Old Testament? Bah! Humbug!

I’ll confess that it was one of the lowpoints of my years in ministry, one of the times when I did not stand up and defend someone who deserved it. We were in a heated discussion in a men’s meeting, and a young man said, “Well, in the Old Testament…” An older Christian sitting next to him immediately cut him off: “My Bible says it was nailed to the cross.”

I didn’t speak up at this outrageous comment. My excuse is that I was dumbfounded not only by the words but by the unChristian way in which they had been uttered. Still, it’s no excuse. What if some of those present gave credence to this man’s words, especially since he had been a respected Bible teacher for decades?

I’ve done it since then, but I’ll do it again. Let me proclaim my support for God’s Word. I’ll take my stand alongside Paul, who wrote to Timothy: “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2Tim 3:14-17) The Scriptures that Timothy knew from his infancy were not Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. No, when Timothy was a lad the New Testament didn’t exist. Paul is talking about the first two-thirds of the Bible. And look at what he says:
The Old Testament can make you wise for salvation through faith in Jesus.
The Old Testament is useful for teaching, etc.
The Old Testament prepares us for every good work.

Part of our confusion comes from that very designation, Old Testament. In our minds, we somehow connect Genesis through Malachi with the pact that God made with the physical nation of Israel, with the Mosaic Law. We somehow forget that the Bible of the early church was what we call the Old Testament. When they studied Scripture, that’s what they studied. When Timothy was told to be a student of the Word, that’s what Paul was talking about.

Nailed to the cross? Hardly. The Old Testament is alive and well and waiting to be studied by the church today as it was by the early church.

Why do you think people want to remove the Old Testament from Scripture? Is it just to win certain arguments? Or is there something else there?

The Unjust Steward (Luke 16)

When preaching through Luke a few years ago, I was sorely tempted to skip the first part of Luke 16, the parable of the unjust steward. However, I know that when I’m tempted to skip some part of the Bible, that’s probably the very part I need to hear.

Let’s look at the parable: “He also said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was wasting his possessions. And he called him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Turn in the account of your management, for you can no longer be manager.’ And the manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do, since my master is taking the management away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. I have decided what to do, so that when I am removed from management, people may receive me into their houses.’ So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he said to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ He said, ‘A hundred measures of oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.’ Then he said to another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He said, ‘A hundred measures of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and write eighty.’ The master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness.” (Luke 16:1-8)

Part of what bothers us about this parable is that the main character seems to be a crook. But there’s a very simple explanation for that: he is a crook. Notice that Jesus calls him “the dishonest manager.” I’ve seen all sorts of explanations that try to make this guy into a law-abiding citizen, but the fact is, Jesus sometimes used bad people to teach good lessons. When He said of Himself that He would come as a thief in the night, it was understood that He didn’t mean that He was coming to steal; He was talking about the element of surprise. When He used the example of the unjust judge in Luke 18, He wasn’t saying that God was like that man. Jesus sometimes used bad people to teach good lessons.

So what are the lessons Jesus draws? I see five lessons:

  1. “For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light.” (Luke 16:8) The manager used his present to prepare for his future. God’s people need to learn to do the same. We need to be shrewd in that way.
  2. “make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth” (Luke 16:9) Relationships are our best investment. If our use of money leaves us isolated and alone, we haven’t been very shrewd.
  3. “One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much. If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own?” (Luke 16:10-12) We are but stewards; what we have is not our own, but God’s. If we can’t handle physical things, will God entrust us with the more valuable spiritual goods?
  4. “No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” (Luke 16:13) Money is a nice servant, but a terrible master. More than half of the parables that Jesus told had to do with material wealth. It’s an important topic!
  5. “For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God.” (Luke 16:15) That one slaps me in the face. I get caught up in the pursuit of what the world says is valuable and forget that those things are not only not valuable, they are an abomination!

Any other thoughts on this unusual passage?

(My sermon on this passage can be read at SermonCentral.com)

My God can beat up your God

All right, I’m troubled. I was reading some of the comments on a popular blog, and I started wondering if we were on the same planet. Many of those commenting come from my faith heritage, but…

Basically they were saying that some of the things the Bible says can’t be true because those things don’t fit their view of God. One person wrote: “These – the violent stories – were how the people understood God and how they looked back and interpreted their actions but I think we can say with confidence that God was not interested in killing every living thing. Unless we are willing to say that the God of the OT is not the God revealed to us in Jesus Christ.” That’s not my God, they’re saying, He doesn’t act that way. So whoever wrote the Bible was wrong.

Reminds me of Job and his friends. Nothing about what God was doing fit their theology, so they tried to make things fit. The friends blamed Job. Job blamed God. Then, in the end, God stepped in (or, as the commentators on that blog would say, some Hebrew wrote what he imagined God saying… but I digress). In Job 41 and 42, God basically says, “I’m God. You’re man. I don’t have to make sense to you.”

That troubles us, but it’s true. Fact is, if God is as much bigger as us as we think He is, we shouldn’t be able to fully understand Him. To use a crude example, it’s like cockroaches trying to explain humans. What we do probably doesn’t make much sense to them. In cockroach terms, man is inexplicable. Shouldn’t God be hard for us to explain?

Here go a few principles that come to mind:

  • God is not limited by human logic. Just because something about Him doesn’t make sense, that doesn’t mean it’s not true.
  • God is not limited by the “laws” of science and/or nature.
  • God is only limited by His nature. He is holy, so He can’t sin. He is truth, so He can’t lie. [I have problems fitting love and hate into this; any ideas?]

Bottom line: My God is so big that I can’t fully understand nor explain Him. When revealed truths conflict with my preconceived notions, it’s my notions that need adjustment.

If your God isn’t that big, then my God can beat up yours!

Pleasing sacrifices

In the last post, we looked at what Jesus quoted from Hosea 6:6 — “I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.”

Other passages in the Old Testament seem to have that “anti-sacrifice” attitude, like this one from Jeremiah 7:

“Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: “Add your burnt offerings to your sacrifices, and eat the flesh. For in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, I did not speak to your fathers or command them concerning burnt offerings and sacrifices.” (Jer 7:21-22)

Wait a minute. Wasn’t it God who ordered the people to sacrifice? Why did He change His mind? I don’t think He did. I just think His people misunderstood Him. They wanted to live their lives according to their own wishes, even worshiping other gods, then come and “get right with Yahweh” by offering the prescribed sacrifices.

I think that Psalm 51 offers a good bit of insight into this: “For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. Do good to Zion in your good pleasure; build up the walls of Jerusalem; then will you delight in right sacrifices, in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings; then bulls will be offered on your altar.” (Psa 51:16-19) If you just read verses 16 and 17, you can still get that idea that all God wanted were spiritual sacrifices. But if you read on down to verse 19, you see that, once the spiritual part was taken care of (and Jerusalem taken care of), God would again be pleased with sacrifices.

Psalm 50 is also important when talking about sacrifices: “Not for your sacrifices do I rebuke you; your burnt offerings are continually before me. I will not accept a bull from your house or goats from your folds. For every beast of the forest is mine, the cattle on a thousand hills. I know all the birds of the hills, and all that moves in the field is mine. “If I were hungry, I would not tell you, for the world and its fullness are mine. Do I eat the flesh of bulls or drink the blood of goats? Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving, and perform your vows to the Most High, and call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.” (Psa 50:8-15) God didn’t rebuke them for their sacrifices, but for the attitude in which they were offered. And He wanted them to offer thank offerings, those spontaneous offerings, rather than merely fulfilling the prescribed sacrifices. God wanted their worship to come from the heart, not merely be a time of rule following.

There are lots of other passages to look at, but the point is this: God didn’t want “rule following” if the heart wasn’t in it. Yet He did seek certain physical types of worship. It wasn’t all a matter of right attitudes; right actions were also sought, in worship and in daily life.

So how does all of this apply to us today?

The verse Jesus recommended twice

“Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matthew 9:13)

And if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless.” (Matthew 12:7)

Maybe it’s a coincidence, but Jesus twice told people that they needed to learn the meaning of Hosea 6:6.

Let’s say it’s not a coincidence. What do you think is so important about this verse that would make Jesus quote it twice?