For You did not forever reject Your creature whom You made, O Good One, nor did You forget the work of Your hands, but because of Your tender compassion, You visited him in various ways: You sent forth prophets; You performed mighty works by Your saints who in every generation have pleased You. You spoke to us by the mouth of Your servants the prophets, announcing to us the salvation which was to come; You gave us the Law to help us; You appointed angels as guardians.
(Divine Liturgy of St. Basil the Great, p. 26)
But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that His Christ should suffer, He thus fulfilled. Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that He may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, whom heaven must receive until the time for establishing all that God spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets of old. Moses said, “The Lord God will raise up for you a prophet from your brethren as he raise me up. You shall listen to Him in whatever He tells you. And it shall be that every soul that does not listen to that prophet shall be destroyed from the people.” And all the prophets who have spoken, from Samuel and those who came afterwards, also proclaimed these days. You are the sons of the prophets and of the covenant which God gave to your fathers, saying to Abraham, “And in your posterity shall all the families of the earth be blessed.”
Acts 3: 18-25
In many and various says God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets; but in these last days He has spoken to us by a Son, Whom He appointed the heir of all things, through Whom also He created the world.
Thankfully, the story of humanity doesn’t end with the Fall. God had a plan for our salvation. But it took time to be completed. Why? Because the people weren’t ready. The people who had rejected God needed time to be ready to embrace the concept of salvation.
Several years ago, our women’s Bible study group was sitting in chairs on the solea of our church. And the question came up about why God allowed so much violence in the Old Testament. The best answer I could come up with was to ask them to imagine that a bunch of violent and armed gang members came into our church at that moment we were meeting with the Bible study group. We wouldn’t ask them to join our “loving and supportive group.” Because they probably wouldn’t understand what “loving and supportive” means. The first thing we would do is tell them to put down their guns. We might even have to use colorful language in order to do that, because perhaps they would only know the language of violence. Only after assuring safety, and spending time building trust could people like this be effectively integrated into our group. It would take time.
God took His time getting the people prepared to receive Christ, the One who would save them. First, there needed to be assurance of the relationship between God and humanity. God would reassure the fallen humanity of His love. The fallen humanity would show God (or perhaps it is better to say, would struggle to show God) it’s faithfulness. God made covenants with people, God gave the Law to help guide the people, and God sent prophets to reassure the people that a Messiah was coming, that their relationship with God would be restored and that there was a path back to the Paradise once enjoyed by Adam and Eve.
I used to say that the Old Testament could be summed up in one word: Promise. God made promises to His people of a Messiah and then in the New Testament those promises were fulfilled. A recent reread of the Old Testament, however, brought a different word to my mind that summarizes the Old Testament: Brokenness. The intended relationship between God and man was broken at the Fall. And it is restored in Jesus Christ. It’s truly amazing how God’s mercy and compassion was at work in the Old Testament, working through broken people and the overall state of brokenness of humanity to keep a vestige of hope throughout every generation between the Fall and Christ.
David is the perfect example of God working through brokenness. David was a young hero who defeated Goliath. He was a mighty king. He was also an adulterer and a murderer. He also made great repentance, wrote the book of Psalms and Christ descended from his line. What a reassuring thought that is! That in the lineage of our Savior is a man who was a murderer and adulterer. And yet Christ did not abandon him, or those who came after him.
The word that I now use to summarize the New Testament is “redeemed.” What was lost through the Fall has now been redeemed or restored through the saving work of Jesus Christ. This section of the Anaphora of Saint Basil provides a short summary of what happened between the Fall and the Redemption.
God was merciful in not rejecting the human beings who essentially betrayed Him. He never forgot His intention for us, that we are created in His image to live eternally with Him. He prepared the way for the Messiah through the words of prophets. In every generation, there was some “mighty work” that reminded the people not only of the power of God but of God’s love for them. For instance, parting the Red Sea (Exodus 14), or sending down manna from heaven so that the people wouldn’t die in the wilderness (Exodus 16), or making water come out of a rock so the people could drink (Exodus 17), or when fire came down from heaven and consumed the water that had been spread out over an altar (I Kings 18).
There were things in the Old Testament that happened that put ideas into the minds of people what was possible. For instance, in Genesis 22, Abraham obeys God and goes to sacrifice his son Isaac. While God eventually stops this from happening, this story was told to all generations of how a father was willing to sacrifice his son, a precursor to God sending His Son to be sacrificed for us. In Genesis 28, Jacob has a dream about angels ascending and descending on a ladder from heaven. This reinforced the concept that the chasm between heaven and earth could be bridged. And in Exodus 3, Moses encounters a burning bush which is not consumed by the fire. This prefigures the Virgin Mary carrying Christ in her womb and not being consumed.
The Law, given on Mount Sinai, was a gift to the people. It provided order and structure and safety. Eventually, the Law was abused by those who were charged to safeguard and enforce it, the leadership of the temple.
For the last 350 years before the Incarnation of Christ, there were no prophets. It seemed that God was absent. Yet the people still believed, still clung to the hope of a Messiah. So that when the Messiah did come, there were still people who were able to recognize Him as the promised deliverer. Why? Because in total, over 200 prophecies were made about the coming of a Messiah. And all 200+ of those prophecies were fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ. All of those things coming to pass in one person is proof beyond doubt that Jesus is the promised Messiah. And the stage for all of this is set in the Old Testament.
The Old Testament is a necessary precursor to the New Testament.
Fr. Stavros N. Akrotirianakis is the Proistamenos of St. John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL. Fr. contributes the Prayer Team Ministry, a daily reflection, which began in February 2015. The Prayer Team now has its own dedicated website!
Fr. Stavros has produced two books, “Let All Creation Rejoice: Reflections on Advent, the Nativity and Epiphany”: “https://amzn.to/2t1rXwh and “The Road Back to Christ: Reflections on Lent, Holy Week and the Resurrection.” https://amzn.to/2WAcfG0
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