The Old Testament
A regular article written by Phillip Jensen in his role as Dean of Sydney at St Andrew's Cathedral.
16th September 2005
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Matthew's gospel presents the authentic Jesus. Not the Jesus of our twenty-first manufacture. Not the one that will fulfil and satisfy our desires and wants. But the one, who lived, died and rose again in the first century, and the one about whom The Gospel is preached.
The opening verse tells us the right way of viewing Jesus. He is the Christ the son of David the son of Abraham. If we are to understand the real Jesus we must see him through the lens of the Old Testament. He did not arrive in a vacuum but in a particular context. And that context was not accidental but was created and documented by God.
Each episode leading up to when Jesus started his ministry in Matthew 4:17, expounds some other part of the Old Testament. His birth fulfils the Immanuel promise of Isaiah 7 and the Bethlehem promise of Micah 5. His flight to Egypt fulfilled Hosea 11 as the slaughter of the children fulfilled Jeremiah 31. So the theme runs throughout the gospel—Jesus is the fulfilment of the prophetic promises of God.
The Old Testament is the word of God. It is not to be ignored or decried. It is in fact essential to rightly understand the New Testament. Without the Old Testament we will not understand the Jesus whom Matthew presents to us. For Matthew makes it quite clear that Jesus is to be understood in the context of the Old Testament.
Three simple reasons not to ignore the Old Testament are: God inspired it; it is necessary to understand Jesus; and it contains permanent moral principles. For example God told Moses that the ox was not to be muzzled when he treads out the grain. It was a law of the land that reflects God's abiding moral concern that the labourer is worthy of his hire. Its moral principle is used in the New Testament in discussing humans being paid for their work.
The Old and New Testaments are not to be contrasted with each other for in both God speaks the same message of salvation for humanity. However we should always read and apply the Old Testament with reference to the later events revealed in the New Testament. There are some parts of the Old Testament that concern particular moments in the history of God's salvation. They have been completely fulfilled by Jesus even making them “obsolete” (Heb 8:11). These will speak of ceremonies or governmental regulations that God gave Israel to prepare for the coming of Jesus. We need them to understand Jesus properly. We apply them in the light of Jesus arrival. We continue to obey their moral implications.
Article 7 of our 39 Articles says:
The Old Testament is not contrary to the New: for both in the Old and New Testament everlasting life is offered to Mankind by Christ, who is the only Mediator between God and Man, being both God and Man. Wherefore they are not to be heard, which feign that the old Fathers did look only for transitory promises. Although the Law given from God by Moses, as touching Ceremonies and Rites, do not bind Christian men, nor the Civil precepts thereof ought of necessity to be received in any commonwealth; yet notwithstanding, no Christian man whatsoever is free from the obedience of the Commandments which are called Moral.