Preaching Today: The (Almost) Forgotten Task, Part 3

Desiring God 1999 Conference for Pastors

Preaching Today: The (Almost) Forgotten Task

Well, this is the last time I am speaking, although we will take part in the question period tomorrow, I would like to say, since it is, what a great privilege it has been to be here and to share with you in these days. It strikes me as the most significant time and an encouraging one, and I want to acknowledge that. I want to thank the other speakers as well — John this afternoon and CJ this morning — for the clarity and content of what they had to say. So much speaking that you hear today is anemic and weak and sometimes it’s not really clear. You go out afterward and you wonder, “What in the world were they trying to tell us?” I don’t think we have any difficulty in knowing what CJ and John were trying to tell us, and I, for one, appreciate it.

Lost in Translation

I was sitting there thinking of that a moment ago and a story that I heard Chuck Swindoll tell years ago came back to my mind. I suppose it was 10 years ago, but I remember it. It was about a bandit whose name was Jose Rivera, who was coming up from Mexico across the border in order to steal from the Texas banks years ago when there were little towns and so on. The owners of the banks wanted to stop it, so they got together and hired a Texas ranger to send him down across the border to find Jose Rivera and get the money back or shoot him.

This big ranger went down there and tracked him down to a little Mexican town and he found out where the bandit was. He was in a little saloon there and the Texas ranger went around back and then he came bursting in suddenly with two guns and he pointed them in the direction of Jose Rivera and said, “Jose Rivera, I am a Texas ranger. I’ve come down here to recover the money that you’ve been stealing from the Texas banks, and if you don’t tell me where it is so I can get it and take it back, I’m going to shoot you.”

There was a little man over in the corner who said, “Amigo, it’s no use speaking that way to Jose. He doesn’t speak English. He doesn’t know what you’re saying.” So the Texas ranger said, “Well, you tell Jose Rivera that I’m down here to get that money back and if he doesn’t tell me where it is, I’m going to shoot him.” The little man spoke to Jose in Spanish and said, “He is a Texas ranger. He is going to shoot you if you don’t tell him where the money is.” And Jose said, “Well, no sense dying for a little bit of money. I can always go back and get more. I can tell him where it is. Just tell him to go out of town here about half a mile to the north. By the side of the road, he’ll find a well and there’s a loose stone on the north side of that, and if he pulls that out, there’s a little hole there. That’s where I put all the money.” The little man over in the corner looked at the Texas ranger and said, “Jose says, ‘Go ahead and shoot.’” Well, some messages get lost in the translation, and I don’t think that’s what’s happened here these past couple of days.

Grounds for Optimism

I do want to say something else before I plunge into our topic tonight, and that is, generally speaking, I’m encouraged by what I see happening in the country. The reason I say that is because when you address problems the way I have been starting last night and also this morning, talking about the decline of the evangelical church, its worldliness, its loss of biblical preaching, and the need to recover that, it’s very easy for people to get the idea, “Well, basically you’re pessimistic. Everything seems bad.” There’s a lot out there that is bad, but I’m not pessimistic at all. As a matter of fact, I’m probably more optimistic at the present moment about what I see in the believing church in this country than I have been probably in my whole ministry.

Of course, I started out in a liberal church and that wasn’t a very easy way to get going, but observing the evangelicals in all kinds of denominations over all these years, I think this is really a bright moment. The reason for this is that I detect that there are many people, particularly young pastors, who are dissatisfied with the worldliness and the worldly methods and are really hunting for something better. When we go around the country and hold our seminars, talking about some of these things on behalf of the alliance, the young men almost come out of the woodwork and they say, “Can something be done? What can we do? How can you help us?” We’ve made an effort to establish in a number of cities what we call Reformation societies, but that’s only part of it. I think some of the things that we have seen that really are not good really fall in the category of fads, and America is very faddish.

Those things come and then they go and there’s a certain kind of approach to ministry which I think is passing that way. The thing that I’ve noticed recently is that people are getting tired of the seeker-sensitive stuff. As a matter of fact, they’re leaving many of these churches in some parts of the country. It’s an amazing movement, but they’re hunting for something better and the challenge that we have is to be there with a gospel that actually exalts the character and the grace of our God. And I think we have people doing that. Who knows what’s going to come, but it just may be that God in his grace and mercy is going to give us something like a Reformation or revival. I certainly pray for that and I hope you’re praying for it as well.

When Christ Preaches Christ from the Old Testament

Now, we’ve been talking about preaching. It’s a preacher’s conference and I’ve tried to tackle three things that strike me as most critical to the preaching ministry. I talked last night about preaching the gospel or preaching doctrine. People don’t want to preach doctrine because they say, “Well, people can’t follow that today.” When did they ever? We have to do that. I tried to present that challenge. I tried to talk about the weakness of evangelicals in that category, and then I was talking about preaching the Bible this morning and I was pointing out there that we have really gotten a mood in many of our churches that thinks that although the Bible’s important and it certainly comes from God and we ought to be thankful to have it and all of that, it somehow doesn’t work today. So people think that what we have to do is use the world’s methods to get God’s work done.

I tried to present a challenge there and what I want to talk about tonight is preaching Christ, and I want to emphasize what I said at the beginning last night, that these are not three separate things. When you preach Christ, you preach Christ from the Bible. That’s the only place we know anything about Jesus Christ. And when you preach Christ from the Bible, that’s a doctrinal message because Christ is the Son of God. You have to explain who he is, what his character is, and above all what he has done for us in salvation by his death on the cross. That’s theology, that’s Bible, and that’s Christ in all of those things. But we’re going to talk particularly about preaching the Bible tonight. I want to read a passage that will be at least the jumping-off place for our study.

We’re going to talk about preaching the Bible and we’re going to start in Luke 24 and that very well-known story of Jesus presenting himself and teaching the Emmaus disciples as they were on the way home after the resurrection. The passage says:

Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them, but they were kept from recognizing him. He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?” They stood still, their faces downcast.

One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” “What things?” he asked. “About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see Jesus.” He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.

As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus continued on as if he were going farther. But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together and saying, “It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.” Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread (Luke 24:13–35; all Scripture references are taken from the NIV).

A Surprising Revelation

I find this a fascinating chapter and I’m sure you do as well. It’s the climax of Luke’s Gospel and it’s significant that it involves a sermon by the Lord, Jesus Christ. When you turn to each of the Gospels, they have their own emphases and ways of stressing things. I mentioned when we were saying something earlier about John’s Gospel how the real peak of that is the confession of Thomas there in the 20th chapter. The 21st chapter is somewhat of a postscript. It’s like the preface that is at the beginning. But the climax there is Thomas’s great confession: “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28) That’s the kind of thing we want to see with people as we preach the gospel.

But now in Luke, we have something similar, only here, Jesus Christ is preaching a sermon and we know this story. These two were in Jerusalem and they heard everything about the resurrection. We generally call them the Emmaus disciples, but the name of one is given here in Luke 24:18. His name is Cleopas, and then elsewhere in the Gospel accounts, we’re told of a man named Clopas. It’s almost the same word and names are buried in antiquity. They’re probably the same person. In the other case, we’re told that Clopas had a wife whose name was Mary, so probably this was a couple going home — Cleopas and Mary. And they had heard about the resurrection because the women had been to the tomb. They had come back and told them. They said, “Some of our companions went to the tomb with them” (Luke 24:24). That must have been Peter and John.

They came back with the kind of message we know they had because of reading the other Gospel accounts. But these two people did not believe in the resurrection and they were on their way home. Their testimony was this, “It is over. We had thought he was the one who was going to redeem Israel” (Luke 24:21). It’s ironic that they said that. Of course, that’s exactly what he was doing, but they didn’t mean that kind of redemption. They meant driving out the Romans and setting them free from the Roman yoke. They thought, “He was going to be a political messiah and he obviously wasn’t. He’s dead.” So Jesus appears to him.

Now, under the circumstances, if it was me, I would’ve said to them, “Hey guys, don’t you understand, it’s me? It’s me, Jesus. And if you don’t believe it, look at my hands. Look, there’s the hole. That’s where the nails went in. Do you want to see my side? That’s where they thrust the spear in. Don’t you believe in the resurrection now?” Well, the interesting thing is that is not the way Jesus handled the situation. He did not present himself to them initially as the resurrected Lord. What he did instead was to preach a sermon, and furthermore, he preached it from the whole of the Old Testament.

It must have been quite a sermon because Luke 24:27 says, “Beginning with Moses and the prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.” That’s the Jewish way of talking about the whole Old Testament. They have a word for it. The word is Tanakh, because the T stands for the Torah (that’s the Moses part), the N stands for the Nevi’im (that’s the prophets), and then the Ketuvim (the writings of Scripture). So when it says that he began with Moses and all the prophets and explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself, it’s a way of saying he preached a sermon and the whole Old Testament was his text.

Thus It Is Written

Now, I read something like that and I say, “Boy, I wish I was there to hear that one, because here’s Jesus explaining what the Bible’s all about.” We know what it’s about; it’s about himself. And furthermore, his sermon had an awful lot of doctrine in it because not only did he explain from those texts that the Christ had to suffer these things and then enter his glory, but as you go on with the story and come to the very end of it, when they get back to Jerusalem, we find that he opened their minds there so they could understand the Scriptures and he told them, “This is what is written, that Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations beginning at Jerusalem, and you are witnesses of these things.”

That’s the kind of thing he was teaching from the Bible. In other words, what we have here in Luke 24 is an illustration of what I’ve been saying in these three sessions. Here is Christ the preacher showing us how to do it, and what he’s doing is teaching the Bible, which is about himself and contains all of the doctrinal content of the gospel. This is an Easter sermon. I look at that and see how it says “beginning with Moses and the prophets and the Scriptures,” and I wonder what the texts were that he actually pulled out and explained to them. Now, it doesn’t tell us what those texts were, but I think there’s a way of knowing. The reason I say that is that after Christ had ascended to heaven and the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost, immediately these men that he had left behind to be his witnesses began to preach.

Furthermore, they preach with understanding and they preach biblically. We say to ourselves, “Where in the world did they learn how to do that?” The answer of course is that they learned it from Jesus. That’s what he was doing during those 40 days, and he began it here. You can’t tell me that on the road to Emmaus, as they listened to Jesus himself preach about himself from the Old Testament, they forgot the texts that he used.

They would have said afterward as they shared that with one another, “He went to that particular passage and do you know what he saw there? I have never seen that there before, but this is the way he explained it and it all had to do with himself and the fact that he had to suffer and rise again.” And another one would say, “Yeah, and when he was with me, he went to this text and he taught it this way.” And they began to reflect on those things. During those 40 days between the resurrection, the ascension, and the coming of Pentecost, they were studying the Bible and they were using the outline that Jesus had developed for them during those days.

Scripture Through the Lens of Christ

Now, it’s not hard to find out what the texts were. All you have to do is go to the Book of Acts and look at other portions in the New Testament to see what happens. Here’s Pentecost. They’re all together on that day. The Holy Spirit comes and they begin to speak in tongues. A great crowd gathers and Peter stands up to preach the first Christian sermon of the Christian era, apart from the one that Jesus had preached in Luke 24, and what he does is automatically begin to pull out critical texts and explain them to the people. There are as many verses here that are quotations from the Old Testament as there are verses of exposition. He has three great passages. When we’re talking about sermons we sometimes talk about a great three-pointer. Well, Spurgeon always had great four-pointers. The Puritans had great 20 or 30-pointers, but here’s Peter, not with three points, but there are three texts and the first one we know he preached on was Joel 2:28–32.

That was obvious because that’s the clearest passage in the Old Testament having to do with the coming of the Holy Spirit. It’s Pentecost and his point is that this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing. And having done that, he begins to preach Jesus and he has two texts that explain that. He quotes Psalm 16:8–11:

I saw the Lord always before me.
     Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.
Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices;
     my body also will rest in hope,
because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead,
     you will not let your holy one see decay.
You have made known to me the paths of life;
     you will fill me with joy in your presence (Acts 2:25–28).

Now, undoubtedly before the teaching of Jesus Christ, they read that as any Jew would read it and they said, “This is David. He’s writing about the future. I don’t quite understand Psalm 16:10 there about being abandoned to the grave.” But they wouldn’t have seen any more than that. Now Jesus has explained it and Peter understands it, so he stands up at Pentecost and he says, “Here is David speaking as a prophet, and he is not writing about himself. He’s writing about the Messiah who is to come. He’s prophesying the resurrection because look, he says, ‘You will not abandon me to the grave; you will not let your holy one see decay,’ but David did see decay, and if you don’t believe it, go open up his tomb. It’s right outside the city there. You can see that. Nobody is going to question that. So David, writing as a prophet, is writing about whom? He must be writing about the Messiah. So all of that is fulfilled in Jesus Christ and it’s happened in your lifetime, in your days.”

David’s Son and David’s Lord

Then he quotes from Psalm 110:1. That’s the third text of this great sermon and it’s the verse of the Old Testament that’s most quoted in the New Testament. Psalm 110:4, which talks about a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek, is also quoted a lot. So it certainly was the most popular of the Psalms in the early Christian preaching. I don’t know for sure how many times it appears in the New Testament, but it’s probably 20 or 25 times. It’s difficult to count because sometimes it’s quoted in full as it is several times in the book of Hebrews, and other times it’s alluded to and it’s hard to tell whether it’s a direct quotation. But apparently, it is quoted about 20 or 25 times. If you say, “Well, why was that so popular?” Well, obviously because of what it says, “The Lord said to my Lord, sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet” (Psalm 110:1).

That was a passage that had been used by Jesus himself during his lifetime. He threw it out to those who were interrogating him to challenge them. He said, “Can you explain that? Here is David writing and he’s talking about one who is his Lord, to whom Jehovah is speaking.” He says, “If that’s just a normal descendant of David that is one of his sons by human generation, how is it that David could possibly call him Lord?” (Matthew 22:45). The father does not call the son his lord. Rather, it’s the other way around; the son calls the father his lord. When Jesus threw out the question, they had no answer to that. They didn’t know how to explain it, but now in the meantime, Jesus has explained it and Peter has learned it, and he says, “The answer is obvious. This one who is descended from David, the son of David, is perfectly human through the incarnation but is nevertheless more than a mere human being. He’s God incarnate. He is the Son of God. That’s how David can call him his Lord.”

So he quotes the text. He says, “The one you crucified, God the Father, Jehovah, has made the Lord, and he’s going to be the judge. Furthermore, you have to stand before him one day and what you need to do is repent of your sin and come to him.” That was the first great sermon. That’s what Pentecost was all about.

It’s interesting that Pentecost certainly is a fulfillment of prophecy in the coming of the Holy Spirit. The fact that they spoke in tongues and when Peter got up to speak didn’t lead to Peter saying, “Let me tell you a little bit about what’s going on here and about speaking in tongues and how important all of that is.” He’s not doing that. He’s preaching Christ and furthermore, he’s preaching Christ from the Old Testament and he’s doing it with understanding.

The King Established on Zion

When you go on a little bit further, to the fourth chapter, you find more of the same. Here, Peter and the others have been arrested. They appear before the Sanhedrin and Peter and John and Peter have a chance to preach again. Here he quotes another Old Testament text, this time from Psalm 118:22. He says, “The stone you builders rejected has become the capstone. This is who Jesus is.” Now, that of course was a popular story. Everybody understood it when they built the temple apparently. They don’t have it in the Old Testament, but it was folklore. The builders who were cutting the stones and sending them up to the construction site where they did not use tools, sent up a stone that they couldn’t fit into the building at the moment they were building. So they laid it aside and it was forgotten.

Later, they came to a significant stone, a capstone. They sent down to the quarry for it, but they said, “It’s already been sent up,” and they looked around. There it was. It had been neglected and so the stone the builders had rejected became the capstone. Peter, as he preaches to the Sanhedrin, says, “That was about Jesus and that’s what you have done. You rejected the Holy One, but God has made him the capstone, the focal point, of all revealed religion.” So we use that to preach Jesus as well.

When they are released, they go to the people, the believers who are waiting and have been praying for them, and when they see them and recognize that God’s delivered them from the Sanhedrin, they’ve not been killed on this occasion, they begin to praise God. Within a few minutes, the praise of the early Christian congregation falls into a recitation or singing of the second Psalm:

Why did the Gentiles rage,
     and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth set themselves,
     and the rulers were gathered together,
     against the Lord and against his Anointed . . . (Acts 4:25–26).

They saw Psalm 2 as fulfilled utterly in Jesus Christ.

Like a Lamb Led to the Slaughter

Go on a little bit further in Acts and you come to Acts 8. There in the eighth chapter you have Philip, and God sends him down to meet with this Ethiopian who’s on his way back home after he’d been to Jerusalem. The Ethiopian was apparently on a spiritual quest as some people are today, and he had bought a passage of Scripture. It was the scroll of Isaiah. He was reading it, but he didn’t understand it, so he needed a preacher to explain it to him. That’s why God sent Philip down. So Philip approaches and he can hear what he’s reading. He’s reading from Isaiah 53:7–8, which says:

Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter
     and like a lamb before its shearer is silent,
     so he opens not his mouth.
In his humiliation justice was denied him.
     Who can describe his generation?
For his life is taken away from the earth (Acts 8:32–33).

The eunuch asked Philip, “Tell me, who is the prophet talking about?” (Acts 8:34). Philip knew this was Jesus because the whole of the Bible is about Jesus and this is talking about the vicarious death of Jesus, the substitutionary atonement, the innocent one taking our sin upon himself and dying in our place. So he explains it to him, and the man, as he hears that preaching and explanation, echoing the preaching of Jesus Christ undoubtedly, realizes that that’s true. He places his faith in Christ and he’s baptized and he’s brought into the fellowship of the church. All of that is in Acts 8.

You find it all through the Bible. I don’t have time to talk about the rest of the New Testament, but the letter to the Hebrews alone is significant. Seven Old Testament prophecies are quoted as having been fulfilled by Jesus in the first chapter alone — Psalm 2:7, 2 Samuel 7:14, Deuteronomy 32:43, Psalm 104:4, Psalm 45:6–7, Psalm 102:25–27, and Psalm 110:1. Two of those we’ve seen already.

You get to the second chapter of Hebrews and four more texts are quoted — Psalm 8:4–6, Psalm 22:22, Isaiah 8:17, and Isaiah 8:18. And it goes on throughout the book. Moreover, it’s not just particular verses that are cited as prophecies fulfilled in Jesus Christ, but the book of Hebrews in particular develops the themes of the Old Testament to show that they’re fulfilled in Christ. So Christ is the great high priest and Christ is the perfect sacrifice that not only fulfills but abolishes all the sacrifices that went before and merely pointed to him. So to preach the Bible is to preach Christ. Christ himself did it and the early preachers did it as well.

Christ and the Sacrifice of Isaac

Now, I want to go back to the Old Testament, to a story that I think contains within it what I would call the clue to understanding what the whole Old Testament is about, and it’s Genesis 22. We all know this story. This is the story of God’s testing Abraham and the sacrifice of his son, God comes to him to tell him to sacrifice his son, and he obeys and does it. It’s a rich passage, one of the greatest chapters in the book of Genesis, and perhaps one of the richest chapters in the whole Old Testament.

Some years ago, when I was spending all those years teaching Genesis, the junior high class at our church was studying Genesis at the same time. A teacher got the idea that it would be nice, since I was preaching on it, to come down and meet with the junior high class and maybe answer some questions that they would have. And I agreed to do it. That was a mistake.

My second mistake was not to have anybody with me who could actually answer the questions. I’ve always found, that when you’re doing a question period, you need two people because then if you know the answer, you answer it and you’ll appear very wise. If you don’t, you defer to the other person and you appear very humble. And of course, that’s what I’m going to do tomorrow. I’m going to defer all the hard questions to John. I am a very humble man. You’re going to discover that.

But at any rate, I went down and was trying to answer their questions and some of them were what you’d expect. Then one of them asked me, “We’ve been studying the 22nd chapter of Genesis, and what we’ve been told is that Abraham, when he was told to sacrifice his son, wrestled with that as a great spiritual problem because God had told him that this was the son of promise through whom he was going to have heirs and through whom eventually the Messiah would be born. And then he wrestled with that and he came to the solution that if God was going to be faithful to his word, the only way he could see that would happen is if God would perform a resurrection. He’d have to raise Isaac from the dead.”

I was nodding, of course, because that’s what I’ve been taught. That’s what I learned in Sunday school. And then the student said, “Well, if that’s true, why doesn’t it say it clearly?” Now, there’s a problem for an exegete, and I did what you do when you don’t know the answer to a question. I said, “I’m very glad you asked that question.” You say it slowly because you’re trying to figure out an answer. I said, “Well, what occurs to me is that you very seldom ever find in any of these Bible stories what is going on inside the man’s mind. God is just not so interested in our struggles as the truth of the thing.” Job is a bit of an exception, but we could talk about that. But I said, “You just don’t find that kind of thing. And if that’s the case, then it means the emphasis of the story, what God is concerned about, must be something different than those personal struggles.”

We write a novel today, you have to write that sort of thing, but they don’t seem to have been so interested in that in the biblical period. So I looked at it again and said, “Well, what is God emphasizing?” And actually, I got an insight when I did that that I hadn’t seen before, because after Abraham is up on the mountain and he’s about to sacrifice his son, God sends an angel to stop him from doing it. Then he looks over, sees a ram caught in the thicket, sacrifices the ram instead, and calls the place “Jehovah-Jireh” (God will provide). We would think, “Well, that’s the end of the story,” but it’s not the end of the story because the angel then appears again, a second time, and promises Abraham great blessing because, it says in Genesis 22:18, “You have obeyed me.”

Obedience Rewarded

I said, “That’s what it’s about. It’s not about Abraham’s struggle, it’s about his obedience.” Then you go back and you look at it and you say, “What can you learn about Abraham’s obedience from the story?” And later — I didn’t do it on the occasion — it seemed to me it teaches that his obedience was immediate. He didn’t delay it. It was sustained, it was willing, it was settled, and it was contagious. And the point for which I tell all of this is that it was rewarded. It was rewarded by understanding because when Abraham named that place “Jehovah-Jireh” (God will provide), it’s significant that that is in the future tense and not in the past tense. He didn’t say, “I’m going to name this place Jehovah-Jireh, putting it in the past tense, because God has provided a ram so I didn’t have to sacrifice my son.”

He doesn’t call it that at all. He calls it “Jehovah-Jireh” because it means, “God will provide.” What has happened here in a symbolic way is going to happen in the future in some way that Abraham doesn’t fully understand, but he believed God would somehow actually give his Son, of which Abraham’s sacrifice has only been the type. Now, I think that’s what the story is about. I think these verses that are such a clue to the understanding of the Old Testament are right there in the middle.

They’re making their way up the mountain. Abraham is expecting a resurrection. I do believe that because he has the servants stay below. He says, “You stay here while I and the boy go up there. We’re going to worship and then we are going to come back to you” (Genesis 22:5). It’s in the plural, so he expected to come back down the mountain with his son, but nevertheless, here he is. They’re going up the mountain.

Isaac has this question. Isaac says, “Where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” (Genesis 22:7). Abraham’s answer is this: “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son” (Genesis 22:8). And the two went on together. Now, I would think that that could very well be spoken of as the theme of the Old Testament. Throughout the Old Testament, in every period, all of the great saints with any kind of insight at all into what God was doing — and they had a great deal more than we generally give them credit for — this question would be basic to their expectation: “When is God going to provide that lamb for the burnt offering?” And the answer is always the answer of Abraham. God’s going to do it, but he’s going to do it in his own time.

The Seed of the Woman

Now, let me take you to some representative texts of the Old Testament to show how that might work out. First of all, earlier on in Genesis. Here we have the third chapter. It’s the chapter that tells about the fall of Adam and Eve. God had told them that they were not to eat of the tree in the midst of the garden and that the day they ate of it, they would die. And of course that’s exactly what they did. They ate of it, and so they must have expected to die. Here comes God in the garden and he’s speaking to them and he’s pronouncing a judgment and he begins with a judgment on the serpent. The serpent, I think, becomes a serpent there — at least what we mean by serpent. That was the judgment. Then he has a judgment on the woman and then he has a judgment on the man. But at the end of this series of judgments, Adam and Eve are still standing there and they are not dead.

They should be. God had said, “The day you eat of it, you’re going to die,” but they hadn’t died. Instead, what Adam heard is that God had promised a savior in the midst of his judgment on the serpent (Genesis 3:15). We call it the Proto-Evangelium. It’s the very first announcement of the gospel in all the Bible, God said, speaking to the serpent:

And I will put enmity between you and the woman,
     and between your offspring and hers;
he will crush your head,
     and you will strike his heel (Genesis 3:15).

Adam heard that and with the kind of understanding he must have had, because in his pre-fallen state, he certainly had a good understanding, and he had God for his teacher because he talked with God in the garden in the cool of the evening. He must have been gunned to figure out what it was that God had actually said there.

Furthermore, God did something significant. God took skins from animals and clothed them. And so for the very first time, I suppose, Adam and Eve saw what death was and Adam, with the kind of understanding he must have had, began to surmise something of what’s going on here. I mean, God has said, “The day in which you eat of it, you’re going to die, but we haven’t died and the animals have died instead. There’s some kind of substitution going on there.” Perhaps he even got the idea that the skins from the animals used to clothe them were somehow symbolic of something, maybe imputed righteousness, or something like that.

The Mother of Everything Living

At any rate, he believed in God’s promise. So he said to Eve, “Now, I want to give you a name that indicates that I actually am trusting God as the Savior and the one who is promised the redeemer. I’m going to call you Eve.” We talk about Adam and Eve all the time as if that was the woman’s name from the beginning, but it wasn’t, of course. You want to know what her name was, you find it in the fifth chapter because it says:

When God created mankind, he made them in the likeness of God. He created them (plural) male and female and blessed them. And he named them “Man” when they were created (Genesis 5:1–2).

So God’s name for the woman was Mrs. Adam. It was Mr. Adam and Mrs. Adam. But now Adam says, “I’m going to call you Eve.” Now, why is that? Well, the explanation is in the footnote of a lot of our Bibles because it explains what Eve means. It means “life” or “life-giver.” We would perhaps say in colloquial language, mother. The reason he called her Eve was because he had heard what God said. God said, “I’m going to send a redeemer who is going to be born of the woman, one who is going to overthrow the work of Satan and in some way bring us back to paradise.” So Adam said, “I’m going to call you Eve as a symbol of the fact that I believe in the promise of God, and I’m going to stand on that.” Furthermore, I think Eve did the same thing because in the next chapter (Genesis 4) it says that she became pregnant and gave birth to a son.

When he was born, she called him Cain. If you do the same thing and look at the footnote to see what Cain means, it means “acquired.” We would say colloquially, “Here he is.” She thought she had him. God said, “You’re going to give birth to a savior,” and she had a boy and said, “This is the savior.” Now, she made a big mistake. It wasn’t Jesus she was holding in her arms. Rather, he was the world’s first murderer, but she had the right idea, you see. She was trusting God. Salvation is of the Lord.

There’s an awful lot going on here, a lot of understanding by our first parents. But if we had been there in order to quiz Adam on this, I think Adam would’ve said something along these lines. He would’ve said, “Look, I understand a lot of what’s going on because God has certainly done significant things here, and all of this means something. And furthermore, it has to do with the promise of a redeemer. And I get something of this idea of substitutionary atonement.” Then he might say, “But here’s the thing. I am perfectly aware that an animal is not equivalent to a human being, so for an animal to die at our place may be symbolic, but it’s not an adequate atonement. It must be a symbol of a sacrifice to come. So my question is this: Where is the lamb, the real lamb, for the burnt offering?”

And if Abraham had been there because he was not. But if he had been, he could have said something, something no more profound than he did in fact say to his son when they were making their way up Mount Moriah. He would’ve said, “God himself in his own time is going to provide that lamb for the burnt offering.”

A Rebellious People and an Intercessor

Now, let me go to another passage. This is also in Exodus 32. It involves Moses and the people. They had come out of Egypt and God was saying:

I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments (Exodus 20:2–6).

While God was giving that law on the mountain, the people were down in the valley breaking every single one of the commandments. And the story goes like this. God interrupted the giving of the law. He said to Moses, “Do you know what your people are doing down there in the valley?” He explained what was going on. He said to Moses, “Now, just step aside, I’m going to destroy them and I’ll start again with you. We’ll let you be a new Abraham. We’ll make a new people.” And Moses began to intercede for the people. The first thing he said was, “They’re your people.” God had said, “Look what your people are doing.” And Moses said, “Don’t call them my people. They’re the people you brought out of Egypt.”

It’s like what happens when a husband and wife have a disobedient child. She says, “Your son is misbehaving again,” and he says, “Don’t call him my son. He takes after you.” So that’s what was going on. But nonetheless, Moses had to do it. So he went down in the valley and sure enough, the people were engaged in an orgy, dancing around the golden calf.

So he began to deal with it as best he could. Aaron had been party to it. He rebuked Aaron. He didn’t have any authority to remove him — Aaron had been appointed by God — but he did rebuke him. And then he called for anyone who was still loyal. The tribe of Levi responded, and he said, “Take your swords. Go through the camp and kill the ringleaders.” I presume that’s what happened because 3,000 were killed that day. There must have been perhaps several million of the people. And then he took the golden calf and he ground it up and he mixed it with water and he made the people drink it so it would pass through them and come out as dross to show how worthless the gods of the heathens are.

The Need for a Substitute

He’d done everything he could do, but God was still waiting up there on that mountain and he had to go back up there the next day and confront God again. How was he going to do that? How would he plead for the people before the God who said, “I visit the iniquity of the fathers upon the children of the third and fourth generation of them that hate me.” This was a holy God that he had to deal with. So he puzzled over it during the night and he came up with an idea. When he had been in Egypt at the time of the Passover, God had given instructions on how they could kill a lamb and take that blood and spread it upon the lintel of the door and the posts on either side. And when God passed through, he’d pass over the house where there was blood. An innocent victim had died. So Moses said, “Well, maybe God would accept something like that.” I don’t know if he even voiced it at the time. But when he got up the mountain the next day, he began to plead for them:

So Moses went back to the Lord and said, “Oh, what a great sin these people have committed! They have made themselves gods of gold. But now, please forgive their sin — (Exodus 32:31–32). 
You notice in the Bible that it breaks off. There’s a little dash there. He doesn’t finish the sentence. And the reason is obvious. He says, “Please forgive their sin,” but he doesn’t have the faintest idea how. Well, the God of the universe can’t just simply overlook sin. We might want him to do it. We’d say, “It’d be nice for him to do it,” but his job is to establish justice and righteousness. Sin has to be punished. And so after the pause, he continues and it goes this way:

But if not, then blot me out of the book you have written (Exodus 32:32).

In other words, he was offering to be the substitute himself. You see, earlier up on the mountain, God had said, “Step aside, I’ll destroy them and I’ll save you.” Now he says, “No, rather save them and destroy me.” Here’s a man offering to go to hell if it could mean the salvation of the people he loves. Now, he had the right idea, but he couldn’t do it, of course. Moses was not an innocent substitute. He was a sinner himself. He was a murderer.

He came to understand it more fully as God went on to explain. God gave laws for the Day of Atonement when the sacrifice was made for the whole nation and all of that. He put that all down into the law. And Moses must have marveled at that. But if you had asked Moses, “What is the real question you have in all of this?” Moses would have expressed it something like this: “I understand what’s going on here. I understand substitution. I understand that the blood of sheep and goats can’t take away sin.” But he would’ve said: “What I want to know is where is the substitute that we need? Where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” And if Abraham had been there, he could have said nothing more profound than he did in fact say to his son when they were making their way up to the mountain. He would’ve said, “God himself, in his own time, is going to provide the lamb for the burnt offering.”

Washed in the Blood

Well, we’ve looked at the first of the patriarchs. We looked at the great lawgiver. Now let’s speak of the greatest of the kings.

This is David. David got into trouble with Bathsheba, as you know. God confronted him in his sin. He came to confess it and he wrote about it. We have this great psalm of confession. Psalm 51 begins with that approach to God. There’s a confession of sin from Psalm 51:3–6 and then there’s this great prayer for cleansing in Psalm 51:7, which says:

Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean;
     wash me, and I will be whiter than snow (Psalm 51:7).

Hyssop was that little branch they used. They attached it to a piece of wood. They used it to sprinkle the blood in the ceremonies of the Tabernacle. It first appears at the time of the Passover. They use it actually to sprinkle the blood upon the lintel of the house of the doorpost, and it’s elsewhere there.

So when David is saying, “Cleanse me with hyssop,” what he’s saying is, “Cleanse me with the blood, the blood of the innocent substitute.” But if we had said to David, “David, what’s that all about?” he would’ve said, “It’s a symbol of something greater, and that something greater is what we’re waiting for. And my question is this, ‘Where is the lamb for the burnt offering?’” If Abraham had been there, he would’ve said, as he actually said to his son earlier, “God himself, in his own time, is going to provide that lamb for the burnt offering.”

The Suffering Servant

Let me take one more text. We’ve seen the lawgiver, the great king. Let’s look at the greatest of the prophets. This is Isaiah. Here’s Isaiah writing what is probably the best statement in all of the Old Testament of the principle of substitutionary atonement. Isaiah 53:4–8 says:

Surely he took up our pain
     and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
     stricken by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
     he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
     and by his wounds we are healed.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
     each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
     the iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed and afflicted,
     yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
     and as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
     so he did not open his mouth.

If you said to Isaiah, “Isaiah, you’ve got the idea there. You understand it. You’ve expressed it more clearly than anybody else in the Old Testament. It’s that principle of substitutionary atonement.” And there’s the words again. It says “like a lamb led to the slaughter,” and, “like a sheep before her shearers” (Isaiah 53:8). You could say, “Certainly, you understand what’s going on,” and Isaiah would say, “Yes, I think I understand what God is going to do, but we’ve been waiting a long, long time. And my question really is this: Where is the lamb that we’ve been waiting for all these centuries?” And Abraham would say, “God himself, in his own time, is going to provide that lamb for the burnt offering.”

Behold the Lamb of God

Then a day came when that early preacher, John the Baptist, was down by the Jordan River carrying out his ministry and his relative from the north came by, a man named Jesus. God had told John that he would have a sign and he would recognize the Messiah when he came. And when Jesus came and presented himself for baptism, John saw the sign, a dove descending from heaven upon him. He recognized that this was the one. We’re told, in John’s Gospel, in the first chapter, that this is what happened:

The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! (John 1:29).

I think they must have done a double-take. Here’s John pointing to Jesus, just another man, nothing particularly distinguishing about him as far as the disciples were concerned. So they looked in the direction he was pointing and they looked back to John and said, “John, is that the one you’re talking about? Did we hear you correctly? Did you really say that one is the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, the one we have been waiting for all down through the ages of biblical history? Is that the one Adam was waiting for? Is that the one Moses was waiting for? Is that the one David was waiting for? Is that the one Isaiah was waiting for?” And John says, “Yes, he’s the one. That’s the lamb who takes away the sin of the world.”

They did the only sensible thing under the circumstances. They left John and they began to follow Jesus. They followed him for three years, those three years of his ministry, and the time came at the end. We called it Palm Sunday. It was the 10th of Nissan when Jesus made his way up to Jerusalem. It was the time of the Passover, and he went up on the very day that the Passover lambs were being taken up to be sold and to go into all the Jewish households to be kept for three days to eventually be killed on the night of the Passover eaten, with all the ceremonies that went with that day.

There were a lot of lambs because there were a lot of people in Jerusalem for those holidays. Josephus, the Jewish historian, tells us in one place that they did a census of the number of lambs one year, and it was 256,500 lambs. And that was one for a household, so there were certainly millions of people in the city. In the midst of all that celebration and all those lambs being taken up, because it was a festival, Jesus, the Lamb of God, makes his way up to Jerusalem in that final week.

Later in that week, he was crucified and the place he was crucified was Mount Zion, Mount Moriah, the very place to which Abraham had been led with his son all those many centuries before. You see, that’s the pattern of the Bible. Back in the Garden of Eden, it was one animal for one individual. At the time of the Passover, it was one animal for one Jewish family. On the day of atonement, it was one animal for the nation of Israel as the high priest took the blood into the Holy of Holies, having confessed the sins of the people. And now, it was the lamb of God who took away the sin of the world. Where is the lamb? God himself will provide the lamb. And John says, “Behold the lamb who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).

Our Preaching of Christ from the Scriptures

Now, I only have one last thing I want to say, and that’s to go back to Luke 24 because here, we have Jesus preaching a sermon. What I want to say is that Jesus is still preaching that sermon today. That’s the point of it being the 24th chapter. I said when we began that each of the Gospels ends in its own way, and this is certainly what Luke is trying to do. John ends more or less with the confession of Thomas. Matthew has the Great Commission. What Luke has is this preaching of the sermon, and it all has to do with expounding the word of God in order that we might see Christ. Jesus himself showed how it was to be done. The early preachers of the gospel did it, and you and I, who carry on that ministry today, wherever we are sent, do it as well if we actually are faithful to the calling to which we have been called.

It’s wonderful what happens. If you look at the 24th chapter of Luke, you find that there are three great openings there. First of all, we’re told in Luke 24:32 that he “opened” the Scriptures to them. They were reflecting on it as they got back to Jerusalem. As a result of that, Luke 24:31 says that “their eyes were opened” and they recognized him. And then later on, at the very end, Luke 24:45 says he “opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.” And when he did, they understood that it was all about Jesus Christ. That’s the challenge we have today. We open the Scriptures to people. Other people’s eyes might be open to perceive Jesus and trust him as Savior, and then their minds might be open, that they might see Jesus in the Scripture from the very beginning to the very end.

Is there a greater calling than that? There is nothing greater than that because that’s what it’s all about, from the Garden of Eden to the return of Jesus Christ in the Book of Revelation. And it is our privilege to be messengers of that to a desperately needy world.

Questions and Answers

We have some time for questions if you would like to ask some. Martin Lloyd Jones said that when he got together with pastors he didn’t want so much for people to be teaching as much as sharing what God is doing. If any of you would like to do that, I’d be happy for that as well.

I wanted to hear your thoughts if there was any connection at all with Moses offering himself as a substitute and Paul seeming to do that in Romans 9:3. And secondly, in light of the wonderful teaching of the sovereignty of God we’ve received, how should we understand Exodus 32 where it seems that God changed his mind over what he was going to do with Israel?

Yeah, I do think there’s a parallel there and the difference is that Paul understands things that Moses didn’t in his time. In the matter of God repenting and changing his mind, you have several passages like that in the Bible. It’s a difficult thing to wrestle with unless you just treat it lightly and say, “Well, he didn’t really mean it.” You have to get into it, but you have to put it together with other texts. It does say in Malachi, “I am the Lord, I change not” (Malachi 3:6). So you at least have two sides of it presented there. I think that it’s somewhat of God coming down to our level, using our kind of speech to explain what’s going on.

Nineveh is a good, clear example of that. I mean you can say I think with perfect justification that the Nineveh that God said he was going to destroy was no longer that Nineveh. They repented. It was a different situation. So God changing his mind didn’t mean that he changed the way he does things, but that now it was a different situation. He was not going to judge those who were repentant, but you have to think through those and wrestle with them. I think there are other examples of it, but it’s something along those lines.

You have done a wonderful job pointing us to the central theme of the Old Testament and pointing us to the New Testament answer for that, but I wonder if you could give us some of your own insight into how we might generally preach Christ from the Old Testament in texts that aren’t quite as obvious as those.

What we need to do to handle a question like that is to get some texts and lay them out there and say, “How do you preach Christ from this?” There was a question like that yesterday or this morning. I answered by just referring to the law as one example. The law doesn’t mention Christ, but the law condemns us and the answer to that judgment of God on us for our sins is Christ. So you can hardly preach the law without preaching Christ. I think there is wisdom in what the Lutherans say, though I think sometimes they overstate it. They say that everything in the Bible is law or gospel. It’s either God expressing his commands, which we violate, or it’s God showing salvation in Christ who has been promised and who has now come. Now, within that framework, yes you can preach Christ in anything, but what I find to be the problem is not so much finding Christ in the text but preaching Christ wrongly from the text.

I think that’s the bigger problem we have because we live in a day where we don’t want theology, which has to do with atonement and all of that. We want formulas to fix up our messed up lives and so forth, so we tend to preach not only Christ but biblical stories as examples of how you live a moral life. I don’t want to be too hard on that because you do learn a lot of lessons from David’s disobedience and that kind of thing, but that isn’t preaching Christ. To show how Christ lived and so forth in the days of his flesh through the Gospels is not preaching Christ. Preaching Christ is preaching Christ, the Son of God, who came to be the Savior. And that was what Jesus was talking about every time he talked about his ministry. That’s what was underway. So in order to answer that well, I think what we need to do is take a book and say, “Now, how do you preach Christ from this? Where is it?” But within a general pattern, that’s the way it needs to be done. Either we have the standards of God by which we’re condemned, the pointers to the Savior, or we have the actual promises and the work of the Savior anticipated or fulfilled.

Tell us a little bit about your patterns of study and writing. How have you done that week by week through so many commentaries and radio programs?

That’s a useful question. I’ve actually used different patterns over the years and I’m sure you find that yourself. The difficulty is finding time in a busy pastoral ministry to do serious work. It takes not only time, it takes blocks of time, and it has to be uninterrupted time. They even tell you that in business. I took a management course once, and they say executives do first things first, one thing at a time. That means you need to focus on what really matters. Now, what really matters in the pastorate is the preaching. That’s what uniquely we can do. And I say when you take a church at the beginning and you’ve got a little church and you have to do almost everything, you do have to do almost everything.

I’ve done that — the printing of the bulletins, painting, and repairing things. I’ve done all of that before we had much staff. But the one thing you could do that nobody else can do is the preaching. So in one way or another, you have to find ways to actually give serious time to that. Now, when I started, there wasn’t anything going on in the church. We didn’t have any staff, we didn’t have any programs. Nothing was happening. But even so, one day a week I went to a theological library nearby just to get away where I had books, and I could read what I wanted to read as I was led without interrupting. As the ministry developed, I had more going on in the church, but I also had more books. I put in more time there because I could do it there.

At the moment, I’m fortunate to have a place that I can get away to at the beginning of the week. My wife teaches at a high school that we started 15 years ago and she’s very busy with that. When she goes off to teach on Monday morning, I go to this place where I write. It’s down on the Jersey shore. It takes me about an hour and a half to get there, and I stay there. I work Monday afternoon, Tuesday, and Wednesday. I come back Thursday morning for staff meetings and then I’m there Thursday and Friday and on through the weekend. Not everybody can work that long in a concentrated way, but you can, I think, train yourself to do it if you have the opportunity to do it. The way I’ve managed to get so much writing done is that way.

I leave the blinds up so as soon as the sun comes up over the ocean, it wakes me up. I get up, I go down and make coffee, and I start working. I go right on through the day. I take a break at six o’clock, I watch the news, I go out and have dinner, and I come back and go to bed and start the next day. Now, not everybody can do that, but you’ve got to approximate that somehow with some whole mornings and somewhere you go away for a day or something. But you need the time and you need uninterrupted time.

Can you comment on verse-by-verse book study versus topical?

Let me say, I think people have different gifts and some preach one way better than another. Look at Spurgeon. He didn’t ever do verse by verse anything, but he was a genius. Spurgeon could get more out of a text than anybody. And they were good. He was not making up the points. That’s what it really was about. But that was a unique ability. Speaking in general of normal people, which I certainly am and most of us are, we will profit best ourselves, in my judgment, and our people will profit best if we work through books of the Bible. It doesn’t mean you have to do that exclusively. You can do a topical series. You certainly have to break for holidays and all of that. But generally speaking, the advantages of working through a book are multiple.

For one thing, it forces you to deal with material you wouldn’t deal with otherwise. You tend to pick things that you understand in advance. You don’t grow that way. It teaches your people what it really is to do serious Bible study. When you come to a problem, you have to wrestle with it and you ought to express it. You might say, “Here are different interpretations of this. This is a reason for one, and here is a reason for the other.” They actually learn how to do it themselves. And furthermore, by the time you finish a book, your people actually have a section of the Bible that they really have some hold on. They really understand that. If you’re scattering here and there and everything, they go away and they might remember a few little points that you’ve made in the sermon that may or may not be helpful to them, but they don’t really have a hold on the Scripture. It’s the same approach that I would apply to education generally.

I mentioned our high school a moment ago. What we do in high school is avoid anthologies. You don’t get much out of them. But what we try to do is teach some classical piece of literature so at least they’ve got that. So for example, my wife teaches these literature courses. We’ll teach in the ninth grade when high school starts. We’ll spend a month or five weeks on The Odyssey. And there’s a lot of other things you could be studying, but when they’re done, they get that. They really do understand. That’s a piece of literature they love and I think that happens with that kind of verse-by-verse preaching. You might not want to take quite as long as I do, but it’s a good procedure.

If you had a group of new believers, would there be a particular order to your teaching when you think of the Scriptures? How would you go about that?

That’s something I think you just have to work with and I don’t have any fancy answers to that. I would presume you’d want to start on something like a Gospel rather than Jeremiah. There are obvious things like that, but having said that, I don’t think we have to be super cautious about it. I think that the Bible as a whole is valuable when it’s taught, although there are certain things you maybe wouldn’t want to start with almost anywhere. If you’re really teaching it, it’s fascinating and it’s God speaking and people get converted that way, so I wouldn’t worry about that. With a brand new group, I would start with the New Testament, maybe a Gospel, and that sort of thing. But I wouldn’t hesitate to teach Romans or Galatians or Ephesians or anything like that.

A lot of people say in youth ministry that students can’t handle expository teaching and preaching. How do you feel about that?

I think that’s not true. I think they can handle it as well as anything else. Now, when I say as well as well as anything else, they can’t handle anything very well, nor can anyone else. People really can’t think very well today, which means you have to train them to do it, and that means you can’t do it all at once. When we say expository preaching or teaching, it doesn’t mean you teach for an hour with kids. But what do we want to teach them? I teach them the Bible. That’s exposition. You just have to know your bounds and how much they can absorb and that type of thing. Pick something that’s particularly relevant to what they’re thinking about, but teach it that way.

Given Scripture alone, faith alone, grace alone, and so on, could you comment on the fragmentation and various denominations of the evangelical church and its effect on our witness for the world?

I think that’s the way I would put it. We are divided over what is somewhat minor. Now, the people that are divided over a particular issue, it’s not minor to them, but it is minor compared to the great essentials of the faith. If that’s true and we have any understanding of it, we ought to be able to bridge over that, not in the sense that we get everybody under the same ecclesiastical umbrella — which isn’t desirable anyway in my judgment — but at least that we have real understanding for one another. We all have our views of baptism. A lot of people here are Baptists. We have different views on that, but for heaven’s sake, there’s a lot that we’re saying that’s exactly the same, and certainly the gospel is.

The same would be true of eschatology and so forth. There are legitimate differences over how churches should be organized, whether they should be connective in some way, and so on. Everybody thinks they have their pattern from the Bible, but that’s nothing to divide the fellowship of real believers. It’d be nice if people who believe the same thing could be together, but it’s a sinful world. It’s hard to do, but it’s not the most critical. Our alliance of confessing evangelicals bridges all kinds of things that way. We’ve been able to do it. We have Reformed Lutheran Bible church people and so on.

The world doesn’t understand that, though, does it?

Well, they don’t understand it and that’s often been thrown up as if that’s a great barrier to their belief. But my sense is that’s an argument that’s greatly overdone. I think the world knows that you’ve got competition and it doesn’t upset them all that much. You have Chrysler and General Motors. You have got IBM and Apple and all of that. That’s not all that upsetting to the world. What is upsetting is a partisan, cantankerous spirit because they understand rightly that is antithetical to what we profess. The Christians who love the Lord and are able to love one another, I don’t think the fact that they belong to a different church really is much of a barrier in the eyes of the world. The denominations really don’t mean much anymore.

On preaching Christ from the Old Testament, how closely would you relate Melchizedek to Christ, and should we actually equate these two?

I think he’s a pattern. Some people have said, “Well, that’s actually an appearance of Christ in the Old Testament,” and so on. I don’t see that myself. I can hear the arguments for it, but I think it’s a pattern. Furthermore, I think that’s the way Hebrews uses it. That’s part of that same psalm (Psalm 110), and it’s used that way. He’s a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek. But it just means that there you have a type of priest to whom Abraham gave honor and Christ is like that. I think that’s all that’s actually saying.

My difficulty is that he’s sort of outside of the Abrahamic Covenant.

It’s a mystery where that came from. It just isn’t explained.

But if he’s Christ, he wouldn’t need to be saved.

Well, that’s true, but if he isn’t, I presume that somebody there had a knowledge of the true God. Abraham wasn’t the only one. That shouldn’t be all that surprising except that it appears suddenly in Genesis and you’re not expecting it.

In light of the Apostle Paul’s emphasis in the Pastoral Epistles on elders being role models of sound doctrine, action, and Christian lifestyle, how do you reconcile that with the way that the pastoral responsibility tends to destroy that role model? It doesn’t seem to be compatible with the way we do it these days. We have a lot of academic emphasis in seminary, but there is not much attention to those qualifications. You described your routines for writing, and I was thinking, “Man, with the kids I have the study time just doesn’t seem to fit together.” How do you do that in your church in terms of the qualifications of elders and the academic demands of being a teaching elder?

I may not understand what you’re asking, but I don’t see any difficulty there at all. We have different gifts and different callings and there’s nothing wrong with that. We’re to be godly role models in any field of endeavor. If you have somebody there as a doctor, he should be a godly doctor, and pastors should be as well. Some have more gifts for pastoral work, counseling, visitation, and that sort of thing. In a multiple staff, generally, that’s what you look for so that your gifts complement one another. That’s what we have at the church. I don’t think in the pastoral ministry you weed out anything. Especially when you begin, you have to do everything. You’re the only one. You have to do all the visiting, you’ve got to preside at the board meetings. You’ve got to have managerial skills when you work with elders and deacons and so on.

But as you have opportunity, you want to highlight particularly the gift that God has given you, and if you’re the senior pastor, that would mean most of your time really ought to go into the preparation of messages because if you don’t do it, it’s not going to get done. You’re the one to do that. There are other people who can do other things, but all ought to be godly and all ought to be role models. So I don’t see that you have any conflict there.

What are your thoughts about evangelizing a non-believer in a God-centered way?

That’s something that’s worth wrestling with today because we have moved from a time in American church life or American life generally where people understood something about Christianity to a time where people don’t understand anything at all. We really live in a very pagan age, and I would say in a general response, that we ought to get our pattern not from the kind of preaching that Peter did in Jerusalem at Pentecost with people who were there and knew the Old Testament, but the kind of preaching that Paul did in Gentile communities where they didn’t know anything at all. You have a very different approach if you analyze those sermons. Peter always took a text and explained it. Paul always made an argument and then nailed it down with the text. He does the same thing in Romans. He gives you an argument and then the verses come at the end of the section.

I think a great pattern would be what Paul does in Athens on Mars Hill. He talks about God and his sovereignty over the nations and the fact that we’re accountable to him, and then he gets to Jesus Christ, where he’s made his revelation known and calls us to account and so on. But the point I was making the other day, which I think I heard somebody else made, is that we need to take time to do that and do it well, which in a way is saying that we need careful teaching of the Bible more today than ever.

Well, looking at the messages backward, it seems to me that it’s a wonderful thing that we begin with the foundation of Christ and that we know that scripture is built on Christ, and then we know that doctrine and gospel are built on scripture and we can move up from the foundation into the broader picture of truth and theology. So thank you so much for ministering to us the importance of those three dimensions of preaching, and I look forward to interacting with you and Dr. Boice and the other speakers tomorrow just before lunch, at the panel. So I hope you’ll be here for that.