I once heard a Minister describe the Old Testament as a joke, but with Jesus as the punch-line… At first hearing this sounds like heresy –or a low view of scripture- but actually it is not an unhelpful analogy, in order to understand Jesus Christ, who he is and why he came, we need to understand the Old Testament -the Bible that Jesus read- yet too often the Old Testament, the Minor Prophets especially are left unread…
Without the Old Testament we simple can’t adequately “get” Jesus, or his mission and ministry.
For this last in our Advent reflections, I’ll be looking slightly broader at the minor prophets and try and pull out a few key themes.
The first –and probably most uncomfortable- is we see God’s vocal opposition to sin, especially things like worshipping idols (something or someone taking God’s rightful place in our lives).
In the first of the Minor Prophets, Hosea gives us a helpful insight into sin, the idea not of breaking a stern head-teachers’ rules ‘like no running in the corridor’, but breaking the heart of a lover or a spouse.
Jonah also shows us another great insight into God’s perspective on Sin; Jonah discovers God’s awesome love for him, personally, he knows hypothetically and theoretically that God is “slow to anger and abounding in great love and mercy”, yet he discovers this personally. Sin, is not something that other people do, but something personal that we do ourselves. Yet he discovered God’s faithfulness, restoring him as a prophet, and giving him a fresh chance… he then realises that God loves even his enemies with the same passionate love that he has for us.
Sin is breaking God’s heart, not just his rules.
Sin is hurts God because he loves us, and he loves those with whom we have become enemies.
Those whom we may want to hurt are also God’s beloved children too; God is on the side of the oppressed, the marginalised and disenfranchized.
God in love calls us to account for our actions.
God’s love for justice and mercy screams out across the cross section of minor prophets.
Yet the minor prophets show us that people can change; Gomer went on to be a faithful wife to the prophet Hosea; Jonah changed his heart as did the people of Ninivah.
The Minor prophets show us our sin, but also points us to God’s character.
Showing the Father to be:
- A God who wants his people to repent and turn to him…
- A God who longs for authentic relationship with us…
- A God who gives us choice, and although it breaks his heart, he respects our decision…
We get glimpses of God being a God of rescue here too, the whale in Jonah and the redemption in Hosea.
We sins seriousness, we acknowledge our powerlessness to save ourselves, and look to God for our rescue, a rescue that was too come with the promise of the Annointed one, the Christ, the Messiah.
Yet we see flashes forward to God’s coming rescue plan; not only do we have hints as to Jesus being the Messiah, prophecies that Jesus fulfiled through his identity, life, death and resurrection… (e.g. Micah’s prophecy of where Jesus was going to be born)…
Micah 5:2 “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah,
out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel,whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.”
Yet there are not only signs pointing to Jesus being the Messiah, there are also signs pointing towards the cross, Jesus taking on atonement, pointing towards Christ taking on our sins…
(Zechariah 3) “Now Joshua was dressed in filthy clothes as he stood before the angel. 4 The angel said to those who were standing before him, “Take off his filthy clothes.” Then he said to Joshua, “See, I have taken away your sin, and I will put fine garments on you.”5 Then I said, “Put a clean turban on his head.” So they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him, while the angel of the Lord stood by.6 … ‘and I will remove the sin of this land in a single day.”
-It might seems a bit weird until you realise that Joshua and Jesus are interchangeable names in Hebrew, the great high priest, -a Priest in the Jewish is the one who stands in between the people and God- he has taken on the defilement of the people and then brings clean clothes echoes of John later on when he writes “he who knew no sin became sin for us, so that we might have the righteousness of God”… Again a picture of the cross, when on one single day God removed the sin of the whole earth, by Christ taking on our sin for us.
Redemption and Restoration, are continued features of the minor prophets, Micah grasps something of the heart of God who longs to forgive us…
Micah 7: 18, “Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. 19 You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea. 20 You will be faithful to Jacob, and show love to Abraham, as you pledged on oath to our ancestors in days long ago”.
But then we see from the Minor Prophets this is not just simply getting ourselves right with God; but actually our bigger hope, that the world that turned from God, will one day be restored by God.
A hope not just for us to be forgiven, but everything -the whole of creation (which is groaning)- made right again; redeemed and restored. Read the wonderful words of the prophet Amos:-
“In that day I will restore David’s fallen shelter—I will repair its broken walls and restore its ruins—and will rebuild it as it used to be,12 so that they may possess the remnant of Edom and all the nations that bear my name,” declares the Lord, who will do these things. 13 “The days are coming,” declares the Lord,“when the reaper will be overtaken by the plowman and the planter by the one treading grapes. New wine will drip from the mountains and flow from all the hills,14 and I will bring my people Israel back from exile. “They will rebuild the ruined cities and live in them. They will plant vineyards and drink their wine; they will make gardens and eat their fruit. I will plant Israel in their own land, never again to be uprootedfrom the land I have given them,”
The Minor Prophets, along with the Old Testament point the way to Jesus and his death and resurrection and return…
Yet many who knew their scriptures missed it when Jesus came to earth the first time.
What of us who live after the cross and the resurrection?
Have we grasped the full implications of who Jesus is? Why he came? The difference he makes to our lives? And the Hope that we have –not just for ourselves, but for the whole of creation?-