Friday, December 12, 2014

Does the Old Testament Make the Bible Irrelevant?

It is an unfortunate joy for some people to bring up the lifestyles of the Hebrews in the Ancient Near East and attribute them with ridiculous ways of life and thought, while decrying God as unjust, harsh, and—now—irrelevant. The most common quips are sarcastically spoken of in regards to the dealing of sin.

For instance, Exodus 21:17 says that “anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.” Someone would say, “Well then, how should my sister die because I heard her curse my mom?” Similarly, Leviticus 20:10 says that anyone who commits adultery should be put to death. “That’s ridiculous. That would then wipe out quite a few of my own friends and family if that were still true,” one might think with skepticism.

On and on it goes. Granted, there are many verses that list sin after sin after sin and many of the consequences are that the sinners are to simply be put to death. The modern reader of the Bible looks at this in light of his current circumstances within a nation or maybe even a church where the death penalty is not upheld for sins like adultery and juvenile disobedience, which may tempt us to think that the Bible really is outlandish, outdated, and irrelevant, when in reality, the Bible is as consistent as it has always been.

People can be quick to judge the Bible as out of date and entirely ridiculous upon reading the first few books of the Bible, known as the Pentateuch (five books) also known as the Torah—the Law of Moses. What they usually fail to see is the consistent abhorrence that God has with sin from the very beginning of Genesis even to the end of Revelation. Though the present day sees less swift judgment of sin in our understanding of “swift”, does this mean God has in fact changed, or that the Bible is theologically antiquated?

Upon a careful consideration of the sacrificial laws that were integrated into the Israelite culture by God Himself, the modern reader would quickly realize that the reality of sin was always something that had to be dealt with.

For instance, if a common person in the Israelite community committed a sin unintentionally, he or she would have to bring a female goat or lamb without blemish to the entrance of the Tent of Meeting, or the Tabernacle, as a sin offering.

“He shall lay his hand on the head of the sin offering and kill the sin offering in the place of burnt offering . . . and the priest shall burn it on the altar for a pleasing aroma to the Lord. And the priest shall make atonement for him, and he shall be forgiven” (Lev 4:29–31).

There was a prescription for the atonement of sin that required the shedding of blood. God established these regulations in order for the people to see the seriousness of their sin and to keep them holy.

It is important to realize the theological implications of sin and holiness and the shadow of these sacrifices that preempted Christ’s own sacrifice for us as the substitutionary atonement for our own sin. He was the unblemished Lamb of God for us! While God established the way of atonement for sin, it was the obedience of the people to flesh out the sacrificial system that God recognized. One could not simply go through the motions of sacrifice while hating and despising God, or by remaining unrepentant.

Isaiah prophesied, “What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the Lord; I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of well-fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats” (1:11).

Even the prophet Samuel said earlier, “Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams” (1 Sam 15:22).

The writer of Hebrews helps us understand the Old Testament sacrificial law in light of the death and resurrection of Christ when he says quite pointedly that “it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (10:4). He explains in the previous chapter that the Old Testament system consisted of “copies of the heavenly things” (9:23) and that “if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ” (9:13–14).

God has always hated sin and has always had a way of dealing with it. Some crimes were indeed called to be dealt with by way of capital punishment including some of the following: killing someone (Ex 21:12), striking your mother or father (21:15), kidnapping (21:16), adultery (Lev 20:10), incest (20:11–12), homosexuality (20:13), bestiality (20:15–16), divination (20:27), and blasphemy (24:16).

God is rightly exercising his justice on rebellion and blatant sin when He decides to kill the sinner. As people within the New Testament age, we remember the oft quoted verse: “The wages of sin is death” (Rom 6:23), yet sometimes fail to grasp the full implication of that.

Is it any wonder that the Apostle Paul reiterated to the Romans that the sins of the world are evident in acts of maliciousness, disobedient children, murder, envy, and the like (1:28–32) and then goes on to ask, “Do you suppose, O man . . . that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God's kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God's righteous judgment will be revealed” (2:3–5).

Let’s not forget the example that God made out of Ananias and Saphira when they lied to God about their financial donation. He killed them on the spot, in front of the whole church (Acts 5). This was not an Old Testament event.

Make no mistake friends, the expectation of God still stands. His justice has not slipped. His common grace and mercy is being given to all who aren’t killed the moment they sin. It is—as Paul put it—His kindness, forbearance, and patience that is meant to lead us to repentance. He gives some of us more time than others, but He will still execute justice on the whole earth nonetheless—either judgment with mercy, or judgment without—depending on whether or not we have been justified by God through our faith in Jesus Christ.

The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ cleanses the sinner of their sin and takes away the penalty of the sin—eternal death in Hell. The Gospel (good news) is only appreciated when the bad news is understood. Christ’s death covered even the previous sins of those Old Testament saints who had faith in God—evident in their repentant and obedient lives (Rom 3:25).

While the speedy and seemingly harsh reality of the Old Testament history in its dealing with sin is something that may seem inconsistent today—it is not because God has become indifferent to sin, rather He is extending more and more opportunity for those who do not yet believe, to confess their sin to God and call upon the Name of the Lord for forgiveness (Rom 10:13).

God’s sovereign nature is simultaneously just and merciful. Praise God for that!

“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 6:23).

Friends, the Bible is not now irrelevant just because God is patient with us and has sent His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, to act as both the High Priest and sacrifice once and for all. This very event of the virgin-born Christ fulfilled numerous prophecies from over the centuries for the sake of taking away the sins of the world. Jesus Christ fulfilled the Law and made a way for us to be reconciled to God, in spite of what we deserved.

Don’t presume on His patience. Rather, in repentance, believe and call upon the Name of the Lord in faith and you will be saved.

We are encouraged by God’s patience for the sake of evangelism and we are encouraged by God’s patience for the sake of justice. As the Apostle Peter put it:

“Do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Pet 3:8–9).

In His Sovereign Grip,


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