One of the arguments leveled at the Christian Scriptures is that the God of the OT is a tyrant and the God of the NT is loving. As I was preaching through the story of Jonah recently I was reminded that this is not at all the case.
Is God the same gracious God toward OT people?
Jonah is a prophet of Israel who knew how God acted. He knew how God’s character would manifest itself toward the unbelieving people of Ninevah. In Jonah 4:2, there is a telling statement which sheds light on how the people who were actually living during the OT thought about God. When angry at God for “letting the Ninevites off the hook” Jonah says, “I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster.” Jonah, who is “in the know” about God, viewed him as the compassionate God for whom it was “normal” to act mercifully, graciously, patiently, and with steadfast love even towards those who were not “the people of God.” By contrast, the Ninevites had no such confidence about Jehovah because the only gods that they had ever known were harsh and demanding deities whose perpetual anger demanded bloody sacrifices. This is why, in Jonah 3:9 they doubtfully say “Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish.”
Is God the same just God toward OT people.
Is there a difference between the OT and NT God? Not when it comes to his graciousness. But what about his fierce (and just) judgment? Perhaps the most awful and terrible display of God’s justice is the flood of Genesis 6. Gen 6:11 says that the earth was “filled with violence.” The word violence there is the same hebrew word used to describe the Ninevites in Jonah 3:8. In Genesis 6, God chooses to destroy the world and in Jonah 3 he chooses to save the city. What gives? Is this a case of two different “Gods” in the OT as well? To further complicate matters, Peter unequivocally states that the New Testament “heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.” (2 Peter 3:7). Is God fickle? Should we postulate two “Gods” in the whole of Scriptures, one that judges people and one that is gracious toward them?
He is the same God, because of Jesus.
The answer, of course, is that God is both just and gracious. When we see the painful judgment of God on the entire earth or on specific people groups in the OT we are dismayed by God’s justice. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of an angry God. Yet, if we were more theologically astute we would see something even more terrible. We would see God’s own son suffering cruelly at the hands of an unrighteous people. The full fury of God’s justice was accepted by Jesus who is our “propitiation.” Yet, at the very same time, you see the full extent of God’s steadfast love! God gave his only son (John 3:16). This too is the answer for all of God’s graciousness. When the Ninevites escaped judgment, it was because of God’s son, slain for them. God made a way! A horrible, wonderful, wretched, and magnificent way for you and me and Nineveh.
You see, Jesus is the lamb who accepts all the judgment for all the sins of anyone who will put their faith in his coming (OT) or in his completed death (NT.) An OT saint, unable to atone for his own sin, brought a lamb to be slaughtered by a priest so that that OT saint didn’t have to be slaughtered as he deserved. That OT, passover lamb prefigured the Messiah, who, in the fullness of time, was brought out and slaughtered to save the OT saint (on credit) and the NT saint (on debit)—one sacrifice for all humanity, before and after the cross.
Do you find a different God in the OT and the NT? No. So look to Christ to save you. There are two ways to experience the justice of God. The first is to take it on yourself, to die eternally in hell, separated from all that is good and lovely and beautiful. The second is to let Christ take the hell of God’s wrath for you. Accept his death for you by faith and ask him to save you from your sins. Each may receive God’s unfailing justice and each may receive God’s unfailing grace.
If you are saved, then rejoice in your God for his mercies are new every morning. Then, as Christmas draws near, take the time to remember your Messiah, the lamb who took your punishment to meet God’s just demands. What a Savior. What a gracious God.