How to Preach Christ (Pt 3)

The Christian sermon applies every passage of Scripture to the Life and Ministry of Jesus before seeking to understand the impact of that passage on the life and practice of the congregation. This ensures that every preaching text is rightly filtered through Jesus Christ. Of course it is possible to preach error and false truths under this model. However, it alone gives faithful preachers a consistent model to ensure that Jesus is the defining element of the Christian sermon.

This model understands that a Christ-less sermon is not a Christian sermon. At the centre of the Gospel is Jesus and, therefore, a sermon that ignores Jesus fails to be what Christian preaching ought to be. The benefit of this third model is that it is impossible to apply any preaching text to the congregation without first understanding that text in light of Jesus. Therefore, the sole rationale of Christian preaching is safeguarded at all times.

Of course there may be some critics of this third model who protest that faithful exposition requires the preacher to communicate the original intent of the author. To this presupposition I have no rebuttal, only hearty agreement. Those who protest this third model, however, will posit that since Old Testament passages were written centuries before the birth of Jesus, then the original intent of most of these passages must not be about Jesus. To preach an Old Testament text – with the rare exception of Christological prophecy, typology, or the like – with Jesus as the focus, they will continue, is to ignore the original intent of the author. The problem with this line of thinking is that it has too low a view of Scripture. It supposes that the ultimate expression of faithful exposition is to discover the intent of the human author. Of course this is important. It is more important, however, to discover the intent of the divine Author. Every human author of every Biblical text was inspired by the Holy Spirit and the Spirit knows the beginning from the end. He knows that the focus of Salvation History is Christ and therefore He ultimately wrote all Scripture about Christ. Peter affirms that the human authors did not always know the full extent and implication of what they were writing:

No prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:20-21).

Therefore, we affirm the importance of expositing the original intent of the human author. More than that, however, we require the exposition of the original intent of the divine Author, which finds its fullest expression in Christ.

Graeme Goldsworthy (Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture, 116-17) puts it this way:

If we would see God, he is most clearly revealed in Jesus Christ. If we would see what God intends for our humanity, it is most clearly revealed in Jesus Christ. If we would see what God intends for the created order, we discover that it is bound up with our humanity and, therefore, revealed in Christ. While the temptation in preaching will be strong to proceed directly from, say, the godly Israelite to the contemporary believer, this method will inevitably produce distortions in the way we understand the text. While, no doubt, the direct approach will produce nice thoughts and, to a limited extent, even edifying ones, we simply cannot afford to ignore the words of Jesus that the Scriptures testify to him. I say again, if this be the case, then the Scriptures only testify to us insofar as we are in him. Of course this means that the Scriptures also make clear what it means for us to be outside of Christ. However, even that negative aspect can only be understood in light of God’s answer to the problem… If [Jesus] is the living Word of God, the truth, and the one for whom all things were made, no fact in this universe can be truly understood for its ultimate significance apart from him. This must include our understanding of the Bible. The correct approach proceeds through the biblical structures that inevitably lead us to Christ before they lead to the hearer.

I have quoted Goldsworthy at length because he so accurately makes the point. Preaching is intended to connect us with God, our humanity, and our role in the cosmos. All three of these find their climax in Christ. No other person, a godly Israelite included, can lift that burden the way that Christ does. Furthermore, Jesus has told us plainly that the Scriptures testify about Him and therefore they can only be about us if we are found in Him. Finally, as The Word of God, Jesus alone makes sense of all reality, including a right understanding of the Bible. To circumvent Jesus in our sermons, therefore, is to empty out our preaching.

This very simple model – that we apply every preaching text to Jesus and then discover its impact on us – ensures that Jesus is the focus and filter of Christian preaching. There is no other way to ensure that a sermon articulates the deepest meaning of the Scriptures.

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