Easter 2012 Chaplain Joy L. Smith
As a chaplain, I encounter people who are unable to get close to God. They feel God wants to control them. They think of God as angry and punishing. I believe this often comes through poor preaching that they heard at some point. A healthy reverence of God is gained by reading Scripture carefully while praying for God’s Holy Spirit to reveal the character–the nature of God–and what God wants of us as His people. The character of God shines through each book as the Holy Spirit is our teacher.
Many only know a little bit about the Old Testament; they have not read each book within it, which is the only way to glean the essence of what these 39 books are revealing. The Old Testament holds an overall message along with many hundreds of inspirational passages that bring clarity to what God is about and what God desires for His people. Respecting and honoring God– following His guidance–brings benefits. These benefits are sprinkled throughout these sacred books. These are benefits that every living person truly wants. (See a list of such benefits at www.healing-with-Joy.com within the link titled “Quick Aids.”)
During the past few months I spent one to two hours each day reading the Old Testament through, from beginning to end. Midway, I mentioned this to one of my friend. He asked, “Why are you doing this?” I said, “I am watching for places where the Lord speaks directly to individuals, noticing what is said, and how the people respond–or don’t respond.” I told him, “This as an effort to seek a better understanding of the character of God.”
It is amazing how many people within the Old Testament heard God speak directly to them. Through my reading of the Old Testament it is clear that above all else, God is loving and merciful. God accepts the mortal state and fallibility we bear as humans (Genesis 6:3). He is always drawing us forward, calling us to do better, referring us back to His divine guidance. However, in that same passage of Genesis 6:3, God states that He “will not always strive with man.” That works for us as well as for the Israelites. After 500 or so years of dealing with this segment of humanity called “the Israelites,” it became obvious that most of them refused to revere and obey God. Still, God called this nation “His people” and kept His promise to bless all nations through them.
Numerous books of the Old Testament are hard to read as they are full of dire warnings given by the prophets who pled with the people to change their ways. Multiple times, during these early years, the prophets called their countrymen to forsake the practices of “the heathens” who worshiped false gods–and even sacrificed their children to these graven objects.
God patiently worked with His people. He came to their aid over and over again when they cried for His help. However, when their respect for God bottomed out, new drastic measures came into place. God allowed the lot of them to be taken into captivity by the Babylonian army. Jerusalem with its grand temple was destroyed. They suffered heavy duty chastisement through their captivity in this foreign nation. Within the 70 years of their captivity, God watched after them, using their trials to draw them into a greater understanding of how He wanted them to live. Consequently, the Israelites came to reckon with the fact that God meant business with them. Through it all, God’s people gained a reverent awe of God. Scripture calls this “the fear of the Lord.”
Why did God specifically choose a certain segment of humanity to serve Him and to represent His principles on earth, during those ancient times? He was unfolding a plan for people of all nations. He was setting the stage, shaping a people who would bring Christ, the Anointed One to us–Jesus–called “the Lamb of God.” This is the One who would become the last sacrifice offered for the forgiveness of sins. Jesus’ blood was poured out on behalf of all people as he endured the cross on which He was crucified. Prophecies within the Old Testament foretold of this Messiah would come to carry away the sins of humanity. He would be the One who would bring a new revelation of God’s love and have the power to heal our souls.
I write this on the eve of Easter, a day on which we celebrate Christ’s resurrection from the grave. I rejoice in knowing that God has always been about loving us and longing for all to enter into a loving relationship with Him, our Creator.
This prophecy from Isaiah shows the benefits Jesus’ life and death brings to His followers: