Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Prophecy and Evangelism

As I've shared before, the opportunity to hear someone else preach is a joy and special privilege to me. When I go on vacation, I spend a good amount of time researching churches in the area (wherever we'll be) to find a place for my family and me to worship on the Lord's Day. I had the experience recently. We were going to have the opportunity to visit another congregation, and I had one in mind. The pastor, I knew, ran on a similar theological path as myself, and the church was small (those are my two main criteria). We enjoyed our visit. The membership was friendly, the music had meaning (and was not overbearing or overly dramatic), and there was the reading of Scripture during the service outside of the preaching of the sermon. The sermon itself was rooted in the text, which I appreciate. The preacher's outline followed the structure of the Scripture. There was a huge, glaring problem, however: there was no Gospel, no Jesus in the message.
I've been reading 1 Peter 1 this week in my personal devotion, rejoicing in the Trinity's revelation in 1:2, the benediction unto "a living hope" in 1:3, the thickness of glory (1:7,8,11,21,24; 2:12; 4:11,13,14,16; 5:1,4,10,11), the importance of obedience (1:2,14,22), revelation (1:5,7,13), etc. I've thought a lot about the Old Testament (1:10-12a) and the New Testament (1:12b) and the tandem role they play in the Lord's work in causing us to be born again. The Old Testament "prophets...prophesied of the grace that" has come to us. They had revelation from "the Spirit of Christ" concerning "the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow." The Old Testament Prophets were "seeking" greater understanding of these things even as they received revelation of them. For Isaiah through Malachi, knowing the Gospel of Jesus Christ was a hungry obsession that caused them to have an "it's not enough" attitude when the Holy Spirit used them to write that great division of the Old Testament. They wanted the Good News, and they weren't the only ones - this revelation pointed toward "things into which angels long to look." How could you preach from the Prophets without even a hint of this longing?
When I've had opportunity to teach a preaching course, I have advised this discipline: however you construct the sermon (paper or computer), and no matter what your style of writing the outline/manuscript is, start with the cross. Ask yourself, "where is the Gospel in this text, and where will it be in the sermon?" Have Jesus as your ultimate goal. You will study context, history, primary message, etc., but don't forget the Prophet's passion: seeking the fullness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Let his passion, driven by the inspiration of the "Spirit of Christ," be your inspiration.
Peter while preaching to the household of Cornelius in Caesarea, ends his sermon with this statement: "Of Him all the prophets bear witness that through His name everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins" (Acts 10:43). "All the prophets," the apostle said. All of them. I won't quote all of Luke 24:44-49 to you, but you should read it yourself regularly to be reminded of the focus of the Old Testament. "The Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms," Jesus teaches, gives us the foundation for the death and resurrection of Jesus, but also the promise and commission of a global Gospel proclamation and the filling of the Holy Spirit. All of it, Jesus teaches, is found in the Old Testament. Just as the Prophets inquired from the Spirit of Christ for more of the Gospel, we should inquire of the Old Testament (a book written by the Spirit of Christ) for the Gospel for which they longed.
My thought, as the brother behind the pulpit preached a sermon faithfully anchored to the text (but missing the text's goal), was Jesus' statement, "you search the Scriptures [of the Old Testament] because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me" (John 5:39).
Paul (and everyone else in that first generation of the new covenant) evangelized from "both the Law of Moses and from the Prophets" concerning Jesus (Acts 28:23). Can we do the same?
O beloved, don't ever, ever, ever miss the point of the Book. It's about Him. It's not about Israel, and it's not about the geopolitical events of today, and it's not primarily about me. It's about Jesus. The sacred desk behind which I preach to a small congregation in the afternoon of the Lord's Day has John 12:21 in sticky-backed letters (a few missing) where only the preacher can see it: "Sir, we would see Jesus." We cannot ever grow past this as preachers and teachers. If we are to endeavor to open the Book before the people, then show them Jesus.

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I'm currently reading Who Shall Ascend the Mountain of the Lord?: A Biblical Theology of the Book of Leviticus. If I could only keep a small portion of the books in my library, this would be one of them. Morales doesn't just give us great material about Leviticus, but also a helpful vision of the Pentateuch and the whole Bible itself. I highly recommend it. It will enrich your understand of the great Book deeply.

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