These are (rough) sermon notes from last weekend…
Two verses – both spoken by Jesus…
“You search the Scriptures [Torah] because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me…” –John 5:39
When we go into a restaurant we are often greeted by a host/ess and directed to a table and given menus. We use the menus to determine what we’d like to order. One thing we DON’T do is eat the menu! This is what Jesus is saying in the verse above – The Scriptures are a menu that guides us to Jesus. Paul say it in another way in Galatians 3:24: “The Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ.”
“Then beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures [Torah].” –Luke 24:27
What Jesus is saying is that the whole Old Testament bears witness of Him. Most people see the Bible as an interesting set of isolated stories, each story telling us something different about how to live. However, Jesus tells us the WHOLE Bible is really only one story. While there are great stories in the Bible, it is possible to know Bible stories, yet miss THE Bible story.
The entire Bible from Genesis to Revelation is ultimately about Jesus. From Genesis to Revelation God is unfolding the grace that culminates in Jesus leaving the comfort and perfection of heaven to come down into our brokenness. Therefore, the Bible is not fundamentally about what we do FOR God but what God has done FOR us.
“The Old Testament is a richly furnished but dimly lit room. Only when the light is turned on do the contents become clear.” –B.B. Warfield
The gospel of grace is THE central theme of the whole Bible – it begins in Genesis and travels all the way through Revelation.
Four Symphonic Movements
God’s story, or history (His-Story), comes to us as a redemptive drama in four acts. Or, we might think of it as a classical symphony with four movements building toward a grand crescendo. Here’s an overview and then we’ll come back and look at it more closely…
- Creation – When everything was as God meant it to be. (Gen 1-2)
- Fall – The tragic intrusion of sin and death, resulting in the pervasive brokenness of all people and everything God has made. (Gen 3)
- Redemption – God’s astonishing promise to rescue His fallen image-bearers and creation through the grace-full work of His Son, Jesus Christ. As we will see, the movement of redemption begins in Gen 3:15. (Gen 3:15-Rev 20)
- Fulfilment (or consummation, or, glorification) – The magnificent fulfilment of God’s plan to gather and cherish a people forever, and to live with them in a more-than-restored world, called “the new heaven and new earth” (Revelation 21:1).
Creation and Fulfillment As Bookends
We can think of Creation and Fulfilment as bookends. They are the first two chapters of Genesis and the last two chapters of Revelation. What we find in those bookend chapters is a state of perfection known as SHALOM. Shalom is the Hebrew concept for peace, which means so much more than our (Western) limited understanding of peace, which reduces peace to the absence of conflict.
Biblical SHALOM means a universal flourishing, wholeness and delight; a rich state of affairs…the webbing together of God, humans, and all creation in equity, fulfilment, and delight. SHALOM is the way things ought to be. — Cornelius Plantinga
An even more succinct definition would be: “Undefiled harmony with God.”
In Genesis 3 Adam and Eve fall into temptation and SHALOM is replaced with a curse. Through Adam, sin entered into the world with its promised punishment (or, consequence), which is both physical and spiritual death. Adam and Eve are then plunged into alienation — both from God AND from one another. They are driven out of the garden, away from God’s presence.
In Genesis 3:15 we read the curse pronounced on the serpent devil: “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, and you shall bruise Him on the heel.” Many people read this verse without understanding its meaning. What’s happening here is that God is initiating a rescue plan for humanity. The “seed of the woman” is the promised Messiah/Jesus who will bruise the head of the devil (eventually it will become a fatal blow).
Verse 15 is such an important verse it has it’s own word: protoevangelium, which literally means “first gospel” and is the first mention/promise of the gospel in the Bible. It is from this point forward the gospel of God’s grace and God’s rescue plan to bring about redemption in and through Jesus Christ becomes the central theme of the entire Bible. This Genesis 3:15 promise becomes an organizing theme for the rest of Scripture and the rest of human history.
Redemption – Looking For Jesus and the Gospel Throughout the Old Testament
We’ve talked about the bookends of SHALOM and we’ve talked about the Fall and the first mention of the gospel in the Bible that initiates God’s rescue plan. We’ll spend the rest of our time leaning into how we look for Jesus and the gospel throughout the OT. Let’s consider two examples…
- Most of us are aware of the David and Goliath narrative. We need to ask, “What is the meaning of that narrative for us?” Most of the sermons you’ve probably heard go something like this: “Be like David” or, “The bigger they come, the harder they’ll fall, if you just go into your battles with faith in the Lord.” Or, “You may not be real big and powerful in yourself, but with God on your side, you can overcome giants.” Yet as soon as we ask: “How does David show us Jesus?” We begin to see the same features of the story in a different light. The story is telling us that the Israelites do not have the strength or power to go up against Goliath. They can’t do it. They need a substitute. When David steps in on their behalf, he goes in as a vulnerable and weak figure. He goes into the battle virtually as a sacrificial lamb. But God uses David’s apparent weakness as the means to defeat the giant, and David becomes Israel’s champion-redeemer, so that his victory will be reckoned (imputed) to them. They get all the fruit of having fought the battle themselves. Jesus is the better David.
- Most of us know Nehemiah, he wrote one of the books in the OT. Nehemiah was the cupbearer to the king, which means he tasted the food and drink of the king to make sure it wasn’t poisoned. (In our modern parlance we would probably say he was the palace food and beverage manager.) Nevertheless Nehemiah lived a comfortable life in the king’s palace. So, how does Nehemiah show us Christ? When Nehemiah heard about the broken-down walls and the broken-hearted people in Jerusalem, Nehemiah left the comfort, opulence, and convenience of the palace to step into the brokenness, desperation, and shame of God’s people. Jesus left the comfort and perfection of heaven to come down into the brokenness of humanity. Jesus, is the better Nehemiah, who came in obedience to the Father and out of love for humanity – and laid His life down as a sacrifice for sinners – to rescue us and spare us. Our lives, like the walls of Jerusalem, need to be rebuilt so that the glory of God might be revealed. (Nehemiah is not just a preview of Jesus but he’s also a preview of what the Church can be in a broken world.)
So, when we read any Old Testament passage we need to ask, “How does this passage show me, or point to, Jesus and the redemptive gospel?” The whole Bible points to Jesus and the good news of the gospel – from Genesis to Revelation. It’s not, “How do we be like David, or Moses, or Nehemiah?” it’s, “How do David, Moses, or Nehemiah show us (or reveal) Jesus Christ and the gospel?” As we make this the focus of our reading and study we will begin to see the richly furnished room!
Concluding Theological Parameters
The theological descriptor of what I have just shared is, “Gospel Centered Hermeneutic.” What’s a hermeneutic? Like your glasses, it is the lens with which we view the Bible. There are, in the end, only two ways to read the Bible: Is it basically about me or basically about Jesus? In other words, is it basically about what I must do, or basically about what He has done?
“I have never yet found a [Bible] text that had not got a road to Christ in it, and if I ever do find one that has not a road to Christ in it, I will make one; I will go over hedge and ditch but I would get at my Master, for the sermon cannot do any good unless there is a savor of Christ in it.” –Charles Spurgeon (“Prince of Preachers”)
If we think the Bible is about us, we tend to view it as a rulebook – what we MUST DO to please God. But, if we see that the whole Bible is about Jesus – we will focus more on what Jesus HAS ALREADY DONE, rather than what we MUST DO, which is the essence of the gospel.
Here’s another way to think about it…Being gospel centered means we don’t fight FOR victory in the Christian life we fight FROM victory – it’s ALL GRACE.
 Cornelius Plantinga. Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin, Eerdmans 1995:10.
Thank you Gregg for placing before me a beautifully framed picture of the Bible for my eyes to feast upon! (And of course, I love the Spurgeon quote)