I’m sure for some of you out there reading this, today marks an exciting day. Today we begin our journey through the New Testament toward the completion of our Bible Challenge for 2014. As of today we are 75% finished this challenge! What an amazing thing.
But as we being our turn into the story of Jesus, let me remind you that we must not think about the Bible as two separate stories or two separate entities. The Bible is one story, creation to redemption. It is not “the old plan” vs. “the new plan”. It is not vengeful God vs. grace filled God. The Bible is one story, and both of the Testaments are key to that story. So while it may seem natural to rejoice that we are leaving the Old Testament behind, please do not forget everything that the Old Testament has taught us. It has taught us about God’s love for humanity from the very beginning, and how we threw that love in his face when we disobeyed him (and continue to disobey him). It has taught us about God’s reaction to sin. We call that reaction judgement, but let’s not forget that God is holy, and his very nature makes the sight of sin abhorrent to him. But even in the Old Testament, God provided a way through sacrifices, to shift his anger over sin away from his people. The Old Testament has taught us about God’s mercy and grace as well. Grace is not a New Testament invention, and God’s grace is certainly evident in many places in the stories of the Old Testament.
I think the thing that has stood out for me the most from our Old Testament readings was how many of the promises we cling to as Christians are actually Old Testament promises. Promises about God’s provision, about God’s faithfulness, about God’s plan for us, about our uniqueness in God’s eyes, about God’s watchfulness over us, they are all Old Testament promises that are either repeated or build on in the New Testament.
Of course, the biggest promise from the Old Testament that we are beginning to explore today is God’s promise to send his Chosen One, the Root of Jesse, the Messiah to save his people from their sins. Jesus. While today is not about the birth of Jesus, our readings today set the stage for God’s physical entrance into human history. The main figure in that preparation is John the Baptist, born to Zechariah and Elizabeth among more than a couple miracles.
Allow me to remind you of something that is important in light of Gabriel’s visits to Zechariah, Elizabeth and Mary; Elizabeth’s miraculous pregnancy (remember she was barren) and Mary’s visit from the Holy Spirit. We have transitioned from Old to New Testaments with the turn of the clock. Bible time did not happen that way. Between the writings and prophesies of Malachi and Gabriel’s entrance on the scene in Luke chapter one, four hundred years had passed. Four hundred years in which God was silent. No prophets, no angelic visits, no movements of God’s angels to rescue or punish his people, nothing. Biblical scholars call these the “400 silent years”. Out of that silence, these things start to happen.
Does that mean God was not working or present during those 400 years? No. And to be honest I can’t explain why he was silent for such a long period of time. All I know is that the huge silence was followed by the biggest noise creation had ever experienced. To be honest, creation will not experience such a noise again until Jesus returns with the trumpet blast and the shout of the archangels. But that’s a story for another day.
- What was familiar from this passage of scripture? What was something I already knew?
- What was new from this piece of scripture? What was something that really stood out for me that I have never paid attention to before?
- Does Jesus appear in this passage of scripture?
- How does this passage apply to my life, here and now? Do I need to do anything about it?
- What prayer would I offer up to God after reading this piece of scripture?
Tomorrow’s Reading: Matthew 1; Luke 2:1-38