Preaching Christ in the Old Testament
Preaching Christ in Proverbs, Narratives and Leviticus
Some object to this biblical and Reformed hermeneutic by claiming that it results in eisegesis. But there is a difference between allegorically “reading Jesus Christ into each text” without proper hermeneutics and faithfully understanding that all of God’s revelation ultimately reveals Jesus Christ in some way. Let me offer some Old Testament example of this:
How should we preach Christ in the Book of Proverbs?
Some might say that a proverb is merely a statement of God’s wisdom and that it does not speak of Christ. They might say that preaching Christ from a proverb is adding to the Word of God. But if we understand “the analogy of faith,” then we will see how to preach Christ from each proverb.
The Fall of Adam
Isn’t it true that no man has kept any Proverb perfectly since the fall of Adam? Hasn’t every man sinned against each Proverb in some way? And isn’t it true that every Proverb is consistent with the Ten Commandments, the covenant law under which Proverbs was given? If that is so, then we may legitimately preach the sin and depravity of man from each proverb. We should show that God requires each proverb to be fulfilled perfectly in every person. We should show how it conforms to God’s Law of loving God and man according to the Ten Commandments. Each proverb demands that we preach man’s failure to fulfill God’s righteousness.
The Fulfillment of the Last Adam
Isn’t it true that Jesus Christ, the Last Adam, fulfilled the Law and kept every proverb perfectly? Didn’t He do so to offer a perfect satisfaction and atonement for those who sin against the Proverbs? Doesn’t this grammatical-historical-theological exegesis of an OT proverb require Christ to be preached in each proverb? Shouldn’t we show how He fulfilled each proverb as a man in His earthly life, born under the Law? Shouldn’t we show how Jesus is a perfect Savior for those who have not fulfilled each proverb so that we can obey each proverb in love to Him who died for us?
Here’s an outline that might be followed in a sermon from a proverb:
I. What does it say and mean in its context?
II. How have you broken this proverb before God?
III. How did Christ fulfill this proverb for us in His life, death, and resurrection?
IV. How should you walk as He walked as a redeemed soul in this proverb, living by faith in Christ?
I say we must preach Christ in every sermon from every text. That’s because every text somehow teaches the demand of God’s obedience from man, the failure of man to keep God’s law, and the provision of a Savior to redeem us from the condemnation of God’s law in order that we may obey and please God under grace in Christ. This is preaching in view of the “analogy of faith,” the whole counsel of God, and the overall theology of Scripture which must complete our exegesis and frame every exposition. To fail to do this is to fail to preach the Gospel as Jesus and the apostles did. We are ministers of the New Covenant and we must proclaim Christ in all the Scriptures and in light of all the Scriptures if we are to be faithful to Him.
How should we preach Christ from Leviticus 18:5?
“So you shall keep My statutes and My judgments, by which a man may live if he does them; I am the LORD” (Leviticus 18:5).
As we approach this text, we must remember our ministerial perspective and hermeneutical completeness. We are ministers of the New Covenant (2 Corinthians 3:6), teaching the faith once-for-all delivered to the saints (Acts 20:27; 2 Timothy 4:2). Further, we must follow the grammatical-historical-theological interpretation of each text. So, how should we preach Christ in Leviticus 18:5?
1. Grammatically (exegetical theology)
The term “keep” means to “guard,” “watch,” or “observe.” A word study shows that “statutes” refers to the Passover and festivals, the priestly rituals, and other ceremonial laws. “Judgments” refers to the civil laws of crime and punishment, justice and equity. “Live” overwhelmingly refers to earthly life rather than death. The verse means that if an Israelite keeps God’s statutes and judgments, He shall live in them or by them. God will preserve the nation’s or the man’s life on earth. Other cross-references and parallels include Leviticus 25:18, Ezekiel 20:11, Luke 10:28, Romans 10:5, Galatians 3:12.
2. Historically (biblical theology)
The historical setting is Israel living under the Sinai Covenant, which was added to the Abrahamic Covenant. In the historical context, there are five major interpretations of the meaning of “live” in this text: (1) that this is a promise of a blessed earthly life in the land of Canaan for obedience to God’s laws; or (2) that this is a promise of God preserving Israel as a nation or the earthly life of a man on the condition of obedience to God’s laws; (3) that this is a promise of spiritual life (maturity) if a believing Israelite obeys God’s laws; or (4) that this is evidence that the Sinai Covenant is a republication of the Covenant of Works, or (5) that this is a re-proclamation of the original Covenant of Works with Adam which drives the hearer to despair of self-righteousness in order to be justified by faith alone.
There isn’t enough space here to argue for a definitive conclusion. However, because of the historical-redemptive context of the Abrahamic and Sinai Covenants, in which both required justifying faith followed by faithful obedience, I believe that (1) and/or (2) is preferred (Deuteronomy 4:1; 5:33, 6:24, 8:1; 30:20); although I am not opposed to (5). If you take (4) as correct, then you have to overlook the Sinaitic sacrificial system as a shadow of Christ’s redemption as well as the call to faith (the First Commandment) and love toward God as the basis for keeping His commandments (Deuteronomy 6:1–25). In all five interpretations, however, something is gained by obedience to God’s laws. So, in some way, God promises life to obedience, which is a principle of works-blessing.
3. Theologically (the analogy of faith)
So how should a pastor preach Christ from this text? Does he simply explain the verse in context, argue for which position he takes, draw some applications about obedience to God, but leave Christ out of the sermon until he preaches a text that mentions the gospel explicitly? Or should he merely explain the text and then preach the gospel at the end of the sermon? He will not do this, if he follows biblical hermeneutics, including the “analogy of faith.”
When we allow Scripture to interpret Scripture, there is no question that in Jesus’ day, the Jews erroneously interpreted Leviticus 18:5 to mean that a person might earn eternal life by keeping God’s laws under the Sinai Covenant (Matthew 19:17; Luke 10:25–28; Luke 18:9–18; Romans 10:5–6). So, we must preach this text in accordance with the way it is used in the New Testament. Paul used it in Galatians 3:11–12 to explain that anyone, whether Jew or Gentile, who seeks to be justified by law-obedience has misunderstood both the Old and New Testaments. We are justified by faith alone, as both Testaments testify.
Consider these elements of the theological interpretation of the text:
First, God gave Leviticus 18:5 to Israel because Adam fell, broke God’s Covenant of Law-works, and passed on a fallen and condemned nature to all his descendants. Therefore, God proclaimed law-obedience to Israel for blessing because Israel stood under the condemnation of the Adamic and Sinaitic law. Leviticus 18:5 teaches that all men need to obey God for life.
Second, Jesus was born under this law (Galatians 4:4–5) and kept it perfectly in His life (2 Corinthians 5:21). So, in whatever interpretation, He fulfilled perfectly the requirement of Leviticus 18:5 that He might be qualified to die a perfect death in atonement for those who have broken this law of God.
Third, the preacher must preach Christ from Leviticus 18:5. He must preach that we have all broken God’s law, including Leviticus 18:5. All have sinned against God’s law. The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). He must preach Christ’s perfect life and show from the Gospels how Christ kept the law of God, including Leviticus 18:5, for us. He must preach that Christ accomplished a substitutionary atonement for we who have violated God’s law (Galatians 3:10–13).
Therefore, the preacher necessarily proclaims from Leviticus 18:5, “Let all sinners against God’s law repent of sin, and trust in Christ as their perfect Savior and Lord. And let the believer rejoice that Christ has met the demands of perfect obedience, making full atonement for them so that they can now pursue obedience to God’s commandments with the assurance of salvation, love, blessing, and care. Through faith in Christ, God promises His blessings upon those who obey Him, in this life and the next.”
We must preach Christ in every sermon from every text because every text somehow teaches either the demand of God’s obedience from man, the failure of man to keep God’s law, or the provision of a Savior to redeem us from the condemnation of God’s law in order that we may obey and please God under grace in Christ (Romans 8:1ff). All these truths are connected in the overall “analogy of faith,” the whole counsel of God. The overall theology of Scripture must complete our exegesis and frame our exposition. Not to do this is to fail to preach the Gospel as Jesus and the apostles did. We are ministers of the New Covenant and must proclaim Christ in all the Scriptures and in light of all the Scriptures if we are to be faithful to Him.
How should we preach Christ from Old Testament Historical Narrative?
I would like now to illustrate preaching Christ from the Old Testament with an historical narrative: 2 Samuel 16:1–4.
The narratives of Scripture present a challenge to the preacher to be true to the text, the redemptive-historical context, and the analogy of faith. However, because we know the covenantal, law-gospel, justification-sanctification theology of all the Scriptures, we can justly preach Christ in all the Scriptures. Each sermon must have enough of the gospel to save the sinner and to edify the saint through the preaching of Jesus Christ Himself. 2 Samuel 16:1–4 says:
Now when David had passed a little beyond the summit, behold, Ziba the servant of Mephibosheth met him with a couple of saddled donkeys, and on them were two hundred loaves of bread, a hundred clusters of raisins, a hundred summer fruits, and a jug of wine. The king said to Ziba, “Why do you have these?” And Ziba said, “The donkeys are for the king’s household to ride, and the bread and summer fruit for the young men to eat, and the wine, for whoever is faint in the wilderness to drink.” Then the king said, “And where is your master’s son?” And Ziba said to the king, “Behold, he is staying in Jerusalem, for he said, ‘Today the house of Israel will restore the kingdom of my father to me.’” So the king said to Ziba, “Behold, all that belongs to Mephibosheth is yours.” And Ziba said, “I prostrate myself; let me find favor in your sight, O my lord, the king!”
There is very little of significance in the grammar of the passage. It is a straightforward report of the historical events. Ziba’s response of prostration and request for favor (grace), along with his affirmation of David as king, seems to show his genuine devotion to David. However, as we shall see, not all is as it appears.
David is fleeing his son Absalom’s treacherous takeover of Jerusalem and the kingship, even after David had been promised another born son to be an eternal King (2 Samuel 7:12–16). Psalm 3 records David’s weary though trustful frame of mind when he fled from Absalom. As David descended the summit of the Mount of Olives, Ziba met him with gifts. Ziba was the steward of Saul’s possessions before Saul’s death. Since then, he had accumulated personal wealth from managing Saul’s possessions. However, after Jonathan’s death, David gave Saul’s possessions to Mephibosheth, Jonathan’s crippled son, making Ziba the steward. So, Ziba conceived a covetous plan to repossess all of Saul’s possessions for himself. Feigning allegiance to David, perhaps hoping for his return to power, Ziba falsely reported that Mephibosheth stayed in Jerusalem to take over the kingship from Absalom which genealogically belonged to Jonathan his father. So, believing Ziba’s false report, David pronounced that “all that belongs to Mephibosheth is yours.” To which Ziba feigned loyalty to David. It was only after the defeat of Absalom that David discovered Ziba’s lie about Mephibosheth. Ziba had left loyal Mephibosheth in Jerusalem when he deceived David. So, David divided the property between them (2 Samuel 19), though humble Mephibosheth was content with nothing but David’s friendship.
After studying the narrative of events, I would consider what the Law and the Gospel have to say about our text. The Law reveals the sin of Ziba in his deceitfulness to gain all of Saul’s property. “You shall not bear false witness…You shall not steal…You shall not covet” condemns Ziba’s treachery. The sinful nature of man and the condemnation of the Law for sin are seen in the deceit of Ziba. He manipulated David to get his way against God’s revealed will, falsely accusing Mephibosheth of trying to overthrow David. This is the strategy of Satan in the garden with Adam and Eve, falsely accusing God to manipulate them for his ends. Now man copies Satan’s wiles. We all stand condemned by the Law.
Further, we see in David the faithfulness of God’s covenant promises to the believer in spite of his remaining sin. God’s Law required that every fact be confirmed on the basis of two or more witnesses. There was no reason to doubt Mephibosheth’s previous loyalty. But David believed the gossip of Ziba on one witness and made an unjust ruling. Yet God overruled David’s fallibility and prospered his battle with Absalom to be restored to his kingship according to God’s sovereign will. So God used fallible David to fulfill His promise to bring forth the Son of David to be a perfect King who rules with justice (Isaiah 9:6–7). The Gospel is preached in this text by showing God’s faithfulness and sovereignty to His covenant promises and by comparing David as a fallible type to our infallible antitype, the Lord Jesus Christ. So Paul could say to Timothy: “Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the descendent of David, according to my gospel” (2 Timothy 2:8).
In this historical narrative, we see God’s predestined faithfulness to judge Adam’s descendants for sin yet fulfilling His eternal promise to bring forth a last Adam to bear the sins of many and to re-establish His righteous rule among men. The theology of the Law and the Gospel makes Christ the center of God’s revelation in every text, even historical narratives.
4. Preaching Christ in this Old Testament historical narrative
The Fallen Condition of Man
Ziba shows us the fallen nature of man, seeking his own will instead of God’s by any sinful means. We stand condemned by the same Law. Have you ever lied, gossiped, or deceived to get your way? (apply to spouse, child, employee, parent, friend, enemy; see Proverbs on God’s attitude on lying). God’s Law condemns such sins of false witness, coveting, gossiping, slandering, or manipulation of others. And He will judge you at the last day. Ziba’s sin was discovered by David later and brought to justice. How much more will our risen Lord expose and judge the secrets of men when we stand before Him. How will you stand before Him without a Savior and Redeemer?
The Sovereignty of God Over Man’s Sinful Deceits
Ziba was not judged immediately and got away with it at the time. Why do the wicked Ziba’s prosper and the righteous Mephibosheth’s suffer? God will bring all to justice at the last day and punish for sins (Psalm 37, 73). How patient God is to let such men like you and me live, calling us to repentance (2 Peter 3) and faith in the only Savior of the world. If any here have not repented of your sins against God and His Law, God has been patient with you. But He will not be patient forever. You must repent of your deceits and lying now, fleeing to the risen Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of David, if you would see life.
The Faithfulness of God to His Promises of Grace
Why does God let people like faithless Ziba and imperfect David live? It is because He is full of mercy and has declared the Gospel of Jesus Christ to be the way of redemption for Adam’s sinful children (Genesis 3:15). Therefore, He kept His promise to David, planned before the foundation of the world, and restored him to kingship so that He would bring to fulfillment the perfect Son of David and Son of God born in Bethlehem. And He will keep His promises of redemption, adoption, and glory to repentant sinners like you and me who call upon the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. Even more amazingly, if God could use an imperfect man like David to bring in His eternal kingdom, if He could cause all things to work together for good in David’s fallible life, then so can He use redeemed sinners such as ourselves to spread His Gospel from shore to shore. And so fallible Christians should be encouraged to persevere in serving the Lord. We have promises, in spite of our remaining sins, that God will not leave us or forsake us but actually use us for His glory as we overcome our own sins in the blessing of His forgiving grace.
There is no way you can make up for such sins as Ziba’s or David’s. Jesus had to die for such things as a greater King than David. Blood atonement had to be made by the perfect King for a just forgiveness for His subjects. Resolutions never to lie or sin again cannot make up for the past. You have to be humbled before God and by faith alone trust in Christ’s substitutionary death to atone for your sins. You have to be covered with His righteous robes to stand before a righteous God, received as a gift by faith in Him, not of works lest any man should boast. Then, out of love for Him and His grace received, speak the truth each one with your neighbor… like both Ziba and David should have.
5. Principles for Preaching Christ in Old Testament narratives
Every post-lapsarian Old Testament historical narrative is populated by fallen sons of Adam and/or redeemed sons of God in Christ.
Wherever the Law reveals sin in the text, it must be shown and preached to all as condemning. Wherever God’s sovereignty is revealed over man’s sin, the Gospel of Christ must be preached by way of God’s covenant faithfulness to bring Christ into the world under grace. Each text may be applied both to the unconverted and converted by way of exposing the Law and the Gospel behind each text.
These principles are neither allegory nor eisegesis; they are part of “the analogy of faith” which centers all of Scripture in the revelation of Jesus Christ to man. This how we should preach Christ in every sermon, OT or NT.
Preaching Christ from an OT narrative flows from the analogy of faith, not just grammatical-historical facts and examples. The Law covenant in Adam reveals the sin and judgment of all men in our text while the Grace covenant in Christ reveals the need of the Savior, the righteousness of Christ in fulfilling the Law, and God’s faithful provision in Christ for sinners. Application of the Law and the Gospel to the hearers means that the preacher must reveal their sins, God’s judgment, their need of Christ, and the abundant provision of Christ, while also showing believers the encouragement of Christ’s work on their behalf. If there is obedience to God’s law in the text, the preacher must show that the gospel of grace has produced such obedience through the perfect work of Jesus Christ. Otherwise, we would be teaching obedience to God’s Law without the redemptive motive and power of grace to perform it. The analogy of faith requires that we preach the Law leading to the Gospel and that we preach the Gospel leading to faith-based obedience: “For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace” (Romans. 6:14).