THE STORY OF SALVATION IN THE OLD TESTAMENT
We noted in the study on the book of Malachi that this book ‘closes’ the Old Testament and for about 400 years, there was ‘silence’ as far as the fresh prophecy to God’s people was concerned.
It would be profitable for us to see and appreciate the ‘story’ of Salvation in the Old Testament and to see subsequently how the Old Testament and the New Testament comprise one story of God’s redemption for the descendants of the first Adam, and how the two are intimately related and comprise the whole progressive Salvation and redemption history and story.
Although we can appreciate the direct doctrinal teaching in many places in the Old Testament, we are also meant to read it as the story of how God gradually ‘formed the people of Israel for Himself’ (Isa. 43:21) so that they would develop an outlook and a way of life ‘different from those of all other people’. It took centuries of loving creative discipline under HIs Word, and its providential control of every aspect of their lives for this to happen. Yet God gradually wove mercy and judgement together in all His dealings with them so that finally their Messiah could be born. Through the series of events in God’s dealings with them, His purpose has been gradually to show us the kind of person He was. Each event was intended to bear the stamp of His nature.
God saved the people of Israel, not only for their own sakes but for the sake of His holy name. ” It is not your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name which you have profaned among the nations. I will sanctify my great name” (Ezek. 36:22).
Every aspect of Israel’s history can be understood as a declaration of His name. He declared His unfailing generosity in the blessings and gifts He bestowed upon them in their need, His omnipotence when, having been crushed by ruthless enemies, He marvellously delivered them, His righteousness when He strictly punished disobedience. It was especially in the way that He held on to them in the face of their own continuous wilful rejection of His leadership and kindness (even when the best of them completely failed Him) – Isa. 63:5 that the fullest revelation of who He was became enacted. We can see this in the book of Malachi, when even after God saved Israel again and again and loved her in His covenant with her, even after giving them the land of Canaan and after the exile (because of outright rebellion), the people still had disputes with the great almighty Triune God. For us today, we must take heed not to be people who forget God’s goodness, deliverance, grace and love in His dealings with us and end up like God’s people in the time of Malachi.
One major problem with God’s people in the time of Malachi was their sense of entitlement. Israel thought that it was about them – they regarded themselves as special people and they looked down on other nations and races – they forgot that it was all about God, His holy name, His person and His glory. Even in Malachi, God declared,
“My name will be great among the nations, from where the sun rises and to where it sets. In every place incense and pure offerings will be brought to Me, because My name will be great among the nations”, says the Lord Almighty (Malachi 1:10).
For believers today, we also tend to have this same sense of entitlement. We think that as God’s people, we are special and God’s glory depends on how we perform as Christians and as a church. We forget that it is about God – His honour, His glory, His greatness, His grace, love and mercy. God can do without our worship, especially if we worship things, persons, and the values of the world instead of worshipping Him. Everyone worships – even non-believers except that they worship everything else apart from God.
The story of the Old Testament also prepared the arrival of the Messiah. God shaped the social, national, and religious traditions within the life of His people Israel. He kept them apart from other nations, seeking persistently with patience, love and ruthless discipline, to mould their customs, thoughts and future ideals. Israel failed to recognise that God chose Israel to reach the world with His redemption and salvation; it was not for Israel exclusively – the world was given the opportunity to see and appreciate what a people under God looks like in terms of their values, morality, holiness and love. However, Israel failed again and again in her history and at times ended up worse than the nations around her.
When Christ came He found not only guidance about his career from the Scriptures, but a place where he could be received as an infant, grow with the favour of God upon him and become ‘strong and filled with wisdom’ (Luke 2:40). Only through centuries of such training in family life, could there have been a home in Nazareth where the Son of God, born as one of ourselves could begin to learn the filial and godly obedience which was to come to its climax in the offering which he made for us, as man, on the Cross.
God also arranged the political development such that there was relative peace during the reign of the Roman empire, with general good governance, good system of roads (which subsequently helped in the spread of the gospel).
We see how the story of redemption and salvation is seen in the whole Bible and how the story of salvation becomes progressively clearer and distinct with the passing of time, from the time of Abraham to the coming of the Messiah. We also know that it did not stop at the coming and sacrifice of the Messiah. We, God willing, shall elaborate on this further.
THE STORY OF RESTORATION OF THE COSMOS
The Bible tells us that from eternity it has been God’s gracious plan, purpose, and pleasure to restore the cosmos to perfection at the end of the day through the mediation of the “last Adam,” the God-man Jesus Christ. We have seen how this plan of redemption and restoration was revealed in the Old Testament – and it would progress further with the coming of the Messiah – God became flesh, fulfilled all righteousness, bore our curse, and rose triumphantly on the third day – this is the gospel.
All the decisive events in the plan of God save the last have now been played out on the stage of world history. The key to understand the plan, as it affects mankind, is to see that by God’s appointment each man’s destiny depends on how he stands related to the two representative men, Adam and Christ. What God planned and desired was to exercise His kingship over the rebel world by bringing in His kingdom – that is, a state of bliss for sinners who repented and returned to His obedience and find salvation from sin’s guilt, power, and evil effects.
God, having achieved world redemption through Christ’s death, raised Him to life and set Him on the throne of the universe, where now He reigns, furthering His kingdom by sending the Spirit to draw men to Himself and by strengthening them for faithful obedience, in the face of mounting and intense opposition until the day dawns for His return to judge all men, and finally to renew all things and to make all things new. If we have been redeemed, the question that becomes relevant is by what values are we living? What set of values shapes our decisions? What set of values shapes the way we think about what we would like our life to be like? What values shaped the way we think about relationships? What values shape the way we think about ourselves? What values shape the way we use our leisure time? What values shape the way we use our money and our possessions”
Are we living for eternity?
In the restoration of the Cosmos, the goal of God’s action is to glorify Himself by restoring and perfecting His disordered cosmos, and the gospel call is to abandon rebellion, acknowledge Christ’s lordship, thankfully accept the free gift of forgiveness and new life in the kingdom.
While Jesus is the Lord of history and thus guarantees our victory, it is not the end of the battle. There is still struggle, so that we see the blood of martyrs and even the struggle in our own congregation against the dark powers.
But being Christians is not merely a matter of believing the right things. Genuine faith leads to the bearing of good fruit. The gospel is the announcement of the powerful thing that God has done. The gospel transforms us and separates us from this present evil age – it makes us different.
We must remember that this life is not a destination. It is a preparation for the final destination, so that our faith, though tested, will result in praise, glory and honour at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Here is what eternity tells us, and it is deeply humbling: eternity is not about us; it is about Christ. The greatest, deepest mystery and joy in my life is and ever will be that I have been included in Christ. This broken, lost, rebellious person will actually be a trophy that will point to the glory of the grace of King Christ. That is what the here and now is about.
FACING THE REALITY OF OUR SPIRITUAL SICKNESS
We have looked at the story of God’s restoration of the cosmos. But have we truly pondered why God needs to restore the cosmos (including us)?
The truth is that we are all spiritually sick – sick through sin, which is a wasting and killing disease of the heart; the unconverted are sick unto death; those who have come to know Christ and been born again continue sick, but they are gradually better as the work of grace goes on in their lives.
Unfortunately, even we who are born again, we forget we are still spiritually sick and we think we are completely ‘healed’; our attitude and response to other believers reflect this truth – we find it so very easy to tell others their failures and weaknesses without realising the ‘beams’ in our own eyes.
The fact is: the church is a ‘hospital’ in which nobody is completely well, and anyone can relapse at any time. Those of us who go around strutting, thinking that we are spiritually completely well, are even in a worse situation – we would find it harder to be open and teachable to correction from those who love us.
Pastors and leaders no less than others are weakened by pressure from the world, the flesh, and the Devil, with their lures of profit, pleasure, and pride, and they must acknowledge that they the healers, remain sick and wounded and therefore need to apply the medicines of Scripture in themselves as well as to the sheep whom they fend in Christ’s name. If they remain on their pedestals and think they are ‘untouchable’ and need no correction and healing from God and His Word, then they are indeed miserable and hypocritical servants of God.
The fact is that all Christians need Scripture truths as medicine for their souls at every stage and the making and accepting of applications is the administrating and swallowing of it. The ability to apply God’s truth therapeutically implies the prior ability to diagnose spiritual ill health, and diagnostic ability is learned as much by discovering and keeping track of one’s own sins and weaknesses as by any other means.
Hence the need for daily self-examination before God; hence the need to give priority to the study and learning of Scripture, individually, and in groups, and in receiving teaching and preaching from those who are more mature than us. And maturity is not just knowledge – it is more than that because it encompasses experience and years of walking with the Lord God.
Raising a sensitive area: pastors and teachers should be continually aware of how much they can receive from the laity through the fellowship they are often willing to give as they respond to their ministry. The pastors and teachers can receive both encouragement and insight through the prayers of the people and the discussion with them on the text. They also need to be open to realise that some of our lay hearers may have seen with greater clarity than they have on certain issues. These lay individuals can help the pastors and teachers to enlarge the experience they have already sought to share; it then becomes possible for those in leadership to discover fresh aspects of the manifold wisdom of God (Eph.3:10). Is this not a manifestation of ‘churchlife’ where every member is significant and each member has something to contribute to the body under the headship of Christ?
The church is poorer for it if every member, including leaders, thinks he or she has monopoly of the truth. We are to edify one another as we edify God’s church.