Summary: Preaching Christ

The whole Bible is about Jesus. When we preach the Bible, therefore, our first movement from any preaching text must always be toward Christ. When we skip this crucial step, applying passages directly to ourselves without first applying them to Jesus, then we have usurped the centre of Scripture, which belongs uniquely to Jesus. And, it is no small error to put ourselves in the place of Christ.

Each section of the Bible presents its own challenges in this regard. The road to Jesus is slightly different depending on which section of the Bible the preaching text is from. What remains important regardless of preaching text, however, is that our application always begins with Jesus, not with ourselves.

In the Old Testament we can apply the preaching text to Jesus by charting redemptive-historical progression through history and revelation, identifying prophesies of promise and fulfillment, describing typological pictures of Christ, highlighting analogies between God and Israel with Jesus and the Church, tracing longitudinal themes through the whole of Salvation History, contrasting the Old Covenant from the New Covenant, and exploring New Testament references to the Old Testament. In the Gospels we must ensure that we are constantly illuminating the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus as our hope and our example. The book of Acts reminds us that Jesus is still very much present by the Holy Spirit in the activity of the Church. Both orthodoxy and orthopraxy as found in the epistles must be firmly built on the foundation of Christ. And finally, Revelation is a fearfully awesome unveiling of the risen and glorified Jesus Christ, both in this age and the age to come.

Does this mean that the Bible is to have no impact on us? Absolutely not! There is no book that will impact us greater than the Bible. Just because the Bible is not about us does not mean that it is not for us. The Bible is for us and it makes an eternal impact on our lives.

Preaching the Book of Revelation

The book of Revelation begins: “The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show to His servants the things that must soon take place” (Rev 1:1). Jesus is both the object of Revelation, that is the one being revealed, and the agent of Revelation, that is the one who does the revealing.[1] Throughout the book we see profound portraits of Christ, which help us to more fully understand who He is. The glorified Christ, of whom Peter, James, and John, saw a glimpse on the mountain of Transfiguration, is uncovered for us in awesome power and glory. Even the sections of Revelation that seem to be about others ultimately teach us something about Jesus. For, it is Jesus who is in control of history. He is the One who is worthy to open the seals and to bring this age to its alarming conclusion. He is the One who defeats the anti-christ, the false prophet, and that ancient serpent, the devil. He is the One who throws them into the Lake of Fire. He is the One who has authority over Death, Hades, Heaven, and Hell. He is the climactic Judge at the Great White throne. He is the One who is worthy of honour and glory and power forever and ever. If anyone other than Jesus becomes the main subject of Revelation then the preacher has missed the mark.

[1] Johnson (Discipleship, 14) writes: “‘The Revelation of Jesus Christ’: The title is ‘The Lifting of the Cover, the Pulling Back of the Curtain, The Opening Up, The Breaking Through of Jesus Christ.’ The title of the book is ‘The Revelation of Jesus Christ by Jesus Christ about Jesus Christ.’”

Preaching the Epistles

The epistles of the New Testament provide commentary on the Gospels. They articulate the doctrine and practice of the Church based on the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ as the fulfillment of Old Testament Scriptures. It is therefore impossible to remove Jesus from the epistles.[1]

It is easiest to apply the doctrine of the epistles to Jesus because they clearly speak about Him. There are a great many doctrinal passages, however, that directly address human beings rather than God. For example, sin is a human problem. God does not sin, which means that Jesus, who is fully God, does not sin. If Jesus does not sin, then how is the preacher supposed to apply passages about sin to Jesus? First, humanity’s sin problem is the reason for Jesus’ Incarnation. Therefore, a passage like Romans 3:9-20, which declares that no human being is righteous, provides the preacher with the awesome task of expounding the reason for and achievement of the sinless life and sacrificial death of Jesus. This is precisely what Paul proceeds to do in Romans 3:21-31.

Any doctrine about humanity must be applied to Jesus because Jesus Himself is human. Therefore, the similarities and differences between fallen humanity and Jesus need to be explored by the preacher. For example, Paul contrasts Adam as a type of Christ in Romans 5:12-21. According to these verses, human beings fall into one of two categories. Each person is either in-Adam or in-Christ.

Whatever the doctrine, it finds is fullest expression in a right understanding of Jesus. There is no doctrine that can stand outside of Christ, and therefore all doctrine must be applied to and through Jesus.

The more challenging parts of the epistles to apply to Jesus are the passages concerning the practice of the Church. These passages directly exhort believers to behave in a certain way. Similar to Jesus’ teaching in the Gospels, any exhortation to the Church in Scripture is an exhortation from Christ calling the Church to be like Christ. Therefore, anything asked of the Church has been perfectly exemplified by Jesus. Providing the congregation with an example from Christ’s life will strengthen the preacher’s message. Secondly, the ability to obey Christ’s commands is only possible because of the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. The congregation must be continually taken to the Cross and reminded of the Spirit’s ministry in their lives in order to avoid moralistic works based sermons.

The epistles fall apart if preached apart from Jesus. Both the doctrine and practice of the Church, which is found in the epistles, must be built on a strong foundation, which is Christ. Remove the foundation and the whole structure collapses.[2]

[1] Clowney, All of Scripture, 49-50.

[2] For more on preaching Christ from the epistles read: Greidanus, Modern Preacher, chapter 12.

Preaching the Book of Acts

Acts begins with the ascension of Jesus into heaven. Unlike the Gospels, therefore, Jesus is not front-and-centre, in an earthly sense, throughout the book. This does not mean, however that Acts is not about Jesus. Indeed, without Jesus there would be no Acts of His Apostles. He remains the foundational subject of the book, as the early Church endeavours to carry on His earthly ministry in and by the power of the Holy Spirit. Neither Peter nor Paul is the principle actor in book of Acts. Jesus alone remains the lead. This under-girding reality must be preached as the basis of every message from Acts.

Furthermore, Jesus must be preached as the active leader of the Church, the head of the body. Whatever the Church does, Jesus is doing. Whenever the Church is being persecuted, Jesus is being persecuted. Wherever the apostles go, there goes Christ. By the measure the Church grows, so grows the reign of Christ in the hearts of men and women. Acts provides preachers with the tremendous opportunity to preach the presence of Jesus in the world today through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and the activity of the Church. To separate Jesus from the Church is to decapitate the Church. Therefore, to preach the Church must always be to preach Christ.[1] This may not be self-evident for the congregation and therefore it falls to the preacher to underscore this profound reality at every turn.

[1] Clowney, All of Scripture, 56-57.

Preaching the Gospels

Jesus is the main subject of each of the four Gospels. Therefore, the art of applying Gospel passages to Jesus is a relatively easy one. Nevertheless, there remain a couple of tricky exceptions, such as applying Jesus’ own teaching to Jesus and applying Old Testament concepts in the Gospels to Jesus.

Sometimes Jesus is directly teaching about Himself and sometimes Jesus is exhorting His hearers to behave in a certain way. Distinguishing when Jesus is teaching about Himself and when He is exhorting others is a very important first step. For example, Jesus is teaching about Himself, His ministry, and the Kingdom of God in Mark 4. In passages like Mark 4, it is important to help the congregation to see that the primary focus of the teaching is Jesus, not the congregation. When this is well accomplished, the task of applying the text to Jesus is successfully completed.

On the other hand, for much of Matthew 5-7, Jesus is exhorting His hearers. In passages like Matthew 5-7 there is a necessary step that often feels unnatural. That is, the preacher must first apply Jesus’ own teaching to Jesus Himself. For example, it is instructive to demonstrate for the congregation that Jesus perfectly exemplifies all that He is teaching to others. Where possible, it is helpful to point to actual places in the Gospel where Jesus illustrates the point He is teaching by the way in which He lives His life.

For example, Matthew 5:38-39, which instructs us not to retaliate, is perfectly fulfilled in Jesus on the Cross in Matthew 27. Once Jesus’ teaching is applied directly to Jesus, then the congregation can be exhorted both to do as Jesus commands and to do as Jesus does. This strengthens the overall message and ensures that we are consistent in our application of Scripture.

The other delicate point about applying the Gospels to Jesus, which is more challenging than the first, is identifying and applying Old Testament concepts to Jesus. Much of this work should be accomplished during the contextualization process. Nevertheless, it is important to mention this at this juncture also. It is not uncommon for Gospel passages to be nonsensical unless first rooted in the Old Testament. In these instances, the preacher must take the Gospel text, root it in the appropriate Old Testament text, and then reapply the passage to Jesus.

For example, in John 8:58 Jesus says to the Jews: “Before Abraham was, I Am.” The first step is to root this statement in Exodus 3:14 where God says to Moses from the bush: “I Am who I Am… say this to the people of Israel, ‘I Am has sent me to you.’” The second step is to clearly show that God’s self-revealed divine Name is ‘I Am.’ The third step is to then apply this knowledge to John 8:58 which provides the conclusion that Jesus is claiming to be God.

When we try to short-cut this process back into the Old Testament then we end up distorting what the Gospel writers are saying about Jesus. For example, if we do not take the time to understand clean and unclean legislation from Leviticus, we cannot understand Mark 7:14-23 or Luke 5:12-16, or a great many other passages.

If we cannot apply the Gospels to Jesus, then we will not be able to apply any part of the Bible to Jesus. The goal in this task is for every Gospel preaching text to focus on the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The simple act of contextualizing the text should make this an easy task.[1]

[1] For more on preaching Christ from the Gospels read: Greidanus, Modern Preacher, chapter 11.

Preaching New Testament References

The New Testament frequently quotes the Old Testament. These references are obvious opportunities for the preacher to bridge from the Old Testament to Jesus.[1] To preach New Testament references the preacher has to follow the trail already mapped out in the text. For example, Hebrews 7:17, which states: “You are a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek,” quotes Psalm 110:4, which in turn alludes to Genesis 14:18-20. The preacher, therefore, follows the text from Genesis to the Psalms to Hebrews in order to explain that Jesus is appropriately our High Priest even though (and even because.) He is not a priest in the order of Levi, but rather a priest in the order of Melchizedek. The preacher will then highlight why the order of Melchizedek is a superior order than that of Levi.

New Testament references make it easy for the preacher to connect an Old Testament passage to Jesus.

[1] Greidanus, Preaching Christ, 269.

Preaching Contrast

Contrast is identifying what is dissimilar between the Old and New Testaments on account of the discontinuity that Christ introduced by becoming a man.[1] The Incarnation absolutely changes things. By becoming a man, Jesus forever altered reality and contrast is the act of identifying these differences. Jesus captured this very idea when he said that new wine requires new wine skins (Luke 5:37-38).

To preach contrast the preacher must be able to identify the differences between reality in the Old Testament and reality in the New Testament. He must also be able to explain why this shift has occurred on account of the Incarnation. For example, Leviticus clearly outlines the categories of holy, clean, and unclean. Leviticus also describes the many ways in which a person can move from one category to another. A person or thing is profaned (moves from holy to clean) and defiled (moves from clean to unclean) by coming into contact with someone or something that is in a lower category. On the other hand, a person or thing is purified (moves from unclean to clean) and sanctified (moves from clean to holy) by external time, water, shaving, and blood rituals. Movement from one category to another is caused by something external to the person or thing that is changing categories. By contrast Jesus teaches that nothing outside a person can make him unclean (Mark 7:14-23). The categories of holy, clean, and unclean remain, but movement from one category to another has changed. Now, a person is made unclean by what comes out of his heart. Therefore, all people are in effect unclean. No longer do simple external rituals purify and sanctify either. Now, the only way to be sanctified is by grace through faith in the ultimate purifying and sanctifying ritual, which is the crucifixion of Jesus. When a person receives grace through faith then the Holy Spirit circumcises the heart (i.e. the cutting off of sin) and He indwells that person, making him or her holy from the inside (though in an experiential sense sin remains a problem). There is, therefore, a major contrast between Levitical law and the Gospel. This difference is brought about by the Incarnation of Christ, who came not to save us externally but to save us from the inside-out.

Contrast enlightens us as to why reality seems different under the Old Covenant and the New Covenant. Although there remains great continuity between the Old and the New, the first coming of Christ altered reality forever.

[1] Greidanus, Preaching Christ from the Old Testament, 224.

Preaching Longitudinal Themes

Longitudinal themes, such as human depravity, redemption by grace, and sacrificial atonement, stretch from Genesis to Revelation.[1] It is longitudinal themes that bind the Bible, both Old and New Testaments, together. Without themes that run the full breadth of Scripture it would be difficult to hold all sixty-six books together as a coherent canon. As it is, however, the very presence of these themes makes it impossible to tear the Bible apart. The uniting presence of these themes demonstrate that both Old and New Testaments work together to give us a full revelation from God.

To preach longitudinal themes the preacher must be able to trace a theme throughout Salvation History and also be able to show its apex in Christ. For example in the wake of being cursed by God Adam looks at his wife and names her Eve, which means Life. God had just pronounced death on the human race and Adam names Eve the mother of all the living (Gen 3:20). This is the beginning of the theme of salvation through childbirth (1Tim 2:15). From Eve to Mary this theme runs like a river through the middle of Salvation History. In the face of cursing and death is hope and new life until Messiah is born. Jesus confirms Adam’s statement by offering His life as a ransom for many, thus bringing many sons to glory (Heb 2:10). Eve truly is the mother of all the living because she is a mother of the Messiah, who gives life to those who receive grace by faith.

Longitudinal themes demonstrate that the Gospel is presented throughout the whole of the Bible, not only in the New Testament.

[1] Clowney, Preaching Christ in All of Scripture, 35; Greidanus, Preaching Christ from the Old Testament, 222.

Preaching Analogy

Analogy recognizes that God’s relationship with Israel in the Old Testament is akin to Christ’s relationship with the New Testament Church.[1] This does not mean that the Church has replaced or displaced Israel. However, it does emphasize the divine nature of Christ and His mission to seek and to save the lost. Just as God is the deliverer of Israel, so Jesus is the deliverer of all God’s people, both Jew and Gentile.

To preach by analogy the preacher must show how the identity and saving activity of God in the Old Testament is echoed by Jesus in the New Testament. For example, in Isaiah 54:5-8 God is called Israel’s bridegroom and Israel is called God’s bride. These verses promise that God’s anger against Israel will not persist and that He will come to redeem His people as a husband with love and compassion. In Mark 2:19 Jesus identifies Himself as the bridegroom. In order to understand what Jesus is claiming we must first appreciate the prophetic promise of God in Isaiah. If God is the bridegroom of His people and Jesus is the bridegroom of God’s people, then Jesus is God. Furthermore, Revelation 19:6-8 identifies the Church and all of the saints as the Bride of the Lamb (the Lamb being a typological epithet for Jesus). Therefore, just as God and Israel are bridegroom and bride in Isaiah, so Jesus and the all the saints are bridegroom and bride in the New Testament.

Analogy helps us to resolve the overlapping portrait of God in the Old Testament and Jesus in the New Testament. It also helps us to appreciate like principles and qualities between God’s relationship with His people in the Old Testament, which is mysteriously through Christ, and God’s relationship with His people in the New Testament, which is explicitly through Christ.

[1] Greidanus, Preaching Christ in the Old Testament, 221.

Preaching Illustration

Similar to typology, illustration identifies the recurring patterns in God’s redemptive plan. There are many instances in the Old Testament when something or someone does not fit the strict definition of a typology. Nevertheless, in that thing, person, or event a consistent pattern exists which helps to illustrate a profound truth about Jesus.

To preach illustration the preacher will use an image, event, or person to bridge to Christ. For example, although Joseph, the son of Jacob, is often preached as a typology one could argue that his life and person do not fit the parameters of a true type. Nevertheless, the life of Joseph is a powerful illustration of the Incarnation and Exaltation of Jesus as described in Philippians 2. Joseph was the favoured son of Jacob, before he was thrown into a well, sold into slavery, and falsely accused and sentenced to jail. Though innocent and obedient, Joseph found himself set low. However, having properly interpreted dreams for the baker and cup bearer of Pharaoh, Joseph was ultimately exalted out of prison when he demystified the dream of Pharaoh himself. Having been condemned to death in prison, Joseph was then given a name above all names in all of Egypt, with the exception of Pharaoh. Seeking food, and in fulfillment of Joseph’s own adolescent dream, his brothers came to his court and bowed their knees, confessing that Joseph was lord over them. This may not be a type, but it is a clever illustration of the pattern of Jesus’ Incarnation according to Philippians 2. For, though Jesus was in the form of God, He did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Chris is Lord to the glory of God the Father (Phil 2:6-11). The preacher can use the life of Joseph as an illustration in order to exhort the congregation to have this same mind among themselves, which is theirs in Christ Jesus.

Illustration invites us to preach powerful patterns that exist in the Bible that may not be strict types. Of course great care must be taken not to bend illustrations too far. Nevertheless, illustration remains an effective tool in the kit of an able preacher.

Preaching Typology

Typology highlights the patterns that God uses throughout Salvation History to provide context for our understanding of the identity and mission of Jesus. Typology understands that the Old Testament serves as a set of blueprints for understanding the Gospel of Christ. Blueprints represent the real but are not the real. They are a model, a representation, which helps us to understand the real. Before a building exists the blueprints are the closest things we have to the real building. Once the building is built, the blueprints are no longer the closest representation of the reality they describe. The building is. So it is with Christ. Typology uses the patterns of the Old Testament as a guide to understanding the reality of Jesus.

Whereas allegories are dangerous because they leverage superficial similarities, types are beneficial because they seek out the deep theological connection. An allegorical reading of the Bible will impregnate the text with meaning that is arbitrary and needlessly creative. For example, the five smooth stones that David picks up to slay Goliath in 1 Samuel 17:40 is often preached as an allegory. That is, the preacher might say that the five stones represent the five books of the Torah, or the four Gospels and Acts, or love, joy, peace, patience, and kindness. All of these allegorical readings are dangerous and not typological. Why does the text tell us that David picked up five smooth stones? Probably because that is what David did. It is unfortunate that many preachers are afraid to preach typologically because of allegorical abuses through the centuries.[1]

To preach typologically, the preacher must identify correspondence, escalation, and theocentricity in both the type and anti-type.[2] Correspondence means there must be common elements between the type and anti-type. Escalation means that the corresponding elements must be greater, i.e. more acute, in the anti-type than in the type. And theocentricity means that both type and anti-type must represent a similar aspect of God’s redemptive activity.[3] The Passover lamb is a good example of typology. As a type, the Passover lamb corresponds to Jesus, the anti-type, because both are slaughtered as a sacrifice of deliverance. The crucifixion of Jesus is an escalation of the slaughter of the Passover lamb by the very fact that Jesus is not an animal but is both human and divine. Moreover, the crucifixion of Jesus is once-for-all and is sufficient for all people who believe. Neither of those statements is true of the type. This typology is theocentric because both the lamb and Jesus are killed so that the wrath of God might pass over those who apply the blood appropriately.

Typology informs our understanding of both the identity and mission of Jesus by providing us with shadows, pictures, and object lessons for Christ in the Old Testament.[4]

[1] Goldsworthy, Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture, 110.

[2] Clowney, Preaching Christ in All of Scripture, 30-31; Greidanus, Preaching Christ From the Old Testament, 218-219.

[3] Greidanus, Preaching Christ From the Old Testament, 219.

[4] Clowney (Preaching Christ in All of Scripture, 31) provides a strong and convincing counter to those who would argue that only types identified in the New Testament should be identified and preached: “Warned by the arbitrary allegorizing of Origen, Reformed expositors have often shied away from typology. My own seminary teacher instructed us to recognize as types in the Old Testament only those things that are identified as types in the New Testament. That is certainly a safe rule. If the New Testament specifies something as a type, we may so interpret it. But that is a little like saying that you can find solutions to math problems only by looking in the back of the book, since you haven’t a clue as to how to work the problems. To conclude that we can never see a type where the New Testament does not identify it is to confess hermeneutical bankruptcy. We know that New Testament writers did find types, but we confess that we cannot learn how they did it.”

Preaching Promise-Fulfillment

Promise-fulfillment identifies Jesus as the ultimate fulfillment of the promises made by God through His prophets. While it is true that there are normally multiple fulfillments to the promises of the prophets, some being nearly immediate, the ultimate fulfillment of the promise is realized in Christ.

Preaching promise-fulfillment requires the preacher to identify a prophetic promise, make mention of the partial fulfillments in Salvation History, and then demonstrate that the ultimate fulfillment is in Christ alone. For example, in 2 Samuel 7:13 God promised David that his offspring will build a house for God’s Name and that God will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. There is an immediate partial fulfillment to this promise by Solomon, who builds the Temple and whose throne and kingdom is established by God. There is a further partial fulfillment by Zerubbabel, a descendent of David, who rebuilds the Temple during the Persian period, but whose throne and kingdom is not established by God. However, the truest fulfillment of this prophesy is Jesus, a descendent of David according to the flesh, who builds an eternal house for God (through the crucifixion and resurrection of His body) and whose throne and kingdom will be established forever. Second Samuel 7 reminds us that God knows the beginning from the end, and that He works all things together according to His will, which is the salvation of many through His Son, Jesus the Christ, a descendent of David.

Promise-fulfillment showcases the reliability and unity of Scripture while also proclaiming God as the sovereign master of history.