God, Is that Really You?

God, Is that Really You?


Funerals are difficult occasions. There are so many emotions, difficult questions to answer, and plans to make. Although tough, funerals, memorials, and gravesides allow pastors to see a whole host of people at different levels and understandings of faith. We get to see longtime believers and how they grieve, and we get to help them grieve. We get to minister to those who have mature faith, immature faith, or no faith at all. Many times, it is the grieving process that reveals surprises to pastors as to what level of faith someone has. Hardship and difficulty truly expose what we really believe and how our faith in Jesus impacts us. In fact, in almost every funeral message I preach, I tell people that death forces us to wrestle with what we truly believe about life and death. Death is an enemy that can only be delayed as God allows. With that reality, we either live in light of God who rescues us from death, in Jesus, or we live just trying to make the best with our time. However, in the midst of grief, pain and trial, this wrestling we engage in often leads us to some seemingly problematic questions. We look for comfort in the Bible, but there are also some things that make us scratch our heads or even lead us to cringe a bit. Some of us would possibly even like to throw out sections of the Bible.

This issue arises in particular when it comes to the Old Testament. It can be hard to understand and interpret. I have even had people just want to avoid it all together because it is just so different from the New Testament, or at least God seems to be so different. When we talk about the difference between the Old and New Testaments, there are many rabbit trails we could scurry down and many tracks we could take. I mainly want to focus on the fact that Scripture bears out that God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. He is the same in both Old and New Testaments. He is the same because His character is the same.

There are some well-known pastors today writing books and going on “irresistible” tours that recommend we just ignore the Old Testament in our preaching and teaching. The Old Testament just brings up too many issues and problems, so we should just avoid it and focus on the New Testament. In reality, the “problem” with the Old Testament is less about the Old Testament or God and more about us.

The Old Testament describes the messy, sinful condition of humanity. It also describes God’s response to, grace toward, and mercy in the messy, sinful condition of humanity. We must remember that God didn’t give us the Old Testament and history of His people with Instagram filters, quick snapchats, or the selective and algorithmic posts of Facebook. The Old Testament is downright honest and truthful without the filters and edits to make sure we all feel good about ourselves or each other. It shows us that life is full of sin and wickedness rather than perfect homeschool days, walks to the park, beautiful family vacations, and gender reveals. The Old Testament is too real and honest for our Social Media sensibilities. Therefore, we struggle to make the connection of why it is necessary to read, study, and preach. There are just too many questions and debates caused by the Old Testament so let’s just hand out New Testaments (maybe with the Psalms and Proverbs).

As we will look at some scripture (we can’t look at everything) we will see that we shouldn’t be embarrassed by the Old Testament. Even in those areas that we may “feel” like tossing out, the solution is not to get rid of them but to take some time to slow down and understand. We do not need to fear those who would try and trash our God like the noted atheist Richard Dawkins. In his most famous book, The God Delusion, Dawkins describes the God of the Old Testament as “arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”[1] Even the more tempered Agnostic mind doesn’t necessarily have glowing opinions of God’s character. Agnostic Charles Templeton states, “The God of the Old Testament is utterly unlike the God believed in by most practicing Christians. He is an all-too-human deity with the human failings, weaknesses, and passions of men—but on a grand scale. His justice is, by modern standards, outrageous, and his prejudices are deep-seated and inflexible. He is biased, querulous, vindictive, and jealous of his prerogatives.”[2]

Now before we get too frustrated with modern and enlightened minds like these, we must recognize that they are not coming to new conclusions or offering new readings of the Christian Bible. In the second century A.D., Marcion of Sinope (c. 85-160 A.D.), a Christian writer and thinker, refused to accept Yahweh, the deity described in the Old Testament. He refused to accept Him as the “Heavenly Father” proclaimed by Jesus. He concluded that the Old Testament god was a “demiurge” who created the material universe. He was a mere tribal god of the Jewish people. However, Jesus preached of a God marked by compassion, love and mercy.[3] Marcion’s arguments were rejected by the vast majority of early Christians.

God used His people to write Bible in a whole host of ways. We have history, narrative, poetry, prophecy, etc. God reveals Himself and His plan progressively, not in one fell swoop. God has woven together his plan for redemption throughout the Old and New Testaments. God has been patient with humanity so that His people would reach repentance (2 Peter 3:9). Just because something may have been permitted in the Old Testament (i.e. polygamy) does not mean God puts his stamp of approval upon the practice. A parent might permit a younger child to behave in a certain way—even when that behavior is not ultimately the parents will—because the child simply doesn’t know better. Later, however, as the child grows and becomes more responsible, higher standards are imposed.[4] As God’s people grow, so do God’s expectations (Romans 3:21-26).

Let’s look at this same patient and gracious God in the Old Testament. God revealed Himself to Moses and Israel in this way: “6 The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, "The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, 7 keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children's children, to the third and the fourth generation." (Exod. 34:6-7 ESV) Now if you watch too much Oprah you might read a little further to Exodus 34:14 and see that God describes himself as “jealous” as well. Who would want to believe in a god who exhibits such small human character deficiencies like jealousy? Don’t get the wrong idea about God’s “jealousy.” God’s “jealousy” as it is described in scripture refers to his burning love for his people. God wants the best for you and me. God says he is a jealous God in relationship to people worshiping idols. The worship of idols is not good for God’s people, so he is jealous for their hearts and worship. Worshiping and loving God with our whole being is what is best for us.

The Psalms are replete with the testimony of God provision, kindness, power, mercy and grace: “7 Wondrously show your steadfast love, O Savior of those who seek refuge from their adversaries at your right hand.” (Ps. 17:7 ESV)

“8 Good and upright is the LORD; therefore he instructs sinners in the way.” (Ps. 25:8 ESV)

“8 Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!” (Ps. 34:8 ESV)

“7 How precious is your steadfast love, O God! The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings.” (Ps. 36:7 ESV)

“19 Blessed be the Lord, who daily bears us up; God is our salvation. Selah” (Ps. 68:19 ESV)

“16 Answer me, O LORD, for your steadfast love is good; according to your abundant mercy, turn to me.” (Ps. 69:16 ESV)

Most famous, which is often read at funerals, is Psalm 23,

“A Psalm of David. The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. 2 He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. 3 He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake. 4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. 5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. 6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever.” (Ps. 23:1-6 ESV)

Here we see Gods care for the believer. Our confidence in the midst of fearful circumstances is God. If God is such a big jerk in the Old Testament, why would Old Testament believers go to him for comfort?

The character of God drives all the earth to praise our awesome God,

“A Psalm for giving thanks. Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth! 2 Serve the LORD with gladness! Come into his presence with singing! 3 Know that the LORD, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. 4 Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name! 5 For the LORD is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.” (Ps. 100:1-5 ESV)

The Prophets told of the character of God in the midst of their prophecies of both judgement and redemption:

“7 I will recount the steadfast love of the LORD, the praises of the LORD, according to all that the LORD has granted us, and the great goodness to the house of Israel that he has granted them according to his compassion, according to the abundance of his steadfast love.” (Isa. 63:7 ESV) “24 but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth.”  (Jer. 9:24 ESV) “25 The LORD is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him.” (Lam. 3:25 ESV) “7 The LORD is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; he knows those who take refuge in him.” (Nah. 1:7 ESV)

It is God’s steadfast love, justice and goodness that lead him to both promises and blessing. If we were not prone to wander and feel like doing it then God’s judgement would be in the positive. But the reality is humanity is sinful and this is an afront to God. This has been true sins Genesis 3 and is true through today.

Now one may say, “That is great, but the New Testament sets itself up in better light and does not need the Old Testament.” Well, Jesus seemed to think the teaching of the Old Testament was important and Good.

“36 "Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?" 37 And he said to him, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets."” (Matt. 22:36-40 ESV)

You might also hear someone say, “Yeah, but the Old Testament is just too aggressive. You don’t find that kind of judgment in Jesus or the New Testament.” Okay, well let’s take a look at that claim from the words of the New Testament and Jesus. John the Baptist says this while baptizing,

“12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire." (Matt. 3:12 ESV) Jesus also has this to say: “13 "Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. 14 For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few. 15 "Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. 18 A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus you will recognize them by their fruits. 21 "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?' 23 And then will I declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.' (Matt. 7:13-23 ESV) That’s not very nice. Then Jesus even talks about fearing God who can destroy us, “28 And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matt. 10:28 ESV)

Sin is just as serious in the New Testament as it is in the Old Testament. And Jesus is the only propitiation for sins in both Testaments.

The other New Testament writers were clear about the severity of God as well.

“5 This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering-- 6 since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, 7 and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels 8 in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9 They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, 10 when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed. 11 To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, 12 so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.” (2 Thess. 1:5-12 ESV)

“31 It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” (Heb. 10:31 ESV)

“28 Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, 29 for our God is a consuming fire.” (Heb. 12:28-29 ESV)

Our God is kind and compassionate, and he does not change. He has revealed Himself in all of Scripture: both Old and New Testaments. This is a gift: “17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” (Jas. 1:17 ESV) “8 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” (Heb. 13:8 ESV) We do not have to fear that God is going to change from one moment to the next. We do not fear that culture or our sin is going to cause God to change in character or response. He is and always has been just, good and faithful to his promises.

God has shown us his love through his revelation in Scripture and in Jesus (1 Jn 4:8). He has also lovingly given us his Spirit to so that we may testify to the greatness of our God and his steadfast love.

“5 for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now." 6 So when they had come together, they asked him, "Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?" 7 He said to them, "It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth." 9 And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10 And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, 11 and said, "Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven." (Acts 1:5-11 ESV)

This same Spirit who gives us power also has power over our lives. In an event very reminiscent of what happened to some in Israel during their desert wanderings, Ananias and Sapphira learned the hard way about what can happen if we are not honest. “

1But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property, 2 and with his wife's knowledge he kept back for himself some of the proceeds and brought only a part of it and laid it at the apostles' feet. 3 But Peter said, "Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land? 4 While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to man but to God." 5 When Ananias heard these words, he fell down and breathed his last. And great fear came upon all who heard of it…7 After an interval of about three hours his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. 8 And Peter said to her, "Tell me whether you sold the land for so much." And she said, "Yes, for so much." 9 But Peter said to her, "How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord? Behold, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out." 10 Immediately she fell down at his feet and breathed her last. When the young men came in they found her dead, and they carried her out and buried her beside her husband. 11 And great fear came upon the whole church and upon all who heard of these things.” (Acts 5:1-11 ESV)

Sin was serious in the Old Testament and it was serious in the New Testament and it is still serious today.

Humanity is slow to learn and understand. God has been patient with his creation and has shown us his grace in pointing to saving his people through Jesus in the Old Testament. Jesus is the second Adam. He has succeeded where Adam failed. (Romans 5:12-21; 1 Cor 15:22, 45-49) Jesus is the offspring of Eve who will crush Satan’s head (Genesis 3:15; John 12:31; Romans 16:20; Hebrews 2:14-15). Jesus is the second Israel who keeps the covenant flawlessly (Isaiah 42:1; Matthew 3:17; 5:17; 17:5). Jesus is a greater king than David (Matthew 22:41-46; Mark 12:35-37; Luke 20:41-44). Jesus is wiser than Solomon (Luke 11:31). Jesus is a king-priest from the order of Melchizedek (Psalm 110; Hebrews 7:13-17). Jesus is the Son of Man revealed in Daniel (Matthew 8:20; 25:31; Mark 2:10, 28; Luke 19:10). Jesus is our Great High Priest (Hebrews 4:14-16). Jesus is our sacrificial lamb (John 1:29; 1 Corinthians 5:7; Hebrews 9:22; Revelation 5:5-7). All scripture speaks of Jesus (John 5:39).

[1] Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co, 2006), 31.

[2] Charles Templeton, Farewell to God: My Reasons for Rejecting the Christian Faith (Toronto: McClelland & Steward, 1996), 71.

[3] F. L. Cross and Elizabeth A. Livingstone, eds., The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), 1040.

[4] I understand I am taking my life in my own hands by using any reference to parenting.

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