The New Testament use of the Old (3)
3. Prophetic illustration
Some OT illustrations are more than illustrations for a particular point. We saw yesterday how stories from the life of Elijah and Elisha are used by Jesus to illustrate a point about his own ministry and how that does not change the meaning and significance of the original narrative.
However, there are also stories where the original meaning of the narrative is made clear by a NT use. A great example is found in Luke 11.29-32. There Jesus uses two well known Sunday School stories (the Queen of Sheba’s visit to Solomon and Jonah’s preaching at Nineveh) to make a point about his own ministry.
These are not illustrations as such, but what I call prophetic illustrations. The OT stories have a natural trajectory which takes them in a certain direction and the preacher who does not follow Jesus’ pattern is, I would suggest, being cavalier with the whole Bible. Jesus is not just using the stories to illustrate, he is interpreting the stories in their wider Bible context.
The New Testament use of the Old (2)
2. Illustrative example
Sometimes the New Testament uses the Old Testament as an illustrative source book. This is often prefaced with the words “just as…” The Old Testament story (in particular) illustrates the point being made. A good example is Jesus’ reference to the widow of Zarephath (Luke 4.24-26 using 1 Kings 17.8-16).
We need to be careful here, though. Just because the story is referenced in the New Testament, does that narrow its interpretation to only this line? I think that depends very much on the context. Take the following illustration from Luke 4.
And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed, only Namaan the Syiran.
If you go back to that story (2 Kings 5.1-14) I think careful study will reveal that the heart of the passage is Namaan’s confession “Now I know there is no God in all the world except in Israel. So please accept a gift from your servant.”
This is a story about the gospel going to all nations and nations being brought in, fulfilling the promise to Abraham. However, the widow story in 1 Kings 17 is about the word of the Lord through the prophet not failing.
Yet both are used by our Lord to illustrate that a prophet is not accepted in his home town. If you were to preach those 1 or 2 Kings passages, you would not want to make (I would suggest) the Luke 4 line your main thrust. Jesus is using those passages illustratively. (And therein lies an interesting aside. Why not take more of your illustrations from Bible stories?)
However, there is a different kind of example, which I will consider tomorrow.
The New Testament use of the Old (1)
One of the most important grids for any preacher tackling an Old Testament text is to ask if and then how it is used in the New Testament. The whole Bible is inspired and so it is always going to be instructive to see how inspired Scripture interprets inspired Scripture. I'm going to say a little more about this over the coming days. First, it's good to see that the New Testament uses the old in different ways.
1. Understanding the OT story
There are times when the NT sees the OT as a whole into which the story of salvation fits. This is evident in Stephen’s majestic overview in Acts 7, for example, or in the words of Jesus to his followers in Luke 24.27. In both of these cases, and others too, the OT Scripture is taken as a whole and the reader invited to see how the work of Christ (in particular) acts as the great climax to this story.
Most of us are well drilled in this kind of biblical theology and will often apply it to Old Testament texts. But it is worth noting that this is not the only way the Old Testament is understood. There is more than one sermon from the Old Testament, to which the answer is “Jesus is the coming King.”
A biblical view of sleep part 2
So, I had a nap and here is my finished outline. Remember this is not an expository sermon. It's part of a church series where, once a month, we think about a particular issue from a biblical point of view. It's on top of a morning and evening sermon (1 John and Ecclesiastes) that people will have already had. So, it's more of a thematic talk, trying to see a biblical theology of sleep. Here in just outline form….
I'm going to start with some sleep facts. Then I'm going to introduce my big idea: Sleep is part of our created humanity and a good sleep is a gift to be treasured and enjoyed, a picture of something eternal. Then I'm going to unpack that phrase by phrase.
Sleep is part of our created humanity
- This will be brief, but may include some medical reasons why sleep is good for you. Also a look at the perfect humanity displayed in Christ.
Sleep is a good gift to be treasured and enjoyed
- The ability to sleep and wake is a mark of God's sovereign care (Ps 3.4, 4.8), a sweetness (Prov 3.24)
- Lack of sleep may be a sign of unresolved sin (Ps 77.4)
- In some cases, the ability to sleep may be a sign of a seared conscience (Jonah 1.6)
Sleep is a picture of something eternal
- Here, I will explore the NT use of sleep as a euphemism for death and its appropriateness
Conclusion: We can sleep soundly, because God does not (Psalm 121, I will probably unpack this a bit)
And so, the secret to a good night's sleep may be medical (something wrong with you), environmental (something wrong with the room, bed, etc) or spiritual. And if spiritual, the answer is trust and contentment (Ecc 5.12).
Then I've got some discussion questions, which I think will include:
- Should we ever fall asleep in church (Acts 20.9)? I want to use this to get people to think about preparing for church well to include a good night's sleep
- What should we say to a new mum struggling to get by on four hours sleep a night?
A biblical view of sleep
Historically, Christians were raised on a diet of good expository ministry Sunday by Sunday augmented by classic "Bible studies" (essentially taught studies) midweek. Many US churches maintain this balance through adult Sunday school programmes. But in UK churches, especially when mid week studies are group based expository studies, could it be true that – far from being better educated as Christians – we are becoming shallower? I haven't thought all this through for myself yet, but it's one of the reasons that once a month we pause in our church and have a short talk/Q&A on a particular subject from a Biblical point of view: how do we bring the Bible to bear on all kinds of issues. We call it Thinking Like a Christian. We've done Catholicism, politics, food – and this month it's my turn to do sleep. It's not a practical session…!! Nevertheless, standing at the front of church persuades me fully that many people don't have a problem with sleep.
The Bible has a lot to say about sleep, of course. I think some of the most precious psalms address this very question: Psalm 121 for example (which, more precisely, is about not sleeping – God in this case). But there's remarkably little said about it in Christian circles. That's surprising because most people struggle with sleep (or lack of it) at some point and sleep is a clear euphimism for death. My enormous (usually helpful) dictionary of pastoral ethics goes straight from slavery to social contract. No entry for sleep (nor insomnia). So, it's worth researching and worth teaching. Watch this space.
I'll post my outline after I've had a short nap.
Changing the ending
I enjoyed reading the review of Saving Mr Banks in the paper this morning. It's the story of Walt Disney and PL Travers (authoress) and the fight to make Mary Poppins. The Hollywood film finishes with Travers at a premiere screening of the movie, crying with joy because of the success of the movie. Interesting. For as the paper points out, the exact opposite was true. She disliked the film. She disliked the animation. So much so that she wrote into her will that no one involved in the production was to have any input into her further work or a stage production. Quite a turnaround, even by Hollywood standards.
But changing the ending is not as rare as you might think. Christians do it all the time. We are especially weak, I observe, on judgement. It's not a nice message, it's the bad news of the gospel, but it is biblical and right to preach it when it comes up, however sobering it may feel. Churches which are weak on the ending, or even change the ending, quickly find that the gospel is robbed of its power. For if there is nothing to be saved from…..
I'm not calling for a return to pulpit thumping. But a measured, expository sermon through any book of the Bible will reveal both the holy and righteous wrath of an impartial Judge and the awesome mercy seen in Christ our propitiation.
It’s in the text
It's amazing how often we, as preachers, don't look in the text.
In our preaching groups at Cornhill, the students have been preaching through James. That's not an easy book to preach and, for the most part, guys in my group have been doing a pretty good job. We even managed to avoid the trap of misrepresenting the mirror in James 1.19-27.
This is the way it normally goes. Preachers see the word "mirror" and think to themselves. Oh yes, I know how this works. A mirror shows you what you look like. This passage is all about the word and the point of the picture is that the word of God shows us what we are like (and what we must do to change). Not untrue, of course. But not the point of the mirror here.
The answer is in the text.
For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in the mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once he forgets what he is like.
The point of the mirror illustration here is not to make a case for how the word works, but the stupidity of hearing it and not doing it. In other words, the right reaction to the illustration is to say, "Yeah, stupid man." That sets us up for the punch of the next verses.
And it was all in the text all along.
Thinking ahead to next year…?
It's a good time in church life to be thinking ahead to next year. Maybe there's someone in your church you should be thinking about encouraging towards ministry? Maybe it's something you'd like to think about yourself. This is precisely the time to be talking things through as church leaders. And we'd love to partner with you in this great work. We're already starting to plan for the 2014/15 intake.
Sermons crafted to the nth degree
There have been some articles circulating round the internet recently about the time it takes to prepare a sermon. Some well-known preachers have opened the door into their study a little and allowed a little peek in. Fascinating, but I'm not sure all that helpful. Most of those interviewed are not in what I would call a normal church. They are pastors of churches, sure. I grant that. But whether it's a mega multi-campus church or as leader of a huge staff, that's not the situation most of us find ourselves in.
Most of are preparing 2 or maybe more sermons per week. We're planning a mid week Bible study perhaps. We're spending time with people and have to fit in some extra prep for a funeral sermon unexpectedly. Some of us will have others to call upon to share that load. Most will not. That's real church for most of us. Even if we wanted a large staff team, it's out of our league financially and the church cannot sustain it.
In this setting, hearing that someone spends 25 hours on a sermon is not – to my mind – particularly helpful. Particularly if that's studying and preparing time, not counting prayer. It's not a ministry model that's sustainable for most of us in regular church ministry. And thinking it is, is immensely damaging. Dangerous in the long term. It's the same mindset that has us still tweaking a sermon at 2am on a Sunday morning.
Here's my news. Preaching is a spiritual task. There's a practical element to it, one we're very concerned with here at PT. We need to rightly divide the word of truth. But we are not producing finely honed and crafted masterpieces where every word, comma and construction would have to pass muster at a mega conference. Our people know us. We know them. Our preaching needs to reflect that relationship (where give and take exists) and acknowledge that preaching is supernatural.
What does that mean, practically? Most obviously we would talk about the place of prayer. Indeed. But it also means that late nights crafting sermons to the nth degree, getting that heading just right by working over it again and again, is misplaced priority. I can always do that to a sermon if I wanted. But we need to bed promptly on a Saturday night and sleep soundly, confident that the effectiveness of the sermon is not down to the cleverness of a particular heading, but the work of a sovereign God.
Please don't mishear me. I'm not making a case for laziness or cutting corners. God forgive! Rather, I am saying that if we truly understand the nature of preaching we will be able to sleep soundly, knowing that crafting to the nth degree is not what we are called to do.
The Proclamation Trust and the local church
I was interviewed the other day by John Stevens about PT and the local church. Not prepared, so here are my off-the-cuff answers. It's filmed in a pastor's study, with me sitting on a sofa and John (who is very tall) towering above me. All of which will not prepare you for the unflattering angle….you have been warned. One to listen to with your eyes shut.