Why read or preach on the Old Testament?

As we embarked on our new series through Nehemiah this week, I had interesting conversation with visitors to our church. They pointed out that their old church never preached on the Old Testament, and it was refreshing to see that ours did. Many have commented both positively and negatively on how much Old Testament we use in our sermons. For those who are unaware, we do four main series throughout a year (based roughly on the school terms), and we spend half of them going through an Old Testament book. Sometimes, this may feel dry, sometimes even reading the Old Testament can be a challenge. So I thought in this post I would provide some key reasons why we as a church preach from the Old Testament, and why it would be good for you to include it in your personal bible reading.

It’s the bible that Jesus and the apostles read and preached from
Not many Christians realise that Jesus and Paul weren’t walking around with a fully formed bible in their pocket (though that intuitively makes sense). When Jesus would teach the crowds, his launching point was often the scriptures as he knew them. Every time the Lord says “it is written”, or “You have heard that it is said”, he is referring back to the Old Testament. It is what He read and what He was steeped in from birth. If it’s good enough for him, it is good enough for us. Likewise, when the apostles preached and were seeking to explain the saving significance of Jesus, they did so using the Old Testament. Even when it came to writing the New Testament, the apostles quoted, borrowed and were influenced heavily by the scriptures of the Old Testament.
It shows God’s faithfulness and human depravity
The New Testament largely follows the story of Jesus and His apostles. Jesus is perfection itself and the disciples largely get things right through the power of the Holy Spirit. Read in isolation, the modern Christian may underestimate the power and pull of human sin! The Old Testament in some respects is much more relatable, as we see the people of God give in to envy, anger, lust, pride and bitterness. But it is not at all discouraging, as the more we grasp the sinfulness of people, the more brightly God’s faithfulness shines. The New Testament is full of examples of people doing incredible things for God (obviously through the power God gives them), but in the Old Testament we see more clearly the incredible things God does for a people that doesn’t deserve it.
It gives us a deeper understanding of the gospel
In line with that last point, the deeper our understanding of human sin and God’s faithfulness, the deeper our understanding of what Jesus did for us. In fact Jesus himself was able to go through the Old Testament and show how all of it pointed to himself (Luke 24:25-27). Not only does the Old Testament provide the context for why Jesus came, it foreshadows and provides types and prophecies that he later fulfils. A gospel without the Old Testament is anaemic; it can lead to an individualistic, personal understanding of what Jesus did. “Jesus came just for me, to fix my problem of sin”. While that is in some respects true, Jesus also came to fulfil the covenant with Israel, the promises to Abraham, and to undo the fall and bring about a new creation (amongst many more reasons!).
Its largely untouched by Christians and churches
Nothing is a bigger killer to interest than doing the same thing over and over again. Because the Old Testament is rarely read or used, its stories and points can be fresh and interesting. We have all heard sermons on the good Samaritan or the prodigal son. We have all read Philippians 4 or Romans 8 in a time of crisis. Often these texts are read and preached on more because they are easy to understand on a surface level, though we can run the risk of making them seem mundane. I’m not desperately looking forward to preaching on John 3:16 for instance, because what could I say that you have not heard 100 times already? That isn’t to say these passages aren’t important, it’s just that the same message said from a different passage might have twice the impact.
It is the majority of God’s inspired word
God in his providence has seen fit to make two-thirds of our bible Old Testament. It may be that the Old Testament is more important to Him than it is to us, in which case we would do well to rectify our neglect of it. If we simply are “New Testament Christians” then we miss out on most of what God would seek to say to His People. Furthermore, if Paul is right and “all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (2 Tim 3:16-17), then we can starve ourselves by avoiding it.
Stories cut through in a society that largely rejects authority
Once upon a time simply saying that “the bible tells us so” was enough to convince most people of a claim’s truthfulness. Not so anymore. Much of the New Testament is set out in epistles, which are based on the authority of the apostle, and are letters trying to convince the reader of a certain truth they should accept and live by. This type of claim to authority and exhortation to live in light of the truth doesn’t necessarily relate in a post-modern culture that rejects authority. Narrative makes up the bulk of the Old Testament and subvert the defences of the sceptic. By not setting forth any proposition or expectation on the reader, they can be enjoyed, yet still teach the audience. They provide examples, are relatable, teach moral truths, and subvert our understandings about ourselves and God.
So where should I start?
So maybe I’ve convinced you and you will rock up and listen to our current series through Nehemiah (or follow along online). But what about in your private bible reading? Some different options are available. One common one is to start in Genesis and work your way through. The main problem with this style is that many get bogged down in Exodus in Leviticus (which can be heavy going, I admit!). This can be countered by reading the Old Testament alongside and with your New Testament. Otherwise, skip the books in the Old Testament you find hard, and come back to them later! You could also pick out a section of the Old Testament and read that (eg. Minor prophets, major prophets, Pentateuch, the writings, Deuteronomic History, Chronicler history). Perhaps the easiest suggestion is to download the YouVersion app on your phone and simply browse the bible reading plans for a whole bible plan, or an Old Testament book plan. There are many good options out there that will help boost your faith and depth of biblical understanding.