cross country to christ

As a preacher the other challenge I have given myself in 2008 relates to a series in my home church at Mt Roskill Baptist. Given the prevailing discomfort which people have with the Old Testament, I determined to preach a series in which I used an entire OT book as the text for the sermon. But here was the challenge: I wanted to get cross-country to Jesus at the end of each sermon and do it in a different way each time.

With Exodus...
I focused on God as the hero of the story (designing a destiny, appointing leadership, freeing people to worship, guiding and providing, making contracts ...) and then I used Exodus 33:12-23 as my bridge passage and the God who refuses to reveal his glory to Moses. This refusal was lifted in John 1:14 where we discover the truth-full and grace-full Jesus to be the revelation of that glory of God. John 1:14 becomes a 'table of contents' for a Gospel in which we discover Jesus to be designing destinies, appointing leaders, freeing people to worship, guiding and providing and making contracts with people ... John as fulfilment of Exodus?

With the Psalms of Ascent...
I plunged the depths of the emotion in which virtually every psalm is borne: lying, fear, hatred, anger, despair, injustice, guilt, pride... And then how - still deeper than this emotion, at bedrock - we find the living and active God: protecting, showing mercy, helping, restoring, judging, forgiving, stilling... Then my bridge passage was Luke 24:13-35 where despairing hearts make way for burning hearts because minds (not hearts!) gain a deeper understanding of the Jesus revealed in their Bible.

With Amos...
The God of Justice is every bit as important as the God of Mercy. The searing judgements on the people of God are heard, particularly as they came through the images of the plumbline, the basket of ripe fruit, the sieve - just before being arrested by that merciful Amos 9:8b ("yet I will not totally destroy...") and the images of hope which then take over: the tent and the vineyard. Then I crossed over to another image, the image of the cross: the cross "where heaven's love and heaven's justice meet." My bridge passage? Acts 15 and the way James uses Amos' tent to resolve the biggest crisis the church has ever faced: do Gentiles have to become Jews on their way to becoming Christians? I am still reeling from the revelation that in the climax of a book with such judgement is found the passage that provided the rationale which enables me to be part of the people of God because of the cross.

With Ecclesiastes...
Here we find some pre-evangelism. I like to focus on the three-fold refrain which repeats and which exposes life for so many even today: (a) it is smoke-like ("vanity"): there is nothing left IN it; (b) there is no gain: there is nothing left OVER from it; (c) it is "under the sun": there is Someone left OUT OF it. The writer exposes such a life on the way to providing an alternative in living in the fear of God. Ecclesiastes 11 becomes his climactic response stacked as it is with imperatives ... while also serving as a bridge passage which opens the way to hear John 10:10 in such a fresh way: "I have come that you may have life and have it to the full", thereby undermining (a),(b), and (c).

With Nehemiah...
We find ourselves in the final story of the OT, a story of renewal with seasons of sowing (ch1&2) and nurturing (ch2&3) and weeding (ch4&6) and pruning (ch5) and blossoming (ch7&8) and ripening (ch9-12) as a people are re-established in Jerusalem as the worshipping and consecrated people of God. BUT there is a 13 - a chapter 13. It is the bridge passage. Here is yet another season of withering as the people fail yet again. As the curtain falls on the OT, the orchestra in the pit starts playing "There is a redeemer" as the Jesus of Hebrews - the "once for all", the "better", and the "how much more" Jesus is anticipated and able to deal decisively with this endemic sin-problem.

With Malachi...
The debate between God and his people is heated and even sarcastic. It is disturbing. After their long history with God the people do not seem to have a handle on his love, his worship, their promises, his judgments, his blessing - or their own service of Him. It is a mess. But the 'Day of the Lord is coming' when the mess will be sorted out. But thankfully - and graciously - before that Day, the prophet will come (4:5). Here is the bridge passage with the prophet being John the Baptist, most famously known as the one who prepared the way for Jesus. The salvation found in this Jesus enables us to prepare for 'the Day' with far greater assurance and even excitement.

nice chatting

Paul Windsor


Mark Maffey said…
Hi Paul

Another book which cries out for examination is Judges. As you know one of my favourite characters is Samson. The whole of Judges shows the spiral of disobedience as a people get further and further away from God. Samson shows what happens when we grieve the Spirit, which is bridged when the Apostle Paul talks about the unforgivable Sin being grieving the Spirit.

Like you Nehemiah is a favourite book and I am pondering a series either preaching or for home group studies, there is so much we can learn from this and other O T books
Thanks for sharing that Paul, looks like a great series. Having spent the last year wrestling with reading/preaching the OT as a Christian I'd be interested to know if you believe every OT sermon should somehow wind up focussed on Jesus or not? Which is obviously something you set out to do quite deliberately here.
Paul said…
Yes, Mark - Judges demands attention but I think the next one I might have a crack at is Deuteronomy.

And Jonathan, your question is a 'live' issue in preaching classes from year to year. I went for OT books 'all in one go' this year partly because finding a path cross-country to Christ is actually relatively straightforward and needs to be done to save the sermon from being a mere synagogue sermon.

However I confess that I still wrestle with much smaller chunks of the OT where I want to get to Jesus but I can't see how I can without improbable gymnastics being performed - individual psalms, for example.

One option is to place every single OT sermon within a sort-of biblical theology framework (some variation of the good, the bad, the new, the perfect - for example) which always provides a pathway to Jesus. I have a growing sympathy with this approach but the deal has not been clinched yet! The other option - by default - is just to avoid such OT passages. I don't like the way so many people supposedly committed to the Scriptures stumble into this latter option.

Is there a place for theocentric wisdom that is not explicitly christocentrically focused? I bet if I had been on the Emmaus Rd I'd probably say "no"!
Paul said…
Further on the Christ-centred nature of OT preaching ... I was rereading an assignment from a student and found myself agreeing with this sentence (Thanks Tim):
"I am becoming convinced that every sermon should get to Jesus and, if Jesus needs to be crow-barred in, then the passage is too short."
Anonymous said…
I've done a 6 week series on Deuteronomy this year - cos the book opens up issues including gospel/culture; economics; environmental.

Hard, hard work, though. When you get to "what about the canaanites" you sit there thinking, is this really what people should be hearing on a Sunday morning?

Last year I did 12 weeks on the minor prophets. A highlight was offering an afternoon extra, in which we simply read the prophet aloud from start to finish. some took 5 mins, other's an hour, but it was fascinating way to engage scripture.

i've found Christopher Wright's missional frameworks helpful re Christ - to provides a way for each narrative to stand alone, but also a jesus-redemptive backdrop,

Paul said…
After a spectacular performance of The Messiah by Auckland Choral, I reckon Isaiah-all-in-one-go would be a challenge woerth undertaking.

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