by Samantha Shrauner
As difficult as it would be to write a novel, I think it would be more difficult to write a sequel. People have expectations for sequels- they’ve come to enjoy characters and want to see more from them. New characters are difficult to introduce- what if they don’t fit? As a writer, if you’re going to do something new, you have to expect some people to be upset about it.
On the surface, the Old Testament and the New Testament make for an odd prequel and sequel pair. How do they connect to one another? For Christians, it can be difficult to read and understand the Old Testament. We can be tempted to stick to familiar passages, or spend most of our time reading only the New Testament.
Why should we worry about what God did in the Old Testament when Jesus doesn’t appear until Matthew?
We can learn from the way that Peter taught a group with the opposite problem in Acts 3. The Jewish people of the first century knew the Old Testament back to front, and they were fiercely resistant to the notion of deviating from what God had said to them in the past. Peter’s sermon to them demonstrates that Jesus is not a deviation from God’s revelation in the past. Rather, Jesus is the culmination of everything God has said. Peter’s sermon has something to say to us as well. In it, we see that God has been a consistent work in the world and among his people over thousands of years. In Acts 3 we can see the character of the Saviour that God promised, the means of salvation that God promised, and the consistent witness of Old Testament saints.
The Saviour Foretold
11 While he clung to Peter and John, all the people, utterly astounded, ran together to them in the portico called Solomon's. 12 And when Peter saw it he addressed the people: “Men of Israel, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we have made him walk? 13 The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified his servant Jesus, whom you delivered over and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release him. 14 But you denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, 15 and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses. 16 And his name—by faith in his name—has made this man strong whom you see and know, and the faith that is through Jesus has given the man this perfect health in the presence of you all. Acts 3:11-16
Peter has performed a miraculous healing. A man lame from birth, recognised by those who come to the temple in Jerusalem, has leapt up to restored health and wholeness. This event brings a natural result: a crowd forms to see what has happened.
Peter takes the opportunity to tell the people what has happened, and he starts by refusing to take credit because of any innate power or righteousness. Who then, is responsible? Peter does not start by proclaiming Jesus, but by proclaiming the God that everyone present knows and serves: the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
Peter wants to establish that the man he will proclaim is not built on something new, but on something very old.
This is the God who has been at work in the world and in the nation of Israel from the very beginning. This is the God who called Abraham from his father’s house and told him in Genesis 12:2, “I will make of you a great nation,” the God who provided a son to an elderly couple, the God who gave twelve sons to Jacob and made their descendants like the stars in the sky. And this is the God, Peter declares, who glorified his servant Jesus.
The name of Jesus is not unknown in Jerusalem, but he is not identified as the glorified servant of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He is the fringe heretic who was executed as a blasphemer and insurrectionist. Peter lays the guilt of the people before them: they denied Jesus and demanded his death, even when the Roman governor Pilate had decided to release him. Instead of asking for the release of an innocent man, they requested the release of a murderer. The Author of life is killed while a killer is embraced and welcomed back. But the God of Israel continues to glorify the Holy and Righteous One, and undoes death so that Jesus is fully established as the Saviour and the Messiah. This is the name that has made the lame man leap for joy. This is the faith that will save.
God’s story of salvation did not begin when Jesus was born. God has been at work from the earliest times to reconcile the world that he made to himself. Tim Chester points out the difficulty many Christians have relating to God in the Old Testament. He says, “It’s all too common for Christians to think of the Son as loving and kind, but to think of the Father as distant and harsh.” (1) But the same God who called Abraham glorified Jesus and raised him from the dead. The Old Testament and the New Testament are not two distinct stories; together they form one coherent and consistent narrative of God’s saving work in the world.
When Christians read the Old Testament, we can draw closer to both God the Father and the Saviour that he glorified.
Come and see what God has done, and join the story that God has authored from the very beginning.
17 “And now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers. 18 But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ would suffer, he thus fulfilled. 19 Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out, 20 that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, 21 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. Acts 3:17-21
Peter now has a significant challenge. He must demonstrate how Jesus could be the Messiah when he does not fulfil the expectations of first-century Israel. These expectations did not come out of nowhere; they have come from the Old Testament. Psalm 2 talks about a mighty ruler from God who destroys those who stand against him. Psalm 110 says that the Messiah will make his enemies his footstool- probably an image that many people were happy to apply to their Roman oppressors. What is more, the Messiah would never suffer the humiliation of crucifixion, especially when Deuteronomy 21 says that men are cursed when they are hung on a tree. Jesus fulfilled none of their expectations of what the Messiah would be, and the Old Testament passage he did fulfil excluded him further by marking him as cursed by God.
Peter answers the objection by pointing the people to another part of the Old Testament, and reminding people that the Christ would suffer. Isaiah 53 lays out in detail the way that the Messiah would be rejected and killed to bear the weight of sin. The people expected a military conquerer, but the salvation that God has delivered is from their own sin. The pieces have not fit together in the way that the people have expected, but God has brought them salvation. Jesus is the Christ who was promised to Israel. Peter now calls the people of Israel to accept the salvation that Jesus offers so that they can be saved from their sins. When they killed the Christ, they acted in ignorance, but now the fullness of salvation has been proclaimed to them. The time of full restoration will happen in the future exactly as God has promised. Now is not the time for eradicating oppressors, now is the time of personal repentance and salvation from sin.
Jesus is the Christ, and by faith in him sin can be finally and fully blotted out. The salvation that God has promised from the first pages of the Bible is now at hand. Just as Peter extended the offer to a crowd in Jerusalem, through the pages of Acts he now extends it to us. How do you respond to the Christ that God has promised from the beginning? Turn away from your sin and come to Jesus for the refreshment of salvation in his name. Oppression has not ended and evil is not eradicated. The time for these things will come; God’s promises will not be thwarted. But here and now, it is time for salvation from sin.
When your hope in a happy ending wavers, put your trust in the God who has been faithful and join the story that God has authored from the very beginning.
The Witness of the Prophets
22 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. 23 And it shall be that every soul who does not listen to that prophet shall be destroyed from the people.’ 24 And all the prophets who have spoken, from Samuel and those who came after him, also proclaimed these days. 25 You are the sons of the prophets and of the covenant that God made with your fathers, saying to Abraham, ‘And in your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed.’ 26 God, having raised up his servant, sent him to you first, to bless you by turning every one of you from your wickedness.” Acts 3:22-26
The testimony of the Old Testament saints is unanimous: Jesus is the Messiah. The time has come for salvation. Jesus is not some fringe character on the edges of Jewish orthodoxy; he is the centre of God’s work in the world. Everything the nation of Israel has hoped for has been fulfilled in Christ. Moses and Abraham are two of the most towering figures in the Old Testament, and Peter shows how they pointed forward to Jesus. To reject the witness of the patriarchs and the prophets sent by God is to reject God himself, and the consequence is destruction. Peter pleads with the people to give up their former ignorance and turn to the salvation that Jesus offers. God had promised Abraham that all the nations of the world would be blessed through his descendants. Peter does not want the people that God has set apart to miss what God has done in their midst. Paul Mumo Kisau says that “while the blessing will be to all peoples, the Jews have the privilege of hearing it first.” (2) The story of salvation begins in Israel, but very soon it will extend to the ends of the earth.
The story of the Bible is not a fragmented collection of disjointed stories. Though the scope of Scripture spans diverse people across time and location, there is unity and consistency in its witness. Across thousands of years the people that God raised up all pointed to the same thing: salvation through Jesus the Christ. In Jesus the blessing that God promised to Abraham has been extended to every nation.
As Peter extends the invitation to the crowd in Jerusalem, he extends it to us as well.
Come and join the story that God has authored from the very beginning. Come and serve the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Come and learn the story from the beginning, and go and make it known everywhere.
(1) Tim Chester, Enjoying God, (The Good Book Company, 2019), 173
(2) Paul Mumo Kisau, 1332