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A Pastor’s Reflections: Did I Preach Christ?

July 18, 2017

VFT

The third question I ask when evaluating sermons (including my own) is whether I preached Christ organically from the biblical text. Many preachers regularly ask this question of themselves, but at the same time they’re not quite sure how to do this. Charles Spurgeon once famously stated, “I take my text and make a bee-line to the cross.” In other words, it didn’t seem to matter what the text said, Spurgeon always introduced Christ. One the one hand, this is a good desire. On the other hand, preachers must responsibly preach Christ from the Bible. You want to avoid two things in this regard: (1) failing to preach Christ, or (2) preaching a Christ shingle-sermon. The Christ shingle-sermon is where you never organically connect Christ to your sermon text, but you know you’re supposed to talk about Jesus, so you tack Christ on to the end of your message like a shingle. Or to use another metaphor, the preacher shoe-horns Christ into the sermon. This is why I regularly ask myself the question, Did I organically preach Christ from the biblical text.

I believe that all biblical texts relate in one way or another to the person and work of Christ, but determining how, precisely, is the exegetical challenge. Numerous examples of bad exegesis litter the interpretive landscape—preachers appeal to various aspects of the text and claim spurious connections to Christ. I once read a sermon where the preacher claimed that when Abraham went to sacrifice Isaac, the wood that Isaac carried for the burnt offering was a type (foreshadow) of sin. I think such claims may appeal to people because it gives the appearance of unlocking a secret portion of the Scriptures, but the problem is that such an explanation lacks sufficient biblical warrant. Are there any other passages of Scripture that liken sin to a bundle of sticks? Is there any interpretive warrant for taking every minute detail of a narrative text and assigning a specific meaning to it? If the wood was supposedly symbolic of sin, what about the mountain, the donkeys they rode, or Abraham’s servants?

The safest way to ensure that you organically preach Christ from a passage of Scripture is to follow the interpretive patterns you see in the Bible itself. For example, look at the book of Hebrews and see what it does with the various Old Testament passages it cites. The author of Hebrews makes a connection between Moses, a servant in God’s house, to Christ, the One over God’s house (Heb. 3:5). The Bible itself connects the ministries of Moses and Christ. Hebrews repeats this pattern throughout its thirteen chapters regarding the Levitical priesthood, the tabernacle, temple, the old covenant, and so forth. Another surefire way to preach Christ is to ask, Is this text before, during, or after the earthly ministry of Christ? If it’s before, for example, then the text likely points forward to Christ’s work. Sometimes a text may have a latent connection to Christ. When you read the book of Ruth, Christ does not explicitly appear, but several important factors do point to Christ—God’s continued faithfulness to his covenant promises to Abraham to bring about the birth of the descendant of Abraham, the offspring of David. The fact that Ruth’s name appears in Christ’s genealogy (Matt. 1:5) gives us a clue regarding how we can organically preach Christ from this book of the Bible.

In the end, these observations only touch upon some of the principles that ensure that you preach Christ responsibly from every text of Scripture. For a more detailed explanation of these principles, definitely read Dennis Johnson’s Him We Proclaim: Preaching Christ from All the Scriptures. It’s an excellent resource for Christ-focused preaching. Nevertheless, always ask the question, Did I preach Christ organically from the biblical text? Always strive to do so—you want always to feed your congregation with Christ, the manna from heaven.