There are two things you should know about me before you see the following picture. The first is that I am the baby. Like, really the baby. Two older brothers, many years older, last child and only girl… so basically, princess. The second thing you should know is that my mother is the most talented woman on earth. She is a brilliant seamstress – she made all of my bridesmaids dresses, she could fix anything ever torn, and her embroidery skills know no bounds.
Which brings me to this.
Notice that before I was even one year old, I’m standing with a giant bunny and looking FANCY. That dress is hand-stitched, handmade, and absolutely beautiful. Now this ritual of making a beautiful Easter dress was something my mom worked many hours on every single year. And every single year Easter would come, and Easter would go, and I wouldn’t wear the dress. Because everyone knows that on Easter, everyone comes to church and everyone wears their Easter dress, so baby girl would wear normal clothes on Easter… and fancy dress the week after Easter so as not to be missed!
I always thought it was so interesting how everyone comes to church on Easter. Our church has one service for 51 weeks of the year, but on Easter – two services, a shuttle system back and forth to your car, and the pews are literally overflowing. I don’t think that this happens because of guilt or shame (if I feel guilty about something, I don’t put on pastel and run to the doors of the problem). I think we all show up for church on Easter because we know that we will hear about a God that we like. We will have a morning to rejoice and celebrate, not feel condemned or judged. I think we all go because we want to be near to Yahweh.
Elohim is a generic name for God that we see throughout Scripture. In Genesis 1 we see this word used in a way that describes his mightiness, his bigness, his otherness. “And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.” (Genesis 1:1) – this is a big God! He can speak light into existence!
Yahweh however is a more personal, intimate name that God gives himself. In Exodus Moses helps introduce us to the God of our Fathers, I AM. “God replied to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM’… Say this to the Israelites: Yahweh, the God of your fathers… has sent me to you. This is My name forever; this is how I am to be remembered in every generation.” (Exodus 3:14-15)
So often we hear the terms “the God of the Old Testament” and the “the God of the New Testament” in stark contrast to one another. I think people associate Elohim as the OT God who could smite someone for touching the ark, or wipe out an entire world… and think of Yahweh as the NT God who let the little children come sit with him and fed thousands because they were hungry.
So people show up on Easter to meet with Yahweh, because He is personal and intimate and loving. We think of Elohim and feel the fear of being judged or condemned.
But here’s the deal. GOD IS ALWAYS BOTH. Hebrews tells us “Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). It’s not a Jekyll/Hyde situation – he’s not 50/50 and you never know what you’re going to get. He is always both. There’s not a God of the Old Testament and a God of the New Testament! When we start to pick and choose the part of God that we relate to or understand, we run the danger of creating a god in our image — creating a false image of who God really is because we are no longer worshipping the God of the Bible. We cannot separate the parts of God that we want from the parts of God we don’t understand. He is always near and always big. He is fiercely loving, and lovingly fierce. He is always both.
There are amazing examples of his grace and bigness in the Old Testament if you know where to look! Someone pointed out these examples to me my senior year in college and I’ve never read the Old Testament the same. In Genesis 3:21, after Adam and Eve have chosen to eat the fruit, the punishment for their sin is to be banished from the Garden of Eden. However, Scripture tells us “And the Lord God made for Adam and his wife garments of skin and clothed them.” He takes their hula skirts and gives them a leather jacket. He has to punish the sin they’ve committed, but he also extends the grace they didn’t deserve.
When Cain kills Abel, he must wander the earth as punishment for his jealousy and disobedience. However, in His grace, Genesis 4:15 tells us that God was still near: “‘Not so! If anyone kills Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold.’ And the Lord put a mark on Cain, lest anyone who found him should attack him.” God covered Cain with His mark and His promise of protection.
When the entire group of mankind had become overwhelmingly sinful, God spared Noah and his entire family from the flood: “But I will establish my covenant with you, and you shall come into the ark, you, your sons, your wife, and your son’s wives with you.” Genesis 6:8
So over and over we see this pattern: SIN >> PUNISHMENT >> GRACE
I think people see God in the Old Testament as harsh because the people in the stories have to endure the consequence of their sin directly, and we don’t like seeing the people we relate to suffer from God’s wrath. But if we remember He is always both, then we know that the New Testament God is the same. So how can people see Him so differently? Why does Easter make us think of a happy and loving God who cares for us?
In Mark 14:26-31 Jesus predicts that Peter will deny Him three times before the rooster crows twice. Peter assures Him that He will not — claiming “If I must die with you, I will not deny you.” But we know how the story goes… Peter in his pride and arrogance has told Jesus He is wrong, made promises he cannot keep, then denied his relationship to Jesus three times before others. This is where the story differs from those in the Old Testament. After Peter has sinned, the pattern should go: punishment, then grace. This is where the cross comes in. Jesus marches to the cross, endures a death He didn’t deserve, and dies for the sin that Peter committed that night. Peter doesn’t endure punishment. In fact he goes on to write multiple books of Scripture, help establish the church, and share the Good News (Matthew 16:13-20).
The God of the New Testament seems so different because the main character in these stories in Jesus, not sinful men. The story has changed because from the cross onward, for all of eternity, the punishment would fall on Jesus. The punishment that Peter deserved, that you and I deserve for the sins we did today… those are forgiven in grace for all of eternity because of the cross.
The God of delivery doesn’t change. When there is sin, He always delivers wrath and grace. He always pours out both – where sin occurs, punishment happens to Christ on the cross, and He delivers grace to the believer. In the Old Testament, that punishment fell on the people. In the New Testament it falls on Christ. So God does not change; the recipient of His wrath does. The guilt was transferred from you and me to Christ, once and for all.
So Easter is a day to celebrate. Not to pick and choose the parts of God we want to worship, but to praise Him that He is always both! We can rejoice in His character because He was big enough to defeat the grave, and He is near enough to dwell in our hearts and pour out grace we don’t deserve. When we love Him fully, we can worship Him entirely, every day of the year — not just Easter!
I love this quote by Matt Carter from the book Creation Unraveled that sums up His character so clearly:
If you don’t see God as the safest person to turn to in times of failure, distress, suffering or sin, then you’re focused on His bigness and have forgotten His nearness… God loves you no matter where you are, but He doesn’t want you to stay there. The God of the Bible will always challenge you and demand His will over yours. When we fail to see God in His entirety, we fail to love Him.
I am thankful for a mighty Elohim who saves me from myself, and a gentle Yahweh who loves me at my worst. The God of the Bible is worthy to be praised for exactly how He is, today and forever!