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Him We Proclaim: Strategies for Apostolic Homiletics (Part 1)

November 9, 2011

Dennis E. Johnson

We have talked about the “why” of following the apostles’ lead in preaching Christ from all the Scriptures:

  • His divine-human Person and saving mission are the unifying theme of Israel’s ancient Scriptures,
  • He is the focus of the apostles’ preaching as new covenant ministers,
  • Fixing our hearers’ spiritual gaze on Christ and his glory serves the Holy Spirit’s agenda to conform hearts to the image of God’s Son.

Being persuaded of the “why” is one thing; practicing the “how” is another. That is what we need to investigate now: How can we, should we, read and preach the Bible like Peter and Paul? After all, we are not apostles. We have no special inspiration of the Holy Spirit that secures our inerrancy as interpreters! From that obvious difference between them and us, some conclude that we must not employ the apostles’ interpretive methods to Old Testament texts on which they have not commented. I believe that we should draw just the opposite conclusion: Especially for those passages for which there seems to be no explicit apostolic commentary in the New Testament, wisdom and humility lead us to try to follow in the apostles’ footsteps, rather than abandoning the trails they have blazed. But again, the question is, “How?”

In his sermon on 1 Peter 2:7, “Christ Precious to Believers,” Charles Spurgeon, a master of illustration, told of a young preacher who preached in the presence of a “venerable divine,” and then asked the older pastor what he thought of the sermon. The young man was dismayed to hear it judged “a very poor sermon.” He asked if the lack was in his research, or his selection of text, or his use of argument and metaphor. No, the old preacher said each of those aspects was acceptable. Why, then, was the sermon so poor? Because “there was no Christ in it.” The young man defended himself by contending, “Christ was not in the text; we are not to be preaching Christ always, we must preach what is in the text.” But then his mentor replied:

Don’t you know, young man, that from every town, and every village, and every little hamlet in England, wherever it may be, there is a road to London?” “Yes,” said the young man. “Ah!” said the old divine, “and so from every text in Scripture, there is a road to the metropolis of the Scriptures, that is Christ. And my dear brother, your business is, when you get to a text, to say, ‘Now what is the road to Christ?’ and then preach a sermon, running along the road towards the great metropolis—Christ. And,” said he, “I have never yet found a text that had not got a road to Christ in it, and if I ever do find one that has not a road to Christ in it, I will make one; I will go over hedge and ditch but I would get at my Master, for the sermon cannot do any good unless there be a savour of Christ in it.”

Now, I confess that on occasion Brother Spurgeon’s sermons (which, I admit, were more eloquent than mine) strike me as involving hedge climbing and ditch fording, when the Spirit of God has already embedded a clearer and more convincing trail in the landscape of the Bible itself. But, after all, that is the main point of Spurgeon’s story: from every little English hamlet there really is a path, a lane, a road, a highway that leads to London. Find that route that brings you to the capital, to Christ the center of God’s redemptive plan and word.

Today we have excellent resources available to us to help us glimpse the paths that link ancient Scriptures to their fullness in Jesus the Messiah. I think of the often-ignored but invaluable cross references in the margins of our Bibles, or the carefully researched notes and indices in study Bibles and Greek New Testament editions. Or of P&R’s Gospel in the Old Testament series that had its origin in the work Westminster Seminary Professors Raymond Dillard, Tremper Longman, and Alan Groves. Or of the Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament which Professor Greg Beale edited with Dr. Donald Carson (Baker, 2007).

But these resources will not “connect the dots” for us unless we learn to think biblically about biblical interpretation and the history of redemption. We don’t just need data—the kind of data that a computer word-search program could provide. We need wisdom. We need an apostolic perspective on what the data shows. This is one implication of Luke 24’s accounts of the risen Lord’s Bible studies with his disciples: our minds need to be opened and our foolish, sluggish, unbelieving hearts need to stirred to faith, as the Scriptures are opened to us.

How can we meet Christ on every page of Scripture? My simple answer to this is that we need to pay attention to three things, just as if we were traveling through unfamiliar territory:

  1. road signs
  2. landmarks
  3. the lay of the land

Road signs next Wednesday!