Dear Church Family,
I recently ran across a cartoon that illustrates how many professing Christians don’t believe that the Old Testament is all that important (“Why do Christians even read the Old Testament? The God of the Old Testament was so mean and like, judgy and strict. Then Jesus came along and made everything all about love and peace and forgiveness and happiness and acceptance.”) I suppose it’s understandable for unbelievers – or those who don’t read and study the Bible – to think in such ways, but for Christians to think such things, is inexcusable.
That’s one reason why it’s important for us to continue to read and study the Scriptures in their context; God’s Word gives us one unified story of the history of creation, the fall, redemption, and the coming consummation of all things in the new heavens and new earth. And, that’s one of the reasons why, a couple of weeks ago, we began a new series in the book of Exodus.
Having completed preaching through the first twelve chapters of the Gospel according to John on Sunday mornings, starting in September we’ve begun a new preaching series in the book of Exodus. My goal is to preach through the first eighteen chapters of Exodus before the end of the year, and return to John’s Gospel in January 2016. I had an Old Testament professor in seminary who used to say that since the Old Testament makes up two-thirds of the Bible, then two-thirds of our sermons ought to come from the Old Testament! I’m not sure that I’ve been able to maintain that ratio, but it is a good reminder that we ought not to neglect the majority of God’s Word simply because we may not understand it or how it applies to us today.
Well, in the first sermon of our preaching series in Exodus, I outlined three ways (or categories) of how the New Testament applies the things that we learn in the book of Exodus. What follows is a brief summary of those three categories of application. I hope this will help us to have a greater appreciation and understanding for the unity of the Scriptures, the importance of the Old Testament, and specifically, how we might better understand the book of Exodus in our present place in redemptive history (as members of the new covenant). This is not exhaustive, but here are three ways that the New Testament takes up and applies elements from the book of Exodus.
Application #1 – Law
The first category of application is the Law. In the New Testament, the Law of God which was revealed through Moses is applied both negatively and positively.
Negatively, James writes that “whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all” (James 2:10). In Romans, the Apostle Paul declares that “there is none righteous, not even one” (Romans 3:10). And so, we recognize that the Law of God condemns each and every person – because each and every person is a law breaker. Therefore, each and every person needs Christ – the perfect law-keeper to set him free from the curse of the Law. No one is able to keep the Law of God perfectly: “No one is justified by the Law before God is evident, for ‘The righteous man shall live (that is, be made alive) by faith’” (Galatians 3:11).
Positively, we also read in Paul’s very same letter to the Romans that although the law of God condemns every human being, it is also the definition of love: “love is the fulfillment of the law” (Romans 13:10). Drawing upon the very language of the 10 commandments, Jesus said that you would be able to tell that a person loved Him by the fact that they kept His commandments, “He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me” (John 14:21). The Bible also tells us that we are to delight in the law of the LORD; we are to meditate on His law day and night (Psalm 1:2).
So, as we approach the Law of God as revealed through Moses, we ought to keep these things in mind. The law of God is applied to us negatively (it condemns us and shows our need of Christ). And, the law of God is applied to us positively (it acts as a guide for Christians as to how to love God and our neighbor).
Application #2 – Example
The second way in which the New Testament applies the book of Exodus is by way of example. These examples are also both negative and positive, as well.
Negatively, the Apostle Paul uses the sin of the Israelites (particularly from Exodus and Numbers) as examples of what believers ought not to do: “these things happened as examples for us, so that we would not crave evil things as they also craved,” (1 Corinthians 10:6) and “these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come” (1 Corinthians 10:11). The sons of Israel serve as negative examples for us. They craved evil, committed idolatry, acted immorally, tried the patience of the Lord, grumbled and complained. These are examples of what not to do.
Positively, when the people of God acted in faith, they are examples for us of what to do. For example, Moses’ parents acted in faith when they hid him from Pharaoh. By faith, Moses considered the reproach of Christ to be greater riches than the treasures of Egypt. By faith, he fled Egypt. By faith, he kept the Passover. And, by faith, the people of Israel passed through the Red Sea as though they were passing through dry land (Hebrews 11:23-29).
As our spiritual forebears, the sons of Israel in the book of Exodus are examples for us. And, depending on the situation and how they behave, they are either negative or positive examples. When they succumb to fear and don’t trust God, they are examples for us of what not to do. When they trust God and act in faith, they are examples for us of what we ought to do.
Application #3 – Typology
Finally, the New Testament uses what is known as typology in understanding and applying the things which we read in the book of Exodus. By ‘typology’ we mean that there are people and things in the book of Exodus that function as types (or symbols) – they foreshadow – things to come. Here are just some of the types and symbols from the book of Exodus which the New Testament specifically states as pointing to Christ: Moses himself, the Passover and the Passover Lamb, the passing through the Red Sea, the manna in the wilderness, the tent of worship (or tabernacle), the sacrificial system of worship, the priests of the tabernacle, the promised land, and even the entire Law of God that was revealed on Mount Sinai. All of these types find their fulfillment in Jesus Christ and the New Covenant.
And, you guessed it, these types may function both negatively and positively. What I mean by that is this: in some instances, the type is negatively contrasted with that which it points to; at other times, the type is positively compared with that which it points to. In fact, by way of example, Moses is both negatively contrasted with Jesus Christ and positively compared with Him.
Negatively, Moses is contrasted with Jesus. The writer of Hebrews says that Moses was faithful in all of God’s house as a servant, but Christ was faithful as a Son over God’s house (Hebrews 3:5-6). This is a contrast from the lesser to the greater; Moses is the lesser who points to Jesus who is greater than he.
Positively, Moses is compared with Jesus when Stephen preaches and reminds the Jews of how they had treated Moses (Acts 7:17-44). Moses was a prophet and the deliverer of God’s people, yet God’s people rejected him. Now, they were rejecting their true Redeemer that Moses pointed to, Jesus Christ (Acts 7:51-52).
The interpretation and application of the Old Testament is multifaceted. As we look to the law of God given to Moses, we ought to recognize its dual nature for those who trust in Christ: it condemns us (showing our continual need of a Savior), and it guides us (directing us how to strive after holiness). As we read about how the people of God acted in the book of Exodus (sometimes in faith and sometimes in fear), they are examples for how we ought to behave and how we ought not to behave, respectively.
Finally, it’s my goal, aspiration, and prayer that our preaching series in the book of Exodus will be a means by which we might see Christ in the shadows and types of this book, repent and return to Him, and receive times of refreshing from the presence of the Lord. “For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17).
The Lord be with you!
- Pastor Peter M. Dietsch