As previously stated, there are two main reasons that it is important for our sermons to be Christ-centred. The first reason, which we explored last time, is that without Christ there is no Good News. And the second, which we shall explore in this post, is simply that the Bible, in its deepest intent, is about Jesus.
(2) The Bible is About Jesus
There is only one person in the history of humanity who can rightly open the pages of Scripture and ask the question, “How is this about me?” Jesus alone is able to apply any part of Scripturedirectly to His life. He stands unique in this regard among all people who have ever lived. The Bible is directly about one person and only one person: Jesus the Christ. The italicized word, “directly,” is important. Of course, the Bible is about many events and people. And, of course, the Bible is about us in some sense. However, the point I wish to make is that Jesus fulfills the Bible in the deepest and most significant ways. Even the historical events and people recorded in the Old Testament are secondary to God’s goal of revealing the Person and Mission of Jesus through them.
Observing this very reality, Johnson (The Glory of Preaching, 61) asks this question: “Does this mean that every sermon is about Jesus even if the text is not explicitly about him?” His answer is unequivocally, Yes. Therefore, a preacher has no business preaching any text until the Spirit has revealed Jesus clearly to him in that text. For how can the preacher lead a congregation to Christ by preaching until he himself has had a profound encounter with the Living Lord in the preaching text? As Johnson (The Glory of Preaching, 61) concludes, “Everything hangs on this. The transforming power for any text lies right here, in the encounter” [with Jesus].
Unfortunately we are trained from our earliest days in the Church to apply Scripture directly to our lives. Most of us naturally come to the Bible asking: How is this passage about me? Or: How do I apply this passage to my life? The heart behind these questions is not sinister. However, these questions are, to a point, misguided and premature. Of course Scripture ought to have a powerful impact on our lives as followers of Christ. Just because the Bible impacts us, however, does not mean that it is primarily about us. This is a subtle but essential differentiation. It is the difference between a Christocentric and an anthropocentric approach to the Bible. In other words, a Christ-centred verses a human-centred hermeneutic. It is impossible for both Christ and us to occupy the centre of the Bible and of preaching. One must displace the other. If we understand Christ to be the centre, then our understanding of Scripture will flow properly. For Jesus is the interpretative key to the whole Bible. Without Him, nothing makes proper sense. On the other hand, if we make ourselves to occupy the centre then misinterpretation will abound.
On the very first Easter Jesus drew near to a pair of disciples on the road to Emmaus and, beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, He interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself (Luke 24:27). Notice, Jesus did not interpret to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning themselves. Later that day the resurrected and glorified Jesus met with His eleven disciples and He opened their minds also to understand the Scriptures (Luke 24:45). O how I would have loved to have been a part of that Bible study. As Jesus opened their minds, He showed them how all the Scriptures were about Him. Luke summarizes the fruit of that study with the words of Christ: “[So, you see,] thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead” (Luke 24:46). The conclusion to their study was that the Scriptures were about the Christ, and especially about His suffering, death, and resurrection. Does this mean that the disciples were not impacted by the content of the Scriptures? Absolutely not! Of course the disciples were impacted, and deeply so. Notice what Jesus continued to say: “And that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem… And behold, I am sending the promise of My Father upon you…” (Luke 24:47-48). So it is that the Bible is about Christ for the world, and especially for the saved. Or, put another way, the lead actor is Christ and we make up His supporting cast.
On another occasion, as recorded in John 5:30-47, Jesus is speaking with the Pharisees about their spiritual blindness. Jesus says to them, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life” (John 5:39-40). Jesus is clearly claiming that He is the focus and the subject of all the Scriptures. To interpret the Scriptures outside of Jesus is to miss their deepest meaning and to be deprived of the eternal life promised by the Scriptures because such life can only be found in Christ.
If this is so, why do we so easily read the Bible as though it is all about us? Why are we so quick to cut Jesus out of the picture? Why do we try to build a Christ-less morality and taxing system of self-help from our Bibles, rather than seek eternal life in Jesus Christ? It is Jesus, after all, who is the only source of life and power. Why do we so easily read the Bible as though we were the lead, and Christ our supporting member? The reason for all of this is tragic and simple. In our own minds we are so frequently the lead in our own life. All other people, Jesus included, orbit around us as if we were a giant sun at the centre of our own universe. It is easy to fall into this trap because we spend so much time with ourselves. It is easy to be deceived because we are self-absorbed and spiritually blind, at least in part. When we approach the Scriptures with this same self-absorbed blindness, then we misconstrue the truth of God. Self-absorbed reading of the Bible will undoubtedly lead to moralistic interpretation that negates the grace of God. For this reason Paul decided to know nothing among the Corinthians but Jesus Christ and Him crucified (1 Corinthians 2:2). We need to be like Paul, displacing ourselves from the centre so that Jesus may take His rightful place at the centre of our lives.
The only way for Jesus to be the centre of our lives is for Him to be the centre of Scripture and the centre of our preaching because it is from Scripture that we derive our worldview. If we impose a self-centred reading strategy on Scripture or preaching, then we will glean self-centred application that is a distortion of the truth, and which is often moralistic or legalistic. If, however, we approach Scripture and preaching with Christ in the centre, then we will glean a Christ-centred application that is true and filled with grace. While it may seem counter-intuitive, only when Christ is the centre of Scripture, preaching, and consequently of our lives, will Scripture impact us powerfully with life giving truth.
The ultimate reason for Christ-centred preaching, therefore, is that there is no other way to be faithful to the intent and structure of the Bible. Jesus understood Himself to be the centre of Scripture and He taught His disciples to approach the sacred text with that same understanding. Goldsworthy (Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture, 21) turns this truth into a direct challenge to preachers when he writes:
To the evangelical preacher, then, I would address one simple but pointed question, a question every one of us should ask ourselves as we prepare to preach (and certainly the answer should be crystal clear in our minds before we get up to preach): How does this passage of Scripture, and consequently my sermon, testify to Christ?
Goldsworthy is right; a sermon that does not testify to Christ is not a Christian sermon. To deviate from this Christocentric approach, therefore, is to misrepresent the fullness of God’s revelation, to misconstrue the purpose of God’s Word, and the miss the mark in our preaching.