Preaching Christ from the OT, part 1
Summer series . Some years ago, we asked Sinclair Ferguson to write a brief paper for us on preaching Christ from the Old Testament. Over the next week or so, we’re going to publish an edited version online as part of our summer series. It’s worth some time.
The discipline of biblical theology has slowly but surely found a place in evangelical preaching. As a result, it has now become a commonplace in the teaching of homiletics to stress that we must preach Christ in all the Scriptures in a manner that takes account of the flow of redemptive history. In particular we must learn to preach Christ from the Old Testament without falling into the old traps of an artificial exegesis.
But how do we legitimately preach the text of the Old Testament as those who stand on this side of Pentecost? What difference does it make to expound Genesis or Psalms as believers in Jesus Christ? Or, to put it in a more graphic way, how can we reconstruct the principles of Jesus’ conversation in Luke 24:25-7 and 45, and learn to follow his example of showing how all the Scriptures point to him so that hearts are ‘strangely warmed’ and begin to burn? In particular, how may we do this without lapsing into what we (sometimes a little too cavalierly) deem to be either patristic allegorising or post-reformation spiritualising? If only we had heard how Jesus did this on the Emmaus Road, in the Upper Room, during the forty days between his resurrection and his ascension, we might grasp the principles by which it is done, so that we too could genuinely preach the text of the Old Testament as Christian preachers and not as rabbis!
Yet we must also preach the Scriptures without denuding them of the genuine historical events they record and the reality of the personal experiences they describe or to which they were originally addressed. How, then, do we preach Christ, and him crucified without leapfrogging over these historical realities as though the Old Testament Scriptures had no real significance for their own historical context?
In discussing the pre-Christ revelation of God as Trinity B.B. Warfield describes the Old Testament as a richly furnished but dimly lit room. Only when the light is turned on do the contents become clear. That light has been switched on in Christ and in the New Testament’s testimony to him. Now the triune personal being of God becomes clear. To read the Old Testament with the light switched off would be to deny the historical reality of our own context. On the other hand, we would be denying the historical reality of the text and its context if we were to read and preach it as though that same light had already been switched on within its own pages.
Thus our task as Christian preachers must be to take account of both. Fulfilling that task drives us back us into the basic hermeneutical question for the Christian exegete: How do we relate the Old Testament to the New Testament? The longer we labour in ministry, the more we ask that question. The more we know about the answer to it, the more we realise there is so much more left to explore. It is a life-long pursuit. Over the next few days, I’m going to make a few comments and suggest some principles that are generally applicable and may be specifically helpful to the preacher.
Why reading is so good for me. And you?
I love reading. I don’t think that comes as a surprise to many who know me or visit my office where I am trying to cultivate a Polytechnic version of a Oxbridge Don’s study with various piles of books scattered around. I can’t help it. I love reading.
But you may be surprised to know why.
I had a day off this week to do some home things with Mrs R, getting ready for our holiday in a few weeks time. Afternoon came around and England were bowled out. What next?
I’m really very bad at doing nothing. I can’t stand it, in fact. That, coupled with the Messiah complex that all of us have, at least in part, could be very bad news. It would make me a workaholic. Someone who can’t switch off but constantly needs to be checking emails and the like. That could easily be me.
Neither can I just zone out. I love sitting by the pool, but I can’t do that with nothing in my head. I’m always mulling over things, checking them over in my mind, rehearsing and repeating events of this day and tomorrow. That’s a real hiding to nothing, I can tell you for free. Or, worse still, my attempts to empty my head lead to all kinds of unhelpful stuff drifting in that I do well to avoid. You get the drift.
And so I read. It helps me fill my mind with useful stuff. Not junk. And not sin. And not work. It’s a switch off. And for that reason alone (even though there are others), I love it.
So I commend reading to you. A guard against too high a view of self, sinful thoughts and workaholic-ism. It’s why I’m taking away a few books this holiday.
2 Cor 4.7-18
Here’s part III of Mike Cain’s excellent expositions. They’ll not stretch you exegetically: they’re not supposed to. But the stretch is in warm, encouraging, convicting and challenging application for anybody in word ministry. Watch and pass on. Well worth 40 minutes.
2 Cor 4.1-6 at the EMA
I hope you were stirred by yesterday’s exposition on 2 Cor. This is equally good, if not better. Music to my soul.
2 Cor 3.1-18 at the EMA
We had a great time at the EMA and I’m truly sorry if you could not join us. One of the clear highlights was Mike Cain’s expositions on 2 Cor 3-4. They are – I believe – essential listening for those in any kind of word ministry, but particularly those, perhaps, who feel beleaguered or worn down. Here’s part 1.
Mr Preacher. Here’s a thought. Chief amongst your applications arising from any passage in the Scriptures should be this: to encourage and help your congregation lose themselves in wonder at the majesty and glory of God.
I wonder if we’re too quick to “do” “think” applications. We assume that people need to go away with something concrete.
But, in fact, nothing is better than a deeper appreciation and awe-filled wonder at the triune God who has revealed himself in Christ Jesus.
Sometimes it’s OK to say, just….wow.
Using the NIV audio Bible
Finally, this week, a third use for this superb resource or, for that matter, any decent audio Bible.
3. Use it in your church
We’ve just finished a Bible study series on Numbers using this resource – highly commended ;0
I had a lovely email from a mature Christian lady in our congregation who confided that, as we started out, she felt overwhelmed by the prospect of 36 chapters of counting. She wrote to tell me what a surprise and delight it had been. Good result.
Nevertheless, she has a point. The first study was spread over four intense chapters. How do you manage that? Add to the length the complication of names and it does become overwhelming. How did we do it? We listened to the passage being read by someone else. Here’s a really great use for an audio Bible. You wouldn’t want to do this all the time, as I think we ought to get real live people reading the Bible. Nevertheless, at times like this, what a resource to call upon!
And for those in your congregations with failing eyesight or reading difficulties or time pressure, recommending an audio Bible is a great release. They are not disenfranchised from the church’s commitment to the word. Quite the opposite.
You will gather I’m a great fan. Correct. And not ashamed to be. This is how the word of God first came to the people of God – as they listened to it being read. And it’s no bad thing to reclaim some of that lost ground.
Using the NIV audio Bible
Here’s another way you can use the NIV audio Bible, or – indeed – any audio Bible.
2. Use it for your family
Family devotions are difficult. Have you noticed that? Finding time, material, willingness – all these make time as a family around the word of God something of a battleground. Here’s a way to help. Why not listen to the Bible being read? At the risk of sounding quaint, it’s not unlike the family gathering around the wireless in olden times (!). We have the audio Bible ripped to our computer which means we can stream it into our kitchen where our dining table is.
Or what about suggesting to a youngster that we ditch notes for a bit and just listen to the Bible being read and ask questions afterwards? It’s a different way, but no less valid. And as we do this, the word of God slowly, slowly, seeps into our hearts and minds.
Try it and see.
Using the NIV Audio Bible
The new NIV audio Bible read by David Suchet is superb. Simply superb. It’s not just that he has a British voice (although I do think that hearing the Bible read in your own language is just, well, easier). He sounds like someone who believes what he is reading (which he does). Now, the NIV may not be your translation of choice. Even that does not matter, for when it comes to listening to long passages, you want a translation that is easy on the ears and comprehensible, and even if you don’t use the 2011 NIV in church (which a growing number of us do), it certainly ticks that box. It’s one of those resources which I count it a joy to commend.
But how do you use it in church? Here are three ideas over the next few days which, incidentally, will apply to any good audio Bible.
1. Use it yourself
I don’t know about you, but I am always trying to find ways to make sure God’s word comes to me freshly. I don’t mean that in a gnostic kind of way. I simply mean that as I study the word of God day in and day out there is a real danger of staleness. I’ve found that listening (rather than reading) has transformed this.
I can take in longer passages. Sure, I’m not studying detail in the way I might get my nose in the text, but who says one is better than the other anyway? I’ve found that using an audio Bible regularly has given me a new enthusiasm for reading God’s word (and not just studying it). Ultimately that benefits me and my congregation too.
Sorry: websites cannot save
Sorry if you’ve missed us! We’ve been hacked and have had to do some serious reconstruction work. But we’re back and the booking system is now up and running.
Fortunately, we don’t put our trust in princes or human beings who cannot save (Psalm 146.3).
We extend this skepticism to websites too.