“Come, let us worship and bow down,
Let us kneel before the LORD our Maker.“
It is divine neglect and reflects a willingness to intentionally cripple one’s own growth in the Lord’s grace to fail to pursue and apprehend the manifest revelation of God in the Old Testament. While Christians are ever blessed to dive into the grace-washed currents of the Christ-unveiling New Testament, it is not without providential, God-glorifying purpose that the Lord has preserved for us His first testament of revelation.
The most prolific author of the New Testament, the apostle Paul, advises us on their value: “For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Rom. 15:4). By mere chronology, it is clear that Paul, whose ministry included the penning of inspired Holy Writ, was not in possession of the closed canon of the New Testament to which he was contributing. Rather, he was referring rather to the Old Testament “Scriptures,” those ancient holy texts “written in earlier times.”
As was Paul’s habit of discipleship and evangelism, he would visit local synagogues and “reason with them” from the Old Testament (Acts 17:2). That Paul “preached Christ crucified” (1 Cor. 1:23), and did it from the only extant Scriptures available to him – what is our Old Testament – ought give us great pause in failing to diligently pursue the truth about God, about man, and about our Lord and His redemption contained in them.
As with all things done by the Lord, He has declared it, through Paul, for our good to understand Him in those ancient holy pages, and it is for His glory that we do so. While the inspired author of Hebrews confirms for us that “in these last days,” God has spoken through His Son, it is from the testimony of the Lord Himself, teaching two disciples trodding a dusty path to Emmaus, that we know Christ is richly foretold and prophetically revealed throughout the Old Testament. As Luke records, “Then beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures” (Luke 24:27).
Failure To Submit To “The Full Counsel of God”
Yet barely a century had passed following Christ’s ascension when a heresy arose that would pit the Old Testament against the New. Arising in the early second century, and lasting well into the sixth century, Marcionism would seek to distinguish the “god” of the Old Testament as different, and lesser, than the one revealed in the New. The heresy’s namesake, Marcion, produced Antitheses, a work that featured contradictions which he perceived between the two volumes. He compiled his own canon of Scripture which rejected the entirety of the Old Testament, disallowed non-Pauline epistles of the New Testament, permitted only 9 of the 13 from Paul now included in it, and included what is referred to as the “Gospel of Marcion,” which was, apparently, a massively re-edited version of Luke’s Gospel.
The apparent motivation for Marcion’s efforts at this Scriptural destruction – itself a maneuver easily recognized as an Eden-like effort of the enemy to question “Has God said?” – was because of a presumed contradiction that was unreconcilable in his unregenerate mind. Though influenced by Gnosticism, Marcion accepted the premise of Jesus as Savior and viewed Paul as His chief apostle, but he rejected the entirety of the Hebrew Bible and the God revealed there. The God of Israel, he posited, was a demi-urge, a lesser god who was cruel, unloving, and wrathful. The God revealed through the writings of Paul and the incarnate witness of Christ was a far different one, seen by Marcion and his followers as all-forgiving, gracious, and loving. This apparent contradiction – the wrath of the God of the Old Testament and the gracious, loving God reflected by Christ in the New – was untenable to the heretic. He couldn’t rightly ponder it, and committed the eternally egregious sin of failing to submit to the authority and sufficiency of God’s “whole counsel.”
One of the books rejected by Marcion for inclusion in his own corrupted canon was the book of Acts, perhaps because it included vivid evidence of the same swift wrath of God that is often an out of balance view of Him seen in the Old Testament. But it is in Acts where we find a prime example of God’s wrath within Christ’s newly established church. Acts 5 recounts for us the history of Ananias and his wife Sapphira.
“But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property, and kept back some of the price for himself, with his wife’s full knowledge, and bringing a portion of it, he laid it at the apostles’ feet. But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back some of the price of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not under your control? Why is it that you have conceived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God.” And as he heard these words, Ananias fell down and breathed his last; and great fear came over all who heard of it. The young men got up and covered him up, and after carrying him out, they buried him.
Now there elapsed an interval of about three hours, and his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. And Peter responded to her, “Tell me whether you sold the land for such and such a price?” And she said, “Yes, that was the price.” Then Peter said to her, “Why is it that you have agreed together to put the Spirit of the Lord to the test? Behold, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out as well.” And immediately she fell at his feet and breathed her last, and the young men came in and found her dead, and they carried her out and buried her beside her husband.” Acts 5:1-10
The revealed and recorded sin of this couple, of lying – not merely to the church or its elders, but to the Holy Spirit – serves as a dire warning to all believers precisely because of the swift judgment which came upon them for their collegial deceit. Following Peter’s confrontation of Ananias’ sin, the man “fell down and breathed his last.” A few hours later, his conspiring help-meet too would fall before the apostle having “breathed her last.”
John MacArthur comments on this historic, New Testament behavior of God: “God moved quickly to remove this spiritual cancer from the body … The ultimate cause of Ananias’ death was God’s judgment.” MacArthur adds, “It is a sobering truth that God sometimes takes the lives of sinning believers. Death is God’s ultimate form of physical discipline for sinning believers. He wants His church pure (cf. 2 Cor 11:2, Eph. 5:27).”
“God’s strong desire for a pure church, and His willingness to take drastic steps to achieve that desire, were obvious for all to see. It was time, as Peter was later to write, ‘for judgment to begin with the household of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospl of God’ (1 Peter 4:17). Perhaps Peter remembered this incident when he was inspired to write from Psalm 34, ‘Let him who means to love life and see good days refrain his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking guile’ (1 Peter 3:10).” John MacArthur
“Those who set up a fictitious worship, merely worship and adore their own delirious fancies; indeed, they would never dare so to trifle with God, had they not previously fashioned him after their own childish conceits.” John Calvin
That God’s unmitigated wrath is, by His own determined inspiration of Scripture, on graphic display in the Old Testament is a critical blessing to Christians. Failing to rightly apprehend the revealed nature of God richly provided in the Old Testament, including His perfect, holy wrath against sin, would leave us worshiping a false God who is merely the product of our “own delirious fancies.” Marcion’s sad witness echoes through the centuries as one who allowed his “own childish conceits” to create an idolatrous view of God. Sadly though, the glaring message of the much of the church today is one where God has become precisely such a fancied product of self-interested, self-serving, superficial, and sensational theology. The church at large wants a God of love alone who makes us feel, not one who might ever be displeased with us in wrath and judgment. Yet to pick and choose those attributes of God most favorable to our sin-soaked minds, while avoiding those unpalatable to our selfish tastes, is to willfully waltz onto the dance floor of heresy. God intends to be known in, and by, the fullness of His revelation, and our failure to do so brings the risk of His judgment and discipline.
The historic episode of Ananias and Sapphira, rejected by Marcion, but eternally inscripturated in God’s inspired New Testament, rightly reflects the unchanging nature of God exhibited in His righteous judgment on sin. It continues into the New Testament the presentation of our “holy, holy, holy” God from the Old (Isaiah 6:3). God has ever, is always, and will finally, judge the wicked and discipline His children. He did so in the Flood (Gen. 6:7); He destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah for their prideful wickedness (Gen. 19:4-5, Ezek. 16:49-50); He destroyed Judah’s firstborn for “being evil in the sight of the Lord” (Gen. 38:7); He struck down Nadab and Abihu for illicit, unacceptable worship (Lev. 10:1-3); He consumed the complainers of His chosen people (Num. 11); He destroyed Uzzah for disobedience regarding His holy ark (2 Sam. 6:6-7); He brought death to the son of David and Bathsheba as a judgment on their sin (2 Sam. 12:14-18).
God In the Old Testament
But the Old Testament does not merely present to us a God of wrath. In it we also learn of His utter sovereignty, His impeccable holiness, His perfect righteousness, and His patient providence. We see the initiation of His purpose in creation, His power to execute His perfect plan in and through the sinful, evil disobedience of His creation, and His swift justice against rebels to His will. The Old Testament shows us God as a thorough and detailed Creator, a loving Father to His children who does not withhold either discipline for their good or blessings from His goodness, and as a husband with a holy jealousy for His sovereignly chosen betrothed. The Old Testament most vividly portrays God as the imminent orchestrator of all of human history. He is controlling all things to bring them to His perfect, predetermined end, an end in which He is glorified, Christ is eternally exalted, and His children abide with Him forevermore.
As we worship daily, and on the Lord’s Day, let us do so rightly informed of the God who has revealed Himself to us in both inspired Testaments. Let us understand from the apostle Peter that God, “by His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness” (2 Pet. 1:3), and, by His purpose and providence, much of that is provided for us in His ancient, but ever-living, revelation of the Old Testament. Let us worship in pursuit of, and in submission and obedience to, the “whole counsel” of God’s truth intended “for our instruction.” As Paul prayed often for the saints, may our own worshipful prayer be that we would be “filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding” (Col. 1:9), and that from the fullness of His complete, and completed, Word. Let us dare not tinker with the perfect, holy revelation from God in the foolish wisdom of our finite minds (1 Cor. 1:20), but rather may we submit in awe and praise for the teaching that has been given to us from the very “mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:16).