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.
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.
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.