I have a habit of calling what many call “The Old Testament” the “First Testament.” And I do that because too many in the Church treat the books in the front of our Bible as either unimportant or not as valuable as the New Testament. I confess I’ve had a few folks get mad at me for saying “First Testament” instead of “Old Testament.”
But how do we expect to know why the New Testament is so wonderful if we remain ignorant of the all that wisdom and insight preserved for us in the first books of our Bible? Everything that God said about Jesus before He came is there for us to see. All kinds of insights and wisdom is preserved for us in the pages of these treasures that will help us understand the true depth of meaning of our Lord Jesus and all the wisdom of His words. I’ve often told my Protestant friends who ignore the history of the Church and how the Church grew by saying “How can you understand what the Holy Spirit IS saying if you don’t know what He HAS said?” And I will add that same question to we Orthodox when it comes to our knowledge and study of the “First Testament” especially in light of the truth that this was the only scriptures our Lord, His disciples, and the early Church had and they turned the world upside down (or better, right side out!)
Look at our lesson today in Hebrews 9:1-7:
BRETHREN, the first covenant had regulations for worship and an earthly sanctuary. For a tent was prepared, the outer one, in which were the lampstand and the table and the bread of the Presence; it is called the Holy Place. Behind the second curtain stood a tent called the Holy of Holies, having the golden altar of incense and the ark of the covenant covered on all sides with gold, which contained a golden urn holding the manna, and Aaron’s rod that budded, and the tables of the covenant; above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat. Of these things we cannot now speak in detail. These preparations having thus been made, the priests go continually into the outer tent, performing their ritual duties; but into the second only the high priest goes, and he but once a year, and not without taking blood which he offers for himself and for the errors of the people.
Notice St. Paul tells these Jewish (Hebrew) Christians that the scriptures are called the “first covenant.” Here he is referring to the promises God made to Abraham and to Moses and to the Jewish people that He would send the Messiah, the “Christos” or “anointed one” to save the people. God directed His people to create a very focused and detailed worship and sacrificial system to teach them just how comprehensive was the effects of our rebellion against Him went AND how comprehensive His work of salvation was going to be to reverse this tragic situation!
Paul describes the beauty and detail of the Jewish Temple and the worship of the priests and people and the liturgical disciplines necessary for the priests to function in this “first covenant.”
So, what was all this elaborate instruction, all this outlandish beauty and significant detail suppose to teach them and us? It was supposed to drive deep into the hearts and minds of the people the truth that God was intimately and completely committed to undoing the sad terror of mortality! God was intending to defeat death and return we humans to our proper place in relationship with Him. This plan of God’s was not going to be “magic” or through some incantation or spell. God’s plan wasn’t going to be based on His power or our weakness. No, God planned His restoration of humanity to be filled with significant beauty, focused discipline, and deeply loving grace! God planned on undoing our selfishness and foolish abandonment of our true purpose through the expensive life, death, and resurrection of His Son, our Lord Jesus Who destroys death for us all!
Today, you aren’t going to appreciate just how wonderful the New Testament is without learning more about the “First Testament.” God loves you so much that He has preserved the full story of His love and desire for you in the pages of His Holy Scripture, in the life of His Holy Church, and in the Hearts of His Holy People. And all to move you to be Orthodox on Purpose!