The Message of the New Testament
The tragedy of making a promise
The tragedy of making a promise
For several years now, our kids have gone through waves of liking the TV series The Flash. It’s a modern-day series about a young man who becomes a meta-human because of a scientific demonstration that went all wrong. His meta-human abilities allow him to run and move with extreme speed. The entire series is about “good” meta-humans battling “evil” meta-humans. There is good action and drama and also a fair amount of cheesy-ness, but it’s generally quite entertaining.
One of the Flash’s fatal flaws is his frequent promise making. While his heart is in the right place, his ability to fulfill the promises he makes is lacking. He will promise to keep someone safe, only to realize that he ultimately can’t. He’ll promise to find, save, protect, or catch someone - and often fails to do so. Because of his speed, he has figured out ways to go back in time in order to undo past events, only to find that he is creating other problems.
He can do his best with the best of intentions, but makes promises even beyond his ability to fulfill - a tragedy that seems to find its way into nearly every episode.
Ones ability to keep a promise is based on his or her ability to exert control in a situation. Where the Flash can’t control the actions of other people or always make good on his desire to rectify a situation - God can.
Last year, we began to look at God’s Story in Scripture as we considered the message of the Bible and more specifically the message of the Old Testament. We simplified the message of all of scripture into seven words:
Over the course of our look at the OT, we added other words to try to grasp the story - but these seven words provide a simple summary to the overall message or story of Scripture.
When looking at the Old Testament and the New Testament together, we could say that God makes promises in the Old Testament that He fulfills in the New Testament (Dever).
God is the One who is perfectly able to fulfill the promises that He makes because of Who He is.
Today, we’re going to pick up where we left of as we continue looking at God’s Story in Scripture - more specifically - God’s continued story into the New Testament.
Today, we’re going to take a high level view of the overall message of the New Testament. Over the next few weeks as we enter into our season of Advent - we’ll be reflecting on the Gospels and how they tell the Story of the Promised One - Jesus Christ. In the New Year, we’ll look at the rest of the New Testament - one or two books at a time.
As we dive into the message of the New Testament, we’ll be adapting an outline from Robert Gromacki that considers how the Old Testament and each section of the New Testament focus on Christ (Gromacki, 44).
In thinking back over the Old Testament from a New Testament perspective, we can see...
Preparation for Christ—Old Testament
Preparation for Christ—Old Testament
From the very earliest chapters, the OT began promising the coming of an anointed one. This One would have a special job in the fight between God’s forces and the forces of evil. After Adam and Eve rebelled against God, He disciplined both Adam and Eve, but also cursed the deceiver, the serpent, who led Eve into this temptation.
I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”
Notice that this descendent - a singular person (he) will provide a blow to the head of the serpent. He will not walk away unscathed - but a blow to the head is far more impactful than a blow to the heel.
Throughout the rest of the Old Testament, God seeks to set up a people who are devoted to Him and continues to proclaim a future hope.
In the blessing that Jacob gives to his son Judah, we see a glimpse that there is something significant and permanent that will happen through his line:
“The scepter shall not depart from Judah, Nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, Until Shiloh comes, And to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.
The Kingly line of David came from Judah’s family. Jesus was born as descendent of Judah.
As Moses is preparing the people of Israel for his departure, he tells them that God would raise up a prophet like him who would speak in His name (Dt. 18:16-18). There is a sense in which we could look at all of the prophets and see them as being messengers like Moses. These are likely early fulfillments of the ultimate fulfillment in Jesus. The New Testament writers clearly saw that Jesus was this fulfillment.
“And now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers. But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ would suffer, he thus fulfilled. Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago. Moses said, ‘The Lord God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brothers. You shall listen to him in whatever he tells you. And it shall be that every soul who does not listen to that prophet shall be destroyed from the people.’ And all the prophets who have spoken, from Samuel and those who came after him, also proclaimed these days.
In so many ways, we have seen throughout the Old Testament that God was preparing the way for Jesus Christ, the Messiah. Through the prophets, through the blessings and curses, even in the sacrifices - God was preparing His people for the coming of Jesus Christ. God was making promises about his anointed one and now in the New Testament, we get to see these promises fulfilled.
As the pages of the Old Testament are turned, historically, we learned that there was roughly 400 years of silence and yet it was also 400 years of a great deal of activity.
During these years, the Greek empire grew in prominence and began to spread its language, Koine Greek, and culture throughout the lands that were conquered. (Gromacki). Even though the Greek empire did not last for an extended time, they did make big difference.
Eventually, the Roman empire emerged and took over all of the Greek-controlled lands. This conquest continued the expansion of Greek culture and language.
During this time, Judaism began to strengthen as the OT cannon was completed and as the Jewish people returned to a more consistent and biblical worship of God. This era also gave rise to the religious groups that we see in the New Testament - the Pharisees, Sadducees, Hellenists, and Zealots (and the Essenes). These different groups of Jewish religious leaders each had their own perspective on cultic life and how to adapt and yet still remain faithful to God in the midst of the Greco-Roman rule. Some motives were more pure than others, but each of this groups served to shape the Jewish culture in preparation for Jesus the Christ. By the time Jesus came, there was a great anticipation for a Messiah - the anointed one.
As we open the pages of the New Testament, we get to see Christ on display in each of the genres of the New Testament. We begin by seeing the...
Presentation of Christ—Gospels
Presentation of Christ—Gospels
The first four books of the New Testament are referred to as the gospels. Along with the book of Acts - these opening books have a more historical flavor as they seek to tell the story of Jesus - from varying perspectives. In some ways, we could say that these are like first century “documentaries” on the life of Jesus as they seek to “make the case for his Messiahship” (Dever, 23). And yet each of these Gospel do this in a slightly different way.
Matthew presents Jesus to a primarily Jewish audience as the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies (Dever, 24). He focuses on the Kingdom of God being present here on earth and “God’s promise of true peace and deliverance for both Jew and Gentile.” (ESVSB, 1816).
A key verse for Matthew could be...
From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
Mark, according to tradition, presents Jesus to Roman Christians from the perspective of the Apostle Peter. According to the ESV Study Bible, Mark intends to “present and defend Jesus’ universal call to discipleship” - calling people to a relationship with Jesus rather than simply following a certain “code of conduct) (ESVSB, 1890)
And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul?
Luke, who was likely a companion to the Apostle Paul, wrote an orderly and well researched book that presents the good news of Jesus to all people - both Jews and Gentiles. Dever notes that the Gospel of Luke is sometimes referred to as the “Gospel to the Gentiles” (Dever, 24).
Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.
The Gospel of John seems to present Jesus as both the promised Messiah and the Son of God. John takes a different approach to his presentation of the Christ as he focuses more on his teaching and the signs that confirm his deity.
He actually clearly gives us his purpose for writing...
but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
Each of these gospels work together to help us see who Jesus is and why He came.
The next book of the New Testament gives us a glimpse of the...
Propagation of Christ—Acts
Propagation of Christ—Acts
The book of Acts is the fifth and final historical book of the New Testament. This book focuses on the establishment and the expansion of the church. It follows the pattern that Jesus lays out in the opening chapter:
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
What starts in Jerusalem eventually spreads out to Judea and Samaria because of persecution. The missionary journeys of Paul and his companions take the message of the good news of Jesus to “the end of the earth” as churches are planted throughout the Roman empire.
As the church of Jesus Christ expands, so does the covenant that he is making as he seeks to make a people for himself.
This expansion is not without its problems as people from varying cultures are grafted into the body of Christ - bringing with them their traditions and experiences. In order to help this young church become established as the people of God, the Holy Spirit inspired Paul, Peter, James, John, and Jude and an unknown author to write letters to these churches and church leaders as a sort of...
Pedagogy of Christ—Epistles
Pedagogy of Christ—Epistles
We don’t typically think in pedagogical terms - but frankly I needed a word that began with “p” and pedagogy seemed to fit. You see a pedagogy is essentially a system of study. We might think of a piano pedagogy as a way of learning the piano.
In Christian circles, we normally use the term “discipleship” as a means of learning and passing on information. When Jesus modelled discipling for his followers, it was very much a life-on-life pedagogy. Watch my life, my speech, let me share my way of thinking about things and then you do that.
But, one of the things that we saw in the early church is that the expansion happened so quickly and so broadly that the new disciples were confronted by the reality that there were simply not enough people to lead them. When persecution happened and the people spread out, churches got planted in a variety of places - largely by new believers.
As Paul and his companions would share the gospel throughout the region, they would spend a great deal of time pouring into the new churches in order to establish them on firm foundations. But when Paul and the others would move on, new teachings and new challenges would arise, and so Paul and others would write letters to help the people in these churches understand what it means to be in Christ.
Each of these letters or epistles are written to address various issues that were arising in the churches. They each explain various aspects of what it means to be the people of God who have been redeemed by Jesus Christ.
Interestingly, these letters are organized by their authors from largest to smallest. The first grouping is the letters of Paul - beginning with Romans and ending with Philemon. Let’s briefly consider what these letters are addressing:
Romans - makes a clear and compelling argument for the holiness of God and the fact that God’s judgment of sin was fulfilled in Jesus Christ - through whom God is fulfilling His covenant (Dever and ESVSB).
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”
1 and 2 Corinthians - were written to a church that was plagued by problems of division and infiltrated by sinfulness and so Paul helped them to see what freedom in Christ is and what it isn’t.
I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.
Galatians - focuses on a church that was wrestling with various teachers who were trying to make people follow Jewish customs while being Christians. Galatians teaches that we are justified by faith alone- not by following certain practices or laws (ESVSB, 2241).
I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.
Ephesians - discusses the “church that God is creating” as Dever describes it (p. 24). Through Jesus Christ, God has reconciled all creation to himself and has united all people to himself in the church - there is no longer a division of race - we are one in Christ.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.
Philippians - is a book of encouragement. The Church at Philippi didn’t really seem to have any major challenges that they were facing and so Paul largely encourages them to keep growing, giving, and to follow the example of Jesus Christ.
I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.
Colossians - focuses on the supremacy of Christ and how he reigns over all things and what that means for our lives (Dever, 29).
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent.
1 and 2 Thessalonians - largely address the second coming of Christ, what to look for and how we should live until he comes. Apparently, there were some who had assumed it was imminent and so they had quit their jobs in expectation of his second coming. Paul urged them to work and helped them to understand what will happen when Christ returns.
But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.
1, 2 Timothy and Titus - These letters are not written to churches but to two young pastors who were being discipled by Paul. They were assigned the task of establishing new churches and setting up a proper structures for the churches.
I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these things to you so that, if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth.
Philemon - is the last and shortest of Paul’s letters. It is written to a slave owner regarding a runaway slave who is now a brother in Christ. Philemon in many ways provides an example for reconciliation.
yet for love’s sake I prefer to appeal to you—I, Paul, an old man and now a prisoner also for Christ Jesus— I appeal to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I became in my imprisonment. (Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful to you and to me.) I am sending him back to you, sending my very heart.
After this collection of Paul’s letters, we come to a collection of letter by other individuals, again organized by author and size:
Hebrews - there is a lot of debate about who wrote Hebrews, but in the end, we don’t fully know. What we can see is that Hebrews is a rich letter that was written to a largely Jewish audience and addresses the New Covenant (Dever, 30) in Christ - who is greater than all (ESVSB).
Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.
James - is a short and fast moving letter that addresses how we should live out our faith in Jesus Christ. I’ve heard it referred to as the proverbs of the New Testament because of its practical nature.
But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.
1 and 2 Peter - are profound books for the church today as it was written to Christians who were spread abroad but also who were facing great difficulties as their faith no longer meshed with the values of the culture in which they lived.
His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.
1, 2, 3, John - are three short “letters written to encourage Christians in their lives of love and faithful obedience to the Lord.” (Dever, 30)
that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.
Jude - is a brief letter that warns the church against false teachers and urges the believers to persevere as they live out their faith (ESVSB and Dever).
But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life.
I realize that this is a quick overview of these letters, but I hope it helps you to see how these work together to lead us to live Christ-like lives in the midst of a variety of circumstances.
The final book of the New Testament helps us to see...
Perfection in Christ—Revelation
Perfection in Christ—Revelation
We could also use the word “consummation” to describe the book of Revelation as it leverages an Old Testament apocalyptic style to talk about future events in the Spiritual War. Dever writes “Revelation describes the consummation of God’s people, in God’s place, in right relationship to him. The church militant becomes the church triumphant - the victorious church in heaven.” (p. 31). It is here where we have our hope that the life we live and the experiences we encounter here will be made new and right in Christ in His eternal Kingdom.
The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, who bore witness to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw.
The New Testament helps us to see that God fulfilled the promises He made in the Old Testament and those fulfillments are grounded in Jesus Christ. He is the holy one of God. He is the prophet who would speak for God. He is the one who would bruise the head of the serpent. He is the suffering servant in Isaiah 52-53 who bears our sin and frees us from the curse of our iniquity. The New Testament paints a picture of this Jesus Christ in every genre. The church today is firmly established because of what Jesus has done. One day, he is coming to ultimately conquer the enemy and to judge the living and the dead.
Friend, if you do not yet know Jesus as your savior, if he is not yet the center of your life, I pray that today you would receive his free gift of salvation - repent/turn from your sin and trust in what Jesus did on the cross. You see our sin separates us from God. Our sin deserves death (Rom. 3:23) and the ultimate judgment. Jesus paid for our sin so that by faith we might receive God’s forgiveness in Jesus Christ.
Beloved, I pray that over the next several months as we dive into the message of the New Testament, that you will see who Jesus is more fully and what He expects of us as His people.
Memory Verse: 2 Timothy 3:16-17
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
Crossway Bibles. The ESV Study Bible. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2008. Print.
deSilva, David Arthur. An Introduction to the New Testament: Contexts, Methods and Ministry Formation. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004. Print.
Dever, Mark, The Message of the New Testament: Promises Kept, Crossway, Wheaton, 2005.
Gromacki, Robert G. New Testament Survey. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1974. Print.