Posts tagged New Testament
I can already tell that blogging through the New Testament is going to be a challenge. While the Old Testament writers often devoted multiple chapters to the same story arc, the New Testament writers, especially the writers of the gospels – the books about the life of Jesus – have a tendency to move a little more swiftly.
Here, in just four short chapters, Matthew moves us from the time prior to the birth of Jesus through his birth, baptism, testing in the wilderness, the calling of his first followers and all the way to the beginning of his public ministry. That’s around 30 years of history in the life of the most important man in history condensed to 4 chapters.
But you see, Matthew really wanted to cut to the chase. He wanted to get to the part where Jesus truly began to make a visible impact on the world around him. The rest, for Matthew, is background. But the background is important! In fact, Matthew takes great pains to make sure that the people of Israel (and, ultimately, we) can connect the dots.
He begins with a genealogy that traces Jesus’ lineage all the way back to Abraham – 42 generations. To us, this may not seem all that significant, but for the Jews, this was key to them receiving and understanding Jesus as the Messiah. The Messiah would come from the line of David and Abraham. If Jesus wasn’t from that line, then nothing else mattered.
Matthew then goes on, in several passages, to show how Jesus’ life fulfilled the prophecies about the Messiah from centuries earlier. He ties the virgin birth, the birthplace in Bethlehem, the time spent in Egypt, Herod’s killing of baby boys, the childhood home of Nazereth, the appearance and ministry of John the Baptist and Jesus’ ministry in Galilee – ties them all back to the prophecies found in scripture. Again, all of this in just 4 chapters.
There is so much more contained here, but I want to point out one series of events that has served as a guiding light and reminder to me throughout my life. They begin with Joseph, the “surrogate father” of Jesus. Joseph played a crucial role in God’s plan for the world – especially in those early years.
Just look at the obedience of Joseph and how it plays into the prophecies about the Messiah. We know from other accounts that Joseph and Mary went to Bethlehem for a census because it was Joseph’s hometown. Jesus, then, was born in Bethlehem, which fulfilled a prophesy. Joseph gave him the name Jesus, as instructed by an angel. Joseph then, after being warned in another dream, took his family to Egypt, which fulfilled another prophecy. Then, after beginning the journey back to Judea, he was once again warned in a dream and instead took his family and settled in Nazareth – fulfilling yet another prophecy.
You see, Joseph, by most accounts, is kind of a background player in the life of Jesus. But, as we’ve discovered, the background can be very important. Joseph’s role here seems to be that of unknowing prophetic tour guide, leading this baby Messiah down the path that God had already carved out for him. I have to wonder how many other times, in Jesus’ young life, Joseph was the guiding force, steered by the voice of God to lead and raise the child who would save the world.
Background is important. Bit players are important. Joseph, for me, serves as a constant reminder of that. I would rather play a bit part in God’s great story than to strive to be the star of a show he didn’t write.
When people think about God, many think of two different “versions” of God. There is the Old Testament God – inflexible and sometimes cruel – and the New Testament God – gracious and compassionate. And, perhaps, if you just glance at the Bible or only read the most popular verses, it might be easy to draw that conclusion. However, we’re reading through the entire Bible and as we do, I think we’re getting a clearer picture of the full nature of God.
I’ve already talked about God’s willingness to be flexible and meet the people in ways that they could understand. But check out these verses from 2 Chronicles, chapter 30:
Although most of the many people who came from Ephraim, Manasseh, Issachar and Zebulun had not purified themselves, yet they ate the Passover, contrary to what was written. But Hezekiah prayed for them, saying, “May the Lord, who is good, pardon everyone who sets their heart on seeking God—the Lord, the God of their ancestors—even if they are not clean according to the rules of the sanctuary.” And the Lord heard Hezekiah and healed the people. (2 Chronicles 30:18-20)
Do you see what happened there? These people hadn’t followed the rules. By eating the Passover meal while they were unclean, they had defiled the Passover, according to the law. A “by the book” king would have banished these people and begged God to forgive him. But Hezekiah somehow understood the heart of God. And so, rather than trying to save his own hide (and his kingdom), he went to God on behalf of the “lawbreakers,”
Hezekiah understood that the desire of the heart is more important than the outward acts. As God would later tell Samuel, people look on the outside, but God looks on the inside. Or, as Jesus would put it when criticizing the Pharisees:
“You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.” (Matthew 23:25)
You see, God wanted the people to “clean the outside of the cup,” (he had given them orders to do so) but the more important thing was the inside. To put it another way, God would rather get his hands dirty (on the outside of the cup) than to drink filth (from the inside). And so, God gave the “unclean” people a pass. He showed the kind of grace and flexibility that most people associate with the “New Testament God.” In fact, when you read through the New Testament (I know, we’re a ways away from that in this reading plan) check out how many times “New Testament grace” is linked to the Old Testament.
The fact is, there is one God and his nature is and has always been the same. He is a God with high standards, but he also is and has always been a God who is eager to offer grace to those who seek it and to those who seek him.