I love preaching. No, read that again: I love preaching. It is one of the highlights of my week, along with spending time among family and friends. Actually, I love everything that goes along with preaching. I love digging into the text. I love searching my heart when considering the implications of the text. I love prayerfully asking the Father to help me as I study and prepare. And I love, love, love preaching. Of course, my love for this is not because I enjoy public speaking. I don’t. What I do love is preaching Christ!
Thus, I encourage you to consider preaching Christ through the Old Testament. You see, I find it much easier to preach Christ in the New Testament than when preaching through texts in the Old. The Old Testament often seems foreign and even treacherous! Don’t misunderstand me, I love the Old Testament. But it can often be a bit more difficult to bring out Christ as well as often difficult to interpret and apply!
Thankfully I have found some fantastic resources in the past few years, and perhaps the most helpful has been Preaching The Old Testament, edited by Scott M. Gibson. The book is more or less dedicated to Dr. Walter C. Kaiser Jr. who has obviously provided some extremely helpful works as well, but I’ve been deeply blessed by the essays edited by Gibson. In fact, I’d like to share several points that Robert E. Coleman expresses in his essay, “Preaching the Old Testament Evangelistically.”
The question comes down to, “How can we preach Christ when preaching through the Old Testament?” It is not difficult to preach Christ when we’re going through Isaiah 53 or Psalm 2 or even through the historical narrative of Abraham offering Isaac (Gen. 22). Actually, preaching Christ through much of the OT is not as difficult as I might have made it sound. But there are certainly very large sections of Scripture that often raise problems for the concerned expositor. I’m inclined to believe that having a healthy understanding of the Gospel of Matthew and a healthy understanding of Hebrews in light of the Old Testament will help quite a bit, since both rely heavily on the Old Testament. And yet, even after having a strong grasp on these two NT books, one may find large sections of the Minor 0r Major Prophets to be exhaustively difficult to “find Christ.” At least, on the surface.
Thus, as I read Coleman’s essay, I find some excellent suggestions that I’ve kind of “pulled out” from his thoughts in regards to preaching Christ in the Old Testament:
(1) Realize that Christ is everywhere in the OT. Coleman states that, “to make a sermon without Christ would be like trying to make bread rise without yeast.” Spurgeon said, “Preach Christ, always and everywhere. He is the whole gospel” and “I’d rather find Christ where He isn’t than miss Christ where He is.” The point is that Jesus Himself said, “These are the Scriptures (referring to the OT) that testify about me” (John 5:39). Luke actually states that “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, [Jesus] explained to [the Disciples] what was said in all of the Scriptures concerning Himself” (Luke 24:27).
If we aptly understand that Christ is everywhere in the OT, perhaps we will not be so loathe to work hard to find Him. At least, that is my assumption. Yet, how can a preacher/teacher find Christ? What methods are to be used?
(2) Note the historical progression of God’s redemptive plan/acts through history. One can easily begin at Creation and walk through the Noahic, Abrahamic, and Davidic Covenants while paying special attention to God’s dealing with Israel and end up at Christ, the ultimate fulfillment of every promise of God. From Christ, one steps towards the Spirit empowered Church and the final hope, Christ’s return and the New Creation. Every Old Testament text fits into the historical progression of God’s plan and activities. Make note of them and tie it together!
(3) Note the promise and fulfillment in the text. For instance, the OT is full of promises and covenants that are fullfilled in Christ. Mine the text, find the promise, and preach the fulfillment!
(4) Note the typology, analogy, allusion, or contrast. These are actually some of my favorite ways and currently the best way in which I understand the New Testament’s use of the Old Testament (cf. The Right Doctrine from the Wrong Text? Essays on the Use of the Old Testament in the New). Coleman, referring to Greidanus’ Preaching Christ from the Old Testament, gives the following brief explanation:
“Typology offers another method, moving from a type in an Old Testament passage to the anti-type in Christ. Or one can go the way of analogy, showing the relationship between God’s message for Israel and Christ’s message to the church. The longitudinal method traces a theme of the Old Testament to Christ in the New Testament. A different method can take a New Testament quote, which cites or alludes to an Old Testament passage linking it to Christ. A final way is to show the contrast that Jesus has brought to an Old Testament passage.” (pp. 187-8)
As you can see, this last piece of advice includes several methods. But as Coleman says, “the idea is to select the method that brings out the most compelling witness.” I agree. Prayerfully determine how your listeners will be impacted by the Scriptures, yet also know that the Holy Spirit is at work.
Clarification: It’s probably extremely important that I make a clarifying statement here. These methods are not to be used to ignore the authorial intent of the passage in question. They are not so much concerned with exegesis as they are with interpretation and application. So do not take license to manipulate the text to the point that it is no longer recognizable to the biblical author. But do use the text to highlight God’s redemptive acts fulfilled in Christ by connecting the dots.
Hopefully this is helpful. The wonderful truth is that this is applicable for every Christian because in some way you should be sharing Christ (your actions actually are, regardless of whether you know it or not). In other words, don’t hesitate to answer questions from the OT. And preachers, there is a vast depth to be found in the OT and I have found it to be difficult and overwhelming but well worth the hard work to preach through.
Preach Christ. At all times, preach Christ.
Luke, have you ever listened to Tim Keller and Ed Clowney’s lectures on preahcing Christo-centrically? I have the MP3’s somewhere…but they give a lot of guidance in how to preach Christ from the various OT genres.
Great stuff! (your stuff and theirs)
Point number one is great because the more that I read the Old Testament the more I see Christ and how He really does complete all off God’s promises. Thanx.
wht books would you recommend to help me understnd the old testament better? some of it is easy but some is really hard. is there a old testament for dummies bok?
i get confused when i read anything besides the gospels or acts and part of exodus and some psalms. i’d like to read ezekiel or something. help!
Mr. or Mrs. iamlegend,
Getting me started on a list of books is a bad idea. 🙂
But I think one of the best introductory books that you could purchase on the Bible would be David Pawson’s Unlocking the Bible Omnibus. You can find it on Amazon fairly easy.
Pawson is extremely good for his insights into the historical background and cultural significance of the text. I don’t always agree with his theology (he’s Arminian) but I have enough in common with him that I can get past that (he’s a Classic Premillennialist and Charismatic and Baptistic). So, get it. It’s fantastic.
It’d be a great starting point and from there you can move onto the bigger stuff, though Pawson is NOT to be considered “weak” in any sense of the word. There is an enormous amount of help in this book. I use it all the time.
luke, i’m a dude. thanks for the recommend. i’ll pik it up.
You might have entitled this “Four Principles to Finding Christ in the Old Testament” since not all of us are regulars in the pulpit :). Nonetheless, a good summary of some great thoughts! It is extremely beneficial that we are able to find/see/preach Christ from the OT. I would even say it is fundamental, because of Jesus’ statement that the OT testifies of Himself. That is to say if we do not understand the OT in light of Christ then we actually misunderstand it.
It does require some mental discipline to read in such a way that you are also searching for Christ. However, it is well worth the reward of gaining glimpses of the continuity of God’s plan from the beginning and throughout His interaction with man.
Ah, yes, and this is applicable to one element of what I’m talking about in secondary illuminations. I’d be curious to know someday how much some of the stuff I see in the OT is stuff you would categorize this way and accept and how much of it is “whoa… out there.”
That’s why I think terms need to be defined 🙂 Typology and Christological/Redemptive readings are pretty typical within the Reformed stream of evangelicalism…