by Steve DuPlessie
FIVE STORIES OF THE GOSPEL IN THE OLD TESTAMENT…
We find the first of our five stories in the opening chapters of the first book of the bible, Genesis. You remember the creation story in Genesis chapter 1: In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Verse 26 of chapter 1 tells us, “Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”
Chapter 2 of Genesis tells us the story of how it was not good for man to be alone, so God created a woman, Eve, and chapter three tells three tells us the story of Eve and Adam falling in temptation. They rebel against God’s authority and instead they choose to believe a lie. So they disobey God’s simple and clear command, and verse 8 of chapter 3 tells us they felt guilty and they hid from God. It’s the nature of temptation to lie: drink this, take this fix, you’ll feel better; a bigger bank account will make you happy; it’s the nature of sin to lie, and it’s the nature of sin to hide.
Their relationship with God—apparently a warm, face-to-face friendship—was broken by their sin. So they tried to hide. And verse 9 of Genesis chapter 3 tells us that God came searching for them. Not content to let them suffer the shame of their sin as something they deserved, which they did, God actually sought them out, confronted the sin, and then God did something simple but powerfully symbolic.
Adam and Eve had suddenly felt ashamed of themselves and tried to hide their nakedness with some fig leaves. But verse 21 tells us God made more substantial, durable clothes for them of animal skins. Ok, so the need for new clothes just confirmed that they were naked and ashamed, but God sacrificed an innocent animal or two, innocent blood was shed, to cover over their shame.
And that act of mercy and grace, that undeserved kindness, right at the very beginning of God’s story in our lives, shows us a quick look at God’s character in the very opening pages of the Bible: awesome in power, perfect in holiness, yet very aware of the fragile weaknesses of his creatures, and very ready to give them grace, provide a way to cover over that guilt and shame, and restore the relationship.
And that leads us into the second gospel story in the OT, Noah and the big boat. You remember that story from Genesis chapter 6? It starts this way; Genesis 6, verse 5: “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. So the Lord said, ‘I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.’ But Noah found favor (the KJV says, “Noah found grace…”) in the eyes of the Lord.”
You remember the story. God planned to literally pour out judgment on his rebellious, sinful creatures in a huge rainstorm and flood. But he decided to save one family: Noah and his wife, their three sons and their wives; 8 people in all. God told them to build a huge boat, and get ready to take two of each kind of animal on board with them. All Noah’s friends and neighbors laughed at him and called him a fool when he told them what he was doing. But they finished the project and the animals got on board just as it began to rain.
Genesis 7 tells us the earth was covered with a great flood, returning the earth to the same state it was in before creation began. Chapter 7, verse 20 tells us, “The waters prevailed above the mountains, covering them fifteen cubits deep. And all flesh died that moved on the earth, birds, livestock, beasts, all swarming creatures that swarm on the earth, and all mankind. Everything on the dry land in whose nostrils was the breath of life died.”
Verse 23, “God blotted out every living thing that was on the face of the ground, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens. They were blotted out from the earth. Only Noah was left, and those who were with him in the ark.”
So in this second story God again revealed his holiness, refusing to let sin go unpunished. But also God revealed his love and mercy, providing a way out, a way of salvation, the ark, for undeserving receivers of his grace.
The third story of the gospel—God intervening to save, just because of his mercy and grace—is the story, familiar to some, of the hike that a father and son took. Turn in your bible with me to Genesis chapter 22. You might remember the lead characters, Abraham and his wife Sarah had been waiting for a long time for a child that God had promised they would have, a son who would be the first of a huge family. And they waited… a real long time for God to make good on his promise. So after waiting many, many years, Isaac, the child of that promise, was finally born. But chapter 22 of Genesis tells us that one day God told Abraham to take his son, his very precious son, Isaac, to a mountain nearby, and offer him there on top of that mountain as a sacrifice of obedience and loyalty to God.
And the text in chapter 22 says, “So Abraham rose early in the morning…” Abraham did not hesitate or procrastinate to obey what God had told him to do; even this horrible, cruel, and seemingly senseless command.
“So Abraham rose early in the morning saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac. And he cut the wood for the burnt offering and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. On the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place from afar.”
“Then Abraham said to his young men, ‘Stay here with the donkey; I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you.’” That’s an interesting phrase—“I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you…” That seems to hint that Abraham is testing God’s old promise, and he had faith that somehow this was all going to be okay!
Verse 6: “And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son. And he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So they went, both of them together.” (Most commentators think Isaac was in his late teens or 20s at this point.) “And Isaac said to his father Abraham, ‘My father!’ And he said, ‘Here I am, my son.’ He said, ‘Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?’ Abraham said, ‘God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.’” So Isaac had watched his father worship God before, he understood the sacrifice of lambs to God. “So they went both of them together.”
Verse 9, “When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built the altar there…” Most scholars think the place Abraham built this altar is the peak of Mount Moriah where later Solomon’s Temple was built, between Mount Zion on the west and the Mount of Olives on the east.
“…Abraham built the altar there and laid the wood on the altar, and he bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood.” So Jews call this story, to this day, The Binding of Isaac. Verse 10, “Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son. But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, ‘Abraham, Abraham!’And he said, ‘Here I am.’ He said, ‘Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.’”
Verse 23, “And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. So Abraham called the name of that place, ‘Jehovah-Jireh, The Lord will provide,’ as it is said to this day, ‘On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided.’”
So again in this third gospel story, God, in his mercy and grace provided a way of escape from a death penalty, this time providing an innocent ram as the substitute for the doomed boy, Isaac. The rest of the story in Genesis 22 and again in Hebrews 11 tells us God recognized and rewarded the faith of Abraham, who was willing to trust God and obey.
The fourth gospel story is also very familiar, in Exodus chapter 12. In this case, after 9 previous warnings, God was about to bring the tenth and final judgment on the king, the Pharaoh, and the nation of Egypt who had enslaved and abused the Hebrews for over 400 years. And in chapter 12 God gave Moses very detailed instructions how to save the oldest Hebrew male in every house from the angel of death that was about to strike the country that night. An innocent lamb, one without any spot or blemish, disease or defect, would take the place of the firstborn—man or boy—in a dramatic substitution that saved their life.
And again God is shown to judge injustice, defiance and rebellion, but show mercy and provide a way of escape for those he loves. Which brings us to the fifth, and maybe the most unusual gospel story in the OT. I’m thinking of the story of Jonah and the big … … city. You thought I was going to say Fish. Jonah and the big fish, which is of course the title of the Veggie Tales video.
We think of Jonah, and immediately we recall the story of the reluctant, disobedient prophet who was swallowed by a whale, the text says “a big fish.” But when you read the short 4-chapter story of Jonah it’s not really about a fish or a reluctant prophet or even about Jonah at all.
God had told Jonah to go to Nineveh, the ancient capital city of Israel’s long-time cruel and bullying enemy, Assyria. The Assyrians were notorious war criminals who did all sorts of outrageous violence on the nations they conquered. And Jonah was sent by God to Nineveh, now known as the city of Mosul, to tell them to repent or … face God’s certain judgment. So you remember how the story went, after trying really, really hard to avoid the assignment, Jonah finally ended up in Nineveh after all, told them to repent … and they did!
So actually Jonah may not just be a story about the failure of a prophet; it may also be a story about … the success of God. It’s not about a reluctant prophet; it’s about a pursuing God. It’s not about a prophet who doesn’t care about people; it’s about a God who deeply cares about people. It’s not about what Jonah does to get away from Nineveh; the story of Jonah is about what God does to get His love to Nineveh. So it’s not about Jonah running from God but rather it’s all about God running toward a city. It’s not about Jonah wishing judgment on Nineveh; its really about God longing to show mercy on Nineveh! There’s gospel on every page of the story of Jonah!
And that’s your God! The God who made a set of new clothes to cover over the guilt and shame of a woman and her husband who were once really close friends to God, but now were actually hiding from him.
Your God is the one who was furious at the violence and wickedness and evil his creatures lived in, but in his righteous wrath he picked one family—who would later prove to be quite a disappointment, actually—but God chose one family to save from destruction, and re-launch the humankind experiment all over with them. That’s your God!
Your God is the one who keeps his promises, even in the difficult and dark times of life, and who provides a substitute when you need it most, like he did with Abraham and his son Isaac on their hike up Mount Moriah. That’s your God!
Your God is the one who wouldn’t let injustice go un-judged, but he provided a Passover covering from that judgment for the firstborn Hebrew males, even though none of them was totally innocent. That’s your God! And your God is the one who went to persistent, determined, relentless and extraordinary lengths to save a 120,000 women, men and children in a violent, pagan, idol-worshipping city called Nineveh. That’s your God!
He’s the same—Old Testament or New Testament. Loving and just, holy and yet full of mercy and grace.
And the gospel of the OT and the NT is the same. The skins of animals that cover guilt and shame for Eve and Adam all point forward to Jesus, who offers to cover all your guilt and shame. The ark that provided a way of escape for Noah and his family points forward to Jesus, who provides a way of escape for you from God’s just punishment for sin.
The ram that took Isaac’s place on mount Moriah points forward to Jesus who took your place on the cross on the very same mountainside. The innocent lamb that died in the place of the oldest Hebrew male on Passover points forward to Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. And God’s heroic effort to offer forgiveness and salvation to the guilty in Nineveh points forward to Jesus, our hero who offers salvation for me and you.
The gospel is all about your God initiating, reaching out to lost and broken, fallen and guilty people that he loves. Showing them undeserved, unearned grace. Providing a way of salvation, even when it means substituting his one and only innocent Son, Jesus, the one who took your guilt and shame so your relationship with God—a relationship broken by your sin and rebellion, your indifference and independence—he wants to fix that so your relationship can be restored.
Maybe you’re struggling with the weight of your brokenness, your sin. And God is offering you forgiveness, deliverance, redemption. Listen to his call to you now to come, repent and believe. Just believe that Jesus is God’s Son who died to pay the penalty for all your sin so you can be set free.
Maybe you’re already trusting Jesus as your savior, but you’re still struggling with deep feelings shame and guilt, with thoughts of unworthiness and worthlessness. And God says to you this morning “Come to me, all who are weary—I know all about it already and I love you anyway—come now, and I will give you rest for your soul.”