Hearing the Gospel with Old Testament Ears

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As a bass player, when I listen to music, I listen for what the bassist is doing. But, when I listen to music in my 2004 Honda Civic I have a problem: only one of the four speakers works.

As a bass player, when I listen to music, I listen for what the bassist is doing. But, when I listen to music in my 2004 Honda Civic I have a problem: only one of the four speakers works. Everything I listen to is panned to the left, leaving my favorite songs sounding hallow and half-empty. The bass, nearly inaudible.

Many of us learned to listen to Scripture in a similar way. God’s Law (His commands and demands of us) and God’s Gospel (what He has done for us) reside in both the Old Testament and the New. But, we only know what the Gospel sounds like in New Testament language. And so, we fail to recognize it when we hear the Gospel in Old Testament language. We only hear the Gospel panned to the right, with New Testament ears.

The Gospel Panned Left

So, how do we hear the Gospel with Old Testament ears, in Old Testament language? What does the Gospel sound like panned to the left?

The New Testament speaks the Gospel in language of fulfillment, death, and resurrection centered on the God-man Jesus Christ. In the Old Testament, the Son of God, though not yet incarnate, is on every page, but in different language. The Old Testament language of the Gospel speaks in terms of promise, remembrance, and visitation.

In Genesis 6 God promised to save Noah and his family from the flood. In Genesis 8 we read, “God remembered Noah and all the beasts and all the livestock that were with him in the ark.” When Scripture speaks of God remembering it does not mean He had a memory lapse. Rather, it means He acts in favor toward the object of His remembrance. When God remembers it is a Gospel act of salvation.

In chapter 18 of Genesis God promised to give Abraham and Sarah a son. Then, in the opening verses of chapter 21 we read, “The Lord visited Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did to Sarah as he had promised. Sarah became pregnant…” Here the fulfillment of the Gospel promise is described as a visitation from Yahweh. A visit from the one who says “I will be who I will be”, that is “I will be with you.” God does not control His Gospel action from afar. Rather, He carries it out among His people.

God also promised, in Genesis 15, that He would save Abraham’s descendants from servitude and oppressed in a land that was not their own. The fulfillment of this promise is the Exodus event. Near the beginning of that event we read these two verses:

“And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob.” — Exodus 2:24

“And the people believed; and when they heard that the Lord had visited the people of Israel and that he had seen their affliction, they bowed their heads and worshiped.” Exodus 4:31

God remembered His covenant. He acted in a way of salvation for His people. Israel recognized God not as a distant actor, but as one who has visited them and seen their affliction. Who “knows their sufferings” as intimately as Adam knew Eve. Who comes down into the pit to suffer with His people and to deliver them out of it.

The Old Testament teems with God’s words of promise and his salvific acts of remembrance fulfilled by His personal visitation.

A Balanced Mix

When mixing engineers balance the tracks of an audio recording they adjust EQ, compression, and panning to find the right mix of sound throughout the duration of the recording. We are called to hear the Gospel in balance. Not just in New Testament ears and language panned to the right or Old Testament ears and language panned to the left. We are called to hear them together.

When mixing engineers partially pan tracks to the right or left they widen the sound field. Likewise, when we hear the Gospel with Old and New Testament ears, the Gospel becomes wider for us. We can hear it resonate more fully throughout the Scriptures.

Just as the bass guitar lays the foundation or “makes the bed,” as Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers would say, that all the other instruments (usually the more glorified ones) sleep on, so the Old Testament Gospel language makes the bed for the Gospel language of the New Testament to be heard in full. Nowhere is this more evident than in the Benedictus, also known as Zechariah’s Song, recorded in Luke 1:68–79.

“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David, as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, that we should be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us; to show the mercy promised to our fathers and to remember his holy covenant, the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.

And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” (Emphasis mine.)

This New Testament passage overflows with Old Testament Gospel language. Here, Zechariah sings and prophesies about the overarching, metanarrative way Scripture can be viewed: as promise and fulfillment by way of remembrance and visitation.

The Lord God of Israel who has visited and redeemed His people is none other than Jesus himself, the Son of God made man. Christ’s incarnation, that is, His visitation, is the ultimate act of remembrance fulfilling the promises God made to the fathers of Israel and repeated through the prophets of old. It is the ultimate act of the Gospel accomplished for us. The salvation God swore to deliver.

Without hearing the Old Testament language of the Gospel in one ear we miss the depth of God’s work for us. Without hearing the New Testament language of the Gospel in the other ear we miss the height of God’s work for us. When we hear them together, we hear that God’s purpose all along was to save us and that now, our sins are forgiven, by Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, the fulfillment of the promised tender mercy of God, for us.