Matthew 5:17-18 (NIV)
Do not think that I have come to abolish
the Law or the Prophets;
I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.
For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear,
not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen,
will by any means disappear from the Law
until everything is accomplished.
How do you feel about studying the Old Testament?
- Tell me the stories, read the Psalms, skip the rest
- I thought this was a study on Acts—New Testament
I used to be an A-B-C Christian, “After the Birth of Christ.” I thought everything I needed to know was in the New Testament. The Old Testament no longer applied. It wasn’t relevant. It was, after all, “old.”
Work your way through the book of Acts, highlighting every line that makes reference to the Old Testament. You’ll wind up with a very colorful section of Scripture.
|Acts||OT Quote||By||Acts||OT Quote||By|
|1:20||Ps 69:25; 109:8||Peter||7:37||Deut 18:15||Stephan|
|2:17-21||Joel 2:28-32||Peter||7:40||Ex 23:1||Stephan|
|2:25-28||Ps 16:8-11||Peter||7:42-43||Amos 5:25-27||Stephan|
|3:22-23||Deut 18:15||Peter||8:32-33||Is 53:7-8||Ethiopian|
|4:11||Ps 118:22-23||Peter||13:34||Is 55:3||Paul|
|4:25-26||Ps 2:1-2||Peter||13:35||Ps 16:10||Paul|
|7:3||Gen 12:1||Stephan||13:41||Hab 1:5||Paul|
|7:6-7||Gen 15:13-14||Stephan||13:47||Is 49:6||Paul|
|7:14||Gen 46:26||Stephan||15:16-18||Amos 9:11-12||James|
|7:26-28||Ex 2:14||Stephan||23:5||Ex 22:28||Paul|
|7:31-32||Ex 3:6||Stephan||28:26-27||Is 6:9-10||Paul|
You could say that the Apostles’ acts were built on the foundation of the Old Testament.
We can’t look at all these Old Testament quotations in this single Acts lesson. Serious study includes the context of both the Old and New Testament passages. We will look at just one episode. You can apply the process to your own study of rest.
But first, scan down the list of Old Testament quotations. They come from three categories of Old Testament books:
First is the Pentateuch, the first five books: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy. Jews call this the Torah, literally “to teach or guide.” It provides the foundation of doctrine and history. It is also called “the Law.”
There are several quotations from Psalms, the praises. This book is one of the Ketuvim, or “writings.” Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and Song of Songs (or Solomon) are the writings of wisdom. The Psalms are praise poetry, Hebrew-style (not rhyming, but two phrases that present the thought in slightly different ways). There are 150 Psalms, 73 of them credited to David. They are lyrics of worship.
The third category we find quoted in Acts is the Nevi’im, “spokespersons,” the Prophets. Some people see prophets as fore-tellers, people with special power to predict the future. Biblical prophets aren’t fore-tellers, they are forth-tellers. That is, they speak forth God’s messages to his people (some of those messages also fore-tell, preparing God’s people for the future). The prophets’ words warn and guide us. By definition, prophets speak God’s message, not their own. God does not lie or deceive, therefore, a prophet is never wrong.
The Church is built on the foundation of the Law, the Praises and the Prophets.
Now for a specific passage:
Acts 1:20-22 (NIV)
“For,” said Peter, “it is written in the Book of Psalms:
‘May his place be deserted; let there be no one to dwell in it’ (Psalm 69:25).
‘May another take his place of leadership’(Psalm 109:8).
Therefore it is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus was living among us, beginning from John’s baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us. For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection.”
Peter waits with other followers of Christ for the power Jesus promised. Psalms 69 and 109 inspire him to suggest specific action—selecting a better person to take the place of Judas. Both are psalms of David, written for the director of music.
In Psalm 69 David complains that he is unfairly persecuted, but he also declares that he trusts God. This bittersweet song of praise makes several appearances in the New Testament:
So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!” His disciples remembered that it is written: “Zeal for your house will consume me.” (Psalm 69:9).
Whoever hates me hates my Father as well. If I had not done among them the works no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin. As it is, they have seen, and yet they have hated both me and my Father. But this is to fulfill what is written in their Law: “They hated me without reason.” (Psalm 69:4).
Romans 15: 2-3
Each of us should please our neighbors for their good, to build them up. For even Christ did not please himself but, as it is written: “The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.” (Psalm 69:9).
Can you see the New Testament message hidden in David’s Psalm? His personal story is a fore-telling of Christ’s story. Take a few minutes to read all of Psalm 69. Use your imagination. Which lines of David’s poetry could apply to Jesus?
I can’t say if David understood the second story in his song. Clearly, he wrote it under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Did David see 1000 years into the future? Maybe not. But God saw that far ahead, as well as another 2000 years to today and beyond into eternity.
Paul makes this clear:
For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.
David was pouring his hurting heart into his poetry. God was pouring David’s hurting heart into Christ’s sacrifice and into our hope.
Now look at Psalm 109, the list of bad things David wishes upon his persecutor. And who could be a more evil traitor than the disciple who betrayed Christ?
I can well imagine Christ’s followers dwelling on this Psalm while they waited: remembering how Judas had been one of them, mystified how he had turned on their leader, hating his action, wishing him evil. But then, in the midst of their anger, Peter finds a hidden message: someone else must take his place.
The Holy Spirit hadn’t yet come upon them with power. But surely it was the Holy Spirit who whispered a new view of God’s Word into Peter’s heart.
The Spirit was already with them in that room.
At the start of this lesson, I said “I used to be” a Christian focused only on the New Testament. Problem was, I kept running into the Old Testament on the pages of the New Testament. If the likes of Peter and Paul valued the Old Testament, who was I to ignore it?
Dutifully, I decided to read the Bible cover to cover. I started in Genesis. I began to see myself in the Old Testament.
God called Abraham to leave his familiar home in Ur to move to a new place.
Lord, you called my husband and me to leave our familiar home Chicago and move to New Jersey.
Moses led the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt, through the wilderness and to the Promised Land.
Lord Jesus, you rescued me out of my sin, you walk with me through my daily trials and you promise me eternity in heaven.
And BOOM! I discovered Leviticus.
In the past, I’d skimmed over the description of the Tabernacle, the rules for living and the days of celebration. But this time, I realized than I am the tabernacle. The Holy Spirit dwells in my Holy of Holies. And that Spirit introduced me to the symbolism of Leviticus and how it all applied to me.
Almighty God, forgive my foolish attitude about your Law, your Prophets, your praises!
Imagine stacks of presents under your Christmas tree. Would you open only those in front and ignore those in the back? The presents in front represent the New Testament. Get down on your knees, pull out those Old Testament gifts at the back. There’s treasure waiting to be discovered.
Peter, Stephan, James and Paul didn’t just talk about the Old Testament. They quoted it. Without notes. At a moment’s notice. In stressful situations.
These men knew Scripture. They could “tell the story” in broad strokes, and they could quote it in exact words.
In our day we have easy access to God’s Word: Bibles at home and at church, loaded on our e-readers and click away on our phones. It is easy to get sloppy about Bible study.
The Church isn’t built on the Bible on your shelf or a click on the internet. The Church is built by followers who seriously study God’s Word, who embed it in their brain cells, who take it with them everywhere.
“It is not hasty reading, but seriously meditating upon holy and heavenly truths that makes them prove sweet and profitable to the soul . . . It is not he that reads most, but he that meditates most on divine truth, that will prove the choicest, wisest, strongest Christian.”
Joseph Hall (1574-1656)
English bishop and devotional writer