I recall rehearsing for my first Christmas pageant, though I don’t recall the pageant itself. I don’t have any idea how old I was, but I was possibly three or four. All of us in my Sunday school class had speaking parts; that is, one line Bible verses. We simply were to take turns walking up to the microphone, saying our line, and walking back to our seats. I was naturally quite nervous, and I can recall sitting on my bed while my parents helped me to rehearse my line, over and over:
“God loved us and sent His son. First John, four ten.”
Obviously my practicing worked, as I still remember it. The full version is this:
This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. (NIV)
This verse, coincidentally, makes a point that I made previously: It is not our emotions concerning God that is important so much as knowing the truth that God – not just Jesus, but God the Father – loves us. Don’t get me wrong; it’s not inappropriate to display or vocalize our emotions. However, our emotions are capricious; they change quicker than the weather in Oregon and are, therefore, a notoriously bad gauge of truth. The fact that we feel love for God tells us absolutely nothing – the fact that God loves us tells us everything.
Many people have the mistaken belief that Jesus is the “good God” who loves us and the Father is the stern, hard to please God who is just one sin away from zapping us. In truth, while knowing the Father and the Son are separate persons within the Trinity (more on this later), the purposes and emotions of Jesus and the Father cannot be separated. As Jesus so aptly put it, “The Father and I are one. (John 10:30)” Jesus also said, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. (John 14:9)” We know what the Father is like by knowing Jesus. When we see Jesus reaching out to children, the poor, the sick, and the sinners, we see the true heart of the Father.
This means that the God of the Old Testament – the one who obliterated Sodom – is the same God who is revealed to us in Jesus. How can this be? The writer of Hebrews put it like this:
In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. (Heb. 1:1-3a)
In the Old Testament, God was revealed through men. In the New, we finally see the “exact representation” of the God of the Old Testament. As the New Century Version puts it, Jesus “shows exactly what God is like.” If we know God’s love as expressed in Jesus, we can then begin to see that same God in the Old Testament. Really.
Putting it another way, reading the Old Testament is like looking at God through a dirty, distorted piece of old glass. Seeing Jesus in the Gospels provided an unobstructed view of God as he really is, a God motivated by love, compassion and grace. If we are shown two photographs of the same person – one faded, dirty, and blurry, and the other in high resolution color – which one would best tell us what the person looks like? There may be some details in the faded photo that are missing in the good one, but first we’d see what the good photo shows us and then look for that person in the old photo. We should start with what is clear, and then use that to understand what is unclear.
What is clear about God is, as my first Bible memory verse said, “God loved us, and sent His son.”
- What is the first Bible verse that you memorized? At what age?
- What has been your image of God, as expressed in the Old Testament?