I teach courses in the Old Testament. And, in a culture infatuated with new things, sometimes I find myself wondering “how relevant can this Old Testament be?” Spoiler: very. Along with students I spend a large part of most days thinking about a really old text. And, it can start to feel more and more distant; what does what happened then have to do with me today? I imagine I’m not alone in this feeling. In fact, I suspect many Christians today, if really pressed, might struggle to directly locate or pinpoint what the Old Testament has to say to the life of the Christian in the 21st century.
When we look at the Old Testament several themes or threads emerge that are central to the story. One of these, perhaps one of the most central in all the Bible, is the theme of the exodus. God sees and hears His chosen people Israel in toiling in slavery in Egypt. And, like this father, he will not sit idly by and wait. Rather, He mightily intervenes, acting to save them. In Ex 3:7-8 the Lord tells Moses at the burning bush that He has heard the cry of His children Israel, He knows their sufferings, and He is coming to deliver them from the Egyptians. We know this story, but perhaps the impact of this salvation is lost on those who’ve heard it before. So, at times, recasting the story can be of benefit. Consider this story to help us appreciate this rescue afresh.
Jan 15, 2018, Samuel Lethridge, a 17-year-old Australian boy, was driving home early one morning along a secluded, woody stretch of road when his vehicle crashed, and he skidded nearly 100 feet off the highway into a thick patch of trees. So thick, in fact, that his crashed car was completely hidden from the road. When he failed to arrive home his parents began to worry. Recently in the news another car had crashed along the same stretch of road and had remained hidden from the view of the rescuers. And, sadly, the injured driver had perished in what was an otherwise non-fatal crash. This new story was fresh in Samuel’s father’s mind and he sprung into action. Rushing to the local airport Tony Lethridge frantically searched for a helicopter pilot and offered the man everything he had: $1000. Flying over the suspected area Tony’s fears were confirmed; his son’s car had indeed slid into the brush and was completely hidden from the road. Without the bird’s eye view, critical hours may have passed resulting in Samuel’s death. Upon arrival, Samuel, while injured, was still alive. Through his father’s unwavering searching, literally going to where his injured son was, Samuel’s life was saved. Isn’t this a beautiful picture of the way in which our God has consistently come to save His people?
Again and again throughout the pages of the Old Testament whenever the Lord required something of His people (think of the Law), He prefaced it by reminding them what kind of God He is. In both Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5, the places in the Old Testament where the 10 commandments are given, before the Lord gave them the law, He reminded them what He has first done for them. Before any command was given, who God is could be explicitly seen. Ex. 20:2: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” The Lord is teaching us that the way He desires us to live in this world is directly, and could only be predicated upon His initial act of saving, exodus-grace.
Like Samuel in Australia, like Israel in the biblical text, we were wrecked in servitude and lost in sin. In our rebellion we skidded off the road into the brush. We were invisible and perishing if not for the miraculous, searching, saving power of a God who comes to look for us to redeem us and to bring us life. In Luke chapter 15 we see three beautiful stories of something lost that is found. A lost sheep is rescued, a woman rejoices over the return of one of her silver coins, and the prodigal son returns to a father who has patiently watched and waited for him. But that is not all. The prodigal son has an older brother who, like poor Samuel from Australia, appears to be lost and in danger of remaining unseen. Upon his younger, rebellious brother’s return, the older brother refuses to join the welcome-home party, and angrily remains outside. In our parable the loving father goes to him. He leaves the party and entreats this older son to return, to join them, reminding him so graciously that “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours” (Lk 15:31). So, this year may we see this bright thread that runs so clearly through the scriptures: our God is a God who will not leave His beloved lost to perish, hidden from grace. In His great love He comes to us where we are, wrecked in our sin, and delivers us. Everything else flows from this saving act of grace.