Him We Proclaim: Defending Apostolic Homiletics (Part 2)
Dennis E. Johnson
2. Because Christ is the overarching theme of Israel’s Scriptures, as well as the New Testament, we want our preaching to do for Jesus what God intends the Bible to do for Jesus: namely, to direct faith to him as the only mediator between God and man.
Luke 24 describes Bible studies that the risen Lord Jesus conducted with his closest disciples in the aftermath of his resurrection. The two encounters that we read in that chapter—first the conversation between two disciples traveling to Emmaus and the as-yet-unrecognized Jesus, and later his instruction of the assembled apostles in Jerusalem—form the “hinge” between Luke’s “volume one” (which we call his Gospel) and Luke’s “volume two” (the Book of Acts). Here is the climax of “all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day he was taken up” to heaven (as Luke describes it in the first verses of Acts). These post-resurrection, pre-ascension Bible studies provide the hermeneutical foundation for the life-transforming preaching that we hear in the Book of Acts. Listen to the relevant sentences in verses 25-27, and then verses 44-49:
Luke 24:25-27: [Jesus to two disciples en route to Emmaus:] “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer and enter into his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.
Luke 24:44-49: [Later, in Jerusalem, to a larger group of disciples:] “Everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus is it written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”
Notice the span of the Old Testament canon to which Jesus directed the disciples’ attention: To the two on the road to Emmaus, Jesus expounds Moses (Genesis through Deuteronomy) and all the Prophets—in the Hebrew Scriptures, “the Prophets” include the historical books: not only Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the minor prophets, but also the historical books of Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings. Later, to the larger group, Jesus interprets the things about himself not only in the Law of Moses and the Prophets, but also in the Psalms—the first book in the third division of the Hebrew canon, the “Writings,” inclusive of the wisdom literature and other assorted documents. So Luke’s summary seems to be a shorthand way of referring to the whole Old Testament: “Genesis to Malachi,” as we would say today.
Also notice (in vv. 45-49) the spectrum of themes in Christ’s redemptive work that Jesus showed his friends from the Old Testament: his suffering, his resurrection, the preaching of repentance and forgiveness in his name to all nations, the role of the apostles as witnesses, and the Father’s promise of power from on high—fulfilled, we see in Acts, in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost. To preach Christ from all the Scriptures is by no means to strum a one-string guitar! It is to show how the many-faceted grace of God radiates in all directions from the beloved eternal Son who became the well-pleasing incarnate Son, was rejected as the curse-bearing Son for others, and now lives and rules as the exalted Son—whose kingdom is expanding to embrace all nations “to the end of the earth.”
Luke 24 does not stand alone as evidence that Jesus and his followers understood the whole Old Testament as pointing to him. In John’s Gospel, for example, we read that Jesus told the experts in the Law of Moses: “If you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?” (John 5:46-47).
First Peter 1:10-12 also speaks of “the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories” as the message announced by the Spirit of Christ through Israel’s prophets.
And to such explicit statements we can add the implicit signals sent by the New Testament’s citations of Old Testament passages as fulfilled in Christ, conveying the message that Christ is the last Adam, seed of Abraham, true Israel, radiant display of divine glory, bread from heaven, water-source in a barren desert, shepherd-king, son of David, fruit-bearing vine, final temple, and so on.
If we intend to expound God’s Word in line with his purpose for giving it, then we will make sure that we are pointing out to our hearers in our congregations how the whole Bible is the Holy Spirit’s bearing witness to Jesus the Son of God and his mission of rescue and redemption—so the Father, Son, and Spirit receive all glory in our preaching and in our hearers’ response to it.
Third argument next Wednesday!