This article was written for Youthworks by Tom Elms, the Youth and Young Adults Pastor at Church@thePeak and a Youthworks College graduate.
In Term 4 of my youth bible study last year we taught an Old Testament overview. I remember the bewildered look on their faces as we began to read. There were so many questions about the language and themes, and continued questions about relevance to their lives. The first week was tough as we were setting the scene and my co-leader and I were giving them tools for how to go about reading it.
As the weeks went on, those looks of bewilderment turned to surprise as they began to see not only the Old Testament but Jesus in a whole new light. They realised the Old Testament was made up of books that they can read and think about, books which contribute to their understanding of their creator and how they relate to him.
Often the Old Testament is unlikely to be at the top of a youth leaders list when they plan for this year - and I get it! At first glance these books are different, harder to work through and at times you may think some of them are downright boring. I want to give you three reasons to put that thinking aside and have a go at intentionally teaching a book from the first half of the Bible this year.
The characters speak into the life of faith
When we investigate the narrative sections of the Old Testament, we encounter people who are on journeys of faith. And a wonderful thing is that no two people are the same, and none of them are perfect! They are as messy as they are admirable, as despicable as they are faithful. Real people experiencing God and living lives as His people.
Instead of falling into the trap of teaching OT moralism, we can look at these lives of faith and learn about how God encounters his people, and how they attempt to follow him. We see the struggles and turmoil that men and women such as David, Ruth, and Habakkuk who experienced and witnessed the powerful work of God in their lives. Real pain, real failure, real doubts, but in all of them - real faith. In the New Testament Paul expresses the experience of the life of faith but in the Old Testament we see and read about these journeys for ourselves.
It develops a more holistic understanding of God.
The God of the Old Testament is the same triune God of the New. Whether it is narrative, prophecy, or poem we see God demonstrate who he is as the creator of all things and his character as the author of our faith. The one who knitted us together in our mother’s womb with eternal compassion and love for his people. There is great comfort to be found in the authority and power of the creator.
It is important that we engage with the fear of God that should strike the hearts of all who see his glory. He responds to sin and evil with fierce judgment and righteous anger. There are moments in the Old Testament that can be scary and confusing to talk about, but in them all we see the goodness of God as He responds to those who are insistent on committing evil, whether they are His people or their enemies. God’s commitment to righteousness is always on display. Reverence is a good thing.
It helps us understand Jesus
Jesus himself explained that the Old Testament testified about him (John 5:39). Since this is the case, we would be wise to ensure we pay attention to what these texts are saying. As we work to explain the saving work of Christ on the Cross, we will provide only a shallow explanation of grace if we fail to understand the true depth of sin and God’s great plan to deal with it.
The Old Testament is crying out for the Messiah to come and restore God’s people to him. It presents vivid imagery of the judgment that will be faced by those who are not God’s people. We don’t need to create an image for the requirement of the grace of Christ, we have one ready to go in the first 39 books of the Bible!
In response to this great need, we have story after story demonstrating how God would save His people. From the binding of Isaac, to the defeat of Goliath, to the Suffering Servant we gain valuable insight into the identity of the ultimate Saviour who is to come to save us from the hopelessness of sin. Teach this to your youth and see them grow in their understanding of the Person and Work of Christ. This will only increase the value of your teaching of the Gospels.
Including some Old Testament texts in your planner this year is a valuable and exciting option. After thinking about some of these benefits the question is, why wouldn’t you?
Some recommended resources to get you started: