speak. If there is anything that will ‘turn on’ the human mind, its money. But money, just like any other created thing is never the thing. This is how C. S. Lewis puts it:
“These things – the beauty, the memory of our own past – are good images of what we really desire but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshipers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never visited.”
Now the question is: How are we to read the bible? My short answer would be Luke 24:27! “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” [my emphasis] That’s it. Concerning Himself.
In the next couple of weeks we will be locating Jesus in the accounts of Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, the Red Sea, Passover, the giving of the Law, Samson, Esther, and many other Old Testament characters and events. That is the only right way to read the OT according to Jesus.
All scripture concerns Jesus. Not us and how to attain our best life now, but Jesus. Matthew Henry in his commentary writes: “A golden thread of gospel grace runs through the whole web of the Old Testament.” As readers of the Bible, we should be able, with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, to see Jesus on every page of Scripture from Genesis to Revelation.
We cannot afford to see the Old and New Testaments separately. They are one by the same author (2 Tim 3:16). To Alec Motyer, an Old Testament theologian, the bible is “… a book with the answers at the back.” While the Old Testament promises the Saviour, the New Testament presents the Saviour.
The Old Testament is a canvas on which God begins to draw a sketch, even though unclear to us, it is the foundation of a more Beautiful picture that God completes in the New Testament—the picture of Himself.
That is the picture God wants us to see in His story, that one picture will make our “our hearts burn within us” with joy unspeakable. The joy of being found by the Saviour Himself. In the end, the OT like the NT announces our deliverance from the bondage of sin and its power.
Therefore Old Testament is neither a moral guide nor self-help manual, it is God’s announcement that He reached down into our sin, became the very thing that was killing us in order to save us from that very death we brought to ourselves (2 Cor. 5:21). It is a story in which Jesus; the main Character comes to save us. This is Jesus’ story.
I pray that Jesus will be revealed to us as we navigate the Old Testament terrain, may we see Jesus and Him only. AMEN