Preaching Christ in All of Scripture: Narrative

How do we preach Christ from the stories that we find in the Bible? As with all text types, an important rule to remember is that the Bible isn’t about us but instead it is about Christ. Taking this truth to heart and taking it with us into our study will do much good in making our sermons more Christ-centered.

One of the key components of narratives in Scripture are the characters. While it is easy to hold up the positive examples in texts, such as Joseph or Esther, as models for listeners to follow, remember that the story itself is in some form or fashion about Christ. Somehow the experience of Moses or one of the judges or Ezra advances the storyline about the promised Messiah, Jesus Christ. When He referred to Himself as “something greater than Solomon” (Luke 11:31), Jesus gave us a hermeneutical principle. We must preach Old Testament narratives and their characters in anticipation of the coming of Christ.

Another aspect of narrative is the presence of conflict. Every story is based on conflict. Without it, you don’t have a story. To understand the emphasis of a narrative, you must identify the conflict. Sometimes that conflict may be a part of an on-going theme–law versus grace, man versus God, love versus justice–that is only reconciled in the person of Jesus Christ. Your exegesis of the text surfaces the tension and then your application can point the listener to Christ.

Preaching Christ in All Types of Scripture

All Scripture is inspired by the Holy Spirit but it doesn’t come to us in the same literary forms. As we read the Bible, we encounter a variety of “text types,” genres within the whole canon of Scripture.

The three main text types are discourse, narrative, and poetry. In His inspiration of Holy Scripture, the Holy Spirit chose to use these different forms through the human author. Since this was His sovereign choice, we must recognize His authority by employing different strategies in interpretation. While each communicate to us the word of God, they should be handled differently in exegesis. Discourse, such as a letter by Paul, must be handled and viewed differently than a psalm of David.

In conjunction with that, we must also realize that we find and proclaim Christ differently with each type. Remember: what keeps typological preaching from lapsing into allegory is sound exegesis. Therefore it stands to reason that doing exegetical work in light of the particular text type will also use a different methodology to preach Christ than other types.

Avoiding Abuses While Preaching Christ in All of Scripture

Assuming that we do believe that Christ is on every page of Scripture and that every sermon should proclaim Him, we still however must wrestle with the challenge of doing just that.

Most preachers are aware of the dangers of allegory and its abuse in preaching, especially in certain eras of church history. But we must not allow an abuse deter us from a proper usage. While allegory should be eschewed, typology should be employed in biblical, Christ-centered preaching. A type is a person, place, thing, or event that God ordained to prefigure or represent Christ’s work of redemption.

How do we differentiate between the two? Primarily, we use the original author’s intent as discovered in faithful and solid exegesis of the text. Allegory gives symbolic meaning to details in the text which would have been foreign to the original author. As the saying goes, sometimes in Scripture a piece of wood is simply a piece of wood, not a prefigurement of the cross.

Typology, on the other hand, takes seriously the original meaning of the text while allowing for the fact that the original hearers did not experience the object in its fullness. While they were not able to see the future and the ultimate fulfillment, they did have the benefit of the revelation of God up to that point. Animal sacrifices never brought the remission of sin to a Hebrew offering them. However, their obedience to God ideally represented faith and trust that someday He would make the ultimate provision for their sin.

Preaching Christ from All of Scripture

We believe that Christ is on every page of Scripture. We believe that the word of God, the Bible, always points in His direction.

Edmund Clowney wrote these words: “Preaching Christ from the Old Testament means that we preach, not synagogue sermons, but sermons that take account of the full drama of redemption, and its realization in Christ.” (Preaching Christ in All of Scripture)

(A synagogue sermon, of course, refers to any sermon, probably on an Old Testament text, that would acceptable in any synagogue.)

The strongest opponent to the types of sermons that Clowney called for would be sermons that settle for merely exhorting listeners to moral behavior (“Be like Joseph! Don’t be like Saul! Be like Barnabas! Don’t be like Judas!) Without connecting those behaviors to the gospel and to Christ, they remain palatable to moralistic, non-Christian ears.

It is easy to settle for less than what Clowney calls us to in our preaching ministries. Because the Bible contains moral exhortations, a preacher may be tempted to stop there. And if the text calls for us to perform some type of moral behavior, then of course we should preach that. But we dare not stop there.

Remember: this is the Progress Project. I look back on sermons I have preached and have painfully come to realize that, while I always preached the principles taught in the Bible, at times I failed to preach Christ, except maybe as a tag-on at the conclusion. I’m taking the Clowney quote seriously these days and seeking to make sure my sermon this Sunday takes into account the full drama of Christ’s redemption.

Perhaps you might want to re-read some of your old sermons, especially ones from the Old Testament, and ask yourself, “Did I preach Christ from this sermon?” Remember that mentioning Christ and preaching Christ are not always the same thing.

The Privilege of Preaching

Preaching isn’t easy.

That last sentence might qualify me as Captain Obvious with some. While it may be lacking in sophistication and nuance, it is nevertheless an extremely true statement.

If for no other reason, we know preaching is difficult because of regularity associated with it. I heard one preacher recently comment on this aspect by saying, “Preaching is difficult because you know Sunday comes around every three days.”

Sure, it only seems that way but anyone who preaches on a regular basis understands what he was trying to say.

But the real danger related to the difficulty of preaching is not so much that we’re overwhelmed by it. Instead the danger for those who preach is that we stop seeing it for what it truly is.

Because more than anything else, preaching is a privilege. An amazing privilege.

Paul could hardly believe that he was allowed the privilege of preaching. In Ephesians 3:8, he writes, “To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ,” It was by grace, not his own merit, that he was able to preach the message of the greatness of Christ.

  • Maybe I need to post that verse over my desk in my regular place of study or on top of the monitor I use to prepare my messages.
  • Maybe I need someone to text me that verse during those weeks in which I conduct a funeral as well as prepare three biblical sermons.
  • Maybe I need my church to include those words on the paycheck I cash each week when I complain that I’m underpaid for the labor of my ministry.

And maybe you are underpaid as you labor in preaching and teaching but only receive a half portion of honor (1 Timothy 5:17). But stop for a minute and think about this. God uses the content of your sermons to bring to salvation those who place their faith in Christ (1 Corinthians 1:21). What an incredible thought! Heaven will be populated in part because of sermons like yours. And you will share that glorious space with some only because God anointed and empowered to preach His great gospel.

What Any Church Member Would Want

Why would we emphasize progress in preaching? Why would we hold up 1 Timothy 4:15 as normative for every preacher of the gospel? Why would we join some Progress Project where we do something everyday to get better at our preaching?

Here is a reason to consider: what believer anywhere would not want to be a member of a church where the pastor makes on-going progress in his preaching? Who wouldn’t want to be a member of a church like that?

Granted, people join churches for all kinds of reasons, and at times the real motive is simply to be placated or entertained by what is being taught from the platform. My statement assumes a spiritual, godly, growing believer in Christ. But, after all, that’s who you want to be a part of your church, correct? So, then, it stands to reason that we would want someone to join our fellowship who is both a maturing believer and who wants their preacher to be always sharpening his skill in handling the word of truth.

Maybe you’re still not convinced. Do some research. Find some spiritually-minded in your congregation and pose the question to them. Ask them, “Would having a preacher who is making improvement in his preaching be a positive value in your mind, a benefit for being a member of that church?” Let me know what you find out.

What is Good Preaching?

Frequently at the end of a worship service, as church members greet their pastor on their way out the door, you hear these words, “Good sermon, preacher!” Sometimes when pastors get together and the conversation turns to church life, a particular pastor is mentioned, and someone says, “Man, he’s a good preacher!”

But what is good preaching?

Some may see it as being entertaining. Perhaps the speaker is a good storyteller or maybe can relate some humorous anecdotes. As a result, someone says, “That was a good sermon.”

Others view it mostly as being educational. Albert Mohler, president of Southern Seminary, relates a conversation he had with a member of a church that was liberal in their theology. Mohler asked him, “What should be the goal of a good sermon?” The man was puzzled by the question and replied, “You know, I’ve never really thought about it. I guess something to think about.” No mention was made of life transformation. No mention of catching a spiritual glimpse of the glory of Christ. Just something to think about.

While neither of these are unwarranted, I suggest to you that primarily a good sermon is characterized by faithfulness, both to God and His Word. The images in Scripture of a faithful preacher give us a clearer picture of what preaching is to be.

Preaching as stewardship. A common New Testament image of a preacher is that of a steward. Essentially, a steward is a trustee and dispenser of another person’s property. What a good preacher says every Sunday is not primarily from his own mouth but rather from the mouth of God, heard in the Bible.

In ancient times, a steward had authority entrusted to him. He was not independent but accountable to his master. Typically, he was given responsibility for a household to provide what they needed to eat.

Pastors are seen as stewards in the New Testament (Titus 1:7) Paul viewed his preaching ministry as that of a stewardship (Eph. 3:2-9). While occupying a special role as an apostle, Paul did not just apply this to himself but also to others (1 Cor. 4:1,6).

A steward did not provide for the household out of his own resources. The master of the house gave the provisions, and the steward distributed them. Good preaching is not essentially a matter of the ingenuity of the preacher, his creativity or cleverness. It is a matter of his faithfulness to the text of Scripture, evidenced in 1 Cor. 4:2: “Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful” (ESV).

Preaching as heralding. There is another image in the New Testament of what constitutes good preaching. It is that of a herald.

In biblical times, a herald was a representative of the king. When the king had vital information to communicate to his subjects, he did not post it on the royal website. Instead, he sent his herald to verbally deliver the message. This role carried with it a grave responsibility. To misrepresent the king was an offense punishable by death. Yet the herald also possessed great authority. To ignore him when he spoke the words of the king was tantamount to ignoring the king himself.

As a herald of the Great King, a preacher must take seriously this matter of delivering the message exactly as intended. While a herald might do his best to gain the people’s attention, ultimately he was measured by faithfulness, not his audience’s response.

A good preacher is a steward and a herald, and a congregation’s expectations cannot biblically exceed this. Preachers need not labor under any burden but this: to faithfully deliver the truth of Scripture is good preaching.

The Goal of Christ-Centered Preaching

I recently apologized to the church I am currently serving as an interim preacher. You might be wondering what my offense. Did I use some politically incorrect language? Did I misquote a familiar Scripture? Did I preach too long? “What did he do,” you ask yourself.

No, my wrongdoing was much more egregious than that.

I came to realize that on a semi-regular basis I would begin my preaching by commending the worship time through music. I would say something like, “Wasn’t that a great time of worship this morning?” And what would be so inappropriate of making a comment like that?

It dawned on me that an expression assumed something. It assumed that, as I mounted the platform to begin an exposition of God’s Word, worship had come to an end. I spoke of it in the past tense. I was convicted in my heart that those words betrayed a failure to be consciously aware of the goal of every sermon: to lift up Christ so that every one present would adore and worship Him.

How dare I insinuate that worship had concluded once the last note of music had been played? How dull and slow of heart could I be to not be aware that the word of God always points us to Jesus Christ and seeks to bring “faith sight” to us? And how could I prepare to preach without preparing to lead the people of God to see the glory of Christ and find themselves “lost in wonder, love, and praise”?

I’m looking at preaching in a different way these days. I am seeking to exegete passages of Scripture in a way that proclaims Christ so that those who hear my words as well as myself are captivated with His beauty to the point where our hearts melt. And all of this without even a single note of music being played in the room…

So here’s a challenge. I dare you to ask someone who listens to you preach on a regular basis if they ever enter into worship during one of your sermons. Don’t ask them if they ever learn anything or get inspired. Ask them if they worship while listening to you preach.

Get to Christ By Getting To The Text

Yesterday’s post addressed a failure to preach Christ from any and every text of Scripture. Doing so is a failure to take seriously Jesus’ words when He told His disciples: “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” (Luke 24:44) The difficulties they had after His crucifixion stemmed from their failure to grasp that the Old Testament is all about Him.

However, there is a related mistake that preachers can make, the opposite breakdown, and it is equally problematic. We must not preach Christ without preaching the text. At times this is known as allegorical preaching, in which details of the text are applied to Christ that are not grounded in the author’s original intent. While Jesus did die on a cross made of wood, not every occasion of “wood” in the Scripture points to it. Sometimes a piece of wood is just a piece of wood. Important in understanding the text, but not necessarily Messianic or Gospel-centered.

Preaching Christ but failing to do justice to each individual text each week will create this problem: all of those sermons will begin to sound the same. Tim Keller is correct: “If you do go deeply enough into the original historical context, there will be as many different ways to preach Christ as there are themes and genres and messages in the Bible.” (Preaching, 66).

So biblical preachers find a balance between letting each text have its own voice be heard as well as lifting up Christ in all of Scripture.

Make a Beeline to the Cross

The focus, the goal of every sermon is to present Christ. The great English preacher Charles Spurgeon is famous for saying that wherever he took his text, he always made a beeline to the cross. 

Not every sermon preached in evangelical churches is about Christ. This is not to say that they are unbiblical. Many of them do a great job of exegeting a particular text. In so far as the sermon goes, it is biblical. The preacher may teach principles of Scripture. He may enjoin his listeners to obey God’s precepts.

He may do all these things but still not preach Christ. To preach Christ is to preach the gospel. And it can be done—and should be done—every time, regardless of any particular passage the preacher might be covering.

This is not to deemphasize the importance of doing sound exegesis. It is crucial to handle a text in light of the author’s intent and in light of the literary context of the passage. Separating a text from its original setting is like sending a small child out on the streets unaccompanied, making them vulnerable to horrible abuses.

Still, once the text is rightly understood and handled, it has not been given its full voice until this question is answered: what is this passage telling us about Jesus Christ? After all, according to Jesus Himself, all Scripture points to Him (John 5:39). The two disciples on the road to Emmaus were privileged to hear Christ interpret for their understanding of how all Scripture, in every place, bore witness to Him (Luke 24:27).

Take a moment and ask yourself if this mandate is in fact what you actually believe as a preacher. Practice will never exceed belief. But if you do believe that Christ can be found in every text, then your practice will be like that of Spurgeon, and you will find yourself making a beeline to the cross no matter you find yourself in the whole counsel of God.