If the Old Testament is about Jesus, why don’t we preach and teach it more?

August 13, 2012

In a post a while back, I described being startled by a mainline Protestant theologian’s words of introduction to a recent Brazos commentary on Jonah:

First of all, this is a Christian reading of the Scriptures of Israel, which Christians call the Old Testament because it contains the ancient covenant to be fulfilled by Jesus Christ. Like the whole Bible, the book of Jonah is about Christ and therefore about all those who find their life in him.[1]

While I mostly loved my education at Emory’s Candler School of Theology, these words would not have passed muster in my Old Testament classes there. No one comes right out and says so, but one premise of much Old Testament teaching in mainline seminary is that, contrary to what we learned in Sunday school—and, worse, contrary to what those New Testament authors thought—the Old Testament isn’t really about Jesus. Having been so indoctrinated, I wonder if this is one reason most of us United Methodist preachers don’t preach much on the Old Testament? We stick with the New Testament because at least we know that it has something to say about Jesus and the gospel.

In my recently concluded “Sunday School Heroes” sermon series, which focused mostly on the Old Testament, I purposely tried to find the gospel in each passage I covered. It was surprisingly easy to do. I confess that, in part because of this experience, my attitude toward the Old Testament has changed.

Of course, we Christian preachers and teachers need to uncover what the Old Testament meant to its original audience in Israel—and, by all means, this task is greatly enriched by listening to what our Jewish friends have to say from their tradition. But the question we should ask soon afterward is, “What does this passage say about Jesus and the gospel?”

With this in mind, I appreciated Trevin Wax’s words about preaching and teaching the Old Testament:

— Is there anything about my treatment of this Old Testament text that a faithful Jew could not affirm?

If we preach the story of Moses, for example, without ever pointing forward to our Passover Lamb (Jesus Christ), then we are preaching the Old Testament much like a rabbi, not like a Christian herald of the Gospel. On the road to Emmaus, Jesus told His disciples that the Old Testament pointed to Him… So when we preach from the Old Testament, it’s imperative that we point people forward to the Messiah.

What do you think? Should Christian preaching/teaching from the Old Testament always point people toward the Messiah?

2 Responses to “If the Old Testament is about Jesus, why don’t we preach and teach it more?”

  1. Tom Harkins Says:

    Generally, yes. However, it is possible to go overboard. I sometimes am skeptical of people trying to find something specifically pointing to Jesus with each Temple utensil. And the food laws? Or each ceremony or sacrifice or Aaron’s robes? I’m not saying that there is necessarily nothing there–I just think we shouldn’t “stretch” things to come up with some parallel with EVERYthing. The whole of history moves toward, to, and from Christ, but if I have a banana pudding for desert, probably that is an irrelevancy. David killing a lion and a bear as opposed to two bears I don’t think has any significance.

    • brentwhite Says:

      Of course. When I say “pointing to the Messiah,” I don’t mean that we read every detail of the story in an allegorical way. I mean, in broad strokes, we can see the gospel story.


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