09 May There and Back Again
An Unexpected Journey
“I am looking for someone to share in an adventure that I am arranging, and it’s very difficult to find anyone.” [Said Gandalf.]
“I should think so — in these parts! We are plain quiet folk and have no use for adventures. Nasty disturbing uncomfortable things! Make you late for dinner!” [Bilbo replied.]
This past Sunday (4/30) was the second week of our new sermon series There and Back Again. In our first week, Dick Foth talked about Jesus on the road to Emmaus. This last week, my dad and I had a dialogue about the dialogue between the Older and Newer Testaments (see what we did there…). That is what City will be focusing on for the next several weeks: the connections between the Older and Newer Testaments.
Those of you who were not in the popular crowd in middle school (as I was not) may recognize the phrase “there and back again” as a quote from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. It’s the story of Bilbo Baggins, a wealthy, comfortable, respectable hobbit who goes on an adventure to help a band of dwarves reclaim their ancestral home. Hobbits are known for being risk-averse little creatures. They lived dignified lives. They certainly are not looking for adventures.
Well, one day, out of the blue, Gandalf the wizard walks up to Bilbo’s door and invites him (quite curtly) on a journey far away from home. Of course, Bilbo (quite unwillingly) ends up going on the journey. There are elves and dragons and giant spiders. There is action, high drama, and epic. There are all the things that you can’t get without going on an adventure!
I think, deep down, we all really long for adventure. Some of us might think that we are perfectly happy where we are right now. Some of us might say to the wizard at the front door, “Sorry! I don’t want any adventures, thank you. Not Today.” I think though we all are really looking for an adventure. It might be a journey outward: traveling the world, meeting new people, skydiving. It might be a journey inward: new ideas, self-discovery, sudden realizations. Neither is better than the other, but whichever you choose, I want to submit to you that the Bible is part of an adventuresome life.
We called the series There and Back Again in order to illustrate the dynamic between the Biblical testaments. The Newer Testament was in fact designed to send us back to the Older Testament in search of the truth about Jesus. If we are reading the New Testament closely, we should find ourselves turning often to the Older Testament, and if we are hearing the Older Testament faithfully we should find ourselves often returning to the Newer Testament. There (to the Old Testament) and back (to the Newer Testament) again. That’s the adventure of reading Scripture.
Remember though, there’s a difference between and adventure and campaign. I think a lot of people come to the Older Testament like it’s a campaign. They start reading with Genesis 1 and they think, “I need to figure this thing out. I need to find all the prophecies that Jesus fulfills. I need to memorize to get all these crazy family lineages straight. I need to prepare for an as-of-yet-unforeseen Bible quiz.” They set out to conquer the Older Testament, to get it down pat.
I think that gets really exhausting for most of us. I have some friends who are doing their graduate work in Hebrew Bible—they are intellectual powerhouses and I deeply admire them. But on the average Tuesday, I don’t have the mental energy to wage another campaign on the first ¾ of the Bible.
What if you don’t come to the Older Testament because you think you’re eventually going to have to pass a comprehensive exam on Ancient Israelite History? What if you come to the Older Testament because you have been sent there by Jesus…and not to memorize content, but to hear the word of the Gospel hidden in a book that never names Jesus of Nazareth.
If you start reading your New Testament from Matthew 1, you won’t get far before you are sent back to the Scriptures that come before it. Go ahead. Try it. Want a hint? Read the genealogy of Jesus and notice that some of the people named there do not fit the mold… they are women. Tamar, Rahab, Bathsheba and Ruth… what are they doing in a patriarchal genealogy? Why don’t you go to Genesis 38, Joshua 12, 2 Samuel, and the Book of Ruth to find out? It’ll be an adventure.
-Peter Hartwig, The Younger