Thursday, December 31 –
You have come to the end of our readings thru the New Testament in a Year. First of all, I want to congratulate you for persevering in reading both the scriptures and these meager attempts of mine to give some devotional commentary. I have one reading that I’d like you to do first, and then come back here to get a big picture view of “what have we just read this year?” Please read Luke 1:5 – 37.
Open to the front of your bible to the table of contents. You’ll notice immediately that the Bible is a story in two “testaments” – we call them the Old Testament and the New Testament. Testament relates the word “covenant”, which is an agreement made between two parties. It can sometimes be “conditional” in that one party agrees to do something “IF” the other party agrees to do something (think of a bank loan). Covenants can also be “unconditional”, where the one party says “I will do” for the other party (think of a last will and testament). God made several covenants in the Old Testament with the nation of Israel, descendants of Abraham. The story of those covenants is the story of the Old Testament. There are thirty-nine books in the Old Testament in various genre – narrative, history, poetry (Psalms), and prophecy. The latter part of the Old Testament is largely made up of prophetic books. As we have just learned, prophecy has a “now” and “not yet” dimension to its nature. The last of the prophets was the final book in the Old Testament, Malachi. Malachi promised that one day God would send a prophet to “prepare the way for the Lord” (Malachi 3:1). Nothing happened for four hundred years.
Four hundred years later God sent his angel Gabriel to a Priest – Zechariah – and Gabriel told Zechariah that in spite of their old age, his wife, Elizabeth was going to conceive a son and they were to name him John. Then a few months later God sent Gabriel back to tell a virgin girl, Mary, who was betrothed to be married that she was going to conceive a child who they were to name Jesus, which means “The LORD (Yahweh) is salvation”.
“And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God” (Luke 1:31-35).
Gabriel tells Mary much more than she is going to conceive and deliver a baby named Jesus. He tells her that God is going to fulfill His covenant promise and through Jesus establish His Kingdom upon the earth. Therefore, the New Testament is the story of the Old Testament Covenant continued. The Bible is a unified book telling a story of how God sought to redeem a fallen world. It is in two parts. The first part – the Old Testament (Covenant) – was written over a thousand years of time. The second part – the New Testament (Covenant) – was written in less than one hundred years. The Old Testament anticipated the coming of a Messiah who would establish God’s Kingdom upon the earth. The New Testament tells the story of Jesus, the Messiah, who came and established God’s Kingdom upon the earth. That is the reason why the first messages from both John the Baptist and Jesus were “repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3:12, 4:17; Mark 1:15). The promise of God to Israel was also a promise to the nations – Immanuel, God with us (Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:23). As we read in the book of Revelation, God’s plan was not hatched on the spur of the moment but was put into place “from the foundation of the world” (Revelation 13:8).
The Gospels, which are the first four books, give us an account of Jesus’ life and ministry while on the earth – it didn’t go well. He was, as Isaiah prophesied, “despised and rejected by men” (Isaiah 53:3). Jesus came to the earth as “Immanuel” – “God with us” – and as John reminded us, “He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him” (John 1:11). The Gospels tell the story of Jesus’ time on the earth. He pronounced the Kingdom of God has now come. He appointed twelve men to be “apostles” – ones he would train and send out after his resurrection and ascension and Pentecost. He proved he was God-incarnate through his healings, miracles, confrontations with the devil, and wisdom. In spite of all the proofs, he was rejected by His people, especially the religious rulers. We ask “why could they not see?” The answer is that God predestined his Son’s work to be finalized on the cross, in the grave, and through the resurrection. Again, the prophet Isaiah had predicted it would happen –
“Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and
afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for
our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with
his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have
turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of
The story of Jesus began in the Gospels, but doesn’t end there. Luke writing the account of the early church reminds us that just because Jesus ascended to heaven, he was not done with His work on earth – “I will build my church and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). Luke tells the story of the early church’s world-wide growth and begins with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles (“sent ones”) on the day of Pentecost (Acts 1 & 2), and spreads from Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, to the uttermost parts of the world. Acts begins with the church in Jerusalem where Peter is the obvious leader. It introduces us to Saul (who becomes Paul), who at first is an enemy of the Christians, until he meets Jesus on a journey to hunt down Christians, and is converted to Christ. Peter leads the first Gentiles to Christ (Acts 10), but it is Paul who carries the Gospel to the Gentiles. The inclusion of Gentiles brings no small opposition among both Jews and some Jewish Christians who want to impose the Law of Moses on the Gentile believers. Yet it was God’s plan all along to bring the Gentile nations into his Kingdom. It is in this inclusion of Gentiles that the great theme of God’s grace through faith is affirmed. At the Jerusalem council (Acts 15), the church makes it clear that Jews and Gentiles both come to faith in Christ Jesus the same way – by grace through faith in Christ alone –
“we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will” (Acts 15:11).
It is no small matter, and as the churches grow in the Gentile lands it leads the Apostle Paul to write thirteen letters to the churches (Epistles). He writes to encourage, but also to remind them of sound doctrine. The errors that began to creep into the church came from two main sources – Jewish opponents who wanted the Law of Moses to rule the church, and Greek paganism that some sought to marry Greek philosophy with the Christian message. The Epistles of Paul (and the others) are inspired by God the Holy Spirit and give us all of the necessary doctrines that the Church needed (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Paul’s letters to the Romans, Galatians, Ephesians, Corinthians, Colossians, Philippians are rich treasures of sound Christian doctrine. The letter to the Hebrews (author unknown) is a masterpiece of wedding the Old Covenant to the New Covenant. Besides Paul, there are letters by James and Jude (earthly brothers of Jesus) and Peter and John (the two leaders among the disciples and Apostles). Altogether there are twenty-seven books with the final book of Revelation as an Apocalyptic vision Jesus showed to the Apostle John of how God intends to finish His redemption plan.
This is the Bible’s big picture. From the beginning, God was working out His plan for redemption. God told Abraham that he intended to “bless Abraham’s seed (descendants) so that they will be a blessing to all of the earth” (Genesis 12:2-3; 17:1-8). Jesus came from Abraham’s descendants. It was much later – 1500 years later – that the Apostle Paul would proclaim what God did to fulfill this promise in Jesus –
Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith”… for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise” (Galatians 3:7-9, 26-29).
God unconditionally makes a covenant in which God redeems those who come to Jesus. We are not redeemed because we are good – “as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God” (Romans 3:10-11). We are redeemed (justified, saved) by the work of Jesus on the cross – his death paid for our Sin.
“for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith” (Romans 3:23-25).
I urge you to remember this, for it is not religion or our works, or joining a church, or being good that saves anyone – it is Christ alone (review Ephesians 2:1-10; Colossians 1:12-22; 2 Corinthians 5:17-19; Hebrews 9:11-15). Read them again, and in fact, memorize them. They remind us that God’s plan for salvation goes through His Son, and him alone. God has given us His Holy Spirit that the character of Christ Jesus might begin to change our inner being and outward behavior. Sanctification is the work of Christ-likeness that is making us into a priesthood of all believers (review Romans 8:14-17; Galatians 5:17 – 25; Ephesians 4:25 – 32; 1 Thessalonians 5:23).
The New Testament ends with the book of Revelation. We are reminded that God has spoken and we are not to change anything he wrote. What we read was God fulfilling his vision for a re-creation. How? It begins with a vision of Heaven – God is on the throne, and Jesus is standing by Him “like a lamb that was slain” (Revelation 5:5 – 6). We read the story of Christ’s final conquering evil, the Devil, and his angels. Eternity is in full view as we closed the New Testament. It doesn’t mean that we live in that glory at present. We live with evil, disease, tragedy, corruption, and a world that still does not know that “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, and whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
The New Testament is a love story, but it cost the life of God’s son to remind us of His love.
P.S. Once again, thank you for coming along. Now that you’ve read it, I pray you’ll feel more confident in reading it over and over again. - Elliott