Yesterday I finished reading the Old Testament for the umpteenth time. I immediately continued to the New Testament reading the first 10 chapters of the Gospel of Matthew. I had hoped to comment on some of the prophetical books during my journey, from Ezekiel and on through Malachi. Ezekiel is fascinating in that he was given the gift of some interesting visions. “. . . . the heavens were opened and I saw visions of God.” Ez 1:1. How can a believer not hope and wish for such visions, to be able to see God revealed; and the impact that must have on the believer’s perspective of life and spirit! Maybe someday in this life I’ll be so blest! Or like Samuel as a little boy, sleeping “in the temple of the LORD where the ark of God was,” (1Sam. 3:3) “that the LORD called Samuel; and he said, ‘Here I am.'” This happened to Samuel three times and each time he thought that Eli near him was calling out to him, until finally Eli caught on and told him how to respond next time God called him. Wouldn’t that be a marvelous thing, to hear God audibly calling out to us?
But the common thread of reading all of the prophetic books is the utter dismay God feels for His chosen people because they have rejected Him after receiving so many blessings! But not just the Jews have gone astray. It is plain that all the nations, all the peoples of the whole earth are in a constant state of rebellion against God and are warned about the impeding and awful justice that is to be portioned out to all who rebel. So let’s see God’s longsuffering: the prophetic books are 17 in number if we count Lamentations. Add to that the dozens of times in the historical books of the Old Testament where God continually calls to His people and all the nations to seek Him that they may live, or reap the consequences. And especially considering that He paints a most powerful picture of how awful those consequences will be, it is a wonder that so few are depicted as repenting! So many times God calls to warn people, that His grace will be not be prolonged indefinitely. And then finally comes the dismantling of the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah by the Assyrians, the Babylonians and the Persians; it is painful to read this in the latter chapters of Kings and Chronicles and the Prophets. But this makes starting the New Testament with its hope and promise and fulfillment so refreshing.
Last night I read a sermon of Martin Luther. 1 It was the second sermon for the Second Sunday after Trinity (Trinity Sunday being the first Sundays after Pentecost). 2 Luther’s text is Luke 14:16-17 (following is 15-24:)
When one of those who were reclining at the table with Him heard this, he said to Him, “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!” But He said to him, “A man was giving a big dinner, and he invited many; and at the dinner hour he sent his slave to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come; for everything is ready now.’ “But they all alike began to make excuses. The first one said to him, ‘I have bought a piece of land and I need to go out and look at it; please consider me excused.’ “Another one said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to try them out; please consider me excused.’ “Another one said, ‘I have married a wife, and for that reason I cannot come.’ “And the slave came back and reported this to his master. Then the head of the household became angry and said to his slave, ‘Go out at once into the streets and lanes of the city and bring in here the poor and crippled and blind and lame.’ And the slave said, ‘Master, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.’ And the master said to the slave, ‘Go out into the highways and along the hedges, and compel them to come in, so that my house may be filled. For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste of my dinner.'”
Luther equates this scenario to God’s chosen people, upon whom the gifts of God, the Law and the Blessing, were showered. This is the banquet prepared by God in the parable. Yet instead of accepting the gracious invitation, those invited found other things of their own creation to devote themselves to. God brought them into the Promised Land by His awesome power demonstrated time and again, and yet once in the land they grew fat and forgot how they got there and then wanted to be like all the perverted nations around them; wanting a king, wanting to give their sons and daughters to their neighbors and exchange for their sons and daughters, worshipping their strange gods. All things God expressly and vehemently warned them not to do!
So, rejecting God’s invitation to a ready banquet they each make excuses why they can’t come. More lame excuses can be hardly imagined, “I just bought land and need to look at it,” “I just got married,” “I bought some oxen and need to try them out,” just like in the Old Testament His people exchanged the glory of God for inanimate things that couldn’t possibly be of any benefit to them! How could that have made any sense!
So God rejected the invited and called the poor class come to enjoy the banquet.
Prior to Luther’s elaboration on the text he wrails against the Papists and the Roman Church, the Pope and bishops. He equates them along with the Jews as those to whom Christ refers in this story. It had not been 20 years since Luther published his Ninety-Five Theses catapulting the Reformation into high gear, and in 1535 his animosity is still fully heated, and he spares no one who masquerades as a Christian while obfuscating the truth and power of Christianity.
I thought it particularly relevant to have finished reading the Old Testament to then read a sermon on a New Testament topic that was sum and substance of all those books, distilling in a few verses all that the Old Testament concerned.
[Scriptures taken from the New American Standard Bible © 1995]
1 Martin Luther, Sermons of Martin Luther. Edited by John Nicholas Lenker, Translated by John Nicholas Lenker and others. Grand Rapisa, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1988. pp. 39-57