The Gospel-Centered Old Testament?


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This past Sunday night I preached that the entire Bible–both Old and New Testaments–is God-breathed. From this I proposed that the entire Bible is therefore gospel-centered and Christo-centric. This means that the gospel can be seen and proclaimed in one way or another from any text of Scripture. This kind of thinking is sadly somewhat foreign to many of us as we think of the Old and New Testaments as being separate and disconnected. From this thinking flows the thought that the Old Testament is all law, no grace, and no gospel. And while the New Testament definitely contains further, and maybe even heightened revelation from God in Jesus, this in no way implies that there is no grace or gospel elements in the Old Testament. To be sure, the grace and gospel of God is more fully displayed in Jesus and the apostles. However, where God is, there is grace. And God is all over his God-breathed Old Testament. In fact, the Law itself is a tremendous grace. The sacrificial system was not a necessary system of which God was obliged to implement.

But is it not a giant leap to go from saying there are elements of grace in the Old Testament to saying there are elements of the gospel in the Old Testament? I do not think it is for three major reasons:

1. Jesus’ Words

After Jesus rose from the dead, he was talking with two men on the road to Emmaus. As they walked, Luke tells us, “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27). Further in the same chapter, Luke records Jesus saying that he was fulfillment of the OT (Luke 24:44). The nature of Scripture is Christocentric. All Scripture either anticipates or explains Christ. It is high time we realize that the Bible is all about him. When we read, preach, and share the sacred writings of the Old Testament may our hearts burn within us as we see the imprint of Christ and the elements of the gospel.

2. New Testament Evangelism

Secondly, the examples of evangelism that we see in the book of Acts (note: this is after the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ and the coming of the Holy Spirit) make use of the Old Testament. In other words, when the apostles and early Christians shared the gospel, they did so through the Old Testament. In Acts 17, Paul went into a synagogue in Thessalonica “as was his custom” to reason with them “from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead” (Acts 17:1-3, emphasis added). Another example can be found in Acts 8 as Philip explained the gospel to an Ethiopian eunuch from Isaiah 53.

So, from the Old Testament, Paul explained and proved the gospel. We should read the Old Testament with gospel eyes searching for Christ. We have the advantage that Moses, David, Solomon, Elijah, Isaiah, and others did not; to be able to read the Old Testament on this side of Calvary. We can and should read the Old Testament through the cross. When we do, we will see our dire need for Jesus, tremendous foreshadowing of Jesus, direct and indirect anticipation of Jesus, and countless types of Jesus. If we do not read the Old Testament gospel-centeredly and Christo-centricly, I believe we are reading it incorrectly.

3. The Apostles’ Words

It is also notable that the apostles quoted made extraordinary use of the Old Testament as they provided new revelation. It has been said that either through direct quotation or direct allusion, there are 278 different verses from the Old Testament cited in the New Testament. In a sense, the New Testament writers interpret for us many Old Testament texts in this gospel-centered, Christo-centric way. If Paul and the other inspired New Testament authors (most notably here are Matthew and the author of Hebrews) used the Old Testament to explain the gospel and further new covenant revelation, then it would be foolish for us to think that the Old Testament is empty of new covenant elements, even though the new covenant is not inaugurated until the coming of Christ. For the apostles, the Old Testament was illumined with the light of Jesus Christ. May it be so with us.

An Example from Martin Luther

Finally, in honor of Reformation Day, I want to give an example of the not only God-breathed nature of Scripture, but also the gospel-centered and Christo-centric nature of Scripture in the life and writings of Martin Luther. In 1518, during his series of lectures on the Psalms Luther explains his discovery of the gospel. Note his emphasis on his deep study of Scripture (I indicate this through italics) and feel the passion he had for the God-breathed Word of God:

I had indeed been captivated with an extraordinary ardor for understanding Paul in the Epistle to the Romans. But up till then it was … a single word in Chapter 1 [:17], ‘In it the righteousness of God is revealed,’ that had stood in my way. For I hated that word ‘righteousness of God,’ which according to the use and custom of all the teachers, I had been taught to understand philosophically regarding the formal or active righteousness, as they called it, with which God is righteous and punishes the unrighteous sinner.

Though I lived as a monk without reproach, I felt that I was a sinner before God with an extremely disturbed conscience. I could not believe that he was placated by my satisfaction. I did not love, yes, I hated the righteous God who punishes sinners, and secretly, if not blasphemously, certainly murmuring greatly, I was angry with God, and said, “As if, indeed, it is not enough, that miserable sinners, eternally lost through original sin, are crushed by every kind of calamity by the law of the decalogue, without having God add pain to pain by the gospel and also by the gospel threatening us with his righteous wrath!” Thus I raged with a fierce and trouble conscience. Nevertheless, I beat importunately upon Paul at that place, most ardently desiring to know what St. Paul wanted.

At last, by the mercy of God, meditating day and night, I gave heed to the context of the words, namely, “In it righteousness of God is revealed, as it is written, “He who through faith is righteous shall live.” There I began to understand [that] the righteousness of God is that by which the righteous lives by a gift of God, namely by faith. And this is the meaning: the righteousness of God is revealed by the gospel, namely, the passive righteousness with which [the] merciful God justifies us by faith, as it is written, “He who through faith is righteous shall live.” Here I felt that I was altogether born again and had entered paradise itself through open gates. Here a totally other face of the entire Scripture showed itself to me. Thereupon I ran through the Scriptures from memory …

And I extolled my sweetest word with a love as great as the hatred with which I had before hated the word ‘righteousness of God.’ Thus that place in Paul was for me truth the gate to paradise
I pray we would remember Luther today and commit ourselves to the Bible the way he did. Celebrate the Reformation that Luther started in 1517 by immersing yourself in the God-breathed, gospel-centered, Christo-centric Scripture and see Christ in the entire Bible.

 

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