Preaching More Than Moralism
Last week, we looked at the gospel as Scripture’s paradigm for ministry in general. Today, we are looking at the gospel as Scripture’s paradigm for preaching – for interpreting and applying God’s Word for God’s people on God’s terms.
Interpretation: Seeing Christ in all the Scriptures
We believe the gospel is not only Scripture’s paradigm for “doing ministry,” but Scripture’s paradigm for interpreting itself. As stated in my last article, you might say Scripture is God’s map to doing life His way, but you won’t be able to read the map rightly unless you have the map key, and the key to the map of Scripture is the gospel. This means that, when it comes to sermon preparation, the gospel is our paradigm for interpretation. Jesus took this approach to interpreting the Old Testament. After His resurrection, Luke tells us He met two disciples on the road to a town called Emmaus and began discussing His recent crucifixion with them. Of course, they didn’t recognize Him, and Jesus played coy regarding the execution; so, they filled Him in on the details and voiced their despair over the death of “Jesus the Nazarene, who was a Prophet powerful in action and speech before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and leaders handed Him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified Him. But we were hoping that He was the One who was about to redeem Israel” (Luke 24:13-23, HCSB).
Jesus’ response is quite terse,
“‘How unwise and slow you are to believe in your hearts all that the prophets have spoken! Didn’t the Messiah have to suffer these things and enter into His glory?’ Then beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, He interpreted for them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures" (v25-27, emphasis mine).
Apparently, Jesus saw Himself in all of Scripture, and many of the New Testament authors saw the same thing (cf. Heb 10:1-10). This is incredibly helpful, because, when you preach, you're always asking the question, "What is God saying through this passage?" And Jesus’ answer is that God is always saying something about Christ. But He’s not saying something merely about Christ as a person, important in His own right (though He is). He’s saying something about Christ as Redeemer, Christ as Savior, Christ as the Anointed One, come “to suffer these things and enter into His glory.” In other words, when God speaks, He always speaks the gospel. But perhaps that’s too narrow a way to put it. Maybe we should say that when God speaks, He always speaks the language of the gospel. Scripture isn’t a compendium of gospel-repetitions stated differently for difference’s sake or because repeating the gospel is God’s central means of grace for the church. That’s inane, shallow, missing the point. No, Scripture is speaking the language of the gospel, which means that every story, every precept, every imperative, every indicative is an illumination of some new angle of God’s multifaceted wisdom displayed in Christ as Redeemer and through the church of His redeemed people (Eph. 3:10). We follow suit by approaching sermon preparation with a paradigm that has an ear for that gospel-language and allows us to interpret God’s Word for God’s people as God intended. This is what a gospel-paradigm does for interpretation. Now, one of the beauties of God’s gospel-intentionality is it has a perennial practicality to it, so that the impulse of the gospel is to progress from interpretation to practical application. And so must our sermons.
Application: Preaching Christ's Work Then to Accomplish Christ's Work Now
I hope I’m not being trite when I say it’s not enough for a sermon to tell people what a passage of Scripture means, but that it must tell them what it means for them. Preaching – good preaching – is using words to build a bridge from what God did then to what God is doing now, and hearing the gospel-language of Scripture is the key to taking this worn and worthy Map of life-lived-God’s-way and interpreting it for a new generation so that they may indeed live life God’s way. When you understand the gospel language of Scripture, you begin to recognize that the narrative of Scripture is not a story of a God who merely is, but a God who does. And what this God does is redeem His people. He redeems them from their sin; He redeems them from their suffering; He redeems them for Himself, and He does it because He loves His people, and His love is a redeeming love. And, if God redeemed His beloved children then, He is certainly redeeming His beloved children now. Thus, the word-bridge we build is a Word-bridge – where “Word” is “the word of the Lord [that] endures forever [and] was preached as the gospel to you” (1 Peter 1:23-25).
But the gospel is not just the language Scripture speaks or the bridge we must build; it’s the work Scripture does, and the work Scripture does is God’s work – the work of redemption. This means that when we come to application in our sermons, we are looking for where and how God’s redemption then is being mirrored or filled out or fulfilled now. Perhaps God is redeeming through correction, but it must be correction on the gospel's terms, which means correction in the context of covenant – a covenant that says no matter how bad you fail, you can't fail out. Or maybe God is redeeming through comfort – the comfort of a foretaste of future grace, bought and secured by Christ. Or is God diffusing wisdom – competency to approach life as those who have been redeemed – among His people to increase their ability to view and handle themselves and their circumstances with joy and hope. All these angles – sin and suffering, wisdom and folly, forgiveness and reconciliation – are part of the glory of God's multifaceted wisdom given to us in Christ and applied to our daily dealings with a fallen world and a fallen nature in the medium of a fallen body. And all these things are being redeemed and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God (Rom 8:18-23). The work of the gospel is to bring us into an ongoing, this-age experience of God's redemption in the now so that we might have hope for its fulfillment in the “then” – the future “then” when Christ returns in fullness of glory and fulfillment of redemption. And so all preaching is to be proclamation of the present reality of God's redeeming love as well as invitation and instruction to enter into and engage with that love now.
This hearing of the gospel-language of Scripture (interpretation) and proclamation-invitation to see God's redemption then, experience it now, and look forward to it in the future (application) is the paradigm of our preaching at Redeemer, and it is the foundation and launching point of our counseling and our service. And I look forward to exploring the glories of God's redemptive work in the now as we expound on these expressions of the gospel in the coming weeks.