“I take my text and make a bee-line to the cross.” – Charles Spurgeon
My entire approach to preaching was revolutionized about three years ago when I read Tony Merida’s short book entitled Proclaiming Jesus: Christ-centered Teaching and Preaching. I couldn’t escape Merida’s challenge: “To make the hero of the Bible (Jesus), the hero of every message you prepare.”
Jesus must be the hero of every sermon.
This insight started a journey for me in which I began reading everything I could get my hands on to find out what Christ-centered preaching looked like. Of the many books I read and sermons I heard, it was a children’s book of all things that really demonstrated what it looked like to point people to Jesus in every message. I started reading Sally Lloyd-Jones’ The Jesus Storybook Bible to my children during our devotional time. In the process, it began to nourish my soul as I saw Christ-centered Biblical interpretation modeled.
Knowing it needs to be done and seeing it modeled are necessary but not sufficient. The question I had yet to answer was, how do I do this myself? I mean, practically speaking, what does it look like to preach a text and point people to Jesus while faithfully handling the authorial intent of the text itself? Part of the answer, I discovered, was realizing that the intent of the Divine Author is that every text points to Jesus. Therefore, there is not a dichotomy between discovering the original intent of the text and the Christocentric focus of the text – those two tasks are one and the same. That is, the road of true Biblical exegesis will always arrive at the destination of a Jesus-centered sermon. There’s a sense in which we read the Bible left to right. There’s another sense in which we read it right to left.
So how do we get there? In my sermon preparation process, I have found several questions to be helpful in discovering the Christ-focus of every text:
Where does this passage fit in redemptive history?
There is an overarching story in Scripture: Creation, Rebellion, Rescue, and Restoration. As a loving Ruler, God created all things for His glory and our good. Mankind rebelled against God’s rule, incurring His rightful judgment. God, in love, sent Jesus to rescue His broken creation by dying to receive the penalty of God’s judgment for sinful humans in our place on the cross. By rising from the dead, Jesus began the restoration of all things, which ultimately will be consummated in His return and the inauguration of the New Heavens and New Earth.
As you approach any text, ask, “Where on the timeline of the story does this passage occur?” If you are dealing with the giving of the law in Exodus, you will need to explain how God’s people were to live under His rule during that period of redemptive history. Then, take your people to a passage like Hebrews 12 where Sinai and Zion are contrasted and teach your people how we are in a different period of redemptive history and relate to God differently because of Christ’s work on the cross.
Is there a point of comparison or contrast?
If you come to a character in the text, you can ask, “How is this person similar or dissimilar to Jesus?” As you walk through the Old Testament, there are many hero-figures, but they are all flawed in some way. In that sense, they all point us to Jesus. Moses is like Jesus in some ways, but Jesus is a greater Moses. David is like Jesus in some ways, but Jesus is a greater David.
If you are preaching the Song of Solomon, there are clear comparisons to Christ throughout the text. A king invites an unworthy woman to come from outside in the field to dine with him in the house under a banner of acceptance and love. There are clear comparisons between Solomon and Jesus. There are also clear contrasts. Solomon was a very flawed “hero.” Jesus is better than Solomon. As you preach, show your people the points of comparison and contrast between the “heroes” and the “Hero.”
Is there an explicit or implicit reference to Christ in the text?
Sometimes the easiest way to develop a Christ-centered sermon is when there is an explicit reference to Christ in the text. For instance, Psalm 2 is a Messianic psalm with clear reference points to Jesus in the New Testament. The early church quoted Psalm 2 explicitly in Acts 4:25-28 in reference to Jesus. If the earliest believers interpreted Psalm 2 Christo-centrically, then if we don’t mention Jesus when teaching Psalm 2, we are not being faithful to the text.
There are many Old Testament quotations and illusions in the New Testament. If the New Testament quotes an Old Testament passage in relation to Jesus (right to left), we must teach that Old Testament text with Christ as the focus (left to right).
Is there a type or foreshadowing in the text?
Typology can be very tricky. The danger is in overanalyzing or seeing types everywhere in the Old Testament, or in allegorizing the Old Testament. Yet, there are many legitimate pictures in the Old Testament that foreshadow Christ. Some of these are explicitly drawn out in the New Testament, such as the contrast between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant in Hebrews 9-10. The author of Hebrews refers to the “shadow” in the Old Covenant and the “realities” that are in the New Covenant.
Here are some other types in Scripture:
The Ark, a rescue ship that saves a few in the midst of the storm of God’s judgment, foreshadows Christ who shields us from God’s wrath.
The Passover, where God passes over His people whose homes are marked by the blood of a sacrificial lamb, foreshadows Christ who would shed His blood so that God’s judgment would pass over those who are hidden in Christ.
The Exodus, where God delivers His people from bondage to Egypt by the hand of a deliverer, foreshadows a new Exodus, where God delivers His people from bondage to sin by the hand of the Deliverer who rescues us from the kingdom of darkness and transfers us to another kingdom.
Many Old Testament people and events foreshadow what Jesus would eventually do. Making Jesus the hero of every sermon means that we have to train ourselves to see how the Divine Author of Scripture was pointing to Christ throughout the canon. Just like the prisoners in Plato’s analogy of the cave could only see the murky shadows on the wall, sometimes it is difficult to see Christ. But if we can turn around and see the flames, we can glimpse the reality that the shadows merely reflect.
Is there a promise fulfilled?
One way of reading the Bible is by seeing a repeated pattern of promise/fulfillment. Not to oversimplify it, but you might even think about the Old Testament as one big promise and the New Testament as one big fulfillment.
There are many promises God makes to His people in the Old Testament that are fulfilled in Christ. Here are some examples:
God promised the serpent in the garden that a descendant of Eve would one day crush his head, even though the serpent would bruise His heel (Genesis 3:15).
God promised Abraham that in his seed all the nations would be blessed (Genesis 12:1-3; 22:15-18).
God promised David that one of his descendants would rule on the throne forever (2 Samuel 7:13).
Who fulfilled these promises? Jesus!