A couple months ago I began reading the Bible all the way through. In order to get manageable chunks, every day I read 2-3 chapters from the Old Testament (beginning with Genesis), a Psalm, a chapter in Proverbs (following the day of the month; February 6th I read ch. 6), a chapter in the Gospels, and a chapter in the New Testament (beginning with Acts). It’s been awe-inspiring to see the consistency and arc of Scripture this way.
Through the thousands of years and several authors, God weaves a story of redemption, Love and Truth, cultural history, poetry and wisdom, genealogies and miraculous testimony that brings life to its readers even 2000 years after it was written. The Old Testament often gets a bad rap from Christians. It’s amazing! It was only in the context of the Old Testament that Jesus taught the Kingdom of God and the New Testament writers understood His message. I ran into this series of verses in Deuteronomy that got me really excited. It’s amazing the foreshadowing and revelation that comes when reading the Old Testament in the light of Christ and the New Covenant.
When the Lord came upon the mountain to speak to the Israelites in the desert after He had rescued them from the Egyptians, they had the appropriate reaction:
24 “Behold, the Lord our God has shown us his glory and greatness, and we have heard his voice out of the midst of the fire. This day we have seen God speak with man, and man still live. 25 Now therefore why should we die? For this great fire will consume us. If we hear the voice of the Lord our God any more, we shall die. 26 For who is there of all flesh, that has heard the voice of the living God speaking out of the midst of fire as we have, and has still lived?” (Deut. 5:24-26)
They understood the awesomeness and holiness of God and were rightly fearful for their lives in His presence. The Lord was pleased with their response, “All that they have said is right.” They ask Moses to be their intermediary and go up to the mountain to receive what the Lord has for them. Maybe you are already seeing the connections. In the new Kingdom, Christ has brought God to restored relationship with man. God has made his dwelling with man and men have heard his voice.
However, God has not changed. He is still the “all-consuming fire.” The difference lies in the invitation of Jesus. Bonhoeffer wrote, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” The Israelites asked, “why should we die?” Jesus response, “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matt. 16:25) The call of Christ is to be consumed by the fire that the Israelites witnessed that day. This is a painful process! God is purifying us and making us into who we truly are. T.S. Eliot wrote of this journey in his poem, “Little Gidding”:
The dove descending breaks the air
With flame of incandescent terror
Of which the tongues declare
The one dischage from sin and error.
The only hope, or else despair
Lies in the choice of pyre or pyre-
To be redeemed from fire by fire.
Who then devised the torment? Love.
Love is the unfamiliar Name
Behind the hands that wove
The intolerable shirt of flame
Which human power cannot remove.
We only live, only suspire
Consumed by either fire or fire.
Thousands of years before Pentecost, the Israelites saw God’s fire and new it was death to be in His presence. Now God’s fire has fallen on us, His presence dwells in us, and we are called to die that we may truly live. Let us all be consumed by this Great Fire.