Preaching Jesus in every text

I am convinced that every word of the Bible is about Jesus. The whole book, in all its several thousand years of composition history and score of different authors is a unified whole: it tells a single story, carefully crafted by the primary divine author, that not only points to Jesus but is about him every step of the way.

He wrote it, he received it, he read it growing up so he would know who he was.

I appreciate that this is a controversial statement in Jewish circles, of course it would be, and I appreciate that it is no less controversial in scholarly circles. I understand those concerns, and we should be alive to them in our reading, but if we accept that the Old Testament is Christian Scripture then we do have confess along with the vast majority of the Christian church throughout history that this is the case.

Except it often seems controversial. I’ve heard and read cautions to not find Jesus under every rock in the Old Testament. I’ve even written them myself before.

Again, I appreciate the concern: our interpretation should be tethered to the text and only find what’s actually there. I agree wholeheartedly. And the longer I spent in the Old Testament the more I think not only is Christ under every rock he is every rock.

That is overstated for effect. But not by all that much.

Preaching Christ in every text

This means that our sermons on Sundays should find Jesus in every text. Which is not that different from saying every passage of scripture proclaims the gospel and we should preaching the gospel from our text.

It’s vital that we offer Jesus each time we preach, but it’s just as vital that we preach Christ as he is in the text we have. These are the divine words, one of the ways we encounter Jesus as we gather with the church, we should meet Jesus in the text.

I sometimes see people who agree with me in principle try and do this, unfortunately in the worst cases it looks like pasting Jesus over the top of the passage. More commonly it looks like a pivot in the last five minutes to penal substitutionary atonement. Which is wonderful if that’s how the passage being preached proclaims the good news of Jesus, but we should only preach penal substitution in passages that teach it.

The gospel is the story of Christ: incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection, ascension, and gift of the Spirit. It’s not less than God standing in the way of God’s own wrath to take the punishment justly deserved for our sin, but it is more than that.

Or to approach it via a different spatial metaphor: the gospel might centre on penal substitution, but it’s much wider. It’s ok in our preaching to explore the spectrum and show our people what might look like unvisited dusty corners.

Gospel threads

In other words, in each passage we need to find the gospel narrative and pull on that thread to shape our message. By doing this we will be demonstrating how Jesus answers and fulfils everything in the world and in the scripture.

I had a go, leaning on a couple of sources (Keller’s Preaching and Wilson’s ‘The Essential Gospel’), at pulling together a list of gospel ‘threads’ that we might find in our preaching. I think I’ve covered off the major ones but will inevitably have left some out, but it’s a rule when coming up with a list of Christian stuff to stop when you’ve got seven. There’s plenty of overlap in the ones I’ve selected, but I think it’s a helpful part of preaching preparation to identify the threads you intend to pull on when shaping a message.

Ideally, we’d cover all these—and whatever important things I’ve forgotten—in our preaching over a period of time. Apologies if you’re on your phone and the table hasn’t formatted nicely:

ThemeAspect(s) of the CrossJesus redeems our
KingdomChristus Victor. Jesus defeats the demonic powers and is proclaimed as King.Fear. The enemy’s power over us has broken. Purposelessness. We have a king to give allegiance to. War. The bringer of peace declares that our warfare is ended as we love our enemies. Sickness. The resurrected king demonstrates sickness to be our enemy. Death. We proclaim the death of death in the death of Christ.
CovenantReconciliation. Jesus takes the curse for our covenant-breaking, and restores our relationship to covenant blessing.Separation. Law-breaking. Our covenant requirements are fulfilled on our behalf—as was always intended.
Home and exile. Shalom.Exile. Jesus is sent into exile for us. Peacemaker. Jesus restores the world to peace in his body. Jubilee. Jesus resurrection has inaugurated the OT time of Jubilee. We live in a new society.Meaninglessness. Our existential longing is fulfilled by being brought home. This is also the end of irrationality. Abandonment. He has provided a home for us. Poverty. By ending our greed, Jesus will end poverty. Ugliness. Beauty is returned to the world.
God’s Presence and HolinessSacrifice. Penal Substitution. Jesus takes the Genesis 3 / Hebrews 10 flaming sword for us.Alienation. Separation. We are able to enter and enjoy his presence even though he is holy.
Rest and SabbathForsaken by God. Jesus experienced the cosmic emptiness of our performance-seeking.Exhaustion. Identity. We are able to rest from the exhaustion of seeking our own identity.
Justice and judgementPenal Substitution. Judgement. Jesus is the just judge who was judged. His judgement is vindicated in the resurrection.Guilt. Our guilt for what we’ve done is gone. We receive pardon. Injustice. The world will be handled justly by the judge.
Righteousness and clothingExpiation. Jesus took our nakedness and shame on himself by being displayed on a cross. He is the scapegoat.Shame. Our shame is replaced with righteousness. We do not have to hide from others.

Beyond this more thematic approach, we find Jesus in the nitty gritty of the text. Every major character does or does not reflect Christ. That’s part of the gospel too. Every image, from wine to honey to rocks to bread to trees to tables to water, keys us into the main story and teaches us Jesus and his way. That’s part of the gospel too. Every storyline is mirrored or subverted in Jesus, and that’s part of the gospel too.

The whole story of the Bible—of God’s deliberate, ferocious intention toward his people in all of its multifaceted wonder—is the gospel. So, let’s preach it all.

Photo by Joel Muniz on Unsplash

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