Trusting that no one actually reads this blog, I thought I'd put the notes I planned on using at the "Preaching Christ" seminar at the Kaninga church in Malawi on Saturday. And, of course, if you know me, then you know nothing is original. Many thanks to my Bib. Theo. prof, Miles Van Pelt, and Jay Adams, whose work is strewn throughout, and Joe Novenson whose history of redemption in 30 minutes is to be shared with the world.
Preaching Christ From All of Scripture
We must be convinced that the Bible is a missionary product, delivered and set forth by a missionary God to demonstrate (witness) His glory (attributes) by redeeming His beloved, fallen people. The Bible is a witness of this miracle, from first to last. To put it another way, the Bible is about God, not us. If we insist on making it about us, to speak to us today, to speak into our particular situations, apart from demonstrating the Bible’s true intent, then we are misusing the Scripture. The Bible thus becomes little more than a collection of stories containing moral impulses and ethical recommendations. We vehemently believe otherwise.
Let’s put it another way: Imagine that the Bible is a book, which it is, but a novel like other books. Novels are defined by a story, a narrative. There is a plot, characters, subplots, themes, images, settings, etc. But like any good book, it has a grand theme, a big story, what theologians call a metanarrative. And there is structure from Genesis to Revelation. In Genesis we see the creation of creation, not all things, for God always was. For most of eternity, there was nothing but God. He needs nothing. But He wanted something. So, He creates an order of being smarter, stronger, wiser than we, and in whose presence we would all fall upon our faces in fear. And, you know, those angels that rebelled against God have no hope, none. There is no plan of redemption for the fallen angels. They will be bound eternally to the abyss. Then God creates man, whom He fashions in His image, with characteristics and attributes like God, full of dignity, and yet, humble, still dust. Then man rebels. And God immediately begins the story which the rest of Scripture unfolds. We haven’t the time to go through the particulars, so allow me to summarize the beginning and end. The books of the Bible are bound by a cover, Genesis and Revelation (Creation and Recreation). What lies between is what concerns us today. In the book of Genesis we see the bookends form this way: Creation (Chapter 1); The Marriage of Man and Woman (Chapter 2); and the Fall of Man (Chapter 3). Here is where God makes His promise. At the end of the Book of Revelation, meant to close the God-breathed canon of Scripture to encourage the followers of Christ through the ages, we are given in a glimpse into the reality of the final battle of the two seeds (Gen. 3:15). We see the unfolding of the Recreation in the exact opposite order of Creation. Revelation 19 (Fall of Satan); Revelation 20-21 (The Marriage of the Lamb and the Bride); Revelation 21-22 (Recreation). That’s the story, beginning and end. So how do we deal with the middle. Is there anything that makes sense of all the contents between? Of course, it is the Lord Jesus Christ. The Scriptures bear witness of Him. That is the key to unlocking the meaning of Scripture, from the most obvious messianic prophecy to prohibitions against boiling goats in their mother's milk and other fun facts from Leviticus.
But don’t take my word for it. Let us hear what our beloved Lord said shortly after His resurrection. (In Luke 24:13-27, 44-48). What did Jesus teach His disciples during this 40 day period, beginning on the road to Emmaus. Apparently the coverage was extensive: Moses, the prophets, psalms – the three major divisions of the Hebrew Bible. It seems that He progressed too, like a good story, “beginning with Moses and all the prophets.” Jesus did not read his views into Scripture; rather, He allowed Scripture to speak for itself. And its message, laced through all genres of Scripture was Himself. He interpreted what was meant to be interpreted.
The Scripture says the disciples understood. Understanding brought conviction, a burning heart. Although Jesus himself was their teacher, He did not assume that only He could so interpret Scripture. Rather, He blamed them as fools and slow of heart because they had not perceived the plain meaning of the Old Testament. Luke does not stop there. Indeed, as you go into the book of Acts, the Old Testament is the missionary Bible of the Christian church. What Jesus explained to the disciples about the Old Testament became the key for their preaching: Peter’s Sermon, their defense before Gamaliel, Stephen’s martyrdom sermon, Paul, of course (Adam, Abraham, Moses, et. al), the writer of Hebrews in explaining our perseverance as those of old came by “fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith who for the joy set before Him suffered and died.” We like Paul must seek “to know nothing but Christ and Him crucified.”
1. All Old Testament Scriptures (assuming the New), not merely a few messianic passages, point us to Christ. We are all familiar with Messianic prophecy in the Old Testament. When Philip ran up to the chariot of the Ethiopian official and heard him reading Isaiah 53:7, the evangelist began with that passage and preached Jesus. But that’s an obviously Messianic text. Well, the Old Testament is a witness, as the people of the Old Testament were a witness. To what? To Yahweh. It is the history of God’s intervention in history, the History of HIS great work of salvation as He prepares for His own coming in the person of His son. The appearance of the Son of God is not some afterthought, some emergency plan developed because God’s people failed. No, the story of the Old Testament is the story of the Lord: what He has done, and what He has purposed to do. It is not a collection of biographies or national history. It is the story of God’s work, not men’s It speaks of men only in the context of God’s covenant with them. SO WHAT?
2. Well, it means Joshua did not fight the battle of Jericho. It means Moses is not the one to whom we look for leadership skills. It means that Yahweh, not David’s courage, defeated Goliath. It means that Eve and Adam taking the fruit is not an advertisement to eat more meat. Knowing this, we can point our fingers anywhere in Scripture and know it is about Jesus, God revealed. We may have to work to make it easy to communicate, but we at least know what God was up to when He inspired men to write it. If God had not begun His work of Salvation before sending His Son, then the early heresy of Marcion (explain) would be correct. Yahweh would merely be a tribal deity. On the other hand, if God’s work in the old testament is continued as is, and not changed in Christ, then we can only apply the texts as best we can to the various experiences in life (don’t eat pork, be careful what you do on Saturday). Salvation in Christ is not simply an improvement on Old Testament salvation. It is not just the final phase of God dealing with His people. It is rather the ground of OT salvation: Abraham partakes of salvation because, by faith, he saw Christ’s day and was glad (John 8:56; Rom. 4:3).
So God uses men, events, wars, land, temples, exoduses, law, judges, prophets, exiles, symbols, widows, orphans, suffering, etc. to point to this one reality. What does it say about God? What sort of glory does it reveal? How does His dealing in this situation speak to His greater dealing with mankind? How is His purpose served here?
In other words: Don’t moralize or Read Into Scripture Liberation or some other theme not intended by the author, the Holy Spirit.
3. Reiteration of the Glory of Christ: Only as we perceive the focus on Christ do we sense the depth of the meaning of the Old Testament. It is precisely the discovery of this depth that will make our preaching powerful and practical. Survey Church history if you will. The great revivals, personal or corporate, were always begun not by powerful preaching, glorious music and choirs, not self-sacrifice, or even prayer. They were begun by men and women reflecting on the character of God, Who He Is, and living in light of that. If we mistakenly focus on our experiences, thinking that this approach is more practical, we will miss the entire point that only God saves and that we need a savior. We do not kindle faith by describing faith. We kindle faith by describing Christ. Do not misunderstand. The Scriptures are full of moral instruction and ethical exhortation (marriage, treating others, lust, greed, fear, prayer, etc.). But the ground and motivation of all of these is found in the mercy of Jesus Christ. As Paul, we must be resolved to know “nothing but Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.”