This Sunday at Riverview we're going to start a 17 week sermon series through the book of Judges. Judges is the seventh book of the Bible, and records the time after the nation of Israel inherits the Promised Land. Unfortunately, it's not a very happy story, and the book of Judges contains some of the most brutally violent, bloody, and depraved texts in all of scripture. It's definitely not a book for the squeamish or the faint of heart.
Then why do a sermon series on the book of Judges? In fact, why preach from any of the Old Testament (OT) books at all? Isn't the OT just about the nation of Israel and a bunch of outdated laws that don't apply to us anymore? Shouldn't we be focusing instead on Jesus and his work through the gospel, and how New Testament (NT) churches lived out their faith and walked with Jesus? Wouldn't that be more relevant for us today?
Such questions are not uncommon, and their prevalence can be clearly seen simply by looking at how often churches teach and/or preach from OT books compared to how often they teach and/or preach from NT books. While in seminary, Pastor Richard did a study on the prevalence and frequency of preaching from OT done in many large, American churches. Surprisingly (or perhaps unsurprisingly), many churches do not regularly preach or teach on the Old Testament at all. Of those surveyed who actually did preach on OT books, just 5-15% of sermons came OT texts. That statistic is perhaps startling when you consider that the OT comprises 75% of the entire Bible!
At Riverview, we endeavor to preach through the Bible verse by verse, line by line, chapter by chapter, book by book. And we don't make an exception for OT books or NT books. In fact, as we plan out our sermon series for the year, we try to schedule half of the sermons from OT books (such as historical books, prophetic books, or wisdom books), and half of the sermons from NT books (such as gospels, letters, etc.).
We don't think that the OT is outdated or irrelevant to Christians today. Quite the opposite. We believe that the Bible contains one unified message, and that the whole book is telling one singular story: the redemption of a fallen creation through Jesus Christ for the glory of God. You can find this theme in the pages of Exodus, Ruth, Psalms, Luke, Romans, Galatians, James, Revelation, and every other book in the Bible. God doesn't change. He didn't start one story in the OT and then begin a different one in the NT. All of history - and all of the Bible - is pointing us to his redemption through Jesus Christ.
More importantly, Jesus himself said that the OT all pointed to him and to God's purpose in the cross. In Luke 24 the resurrected Jesus meets two disciples on the road, but they don't recognize him. They tell him all about the recent events in Jerusalem (the crucifixion and resurrection), and how they were astounded by these events. Jesus essentially asks them why they were astounded, since the scriptures (the Old Testament) all pointed to those things happening. "And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the scriptures [the Old Testament] the things concerning himself." In other words, Jesus showed these to guys how the whole OT pointed to him.
Even in the blood-stained pages of the book of Judges we can see the theme of the gospel running throughout. We see the depth of our sin and the terrible consequences it engenders, and we see our desperate need for a Savior from the sin that entangles us. We see a God of grace who, time after time, comes to the aid of his people even though they have done nothing to earn his favor. We see a covenant God of faithfulness who will not abandon his people; no matter how far they fall from him, he will always draw them back to himself. We see broken, imperfect people who humble themselves before a holy God and are used for his purposes. All of these things are part of God's story, God's message, and God's invitation to all people to be a part of his kingdom. And we find all of these things in the Old Testament. The God of the OT is the same God of the NT, and his message is the same in both testaments.
I'm looking forward to finding Jesus in the book of Judges over the next few months at Riverview, and I invite you to join us. As part of this study, we invite you to read through the difficult pages of the book of Judges with us. Each Thursday, on our Facebook page, we'll be linking to the text for the upcoming week's sermon. We invite you to read with us so we can all encounter God together in his word each week.