“For the one who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one Father. That is why Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters, saying: ‘I will proclaim your name to my brothers and sisters; I will sing hymns to you in the congregation.'” (CSB – Read the chapter)
How are we supposed to understand the Old Testament? That is a pretty hotly debated question in some circles. It’s certainly not something to which the general public gives much attention, but if you are at all interested in getting a relationship with Jesus right, the question matters a whole lot more than you might think. If we are going to get it right, a good place to start is with how the various guys who contributed to the New Testament thought about it. This passage offers some interesting insights.
I’ll confess here that my own thinking on this topic has been pretty powerfully shaped by the teaching, preaching, and writing of Andy Stanley. His book, Irresistible, is probably the place where his thinking is laid out in the clearest, most systematic way available. And while my own lens is shaped in such a way that I am predisposed to seeing things that are in harmony with it, the more time I’ve spent engaging with what guys like Paul, the author of Hebrews here, and even Jesus Himself had to say about it, the more I’m convinced Andy is right.
The short version of all of this is that as followers of Jesus, we are not beholden to the Law of Moses or the old covenant in general. That was all intended to be for the people of ancient Israel and no longer applies to us. As the writer of Hebrews puts it, and which we will talk about later on in this journey, everything associated with the old covenant is obsolete. As followers of Jesus, we operate under a new covenant. This new covenant was signed and sealed by Jesus’ broken body and spilled blood on the cross. It was affirmed by God’s raising Him to new life on the third day with the promise that anyone who was willing to put their faith in Him and accept Him as Lord could participate in this new life as well, their sins forgiven because of His sacrifice. The Law governing this new covenant – that is, the thing which sets its parameters so you know when you are within its boundaries – is the Law of Christ: love one another as I have loved you.
If all this is the case, what are we to think about and do with the old covenant material contained in Genesis through Malachi? Is it still relevant for our lives? Is it worth engaging with at all? Yes, and yes. And for an example of its worth and how to engage with it, we don’t have to look any further than Hebrews. The author of Hebrews saturated his letter with Scripture. All three of his major arguments are rooted in an analysis of a different Old Testament passage. In fact, his first argument that Jesus is greater than the angels included a whole litany of different verses aimed at making his point.
We know the apostle Paul took a similar approach. So did the apostle Peter. These guys all used the old covenant writings – what was simply Scripture for them – not to make any kind of life application for their readers, but to prove that Jesus was (is) the Messiah. The ultimate purpose of the old covenant in their view was to prepare us to receive the Messiah when He came. And when you lay those writings next to Jesus’ life, it becomes abundantly clear that He is the guy.
Even more than that, though, Jesus, as a member of the triune godhead, was the one who inspired the old covenant writings. His inspiration was sufficient for the author of Hebrews to quote it as if Jesus was speaking it. That’s what he does here. In v. 12 here, the author is quoting from Psalm 22 which was written by David. Yet look again at how he sets up the quote. He says (with the emphasis being mine), “That is why Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters, saying…” Then comes the quote.
Now, in its original context, this verse out of Psalm 22 is about David’s resolution to proclaim God’s name and His goodness to his fellow Israelites in spite of the trouble he was going through. He was going through an excruciatingly hard time in which he felt abandoned by God. Verse 1 of Psalm 22 contains the famous line Jesus Himself quoted from the cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” In spite of his turmoil and his feeling abandoned by God, David is so convinced of His goodness and righteousness that he is nonetheless going to encourage others to follow Him and even to give Him praise himself.
The author of Hebrews here is not using this verse in that kind of context at all. His point is only to show Jesus referring to those folks who are similarly committed to the Father as He is – that is, Christian believers – as His brothers and sisters in the Lord. We are part of the same spiritual family as Jesus. The author’s larger point is to show that Jesus’ greatness is found not merely in His heavenly glory, but in His forsaking of that glory to become fully human so He can intercede for us perfectly before the Father. In spite of His being fully God, He became fully human so He could represent us before the Father such that we can share in His life. That’s a conversation we’ll have in more detail another day. My point here is that the way the author makes his point is to put David’s words in Jesus’ mouth as if they were Jesus’ words.
Now, we could explore all of the twists and turns of the implications here in a lot more detail, but I’m not going to do that right now. Instead, I simply want to set before you the idea that while the Old Testament may be obsolete in terms of our life application, it is still worthwhile in terms of helping us understand our Savior and what a relationship with Him looks like better than we do without it. God spoke those words just as He spoke the words of the New Testament. They don’t apply to us the same way the new covenant writings do, but they can inform and inspire us to embrace the new covenant more fully. This is how you should understand the Old Testament. It is an important tool to help you better understand the glorious riches you have available to you in Christ Jesus. Use it accordingly.