For some reason, when I was preaching regularly, I felt compelled to do a series on Leviticus. Why? It was due, in part, to include all of scripture in my teaching. But I’m sure there was also a part of me that wanted to rise to the challenge of making even Leviticus come alive.
But the reality is: nobody gets excited about Leviticus. That’s understandable. Just compare, say, Leviticus 15 to Luke 15. Go ahead, do it…. I mean, really: Luke 15 includes 3 stories that practically tell themselves. Leviticus 15 is about, well, bodily discharges.
So, it’s no surprise that a recent survey found that, of the top 100 verses cited in systematic theology books, only 9 were from the Old Testament. I’m no math genius, but that’s more than 9 out of 10 citations from the NT, vs. the OT. One of the top verses cited by theologians is John 1.14. Likewise, every verse in 1 Corinthians is referenced by at least one theologian. By my count, that’s 438 verses — each one deemed worthy of at least one mention by at least one writer in the attempt to describe what the Bible and God are all about.
I couldn’t agree more. John 1.14 is a key verse to understand God; 1 Corinthians might just be my favorite New Testament book. But is there something we miss when only 9% of our study, our focus, and our teaching comes from the OT?
We miss the whole story. We miss the bigger picture of what God is doing. We miss out on how we got here. In short, we miss out on a part of our story.
The scholar N.T. Wright describes it something like this: imagine going to a 3-act play. If you arrive late, you’ll get a sense of the story: who the good guys are, who the bad guys are. You’ll pick up on the plot and theme. But what you won’t know are the details; the background; how we got here. Why, for example, Luke and Leia seem to have a connection that goes beyond the business at hand — and why Darth Vader is more than just a bad guy in a black mask. In other words, if you jump into the middle of the stream that is Star Wars, you’ll quickly be rooting for Luke & Leia, but you won’t know where they came from. You’ll only know the key ideas, the key players, the major plotline — but you won’t know the whole story.
Something similar happens when we open our Bibles and start in the New Testament. We jump into the middle of a multi-act play. If we turn to one of the gospels, then we’re in Act 2. If we start with Acts or one of Paul’s letters, we’re in Act 3. We even get glimpses of Act 5 throughout the Bible (e.g., Revelation, 1 Thessalonians 4; in fact, even parts of the OT point us to Act 5 — like Isaiah 65.17-25).
Now, there is nothing wrong with jumping in, midstream. In fact, that’s what I encourage new Bible readers to do: learn Jesus first, and then see how he leads to the Church. But don’t overlook the importance of going back and learning what led up to them. For all the acts of the story are needed to understand the whole story.
This is especially true because, as you may have noticed, I didn’t mention Act 4 of the drama. If Act 1 is the story of Israel, Act 2 is Jesus, Act 3 is the early church, and Act 5 is the return of Jesus and the completion of all things, what’s Act 4?
Us. You, me, the church that picks up the story where the Bible leaves off, and continues until the true Author of the Story, Jesus, returns.
We are Act 4. And to live our part faithfully, and well, we’ve got to know the acts that precede us — which includes, of course, the OT.
So, don’t be afraid of the OT. Even the hard parts. Read the script. Learn the back story. And play your part well.
Next time: more on how to read the OT.