Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are the Gospels in that they tell the story of the life of Jesus. Jesus preaches in Mark 1 “repent and believe in the gospel.” More than those four books, gospel means good news. Jesus died for our sins; he is the way, the truth and the life; he brings the New Covenant, and we are no longer under the Law; all things things are part of the gospel message. Paul says the Law is bad news; it cannot make us righteous, only more guilty. But there is more to the Old Testament than the Law, and it’s not all bad news.
The Bible has many stories and characters, but only one message. (Have you read this?) The Old Covenant was about keeping the Law and bearing the mark of circumcision. Paul has many analogies about the difference between the Law and the Gospel; the Gospel brings life, the Law only brings death. But my point is that there is plenty of good news in the Old Testament as well. It is part of God’s message. Every time that Jesus quotes scripture, or is found in the temple or synagogue reading from scripture, remember that what he is reading we would call the Old Testament. He reads from Isaiah and tells his audience those words have been fulfilled in their hearing. They are ready to kill him for saying the Isaiah prophecies were about him; but of course they were.
This could get long and boring, let’s punch it up a notch. Jesus is asked which command is the greatest. He responds “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your mind and all your mind.” And the second command is like it “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Read Matthew 22:34-40. The beauty of these two statements is that you cannot break any one of the ten commandments while following these two. If you love your neighbor you won’t lie to him, sleep with his wife, or kill him. If you love God you will not worship an idol nor speak his name in vain. These commandments also convey a positive directive to love. The commands in Exodus 20 are all full of “Thou shall” and many “Thou shall not’s.” Jesus and Matthew clearly trump the Old Testament when it comes to sharing the Gospel right? Right?
If that statement was right I wouldn’t have set you up like that. Where did Jesus come up with those commandments? He was quoting the Old Testament. “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your might” is Deuteronomy 6:5. “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” is Leviticus 19:18. Leviticus not only contains all the ordinances for priests and food laws, but the command to love. That’s what God demanded even back then. That’s good news.
God has not changed. The difference between the Old and New Covenant is about the way in which we approach God. He is the same yesterday, today and forever. His desire for his people has not, does not and will not change. Consider circumcision. That was the outward symbol or reflection of inward faith, just like baptism is under the New Covenant. In Deuteronomy 10:16 and again in 30:6 God tells the Hebrews to circumcise their hearts. He is not interested in the symbols but the inward change. God has a long rant in Isaiah 1 about doing all the things (praying, burning incense, lifting hands) but living evil lives. He tells them “stop doing evil, learn to do good.” Even if we get all the symbols right, even if we do all the religious things correctly, what God wants if for our hearts and minds to be different that the world. The Old Testament and the New are clear on this.
“And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you.” That must be salvation; that’s a New Testament verse right? No, that’s Ezekiel 36:23. The prophet is writing to the nation of Israel, but everything that happens to Israel is a metaphor for Christianity. (The Gospel According to Allegory makes the case that all of Judaism is really about explaining Jesus.) When giving the Law in Exodus 20, God describes himself as a jealous God “visiting the iniquity of the fathers on their children to the third and fourth generations.” But all of Ezekiel 18 explains that it is the one who sins that will die. They have proverbs about the fathers eating sour grapes and children’s teeth set on edge and God goes to great lengths to explain the saying of this proverb will stop. He takes no joy in the death of anyone – repeated numerous times in Ezekiel – but his desire is that each turn away from evil and live. Chapters 20 and 33 contain more of the same. There’s a lot of good news in Ezekiel.
Jesus condemns the Pharisees for keeping the letter of the Law but not the spirit of the Law. Paul refers to the Law as a tutor. We can learn a lot about God by reading the Old Testament, and Jesus makes many references to things the Pharisees got wrong but should have known better. Many today have the misguided notion that Judaism was only for Jewish people. Look again. When giving the instructions for the first Passover, any traveler or guest in Hebrew homes were welcomed to take part. Abraham circumcised all native and foreign born males in his household when God gave him the covenant of circumcision. Again in Ezekiel God includes any person that will be circumcised and keep his Sabbath. Look at how many nations and peoples were present at the day of Pentecost. Those were Jewish worshipers who had met in Jerusalem for Passover. There were many different races present, yet all were Jewish and 3,000 of them became Christians after one good sermon from Peter in Acts 2. God’s covenant with Abraham, all the way back in Genesis 12, was that through his descendants “all nations of the world would be blessed.”
The Law brings bad news, the blood of Jesus is good news. But how do we learn about sacrificial blood? How do we know what to look for in a Messiah, or what a high priest does? There’s a lot of good news in the Old Testament, that’s all I’m trying to say.