As we anticipate the celebration of Christ's coming this Christmas, Jonathan Youssef and fellow pastor and friend Zack Carden reflect on how the Old Testament pointed God's people to their long-awaited Savior. May their conversation serve to help you remember the full story of redemption that began back in the Garden and marvel at the love of God displayed in the gift of His Son.
This interview is condensed and excerpted from episode 17 of Candid Conversations with Jonathan Youssef. Listen today on your favorite podcast platform or online.
"Jesus is the way, the Truth, and the life for the patriarchs just as He is the way, the Truth, and the life for the apostles and those who came after."
Jonathan: Zack, we're getting close to Christmas, and we're thinking about the coming of Christ to our world and what that means. A lot of the conversation that's happening in different churches is around this concept of covenants—old covenant, new covenant. My question is why can't I just have Christmas and Easter and go on with my life?
Zack: As long as we're talking about Christmas, I think a great illustration is the Christmas tree. When Christmas comes around, you bring out all those special sentimental ornaments that you've collected over a period of time, and you hang them on a tree. Theology is like that Christmas tree; it gives us something to hang Biblical Truth on—the stories of the Bible, the memory verses that we have. The Christmas tree is like the history of redemption, the theology that runs behind the Bible stories. So you've got the kings and judges, you've got David, Noah, Abraham, and Adam, and all that hangs on this tree. And at the top you've got the star, which is Jesus, and [some] people see Jesus [and say,] "Just give me the star, and you can keep the rest of it." But without the rest of it—Jesus' redemption, the cross—none of that makes any sense. Neither do the covenants. The new covenant doesn't make any sense without the old covenant.
Jonathan: Often when people think of Old Testament and New Testament, old covenant and new covenant, they think that one seems to be [about] Law, the other [about] grace. One seems to be judgment; the other, love. How do we bring clarity to that?
Zack: Jesus said that the Law is good, and the Bible tells us even in the New Testament that the Law is good. The problem is that the Law is also deadly. It's deadly if you are trying to justify yourself by the Law. If you're trying to say, "I'm going to make myself right before God," the Law slays you. It tells you that you're a liar; it tells you that you can't live up to the standard of perfection; and that takes us all the way back to the Garden [of Eden]. That takes us back to the covenant that Adam had with God, [in which] he failed to live up to being the perfect person, the perfect man. And because he failed, we all, as his posterity, fail as well. So it took another Adam to come in and do what he couldn't.
Jonathan: A lot of people, when they first become believers or when they're asking questions about Christianity, [wonder], "If Christ is the only way to salvation, how did someone in the Old Testament come to salvation without His coming yet?"
Zack: The blood of bulls and goats and sheep, the Bible is very clear that [these] do not do anything for our sins (see Hebrews 10:1-10). [But] they do show us what our sin deserves: death. If you [were to go] to the temple, it [would] not be a pristine place like a church. It [would] be smelly, violent, with dried-up blood. It [would] be a horrible place. It [puts] on display what our sins deserve and then what Christ has done on the cross for us. So the faith in the Old Testament, the means of grace in the Old Testament—the sacrifices, the Word, Passover, circumcision, and all those rites—pointed toward the grace that we'd have in Christ. And the people [were saved by] faith in the one who would come. Likewise, we in the New Testament look back on what Christ did. Through the sacraments and the Word, we look back on what Jesus did. And if we can look back and be saved, they can look forward and be saved. Jesus is the only way. He's the way, the Truth, and the life for the patriarchs just as He is the way, the Truth, and the life for the apostles and those who came after. [Just as] Jesus said, "Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad" (John 8:56).