How a Christian Should Interpret the Old Testament

Acts: Providence and Proclamation  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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Luke documents Stephen's sermon starting with God's promise to Abraham, Joseph, and Moses. God's presence cannot be contained in a mere building.



How many of you like being surprised? It seems like there are 2 types of people when it comes to surprises: Those who hate them and those who love them. Think about a story, book, or movie you’re familiar with that had a surprise within it. Maybe there was an unexpected gift given to someone in need. Maybe there was a person about to be punished and suddenly they were exonerated. Maybe there was a twist in the plot that you simply didn’t see coming. To someone who is not familiar with the Bible, hearing about the resurrection of Jesus Christ would come as a pretty big surprise! To someone who is not familiar with the Marvel movies, seeing Thanos seemingly win and the Marvel superheroes seemingly lose at the end of Avengers Infinity War would come as a pretty big surprise. Whenever I had just graduated from college, the running joke within my group of friends was that the ones still in college were in for quite a surprise whenever they graduated because they’d immediately enter the work force and have to pay grown up bills. Some surprises are nice - others, not so much. Whenever Lindsey and I went to Florida a couple years ago, we went to Cocoa beach and my swim trunks had pockets in them. Because I didn’t know how long we’d be away from the car or what we’d be doing, I put some cash in the pocket and completely forgot about it. Fast forward nearly a year later and I find $40 in my swim trunks, that’s a pleasant surprise! How about whenever you realize that you left your windows open in your car and a giant thunderstorm rolls through the area? That’s not such a pleasant surprise!
Whenever we think we’re right, it comes as a surprise to find out that we’re wrong. Sadly, in our world, many people never admit that they’re wrong and if there is evidence to the contrary they simply say that the other side is wrong. As we’ve been going through the book of Acts, we’ve seen several examples of times where Christians preach the truth of Christ to a Jewish audience. Times where the Gospel is presented. The truth of the Gospel often comes as a surprise to these Jews because they are the ones who know the Old Testament (at that time, the Scriptures) very well. They know the prophesies that talk about the coming Messiah. They know what Genesis says regarding the seed of the woman who will crush the head of the serpent. They know the stuff, yet time and time again they are surprised and upset to hear that Jesus is the Messiah. Why did they get Jesus wrong? In short, because they have not correctly interpreted the Old Testament.
These Jews had the resources. They had the information. Yet, they missed Jesus even though He ministered right in front of them for 3+ years! They thought He was a false prophet, but they would be told time and time again that He was the Son of God. They were wrong, just like people today are often wrong about Jesus Christ.
In our text this morning, we come back to Stephen, the faithful servant of Christ from Acts 6 who is going to give a defense of Jesus being the Messiah. What is interesting about what Stephen does, though, is that He doesn’t dive into the Gospel stories (which we know weren’t written at this point). Instead, he goes all the way back to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, and Moses. He goes back to people that the Jews looked up to and Stephen is going to show his audience how it’s all been pointing to Jesus Christ. Stephen will show them how a Christian should interpret the Old Testament. I pray that as we do this that we would all be convicted to see that the Old Testament matters immensely to our faith - even the book of Numbers and the stories that seem to bore us to death at times during Bible reading plans. The Old Testament mattered to early Christians and it should matter to us as well!
Rather than reading 36 verses and taking up half of our time this morning, we’re going to look at individual chunks of Stephen’s sermon and see what his main point was.
Acts 7:1 CSB
1 “Are these things true?” the high priest asked.

The Old Testament Matters

The high priest and the rest of the Sanhedrin had Stephen right where they wanted him. He was on trial and accused of blasphemy in Acts 6 because, they claimed, he was changing the law and customs that they had received from Moses. The charge against Stephen is simply that he is wrongly teaching about Jesus and needs to cut it out. In such a situation, when the spotlight is shining on you, how would you respond? Would you back pedal really fast and apologize, even though you’re not really sorry, in order to save yourself? That’s the response we’d all be at least tempted to do! Yet, that’s not what we see here from Stephen. Instead of this, he preaches the longest sermon in the book of Acts - a book with many sermons in it! Instead of saying that he is mistaken, over the next 50 verses he will share how it is actually the Jewish leaders who are mistaken. He is willing to be a witness for the cross of Christ - even if it costs him his life. As we reflect on his sermon, may we be filled with this type of boldness to always point others to the truth - even if it costs us and even if it comes as a surprise to our audience. Jesus is worth it!
Why does Stephen start off by going back to the Old Testament? The Jewish leaders are saying that he is teaching false things about Jesus - why go back to Abraham? Stephen will show how the Jews, from a mutual point in history, have misunderstood Scripture and are continuing to reject God’s savior just as the nation of Israel did many times throughout its history. Sadly, many people in our world and even Christians believe false things about Jesus, the church, or the Bible. The answer to understanding the truth about Jesus, Biblical doctrine, and the purpose of the church is to read Scripture - all of it! Rather than unhitching the Old and New Testaments or only thinking that we need to look at the Gospels or Revelation, we need to be reminded of the importance of the Old Testament and this morning we’re going to look at 2 specific reasons as to why the Old Testament matters so much.
Stephen makes several arguments in the text and the first one is simply that the Old Testament demonstrates God’s plan.

The Old Testament Demonstrates God’s Plan

What do Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, and Moses all have in common? They are used by God in mighty ways. Abraham is used by God to be the father of a great nation that will eventually bless all the nations of the earth. Isaac is used by God to demonstrate the covenant sign of Israel and to father Jacob. Jacob is used by God and fathers 12 sons. Joseph, one of Jacob’s sons, is used by God to save his family during a time of famine. Moses is used by God to save his people from Egyptian bondage. In the lives of these heroes of the faith, we see clearly that God is using them with a purpose in mind. While they didn’t necessarily see the whole plan at the time, it is obvious that they were being used to further God’s purposes and kingdom along the way. These people, despite their flaws, were obedient to follow God’s plan as well!
Whenever you think of God’s plan, what do you usually think of? For many of us as Christians, we immediately think of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, coming to earth and dying on the cross for our sins. This certainly is God’s plan. But how does it come about? The Old Testament helps us see this. Whenever others think of God’s plan, they quickly think of what God has called them to do in life. Perhaps that means to be a farmer like some of the patriarchs in the Old Testament. Maybe that means to be an administrator like Joseph. Maybe it looks like being a leader in some capacity like Moses. Whatever your calling by God is, understand that God has uniquely placed you where you are for a reason. As we look through the Old Testament, especially with these early patriarchs, we see that God gifts them and calls on them to use their gifts accordingly. Are you using your strengths and talents to further the kingdom of God?
It’s not a bad thing to have personal plans and aspirations, in fact we see many people in the Bible make plans, but we see clearly that God has a plan and, as His children, we have to be willing to scrap our plans in order to follow His plan for our lives.
Proverbs 19:21 CSB
21 Many plans are in a person’s heart, but the Lord’s decree will prevail.
We see this in the Old Testament. We see this with Joseph, specifically, as Stephen shares that he was sold into slavery in Egypt by his brothers yet God was with him and helped him. God’s plan was to use Joseph to eventually save his family. Without being sold into slavery, though, Joseph wouldn’t have been in Egypt in the first place. Without being in Egypt, he wouldn’t have been able to advise the Pharaoh and store grain for the upcoming famine. See, even when think things aren’t going well or we feel like there is no purpose to what’s going on, we can take heart because we know that God is at work.
It has been said by many pastors and teachers alike that non-Christians and Christians alike ask different questions now than they did even a generation ago. Used to some of the main questions that people had were centered around the problem of evil/suffering and other religions, perhaps the questions were centered around God’s existence altogether. Maybe these are questions that you have today or that you’ve heard and these are legitimate questions that have legitimate answers! Through Christian apologetics, we can answer the problem of evil and God’s goodness through presuppositional apologetics. We can answer God’s existence through the Kalam Cosmological Argument from William Lane Craig and others. We can answer questions about other religions. But most people, especially young people, have different questions that aren’t as broad as previous generations… They’re specific. Where did I come from? Why am I here? How should I live? What will happen to me?
What people want answers to in our world is meaning. What is the meaning of life? What is my purpose?
These Jews thought that they knew the right answer to that question - just like many people today think that they know the right answer to their purpose. Many in our world say this, “My purpose in life is to be a good person and to be happy.” To live my best life now. That’s the meaning of life! Without Jesus, this makes a lot of sense! But let’s consider the implications of getting this wrong. The Jews thought their purpose in life was to keep the law and to do good things. Doing good things isn’t a bad thing in and of itself, but is our purpose as human beings simply to do good actions? No. Our purpose is to know God. Our purpose is to make Him known. If you want to see the meaning of life, read Genesis and you quickly discover that the meaning of life is to know the author and creator of life personally. The problem that many of these Jews and that many people today have is that they know about God but they don’t know Him. They have a plan, but they aren’t following His plan. They do good works because they think that’s their way to heaven, but they don’t know the One who did the only work necessary for salvation.
Stephen’s point in sharing this history lesson is to illustrate that even though these Jews knew these people, they studied the law, they lived out the 10 commandments, and they had the right last name, it doesn’t mean that they’re following God’s plan. What does it take to follow God’s plan? We have to have a relationship with the Lord and we have to obey Him. If you don’t have a relationship with the Lord, your obedience doesn’t matter. If you claim to have a relationship with the Lord but your life is like the devil, then you really don’t have a relationship with Him because He changes your life. Through the Old and New Testaments, we see that God has a plan and purpose for each one of us and we are called to obey and follow His plan.

The Old Testament Points to Jesus

Ultimately, what the Old Testament does is illustrate to us that we cannot save ourselves. There isn’t a sacrifice that we are capable of making to make us worthy of salvation. There is always more work to be done - as the preacher of Hebrews shares
Hebrews 10:4 CSB
4 For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.
Hebrews 10:11 CSB
11 Every priest stands day after day ministering and offering the same sacrifices time after time, which can never take away sins.
The Old Testament helps us see that we need something new. Something better. We need a savior! Have you ever been driving late at night and you come across a really bright sign on the highway that is advertising something? It stands out and it can almost blind you at times! This is what the Old Testament does for us as it is telling us that we need a savior - we need Jesus! This has been the common theme of every sermon in the book of Acts thus far and it must be the theme of every sermon ever preached in this church and every church around the globe today. We need Jesus. There is salvation through Jesus and through Him alone. How can we see this from the Old Testament? Stephen uses these leaders for a specific reason and scholars argue that he does this in a typological way. A typology is simply a comparison between a prototype in the Old Testament and a second type in the New Testament. Paul does this often and we find an example in Romans 5:12-21 as Paul argues this in verse 15
Romans 5:15 CSB
15 But the gift is not like the trespass. For if by the one man’s trespass the many died, how much more have the grace of God and the gift which comes through the grace of the one man Jesus Christ overflowed to the many.
What is the comparison here? The first Adam sinned and there was a consequence for humanity. The second Adam didn’t sin and there is a blessing to those who believe in Him. Jesus serves as the second type for many people in the Old Testament and Stephen sets up his sermon in this form… Let’s see how these heroes point us to Jesus.
Abraham points us to Jesus as he leaves his country and goes to a foreign land. Christ, we know, came from heaven to earth. The King of Kings put on human flesh. Fully-God, full-man. He left behind His comforts and
Hebrews 12:2 ESV
2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
Further, we know that there is a link between Abraham and Jesus as God makes this promise with Abraham as we covered during our Wednesday night Bible study to make him into a mighty nation and bless all the nations of the earth through him… He’s 75 and doesn’t have a child, yet God makes a promise. God keeps His promises. How does God fulfill this promise in Genesis 12:3
Genesis 12:3 CSB
3 I will bless those who bless you, I will curse anyone who treats you with contempt, and all the peoples on earth will be blessed through you.
He does so by sending His Son through Abraham’s offspring.
Joseph points us to Jesus as he is thrown into slavery and mistreated by others who slander him unfairly. We know that Jesus was betrayed by his own people and slandered against, yet He didn’t get mad or throw a fit, in accordance with Isaiah 53 and the suffering servant passage, He was silent like a sheep before its shearers. Joseph, despite this, was exalted to advise the Pharaoh and helped the nation survive a great famine. Jesus is exalted on high and saves His people from their sins. Joseph’s brothers came before him a first time and didn’t recognize him until the second time. Jesus, the Messiah, came and his own people didn’t recognize Him for who He was. Peter and Stephen and the other leaders are sharing with them in hopes that they will recognize Him before it is too late.
Moses points us to Jesus as he leads the Israelites from Egyptian bondage and into the edge of the promised land. Jesus leads us out of our bondage to sin and into His promised rest. Moses was to be killed at birth, yet he survived and grew up to be powerful in speech and action. Jesus was to be killed at birth, yet He survived and grew to do the miraculous.
Notice too with Moses that God’s presence is with him. Is the presence of God solely found in the temple or tabernacle as the Jews believed? No. God is in control and redeeming His people in Egyptian exile - God is involved and active outside of Jerusalem too - something Stephen’s audience needed desperately to hear. God raises Moses in Egypt. He provides for Moses in Midian. He calls Moses near Mount Sinai through a burning bush, and Moses delivers God’s people in Egypt and in the wilderness. Jesus certainly ministered in Jerusalem and in the surrounding land, but His message was not just for one ethnicity or one geographic location. His Gospel is truly good news for the world as He brings salvation to those who repent and place their faith in Him.
Stephen is showing his audience that they don’t have a monopoly on God. There is good news to be shared far and wide. This good news can be traced through the Old Testament as God’s Word has been pointing to Jesus all along.
Have you responded to Jesus Christ and the Gospel message today? Have you learned of what He has done for you on the cross?
Romans 5:6–8 CSB
6 For while we were still helpless, at the right time, Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For rarely will someone die for a just person—though for a good person perhaps someone might even dare to die. 8 But God proves his own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Do you know this, or do you just know about this like the Jews knew about these stories? Do you understand that the Old Testament is shouting to us that we are not good enough and never will be good enough? Have you come to accept Christ as Lord of all?


We don’t know how much more time we have left, friends. During this season of COVID, we’ve been dealt many different surprises. From loss to broken relationships, from stress to chaos, from disappointment to tragedy, we’ve endured many things during the last year and a half. As many people continue to burn bridges, we are to be bridge builders like our Savior was. As you reflect on the last few months and where you find yourself at today, ask yourself: What is my purpose? Why has God put me in this specific situation? We see in Acts 7 that Stephen is in a non-ideal situation - we’ve all been there a time or two! There is a temptation to throw a fit or take the easy way out in these spots though. That’s not what we see from Stephen here. He knows Christ and He strives to make Christ known. He stands up boldly and points people to Scripture. He knows his Bible and he isn’t afraid of using it. We must be like Stephen in this sense
We must know our Bible
As Christians, it’s not enough to just know one story or to focus all of our attention one one part of the Bible. We’re called to study the entirety of God’s Word because we never know when it’ll be important to a conversation with someone else. We have to know our Bible because our world doesn’t and our enemy loves to twist Scripture to make us confused. The only solution to stand against his attacks is to be strong in the Word.
We have to point others to Jesus
Whenever some people read the Bible, they get caught in the weeds a little bit. Just like we can get hung up in a book like Numbers or Leviticus, there can be a temptation to get hung up on a detail here or there. We have to study God’s Word and that means we have to be able to interpret it correctly. This requires deep study and possibly asking some good questions! Ultimately, whenever we are talking with someone else about the Bible or answering a question, we have to show people how the climax of the Bible is the redemptive story of Jesus Christ. This is what Stephen does, he goes all the way back to Abraham and in this sermon he unpacks how it’s not about Abraham, it’s about the second Abraham. It’s not about Joseph, it’s about the second Joseph. It’s not about Moses, it’s about the second Moses. It’s not about you or me, it’s all about Jesus Christ!
Don’t be like the Israelites who rejected God’s servant Moses or the Jews who rejected God’s Son, be like Stephen. Be people who trust in the Lord. Who study His Word. Who walk by faith and not by sight. Be ready to give a defense - because we don’t know what surprises tomorrow will bring… But we do have today. We do have breath in our lungs and so long as that is the case, there is work to be done as the harvest is plentiful.
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