(This is the second blog of a three part blog on the Old Testament and Christian Spiritual Formation by Dr. Stan Harstine, Professor of Religion at Friends University – read his first blog here) Learning to think like Jesus thought is a difficult task. It is made more...
(This is the second blog of a three part blog on the Old Testament and Christian Spiritual Formation by Dr. Stan Harstine, Professor of Religion at Friends University – read his first blog here)
Learning to think like Jesus thought is a difficult task. It is made more difficult if we are unfamiliar with the Scripture of Jesus!! The Old Testament has much to share with us in the challenges to following God, both the positive outcomes and the negative consequences. Jesus’ thinking was shaped by these writings about his ancestors’ covenant relationship with the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
How does the Old Testament help us live as Jesus lived?
For all the attention given in various Christian circles to returning to the “New Testament period” or to following the teachings of Jesus, too often little attention is paid to the source of those teachings. Remaining in the Gospel of Luke for examples, we find in the Temptation account three quotations by Jesus of Old Testament passages, and two more by the tempter: from Deuteronomy by Jesus and Psalms by the tempter. Later in the same chapter, the Gospel records the passage in Isaiah 61:1-2 read by Jesus, which he then describes as being fulfilled in their hearing. (Luke 4:4-12 and 18-21) Yet despite these clues many followers of Jesus profess ignorance of, or else devalue, the Old Testament while seeking in their own life to “have the mind of Christ.” As the song “Old Time Religion” goes, “it was good for [Jesus] and it’s good enough for me.”
So, how does the Old Testament help us live as Jesus lived? I would propose two main thoughts for consideration: It helps transform and shape our narrative about God’s character and God’s purpose.
There is probably no greater narrative that can negatively affect our apprenticeship with Jesus than our narrative concerning God’s character. The first of the Apprentice series, The Good and Beautiful God, wrestles with many of those. Our modern world often has a schizophrenic perspective on the God of the Bible, viewing the Old Testament and New Testament as portraying two distinct deities. Yet it is the God of the Old Testament whom Jesus calls Father and urges his audience to follow and love! The word schizophrenia comes from the same Greek word Paul uses in encouraging his audience to have, not a mind divided from Christ but rather, a mind united with Christ. So what does the Old Testament teach us about the character of God?
One of the key attributes of God in the OT is that of hesed, frequently translated as “lovingkindness” or “steadfast love.” It appears over 200 times in the text. The first appears within the story of Sodom and Gomorrah in the words of Lot.
Now behold, your servant has found favor in your sight, and you have magnified your lovingkindness, which you have shown me by saving my life; but I cannot escape to the mountains, for the disaster will overtake me and I will die; (Gen 19:19, NAS95)
Over half the total appearances of this word are in the Book of Psalms. This “hymnbook” of the people of God returns time and again to the theme of God’s character.
For the king trusts in the LORD, And through the lovingkindness of the Most High he will not be shaken. (Psalm 21:8, NAS95)
How precious is Your lovingkindness, O God! And the children of men take refuge in the shadow of Your wings. (Psalm 36:7, NAS95)
Yet, the word is also translated as “righteousness” as in Psalm 5:8. O LORD, lead me in Your righteousness because of my foes; Make Your way straight before me. (NAS95) Interestingly, the next verse of the psalm is referenced by Paul in Romans 3 as he demonstrates that there is none righteous, no not one! There is nothing reliable in what they say; Their inward part is destruction itself. Their throat is an open grave; They flatter with their tongue. (Psalm 5:9, NAS95)
Who is the God Jesus proclaims if not the God described in the “Writings?” One of the favorite texts to utilize in reshaping narratives–indeed that is what Jesus was doing at the time!–is the beatitude section of Matthew 5. If we think Jesus found his teaching within the Old Testament, we would be right. The central portion of the Beatitudes, 5:4-8, consists of Jesus rephrasing teachings from His Scriptures.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
To proclaim the favorable year of the LORD, And the day of vengeance of our God; To comfort all who mourn, (Isaiah 61:2)
“Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth.
But the humble will inherit the land, And will delight themselves in abundant prosperity. (Psalm 37:11)
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
“Ho! Every one who thirsts, come to the waters; And you who have no money come, buy and eat. Come, buy wine and milk, Without money and without cost. Why do you spend money for what is not bread, And your wages for what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good, And delight yourself in abundance. Incline your ear and come to Me. Listen, that you may live; And I will make an everlasting covenant with you, According to the faithful mercies shown to David. (Isaiah 55:1-3)
“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
The merciful man does himself good, But the cruel man does himself harm. (Proverb 11:17)
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
Who may ascend into the hill of the LORD? And who may stand in His holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, Who has not lifted up his soul to falsehood, And has not sworn deceitfully. (Psalm 24:3-4)
One trap followers of Jesus are prone to stumble into is the trap of substitution. We consciously or subconsciously replace Yahweh, God the Father with Jesus, God the Son, and remove God the Father from our world of thinking. This is easy to do based on some statements of Jesus.
Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, these things the Son also does in like manner. (John 5:19)
Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? (John 14:9)
Yet John’s Prologue ends with No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him. (John 1:18) This, and every other reference to “God” in the New Testament writing references the God presented in the Old Testament. Jesus is portrayed throughout John’s Gospel as explaining this God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The Greek word used for “explain” is the word lying behind the preaching word, hermeneutics. Jesus is presenting the God of the Old Testament in a way that those around him might see the truth of God’s character and experience the steadfast love of this very same God. The stories found within the Old Testament testify to the hesed of God, the lovingkindness, the steadfast love dependent not on the actions and attitudes of the humans but on the character of God! One example will suffice.
Due to a famine throughout the regions of Egypt and Canaan, the descendants of Abraham leave the land they were given and go to Egypt for nourishment. They become comfortable in that new place and remain several generations, prospering on their personal connections to a previously important individual, now deceased. Their political fortunes change, as do their financial affairs. Soon, their physical freedoms are removed and they are situated at the bottom rung of the social ladder. After many decades of seeming forgetfulness, the Old Testament records that they “cried out” and their cry “rose up to God” and “God remembered His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” (Exodus 2:23-24, NAS95) It does not say that they cried out to God, only that they cried out because of their bondage and God heard their groaning.
Many are familiar with the stories of Moses, that God called him out of the wilderness and sent him to confront the ruler of the land and to rescue His people. God’s hesed does not permit leaving his people in suffering. The book of Judges repeats this cycle, but makes clear that when the generation that knew the deliverance of God died, their progeny forgot and turned away from God. Yet, when they cry out in their suffering, God delivers them through one he sends. What a different narrative than one that reads, “unless I am really good and do everything I am supposed to do, God will not help me at all.”
In the next post I will explain a second element of Jesus’ thinking we can learn in the Old Testament, that of God’s purpose.
Feature Image Photo Credit: Rachel Titriga
An educator since 1984, Stan Harstine is convinced that his career consists of “teaching students to think.” He has engaged in this career since 2002 at Friends University using biblical studies as his medium. His greatest accomplishment for 2014 was having 3 sons graduated from college, gainfully employed and not living at home.Share on Facebook Tweet This Pin This