Finding Treasures, New and Old, in the Pages of Scripture

Have you ever been reading a familiar part of the Bible–one of the gospels, for example–and came across something you’d never noticed before? I don’t know how many dozens of times I’ve read Matthew, and just a few weeks ago I noticed a verse that I don’t think I’ve ever thought about before. It comes right after a collection of several parables about the kingdom of heaven, and Jesus says,

“Have you understood all these things?” They replied, “Yes.” Then he said to them, “Therefore every expert in the law who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his treasure what is new and old.”

Matthew 13:51-52, NET

As I’ve pondered this verse over the past few weeks while studying the kingdom of God, one thing that jumps out at me is the importance Jesus puts on the old and the new. Treasuring both seems like a different recommendation than what some other scriptures teach us about how to relate to the old and the new. But Jesus also makes this sound like something we’re supposed to do. An “expert in the law” (also translated “scribe” or “Torah scholar/teacher”) who is trained (or “discipled”) for the kingdom seems like someone who has paid close attention to Jesus’s teachings and understand them. So how can we imitate this disciple-scholar’s approach to the kingdom of God?

An Old and New Commandment

Describing someone who is trained or discipled for the kingdom as bringing out old and new treasures can seem strange in light of Jesus’s other teachings. The parables of the new patch on an old garment and new wine in old wineskins make it seem like the new and old is incompatible (Luke 5:36-39). Later, Paul writes about cleaning out the old so we can be new, and of the old passing away because we are new in Christ (1 Cor. 5:7; 2 Cor 5:17). Part of figuring out this puzzle involves asking the question, “Old and new what?” because not all these passages are talking about the same old and new things. In addition to keeping that in mind, I think the key to unlocking this mystery is found in John’s writings:

Dear friends, I am not writing a new commandment to you, but an old commandment which you have had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word that you have already heard. On the other hand, I am writing a new commandment to you which is true in him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining.

1 John 2:7-8, NET

Jesus did not do away with the old commandments and words of God (Matt. 5:17-20). He did, however, bring something new to add to it, including a new covenant which would supersede the old (Heb. 8-9). Part of participating in this new covenant involves us cleaning old things that are incompatible with godliness out of our lives (that’s what Paul was talking about in the Corinthians passages). It also involves properly balancing and appreciating the new and old treasures of God’s word.

Called into the New, Founded on the Old

People often think of Christianity as something new that Jesus started. The way scripture talks about it, though, “Christian” is just a new name applied to believers who were continuing to follow the teachings of the one true God and align with His unfolding plan as Jesus revealed the next steps. Our faith’s roots aren’t found in the first century C.E.–they’re found “in the beginning” when God created the heavens and the earth. Jesus coming as the Messiah was the next step in the plan God had laid out even before He laid the foundations for the earth (Matt. 25:34; Eph. 1:4; 1 Pet. 1:20).

As part of His work here on earth, Jesus revealed more fully how to worship God and invited us to “serve in the new life of the Spirit and not under the old written code” (Rom. 7:6, NET). Now, is Paul saying here that the old has no value? “Absolutely not!” Rather, he argues that “we uphold the law” when we live by faith” (Rom. 3:31; 6:15; 7:7).

For God, who said “Let light shine out of darkness,” is the one who shined in our hearts to give us the light of the glorious knowledge of God in the face of Christ.

2 Corinthians 4:6-7, NET

The work God is doing in us and the knowledge He gives us are amazing treasures. Part of this treasure of understanding involves an appreciation of the value both of the new and old things that God has given His people. Through His extraordinary power and mercy, we are called into a new thing founded on very old truths.

Finding and Keeping Kingdom Treasures

If we go back to the kingdom of heaven parables that Jesus shared before making the statement where we started this post, we find that He talked about treasure there, too.

“The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in the field, which a man found and hid. And because of his joy, he goes out and sells all that he has and buys that field.

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant searching for fine pearls. Upon finding a pearl of great value, he went out and sold all that he had and bought it.” …

Then He said to them, “Therefore every Torah scholar discipled for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure both new things and old.”

Matthew 13:44-46, 52, TLV

God’s kingdom is a treasure so precious we should be willing–and even joyful–to give up whatever is needed to get the kingdom (Matt. 10:21; Luke 18:22). And we should be collecting and treasuring things related to the kingdom, such as the “treasures of wisdom and knowledge” hidden in Jesus (Col. 2:3, see also Matt. 6:19-21). As we continue to learn and grow, let’s appreciate the rich history of our faith and our own personal experiences, as well as the new things God teaches and the glorious future He has planned.

Featured image by Oliver Eyth from Pixabay

Talking with God: What (And Who) Makes Prayer Possible?

Prayer is such an integral part of the Christian life that I rarely stop and think about how it works. Even in studies on how and why to pray, I haven’t focused much on what (and who) makes prayers possible.

Of course, it’s obvious that God Himself makes prayer possible. If He wasn’t listening we’d have no reason to pray. He also gives instructions about how we’re to approach Him, which is why most people I know end their prayers with some variation on the phrase “In Jesus’ name, amen.”

Jesus said, “ask in my name,” and so that is what we do. His instruction to pray in His name would be enough of a reason to do so, but I also think this aspect of prayer can teach us important things about how the God-family operates and how They relate to us. So today, I want to take a closer look at why we pray in Jesus’ name.

Ask in His Name

The passages where Jesus instructed His disciples to pray in His name are found in John’s gospel. Before sharing these instructions, though, Jesus makes an important foundational statement.

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father, except through me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on, you know him, and have seen him.” (John 14:6-7, all scriptures from WEB translation)

As the Word, Jesus was always the member of the God-family that human beings had the most direct access to. Before Jesus came as a human being, people knew there were two Lords but they didn’t have access to the Father directly (the scriptures to back this point up would double the size of today’s post, so I’ll direct to my post “Who Was ‘God’ in the Old Testament?”). Read more

Who Was “God” In The Old Testament?

Almost four years ago, I wrote a post addressing the phrase “the God of the Old Testament.” Little did I know then that it was going to explode from being an interesting point of doctrinal dispute into a contention that could split churches. I know of at least one group that has already divided over the question, “Who was the God of the Old Testament?” And now the related issue of whether Jesus was created by the Father or existed before His human birth is starting to tear apart one of my local churches.

In the post from four years ago, I described the phrase “God of the Old Testament” as coming under the category of “stupid things we say in the church.” I still believe that. The wording is misleading and confusing, often causing inaccurate statements and doctrinal fallacies. In reality, the God we worship today is the exact same God (two beings in one) that has always existed. Scripture is quite clear on this point. And trying to argue that either the Word who became Jesus OR the Being we now know as the Father was the only “God of the Old Testament” is an exercise in futility (and quite possibly blasphemy as well).

The arguments on both sides are no longer just an intriguing discussion about scripture. They’re becoming a stumbling block . I’ve heard that some people in the group I mentioned which has already split are so confused they don’t even know who to pray to anymore. And studies into this topic, which may have started out with good-hearted Christians seeking to understand the word of God more fully, are turning into schisms, contentions, and heresies that cannot be pleasing to God. He does not look kindly on those who generate endless debates (Tit. 3:9), fracture His body (1 Cor. 1:10; 12:25), or lead His little ones into error (Matt. 18:6). This has to stop.Who Was "God" In The Old Testament? | marissabaker.wordpress.com

Why Is This So Contentious?

I think part of the issue with resolving questions like this is that we often fail to look at the Bible as a whole. We get so focused on digging out the slightest variations in meaning for a specific scripture that we don’t look up from analyzing a single sentence long enough to see there’s a whole narrative that clears things up. That’s something I talked about in my post titled, “Why Does It Matter If Jesus Existed Before He Was Human?

Another way we fall prey to deception in this area is what I call the two ditches problem. Human beings aren’t good at finding balance in our ideas. We tend to avoid the middle of the road. So if we discover that we’ve been taught an extreme view in one direction (for example, that Jesus is the only “God of the Old Testament”), there’s a temptation to head straight for the opposite ditch (e.g. that Jesus wasn’t around at all in the Old Testament). In trying to avoid one error we come up with a new one.

Something else that might be playing a role for certain people is the temptation to come up with their own doctrine. If you’ve been lied to by church leaders in the past (and far too many of us have), we might want to question everything we’ve been taught. There’s nothing wrong with that in and of itself. In fact, following blindly is a great way to end up in errors that could be avoided if we were studying the Bible for ourselves. But if you start feeling like you have to come up with a new or alternative way of seeing scripture that is “your own,” then you can run into problems. Chances are, you’re not the only person God is revealing “new truth” to. And if you have to argue your point out of obscure commentaries or a possible mistranslation when the people who believe something else have myriads of clear scriptures and the bulk of Biblical scholarship to back them up, then there’s a good chance you’re the one who’s wrong.

“God” Has Always Been Two

Let’s dive into the scriptures now. Some of this is going to be a repeat of the post I wrote four years ago, but I doubt most of you have read that and it’s good for context. We’ll begin in Genesis. Read more

Keeping The Law On The Way To Eternity

If you’re a Christian, it’s a good bet you’ve read and/or heard the Sermon on the Mount more than once. And if you’re like me, you probably think you’re pretty familiar with this straight-forward message Jesus delivered during His time here on earth. But in a sermon a few weeks back, the speaker said something that prompted me to take a deeper look.

I hadn’t thought before about what a radical message this must have seemed when first preached. Matthew even tells us people who heard Jesus were “astonished at his doctrine” (Matt. 7:28, KJV). Throughout Jesus’ words a message is woven that tells us our human way of looking at things is wrong. Something that makes no sense to us might be exactly what God is looking for, and the things we’d consider reasonable might not be what He wants at all. This sermon is about showing us a new way of thinking and living.Keeping The Law On The Way To Eternity | marissabaker.wordpress.com

Questions Of Law

Following the Beatitudes (which we talked about last week), Jesus describes people who follow Him as salt and light. All the attributes described earlier are meant to be visible in His people, showing the world good works that will cause them to “glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Mat. 5:16, WEB). Jesus then makes a statement about how His teachings relate to the Old Testament Law and Prophets. People often like to take Paul out of context and say Christians today have nothing to do with the Law, but that’s not what Jesus (or Paul, for that matter) taught. Read more

How Do I Repent and Change?

Repentance from dead works is the first of the foundational truths listed in Hebrews 6. But how well do we really understand it and how many of us truly practice repentance?

When I was baptized, the minister asked if I’d repented of my sins and accepted Jesus Christ as my personal savior. I meant it when I said yes, but I’m not sure I really understood how much more repentance is than just an, “I’m sorry I messed up.” It involves a change in our innermost being that manifests in a commitment to turn away from things displeasing to God.

As we prepare for Passover, we ask God for feedback on how we’re doing in our walk with Him. We examine ourselves to see if there are hidden sins in our lives and ponder how we can become better examples of our Lord Jesus. But we can’t stop there. We have to act on what we learn.

click to read article, "How Do I Repent and Change?" | marissabaker.wordpress.com
Photo credit: “Remember this day” by Tim Sackton, CC BY-SA via Flickr

David’s Example

Psalm 51 is perhaps the best example we have in the entire Bible of repentance. David wrote it after committing adultery with Bathsheba and having her husband Uriah killed. There were consequences for those sins, but David was forgiven. He didn’t just “get away with it” because he was king and God wanted to keep working with him. David was forgiven because he confessed and repented from a humbled heart (unlike the previous king, Saul, who made excuses when confronted with his sin). Read more

Are There Sins Separating Me From God?

There’s a fairly prevalent idea out there in Christianity that our sins separate us from God because God can’t be in the presence of sin. But is it true that God pulls back from us because we’re too dirty for Him, or is there something else going on?

The idea that God can’t be around sin is largely based on a verse in Habakkuk that reads, “Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look on iniquity” (Hab. 1:13, KJV). When we look at the context, though, we see God just told Habakkuk He planned to work with the vicious Chaldeans, and this verse is part of Habakkuk asking God why He would ever associate with such wickedness.

If we accept the premise that Jesus was and is fully God (as I believe we should), then we know God doesn’t shrink back from sin as if scared to get His hands dirty. Rather, He dives right in among sinners so that He can wipe sin away and replace it with holiness. God gets close to sinful people so He can set things right.

But there are also verses that talk about iniquity separating us from God and revealing that God will not fellowship with evil. While we don’t have to worry that we’re so filthy God wouldn’t touch us, if we want a close relationship with Him we need to figure out what’s going on here. Read more