Archive for May, 2016

Sermon 05-22-16: “The Call of Abraham”

May 30, 2016

Opening the Scriptures graphic

The call of Abraham in Genesis 12 is an unlikely beginning to God’s plan of salvation for the world. In many ways, Abraham was unqualified to play this most crucial role that God asked him to play. Yet he was successful. Why? Because of God and his grace. We can be sure that when God calls us, he, too, will give us everything we need to be successful, too.

Sermon Text: Genesis 11:27-12:9

[To listen on the go, download an MP3 by right-clicking on this link.]

Adam LaRoche was a major league first baseman for 12 years. In fact, he began his professional career with the Atlanta Braves in the early 2000s and played with them for a few years. During spring training last March, he quit. Suddenly. It turns out that for the past six years his son Drake, who is now 14, had been allowed by all the teams that LaRoche had played for to accompany his dad to the clubhouse each day. None of the other players seemed to mind; in fact, they liked having him around. But this year, the Chicago White Sox management put their foot down. The kid can’t be in the clubhouse. His teammates briefly staged a walkout in support of LaRoche and his son, but it didn’t work. And so, in response, LaRoche did what no one expected him to do: he quit baseball. Just walked away.


And in doing so, he walked away from the $13 million that the White Sox were going to pay him this year. Who would do that? Doesn’t that seem crazy? To leave behind your career and livelihood; to leave behind your status as a member of one of the world’s most elite clubs—those relatively few athletes who are good enough to play baseball at the highest level; to leave behind, well… a guaranteed $13 million! Even if he were riding the bench this season, he’d make that money!

In a recent ESPN magazine article, LaRoche was asked about his plans today. He said that he and his family are now traveling in an RV along the West Coast and Canada. They don’t have a destination. They don’t know how long they’ll be gone. They don’t really have a plan.

If you think about what LaRoche gave up in order to take this trip with his family, it’s safe to say that it’s probably the most expensive family vacation in history!

My point is, if LaRoche’s adventure seems costly and slightly crazy to you, then you might appreciate the costly and seemingly crazy adventure that Abraham and his family went on. By the way, in today’s scripture, he’s called Abram. Later on, God will change his name to Abraham, which means “father of many nations.” His wife Sarai’s name is also changed to Sarah. I’ll call them Abraham and Sarah in this sermon. Read the rest of this entry »

But UMC progressives are asking conservatives to believe something

May 28, 2016

In my previous post, I complained about a clergy colleague who, in a blog post, said that theological conservatives don’t “believe that God does new things outside of the knowledge base of those who wrote the scriptures under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.” In other words, when the authors of scripture condemned homosexual behavior in the strongest terms possible, they weren’t condemning homosexual relationships as we understand them today—as loving, consensual, monogamous, and covenantal. That wasn’t part of their “knowledge base” concerning homosexuality.

The Bible, therefore, has little to say about the issue that risks splitting our church today. So we are free to interpret this momentum to change our church’s doctrine on sex and marriage as nothing less than the work of the Holy Spirit.

He then argues that the Bible isn’t an exclusive repository of all truth (a point that no one, to my knowledge, disputes). So why are we Methodists hitching our doctrinal wagon to something about which scripture is silent?

In my brief reply, I wrote:

No. What revisionists on this issue ask us to believe is that the Holy Spirit is “showing us something new,” which contradicts what the Spirit has already shown us.

Arguments about truth outside of scripture are beside the point. Quantum mechanics is beyond the scope of the Bible. Sex and marriage are not.

To these brief words, another clergy colleague said, “Brent- really not sure anyone is asking you to believe anything. 🙂 ”

His point is that under the changes that many people within the UMC are proposing, progressive clergy will be free to solemnize gay weddings just as conservative clergy will be free not to. We’ll all have freedom of conscience on this issue.

Aside from the fact that I was using “asking us to believe” as a figure of speech, and that I was using “us” collectively—to represent not only me but the church as a whole (I assume that progressive clergy will try to persuade their congregations to see things their way)—is my colleague’s statement even true?

For one thing, we are a “connectional” church. I could be appointed to the same local church as a progressive pastor or deacon who opposes the traditional view that I hold. Am I supposed to be O.K. with their teaching or preaching something to my congregation that I believe is deeply in error? Am I supposed to tell the congregation that, despite what they’ve been told by my well-credentialed colleague, he or she is wrong? Or vice versa?

Or am I supposed to ignore the issue in the interest of peace and harmony? (Not that most United Methodist clergy aren’t already doing this.)

To say the least, this would create great confusion among the flocks that we shepherd.

So, yes, even if we change our doctrine to reflect an “agree to disagree” position on this subject, the church would be asking me to believe something important: It would be asking me to believe that the issue of homosexual behavior is a matter of theological indifference, or of merely secondary concern next to the main task of making disciples of Jesus Christ.

Never mind that from my perspective we’re not making disciples properly unless we’re teaching them to repent of their sin, which includes all sexual sin, and to obey God’s Word, which includes his words about sexual complementarity as one prerequisite for marriage.

A majority African UMC? I can’t wait

May 25, 2016

Aside from contributing my “thumbs up” to a few friends’ Facebook posts over the past couple of weeks—the lowest form of social media slacktivism—I surprised myself at how silent I remained throughout the ten days of the United Methodist Church’s General Conference in Portland.

In case you haven’t heard, no resolution related to sexuality and marriage made it to the conference floor for a vote. As it stands today, therefore, UMC doctrine remains unchanged. Meanwhile, legislation that emerged from committees indicated a theologically rightward tilt, as our denomination is on the verge of becoming majority African.

I, for one, can’t wait! I hope they send missionaries over here to teach us how to be Christians again!

The reason no legislation came to a vote is because the Council of Bishops headed it off with a  plan of their own: Sometime before 2020, a specially called General Conference, whose membership will be identical to the group that met in Portland last week, will vote on proposals made by a CoB-appointed commission. The commission’s membership will supposedly reflect the global membership of the church.

In other words, as thousands of others have already pointed out, the bishops’ plan amounts to “kicking the can down the road.”

I’m disappointed. I was rooting for one piece of legislation that passed committee known as the CUP Plan. It would have strengthened accountability (in the form of minimum sentences) for clergy who break covenant with the church by performing “gay weddings” (the “stick”). At the same time, however, it would have offered progressive congregations a gracious path to exit the denomination while retaining their church property (the “carrot”).

It stood a reasonable chance of passing from what I’ve read. Now we’ll never know.

Regardless, I hope that this soon-to-be-appointed commission will make a similar proposal—or if not, at least have the courage to propose splitting the church up. The differences between traditionalists like me and revisionists are irreconcilable. As I’ve often blogged here, there is no middle way. Methodist “centrists” are either those who haven’t thought it through or (more likely) are progressives who are willing to bide their time until, they believe, cultural pressures will force the church’s hand. Adam Hamilton, for one, wrote that within ten years—after the older generation dies off, presumably—homosexuality will no longer be an issue for us Methodists.

As I blogged at the time, what do young people know about scripture that older generations don’t know? Because as always, as always, as always, the issue that divides us comes down to the authority of scripture.

Besides, what credibility has Western culture earned such that it should dictate what the church does and believes?

Nevertheless, this professor, from the UMC-affiliated Claremont School of Theology, rightly questions whether biding one’s time is a realistic option for progressives in light of shifting demographics in our church:

By the next General Conference, since the UMC is growing only in areas with a more traditionalist viewpoint on LGBTQ inclusion, the church’s position as a whole is almost guaranteed to become more conservative, not less in the coming yearsSome progressives I talk to acknowledge that bringing about a change in the current rules will now take at least 16 years, with some predicting 30-year struggleAre we willing to live with our current divide for another generation? In light of our denominations plunging membership, does the church even have time to wait sixteen years, much less thirty or more?

In other words, if the progressives couldn’t get what they wanted this year, they’re far less likely in years to come.

To his credit, whether he agrees with “my” side or not, the author seems to understand the stakes for theological conservatives like me.

I often don’t see this same understanding of the stakes among many progressive clergy I know. For example, one of them posted a link to his blog post on social media yesterday. He was complaining about how we conservatives often (rightly) frame the issue in terms of Christian orthodoxy. He disagrees, writing, “When I hear [orthodoxy] used in this context, I find the speaker often actually means that he or she does not believe that God does new things outside of the knowledge base of those who wrote the scriptures under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.”

To which I replied:

No. What revisionists on this issue ask us to believe is that the Holy Spirit is “showing us something new,” which contradicts what the Spirit has already shown us.

Arguments about truth outside of scripture are beside the point. Quantum mechanics is beyond the scope of the Bible. Sex and marriage are not.

Again, no one has to agree with theological conservatives in order to fairly represent what we believe.

General Conference wasn’t a total wash: Conservatives won a clean sweep of five new members of the Judicial Council—our church’s Supreme Court. And, by a wide margin, they withdrew our church from a pro-abortion ecumenical organization that the UMC helped create back in the early-’70s (those were the days!). They also removed language in our Discipline that explicitly affirms Roe v. Wade.

All that to say, I hope our bishops can see the writing on the wall and do the right thing.

Sermon 05-15-16: “The Sign of Salvation through Christ”

May 23, 2016

Opening the Scriptures graphic

The rainbow, according to Genesis 9, is a sign of God’s saving grace: It means that in spite of the uncomfortable truth that we all deserve to be swept away in a flood of God’s wrath, he offers us a means of rescue. The sign of the rainbow, as I discuss in this sermon, points to the gospel of Jesus Christ and his atoning death.

Sermon Text: Genesis 9:1-17

[To listen on the go, right-click here to download an MP3.]

Until recently, the U.S. Military Academy—West Point—had a hard time predicting which of its cadets would be able to endure the first seven weeks of the service academy’s Cadet Basic Training—otherwise known as “Beast Barracks.” They couldn’t predict which ones would call it quits before they finished. SAT scores couldn’t predict it. ACT scores couldn’t predict it. Neither could high school rank, physical fitness, “leadership potential,” or any other measure of aptitude you could name. West Point couldn’t figure out why these otherwise well-qualified cadets, who on paper were some of the best and brightest young people in the nation, were quitting.

At least that was their problem until they started measuring how much “grit” a cadet has.


I confess I’ve rarely heard the word “grit” used outside of an old western starring John Wayne—or the recent remake starring Jeff Bridges—but it has become a buzzword today among psychologists who say that the extent to which someone possesses grit goes a long way toward explaining how successful that person will be in life—whether it’s surviving basic training, or succeeding in school, or doing well in a career. Read the rest of this entry »

Does God collaborate with the devil?

May 18, 2016

I’ve said (or implied) this a few dozen times on this blog and in sermons: I find it immensely comforting to know that Satan himself can’t derail God’s plans for me—that God has the power to transform into good whatever the devil sends my way. (And, yes, biblically speaking, Satan has the power, however constrained it may be, to “send things our way.”)

As evidence, I always cite two scripture verses or passages: Joseph’s words to his brothers in Genesis 50:20: “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today”; and Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 12 about his “thorn in the flesh,” which Paul describes as both a “messenger from Satan” and something that “was given” (divine passive) by God. C.S. Lewis might describe Paul’s thorn as a “severe mercy.”

Believing that this is so spares me from having to be selectively thankful to God for what’s happening to me. Because the skeptics are right: It isn’t logical to give God all the credit when something goes well in our lives without at the same time at least appreciating that God’s providential hand is at work through the bad stuff in our lives. To be clear: this doesn’t mean that God causes evil; only that God is always at work, transforming it for our good.

Andrew Wilson, an English pastor and theologian, makes the same point in this fine blog post. Scripture is clear that God and Satan are often in a “collaborative” relationship, although Satan is an unwitting partner with a drastically different agenda. He cites many more scriptures:

The problem is, of course, that there are a number of places in Scripture in which a collaborative relationship between divine and satanic agency is assumed, or explicitly taught, without going anywhere near the unforgivable sin (unless we are to believe that Moses, the Chronicler, Luke, Paul and co committed it within the pages of the Bible, which seems unlikely). Job is afflicted by Satan (1:6-12; 2:1-8), and also by God (1:20-22; 2:9-10). David’s census is incited by God (2 Samuel 24:1), and also by Satan (1 Chronicles 21:1). Judas betrays Jesus because of Satan (Luke 22:3-6), and because of God’s sovereign plan (Acts 4:27-28). Church discipline will result in an immoral brother having his flesh destroyed by Satan (1 Corinthians 5:5a), so that his spirit may be saved by God (5:5b). And that is without mentioning the various human individuals whose evil actions are ordained somehow by God, with a view to bringing about good (Joseph’s brothers, Pharaoh, the king of Assyria, and so on). Paul’s knowledge of all these stories, alongside his language here, strongly indicate that he regarded his thorn in the same way.

Contemporary Methodists, among many other Christians, get squeamish about saying that God ever wants his children to experience pain or suffering for any reason. If you are one of them, please feel free tell me why Wilson and I are wrong.

I like this concluding paragraph:

So who gave Paul his thorn? God, and Satan, but with thoroughly different agendas. Satan, we may surmise, wanted to destroy him. God wanted to humble him, and throw him back onto divine grace. And God won.

Adam and Eve and the “fortunate transgression”

May 14, 2016

For my new sermon series, I’m reading Edmund Clowney’s book The Unfolding Mystery: Discovering Christ in the Old Testament. In it, he speculates briefly about the way in which human history would have unfolded if the Fall hadn’t happened. I know, I know… It’s strictly hypothetical, but still…

We do not know in what way God would have owned His image in man through Christ if Adam and Eve had not disobeyed. Surely Adam as an obedient son would have been brought to know the beloved Son. But we do know that human sin did not frustrate God’s plan. Indeed, God’s triumph through Christ over sin is so glorious that we are driven to conclude that apart from sin, such incredible love and mercy in the heart of God could never have been displayed. We can almost sympathize with Augustine, who cried out, “Felix culpa! (Fortunate transgression!).[1]

Is it better that humanity sinned so that greater depths of God’s love, mercy, and compassion could be revealed? I don’t have a counterargument for Augustine. Perhaps I would respond this way: The Fall wasn’t good in and of itself. But God transformed it, as he does so many other bad things, into something good for us.

1. Edmund Clowney, The Unfolding Mystery (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2013), 37-8.

Sermon 05-08-16: “Jesus Defeats Satan”

May 11, 2016

Opening the Scriptures graphic

Sermon Text: Genesis 3:1-15

In the first part of my new sermon series, “Opening the Scriptures,” I talk about the nature of sin and temptation: “At the heart of temptation—any temptation—is the belief that we can’t really trust God: we doubt his Word; we doubt his promises; we doubt that he knows what’s best for us. So we take matters into our own hands. We place ourselves at the center of the universe instead of God.” Is all hope lost? No… because in the midst of this story of humanity’s first sin is a glimpse of the gospel of Jesus Christ!

[To listen on the go, right-click here to download an MP3 of the sermon.]

In Luke 24:13-35, two disciples of Jesus are returning from Jerusalem to their hometown of Emmaus, about eight miles away. It’s Easter Sunday. Although some of their fellow disciples told them that they found the tomb of Jesus empty, they don’t know what to make of it. As of yet, alongside most of their fellow disciples, they don’t believe that their Lord has been resurrected.

So they head for home, discouraged and confused.

Jesus meets them on the road, but, as Luke tells us, “their eyes were kept from recognizing him.” At Jesus’ prompting, they tell him about the events of Good Friday as well as the reports of the empty tomb.

Jesus tells them: “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” Then Luke writes: “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.”

To say “Moses and all the prophets” is shorthand for, well, the entire Old Testament. And when Luke says that Jesus “interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself,” he’s implying that all the scriptures—which at that time meant the Old Testament—have something to say about Jesus Christ and his gospel. Read the rest of this entry »

Tonight’s homily for preschool graduation

May 10, 2016
Danny Cahill in 2009, after winning The Biggest Loser.

Danny Cahill in 2009, after winning The Biggest Loser.

I offered the following homily to parents and family at Hampton UMC’s preschool graduation. 

“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Romans 8:1

Did you hear the news about The Biggest Loser—that NBC reality show in which contestants compete to see who can lose the most weight? According to a recent study, most of the 16 contestants who were on the show in 2009 ended up gaining most of it back. Many of them even weigh more today than they did when they started losing weight.

Even the winner of The Biggest Loser that season, Danny Cahill, has struggled to keep the weight off. At the beginning of the season he clocked in at 430 lbs. He’s 5’11”. By the end of the season, he was down to 191. He said at the time: “I’ve got my life back. I mean, I feel like a million bucks.”

Which means that he probably only feels like half a million bucks today—since he’s gained almost half the weight back!

Now, if, like me, you’ve struggled to lose weight, you probably hear this news and feel a tiny sense of relief. Don’t you? As if to say, “Thank heavens! I’m not the only one who’s lost and gained and lost and gained and lost and gained.”

And of course, the point of this scientific study was to describe the ways in which our bodies actually work against us when it comes to losing weight: Our metabolism slows down to a crawl until we start climbing back toward what our body mistakenly considers our “normal” weight.

It makes us just want to throw in the towel, right? It makes it seem like losing weight is pretty hopeless, right? It makes it seem like we’re powerless over this problem of weight gain.

I’m there’s a silver lining somewhere in the report… I’m not giving myself permission to wait for the “Hot Doughnuts Now” sign to flash and go and eat a dozen Krispy Kremes—although I certainly could!

No… my point is this: If you substitute the word “sin” for “weight gain,” then you probably would have a pretty good understanding of how the Bible describes our main problem as human beings. When it comes to sin, when it comes to failing to do what we ought to do; indeed, when it comes to disobeying God’s law, we are even more helpless, even more powerless, even more hopeless—at least apart from Christ—to do anything about it than we are to lose a lot of weight and keep it off.

And this is really bad news! Even the greatest heroes in the Bible, when they come into God’s presence, are scared out of their minds. They say things like, “Woe is me! I’m doomed! I’m a man of unclean lips and come from a people of unclean lips!” Why? Because they know that they’re sinners; they know they’re unworthy; they know that because of their sin they can’t be in the presence of a holy God.

So, if someone is going to solve our problem with sin, it’s not going to be us. It’s going to have to be God. The good news is that in Jesus Christ—through his life, death, and resurrection—God has done exactly that!

The Bible says, “God made him [Jesus] who knew no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”[1] It says that God canceled the “record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands” and “set it aside, nailing it to the cross.”[2] It’s as if every sin that separates us from God—past, present, or future—has been nailed to the cross with Christ. He lived the life we were unable to live; he’d died the death we deserved to die; he even suffered the hell we deserved to suffer. Because God loved us that much…

And this is what makes Christianity so different from every other religion in the world! Every other religion in the world says, in a nutshell, “Do these things, follow these commands, obey these laws, and then… if you don’t mess up too badly, then… God will accept you.”

Christianity says, “Because God accepts you, do these things… And not only that, I’m going to give you power through my Holy Spirit to do them.”

I hope you can see how that makes all the difference!

[1] 2 Corinthians 5:21

[2] Colossians 2:14

Why Adam Hamilton is still wrong (Part 2)

May 6, 2016

In a post last week, I began examining Adam Hamilton’s latest salvo in his effort to change our United Methodist doctrine on sexuality. I wrote mostly about the way he conflates the Bible’s words about slavery and women with homosexual behavior. He argues that traditionalists like me are bound to be inconsistent in our interpretation of scripture if we nevertheless oppose slavery and support women in ordained ministry. Hamilton’s argument is a kinder, gentler spin on the popular “shellfish argument.”

As I said in my earlier post, however, before revisionists like Hamilton accuse my side of inconsistency, they might look in the mirror: If they reject what the Bible says about homosexual practice, on what basis do they affirm what the Bible says about anything related to sexual behavior?

Needless to say, if this question occurred to Hamilton, he doesn’t address it. In fact, notice the seemingly high-minded way he criticizes both conservatives and progressives in our current dispute. I suspect that the following two paragraphs are an attempt by Hamilton—a “centrist” on the issue—to stake out middle ground between two extremes:

Conservatives on this issue (by the way, one can be progressive on a host of issues, yet conservative on this issue, and likewise one can be conservative on a host of issues yet progressive on same-gender marriage) base their views of the incompatibility of same-gender relationships on a particular way of reading the Bible, which in turn is based upon a particular, but often inconsistently held, way of understanding what the Bible is and how God speaks through it.

Progressives on this issue, likewise, base their willingness to embrace same-gender relationships as acceptable to God on a certain way of reading the Bible, one that is also based upon a particular, but not always clearly articulated, way of understanding what the Bible is and how God speaks through it.

If you were a neutral observer, knowing nothing about the issue, which would you rather be—a conservative or a progressive? After all, we conservatives are “often” inconsistent in our view of scripture, whereas progressives are “not always clearly” articulate about their view. The problem with progressives, in other words, is not that they’re ever wrong, but that they don’t communicate very well.

Hamilton’s blog post aims to remedy that situation.

To that end, he devotes some paragraphs to our understanding of the inspiration of scripture. I’m sure he says more about this in a recent book in which he introduced his “three buckets” hermeneutic. But he says a lot about it here that merits consideration.

On the issue of same gender acts, [the Bible’s authors] wrote based upon their understanding of human sexuality, in the light of the prevailing same-gender practices of their time.

What were the “prevailing same-gender practices” that the Bible’s authors were writing against? In a series of rhetorical questions, he offers clues. Here’s the first one:

Do Moses’ words commanding that men who lie with men should be put to death express the heart of God towards them?

There are a number sins that merit the death penalty in the Old Testament—including sins that many of us have committed, whether they include homosexual sex or not. Whether or to what extent these death sentences were actually imposed in ancient Israel, the only true theocracy that has ever existed, is interesting but beside the point. The point is, the sentence itself is just, even as (we hope) mercy will often rise above justice.

Besides, all of us humans have already received the death penalty for our sins. We will all die, after all, and when we do, it will ultimately be because of our sin. Isn’t this the clear teaching of Genesis 2-3?

To suggest, as Hamilton does, that this just penalty for our sin—any sin—fails to “express the heart of God,” makes the gospel incomprehensible.

The starting point of the Good News of Jesus Christ is Bad News. We all deserve death. We all deserve God’s judgment. We all deserve God’s wrath. We all deserve hell.

In nearly the same breath, however, I need to say, “Nevertheless…” God loved us too much to simply leave us in that helpless condition, and so he implemented a rescue plan for humanity, which meant that God himself, the Word made flesh, would suffer and die in our place.

For the sake of argument, suppose Hamilton conceded that the unanimous opinion of almost two-thousand years’ worth of reflection on scripture was correct, and that God really is telling us through his Word that homosexual behavior per se is a serious sexual sin of which we must repent or risk being excluded permanently from God’s kingdom. Given that ancient Israel was, uniquely, a theocracy whose criminal penalties are no longer binding (as Jesus himself demonstrates with the woman caught in adultery in John 8:2-11), would Hamilton still say that the death penalty was, even in the context in which these penalties were originally prescribed, unjustified?

In other words, did the death penalty fail to “express God’s heart” even in its original context?

I’m guessing that Hamilton would say that it didn’t express God’s heart. In which case the Bible’s authors didn’t merely get it wrong on what Hamilton refers to elsewhere as “five or six verses about homosexuality”; they got it wrong on hundreds, if not thousands, of verses!

If so, what’s left of one’s doctrine of scripture and its inspiration?

I’ll say more about that later.

“Opening the Scriptures”: A new sermon series starting this Sunday

May 5, 2016

Opening the Scriptures graphic

I wrote the following for our weekly electronic newsletter.

In Luke 24:13-35, two disciples of Jesus are returning from Jerusalem to their hometown of Emmaus, about eight miles away. It’s Easter Sunday. Although some of their fellow disciples told them that they found the tomb of Jesus empty, they don’t know what to make of it. As of yet, alongside most of their fellow disciples, they don’t believe that their Lord has been resurrected.

So they head for home, discouraged and confused.

Jesus meets them on the road, but “their eyes were kept from recognizing him.” At Jesus’ prompting, they tell him about the events of Good Friday as well as the reports of the empty tomb.

Jesus tells them: “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” Then Luke writes: “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.”

Beginning with Moses and all the prophets… in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.

I don’t blame you if these words surprise you. Except for a few scattered verses in Isaiah and Malachi that we hear every Advent or Christmas season, we modern Christians probably don’t think that the Old Testament has much to say about Jesus.

After all, we call it the Old Testament because it’s obsolete, right?

Needless to say, this was not the attitude of Jesus or the early Church. In fact, the only Bible they had at the time was the Old Testament. When Paul told Timothy that “all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,” he was literally talking about the Old Testament (even as we rightly apply these words to the New Testament as well).

From the perspective of Jesus, Paul, the other New Testament writers, and the early Church, the Old Testament, far from being obsolete, was a treasure trove of information about Jesus.

I confess, like many of you, I didn’t always see it that way.

But my attitude began to change several years ago, when I was preparing to preach a sermon on Jonah. I was reading a new commentary by theologian Phillip Cary, who turned my world upside down with one startling sentence: “Like the whole Bible, the book of Jonah is about Christ and therefore about all those who find their life in him.”

This Old Testament book was about Christ? Like all the other Old Testament books?

I then discovered that until very recently, that’s the way the Church had always read the Old Testament. We modern Christians are the weird ones who often think that the Old Testament has little to say to us.

In a new sermon series starting this Sunday, I hope I can instill within you my enthusiasm for seeing Jesus Christ in the Old Testament. We’re going to begin near the beginning, with Genesis 3:1-15.