The Primacy of Expository Preaching, Part 2

Desiring God 1995 Conference for Pastors

The Primacy of Expository Preaching

Preaching and Biblical Theology. One cannot think long about this subject without noticing the enormous stresses on the expositor, stresses that emerge from heated debates that plague the subject once you start reading into it. Let's begin with an antithesis. On the one hand, we may consider the philosophy of preaching amongst the Puritans.

At the risk of oversimplification, many have summarized their philosophy this way. The Bible is a book comprised of three principle themes: 1) law, 2) gospel, and 3) illustrations of both. So although they could pack many, many, many texts (narrative and otherwise) into various sermons, yet those three themes dominate a great deal of Puritan preaching.

Now, there are many implications. This tends to govern the way that they adduce ideas from here and there in the Bible. Moreover, combined with their essentially textual preaching, in many cases at least, it meant that they tended to be rather short on preaching from the Gospels, although they use the gospel narratives as illustration.

This is, in fact, a subset of the priority we give to systematic theology.

Systematic Theology as Ahistorical

Systematic theology is primarily an atemporal discipline. That is to say, it asks atemporal questions and hears atemporal answers: “What is God like? What is sin? What is a human being? What is the imago dei? What is heaven? What is hell?” They are atemporal questions, and so we hear atemporal answers: “God has the following attributes, human beings may be defined as follows,” and so forth.

Caution in Uncritical Use of Systematic Theology

Now, inevitably, competent systematicians make some reference to the stages of divine self-disclosure in Scripture, so we read of the progress of revelation and the like, but as a discipline, we tend to think in those sorts of categories. When we want to preach the whole counsel of God evenhandedly, we tend, precisely because we take the whole Bible seriously, to gravitate toward the atemporal categories of systematic theology.

Now, please do not think for a moment that I put systematic theology down. I teach two or three doctoral seminars at Trinity, and they all have to do with the use of the Old Testament in the New or the move from exegesis through biblical theology to systematic theology, how one goes about doing it, what the structures of thought are that justify it. But I am saying uncritical appeal to systematic theology too soon shapes our preaching in ways that may, in certain respects, be unfortunate.

Biblical Theologies and Approaches

Now, let me go to the opposite extreme. Now let us pick up the kinds of biblical theologies, or so they are called, represented by an array of modern New Testament theologies and Old Testament theologies. In what do they consist? Well, they are put together in different ways. Eichrodt, for example, works through the Old Testament in his Theology of the Old Testament using the theme of covenant to organize his material.

Gerhard von Rad, instead of using a single theme, tries to develop a theory of the evolution of Old Testament thought, but of course, his source criticism so shapes that evolution that at the end of the day it is almost unusable except for discrete parts. It is almost unusable in its macro-structure for those with a high view of Scripture.

On the extreme left end of evangelicalism, at the risk of categories that are becoming more and more obscure, John Goldingay argues there are trajectories with poles in the Old Testament.

For example, on the theme of the relationship between God and human beings, he sees apocalyptic, like Daniel, at one end, looking at things from God’s perspective, and Esther, on the other hand, which doesn’t even mention God at the other end. He says there are polarities along certain trajectories in the Old Testament which you can trace out, and that is how you should put together your Old Testament theology. He puts Isaiah more or less in between the two.

Marginalization of Books

To that I would respond: Well, first of all, are they historical trajectories or thematic trajectories? Is this dealing with the unpacking of biblical revelation, the stages in God’s gracious self-disclosure, or are you arbitrarily picking some themes and just tracing out their extremes? In the second place, I’m not sure he has the interpretation of this particular polarity right, and it makes me exceedingly nervous.

Is this a correct interpretation of Esther? Is it true that just because the words Yahweh or Elohim are not actually found in the text of Esther, therefore, it’s not really a book about God? I would have thought in its particular literary genre it attested to the sovereignty of God over the affairs of human beings as powerfully as any apocalyptic does. “That night the king could not sleep.” What sort of a dolt are you if you don’t see the hand of God in the text in that kind of case?

You see, the book is profoundly about God’s sovereign sway over history, isn’t it, and all the affairs of human beings? This is a confusing counting of references with biblical theology. Moreover, is not this sort of approach in danger of marginalizing some books because they’re judged to be at extremes, at poles? We’ll go for safe Isaiah in the middle, the via media. It’s an excellent Anglican heritage.

Biblical Theology as Historical

Well, let us move on to New Testament theologies then.

Lack of Comprehensive Biblical Theology

Here, the theologies from the more liberal left tend to focus on the theology of the Matthean community or the theology of the Pauline communities or the theology of the Johannine communities or whatever. Now you move into more conservative ones (let’s say, Ladd’s work or Guthrie’s work), and now it is not so much the theologies of the communities that may or may not stand behind these particular books but the theologies of the books themselves, recognizing the peculiar categories found in each corpus.

Thus, we recognize to call in Matthew is to invite. “Many are called but few are chosen” (Matthew 22:14). To call in Paul is effective. Those who are called are saved. Thus, one cannot do theology merely at the level of word studies. One must recognize the words and themes and so on are bound up corpus by corpus within the canon, and proper biblical theology is, thus, corpus defined.

Well, that's true. The difficulty with this sort of thing is that at the end of reading these books one does not have what conservative Germans call eine gesamt biblische Theologie (that is, whole-Bible biblical theology). You have a sort of Bible theology of John and a Bible theology of Paul and a Bible theology of Matthew, and you’re sort of left to make your inductions by yourself. That is done, in our generation, only by the systematicians, and they think atemporally, so we find ourselves in a certain amount of embarrassment, do we not?

We want to put the Bible together on its own terms and also construct the categories of systematic theology. That is an important thing to do. Yet, at the same time, when we actually find the books of theologians and commentators and so on, very, very few of them engage in that kind of synthesis.

In fact, the history of the category of biblical theology goes through, as far as I’ve been able to trace, six different definitions. In the use of some, biblical theology is indistinguishable from systematic theology. It is simply theology, maybe atemporally, that is faithful to the Bible, but that’s not very helpful because it does not introduce legitimate distinctions that do focus on atemporal questions versus temporal questions addressed to the Bible, and the Bible, as we shall see in a moment, is an extremely temporally orientated book.

Whole-Bible Biblical Theology

Others think then in terms of whole-Bible biblical theology. Still others think in terms of corpus biblical theology, and the categories get smaller and smaller and smaller until biblical theology is thinking theologically about any part of the Bible. What, then, shall we do? I want to argue the fundamentally useful distinction between biblical theology and systematic theology is categories.

The fundamentally useful distinction (although in the literature many different distinctions are found) is that biblical theology is, first and foremost, inductive and follows the Bible’s storyline. It allows for all the corpus distinctions that are there in the text that we have to come to terms with, but at the end of the day biblical theology is, first and foremost, inductive and follows the Bible’s storyline.


Systematic theology at its best will presuppose a great deal of that, but it asks and answers fundamentally atemporal questions, and therefore, is in greater measure a reflection of the culture in which it is formed. That’s not a bad thing, because the Bible speaks to many different cultures.

But it does mean the kinds of questions I bring to the text out of my culture, whether they’re good questions or bad questions, whether they’re reformed increasingly by the text as I get closer to understanding it, are going to be a little different, and the categories used to define answers are going to be a little different than out of a purely simple induction.

Thus, in the great Christological controversies, for example, at the time of Nicaea and Chalcedon, the categories used are not simply biblical categories. When you speak of one God with three persona, you have to understand what persona meant in Latin in the fourth century, and it’s not exactly what we mean by persons, nor is persona a biblical category.

Now, I’m not objecting to Chalcedon. I’m saying it was an attempt to be faithful in the fourth century to evidence that is demonstrably biblical, but at the same time, that does not have the kind of weight and authority the texts themselves have with the thinking believer.

Although there is always a great imperative to do systematic theology in every generation and not simply systematic theology cast in yesteryears’ terms, at the same time, biblical theology can usefully be distinguished from that discipline by these two criteria: it is, first and foremost, an inductive discipline, and secondly, it follows the Bible’s storyline. Now that was prolegomenon.

Biblical Theology Presentation

Now, let me come to the burden of what I want to say and outline something of the biblical presentation to you. This will take most of my time, and then I will say something about the central bearing of biblical theology on preaching and then mention one or two peculiar difficulties from this perspective of preaching from the Gospels just so that you know where I'm going.

Evidence of Biblical Theology Lines, Salvation Historical Lines

Let me begin then by evidence that many, many biblical writers purposefully think in what I have called biblical theology lines, salvation historical lines. Consider, for example, Paul’s argument in Galatians 3. Many conservative Jews in Paul’s day understood Torah hermeneutically. That is to say, Torah had a certain hermeneutical authority.

It not only was the given law, it shaped so much of how they read the rest of what we call the Old Testament, the Hebrew canon. Thus, if they asked the question, “How does a person please God?” they would remember a variety of injunctions from Deuteronomy, let us say, and say, “One pleases God by observing all that God demands in Torah.”

“Well, then, how does Abraham please God before the Sinai disclosure is given?” Answer: “Abraham must have received private revelation of Torah because otherwise he could not have pleased God. Those are God’s demands.”

“How does Enoch please God?” “He must also, since he walked with God, have received private disclosure from God as to what the content of God’s demands are or else he could not have pleased God.”

Now, do you see what is happening? The conservative Jews have an atemporal approach to those questions, and the critical hermeneutical control is the elevation of Torah, so that Torah becomes a heuristic device, a hermeneutical key, for unpacking all of Scripture.

Faith-Justification Relationship in Galatians 3 and Romans 4

What does Paul say, then, in Galatians 3? What Paul says in Galatians 3 is, “No, no, no. Your problem is you’re not reading the Bible as the Bible was given to us. Abraham believed God before the law was given, and that was credited to him as righteousness. Then centuries later” — notice the temporal categories — “centuries later the law was given. Therefore, you have to ask the question, ‘Why, then, was the law given?’ It certainly wasn’t given so Abraham could be found pleasing God.” So he must formulate other reasons as to why the law was given.

Similarly, in Romans 4, in connection with the relationship between faith and justification, the answers are foundationally salvation historical, so that although sometimes today you find preachers using Galatians 3 to justify the proposition that the law must do its work in the individual heart before the gospel can come to us, after all the law is the paidagogos to lead us to God. Yet, in fact, that is not Paul’s point at all!

That may be a derivative point. It may be a justifiable point on other grounds (I would happily argue it is), but it is certainly not Paul’s point in Galatians 3. What we are doing is approaching Galatians 3 from our Western individualism, and we have not heard how Paul is speaking salvation historically. That is to say, he is trying to demonstrate the entire Jewish understanding of Scripture is distorted because they have approached the text atemporally and have not understood their own Bibles. They are salvation-historical categories.

Approaching Old Testament Prophecy in Luke 24

Now, there may be all kinds of individualizing applications, but it is not Paul’s first point in Galatians 3 or Romans 4. We may turn to many other passages that are extraordinarily important in this regard. Let me read you a few verses from Luke 24:13 and following, as Jesus walks with the two on the road to Emmaus. They ask,

“Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” And he said to them, “What things?” And they said to him, “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. (Luke 24:18–21)

They recount the story. Jesus replies,

“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?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. (Luke 24:25–27)

Unity of the Bible and Biblical Theology

Now in conservative circles, precisely because we do hold Scripture highly, we don’t like to expose our doubts, and that’s probably a good thing, but quite frankly, have you not sometimes read the Scriptures and said to yourself, “How on earth do you get from here to Jesus? I mean, if I didn’t have the New Testament, wouldn’t I read the Old Testament the way the Jews did?”

So maybe we’re in the age of postmodernity where there is no absolute truth. You read it according to your heritage. In a Christian reading of the Old Testament it’s such and such, and in a Jewish reading it’s such and such. There’s neither a right way nor a wrong way. It all depends on your community of interpretation.

Hasn’t historical critical exegesis taught us to be faithful to the Old Testament text within its context without bringing in later stuff? Deep down there are nagging worries in our minds. Brothers and sisters, I want to tell you, the more I have worked on these questions over the last twenty years the more I am utterly convinced of the unity of the Bible. I just wish I had about twenty hours now to lecture you on these points. It is my passion to work these things out.

Genesis 14 in Hebrews

Consider, just quickly, so you see this is not the peculiarity of one or two texts, some of the arguments, for example, in Hebrews. What is the argument in Hebrews with respect to Melchizedek? Melchizedek crops up precisely twice in the Old Testament, once in Genesis 14 and once in Psalm 110.

The argument there in brief. There are several stages, but one of the most important parts of the argument is if God, speaking through David, announces the coming of a priesthood according to the order of Melchizedek, centuries after the law is given. Now that's a salvation-historical category. That's a time category. That's not a logical category. The whole argument turns on temporal distance.

Levitical Priesthood and New Covenant in Hebrews

If God announces a coming priesthood after the law is given with its Levitical priesthood, then inevitably, he is pronouncing some principial obsolescence to the Levitical priesthood. Thus, within the Old Testament Scriptures themselves, you have the announcement of that which is passing away.

The same argument is worked out in Hebrews 8, regarding Jeremiah’s new covenant language. If you announce a new covenant, you’re saying something about the old one. At very least, you’re saying it’s old, and Hebrews 8:13 goes further and says, “What is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.” That’s what the text says. It will do no good to try to salvage the matter by saying, “It’s not really a new covenant; it’s a kind of renewing of the old covenant.” That is not what the text says. It’s a new covenant.

Rest in Hebrews

That still raises all kinds of extremely important questions about what the precise relationship is between this new covenant and this old covenant, but it is seen as a new covenant. Think of the language, for example, at the end of Hebrews 3 and the beginning of Hebrews 4 regarding Sabbath. The argument is intriguing. We won’t follow it all the way through, but in Psalm 95, the people are still being invited into a rest.

“Today, if you will not harden your hearts, you may enter into that rest, not as in the days of provocation where you approached the land in the south and then were cast back into the wilderness for forty years until you came again. So you didn’t get your rest then, and you didn’t really get it with Joshua when he led you into the Promised Land because, centuries later, God is still inviting you into the rest.” Which means, therefore, even on Old Testament terms, the promise of rest is not fulfilled by Canaan.

In other words, the New Testament writers are constantly working at the before-and-after aspects of Old Testament revelation to show, when you read the Old Testament Scriptures salvation historically, the exegesis of conservative first-century Jews was just plain wrong. It was wrong. Far from being intimidated by them and feeling they were offering what is novel, they were claiming to restore the meaning that was there from the beginning and which was overlaid by false interpretation.

Understanding Bible’s Storyline

Do you see? So part of our job, therefore, in biblical theology is precisely to understand the Bible’s storyline, which does not simply mean the macro-structures (creation, fall, covenant of law, and whatever, all the way down to the end) but also the way the various bits and pieces fit into this. What do you do with Melchizedek? That is part of Genesis. Have you ever read Genesis 14 and scratched your head and said, “What on earth does this have to do with anything?”

You’re preaching through Genesis and maybe setting up to do a life of Abraham. What on earth do you do with Melchizedek? Doubtless even Moses himself when he penned those words did not see the full outcome of where his words were going, but I’ll tell you if you read the text in the Hebrew, you start finding all kinds of linguistic connections between the end of Genesis 14 and the beginning of Genesis 15, which is a covenant renewal chapter.

Pretty soon you find the kind of language you discover in Hebrews 7: “Without father or mother or genealogy” (Hebrews 7:3). Does this mean Melchizedek was a kind of preincarnate presentation of Christ? That’s what a great deal of pious exegesis has taught. With all respect, it is fundamentally mistaken. It does not understand the profoundly typological nature of a great deal of Old Testament prophecy.

Read Genesis again right through. Read it in a sitting. What do you find out? Everybody who is anybody has a genealogy. “So and so lived so many years, and he sired so and so, and he died. So and so lived so many years, and he sired so and so, and he was such and such an age when he died. So and so lived so many years, and he sired so and so, and then he died.”

Then bang! Up comes Melchizedek. Historically, he was doubtless one of the God-fearers. There is no reason to think Abraham was the only monotheist in his day. There were others from the flood who still knew there was one God. Moses recognized in this man, this local ruler over Salem which almost certainly becomes Jerusalem, a man of God who worshiped the one true God of heaven, a priest-ruler in his own right. Abraham recognizes in him a kindred spirit, as it were, but in God’s providence, the writer to the Hebrews sees there’s something else going on

Abraham gives him tithes. Who’s the greater? This man is presented in Scripture unlike everybody else in the book, without father and without mother; thus, the perfect type for the Son of God who is, finally, without genealogy in his lineage to his own heavenly Father. Yes! Yes! King of Jerusalem. King of Salem. King of peace. King of shalom. His very name, Melchizedek, king of righteousness, already being announced there.

Psalm 110 in Hebrews

And then, after the historical episode has gone, pop back in Psalm 110 — an oracular psalm. That is, a psalm given David without so much self-reflection in it. Not a psalm of his own anguish or the like. Not a psalm where he himself understood so many of the words. An oracular psalm that picks up this Old Testament theme, and it is written by David. The superscription is important.

Jesus says so at the end of his discourse with the scribes and Pharisees in Matthew 22:42. “Whose son is he, this Messiah? Does not David say, ‘The Lord said to my Lord’?” Modern liberal scholarship says it’s a courtier speaking: “The Lord, Yahweh, says to my lord, the king.” But that’s not what the superscription says. The superscription says, “David said.”

Now if David the king says, “The Lord said to my Lord,” who on earth is “my Lord”? Thus, both in Jewish exegesis and in Christian exegesis it has long since been recognized the “my lord” thus must be the Messiah, the coming One, the Anointed One. Within that kind of framework, it’s an oracular psalm, and it brings together several themes: kingship, the Lord’s anointing, and Melchizedek, and the very pronouncement in the progress of redemption establishes the principial obsolescence of the Old Testament law.

Typological Structures and Fulfillment

Now, it is that kind of warrant again and again and again, it seems to me, that prompts us to try to think through biblical theology at a level that is faithful to the texts in a whole-Bible biblical theology sense. Not simply in an inductive corpus level (Johannine theology, Matthean theology, Isaianic theology), as important as that is, but in a whole-Bible biblical theology sense.

And once you see those connections from the New Testament perspective where they are clearer because our minds are so blind, then once you preach those texts when you’re in the Old Testament, you must make the same connections from the other end, or you are not a Christian preacher. That’s my whole burden today.

That is to say, you work out increasingly from text after text after text very often in the later disclosure how the Old Testament works, and then when you preach from the Old Testament — yes, you establish what it meant in its historic context, how people understood it, its immediate moral application, and all the rest — but you also work out the typological and other structures that bring you to the New Testament, for if the New Testament writers finally say the people in their generation should have seen these things and didn’t, what right does criticism have to say that is merely anachronistic reading of the Bible?

Thus, instead of coming to Abraham or to David and doing one of those persons-of-the-Bible series in which we say, “Here David was a good man, so let’s be good, and here David was a bad man, so let’s not be bad,” (little moralisms for the people of God), we tie these things instead to the grand themes of Scripture that bring us to the new covenant and to the Savior, the mediator of the new covenant.

Applying Typology

Now, do not misunderstand me. Not for a moment am I suggesting there are no moral conclusions to be drawn from the Old Testament. That is, in fact, one of the useful lessons to be learned from the Old Testament. Read 1 Corinthians 10:13 and following. These moral lessons about the importance of perseverance were given to us who live at the end of the ages, but it is only one use of the Old Testament and by no means the most dominant use of the Old Testament in the New.

Yes, there are many prophecies from the Old to the New that are structured in verbal propositional terms, but there are many, many more that are structured in typological terms, structural terms. Thus, Jesus turns out to be the priest par excellence. He turns out to be the temple. He turns out to be the sacrifice. He is the one who fulfills the Old Testament Passover. He is himself the Passover Lamb. He is the one who fulfills that rock Scripture.

What does that mean, 1 Corinthians 10? Jesus was that rock? Do you see? Is it not imperative, then, for Christians when they go through the same narratives to work forward as before they worked backward? The only way to establish this point at length would be to do it again and again and again, and that’s why I’d like twenty hours. Passage after passage after passage.

Psalm 45 in Hebrews

Let me dare to take just a few passages briefly, if I may. Turn, if you would, to Hebrews 1. In the first two chapters a fair bit of the author’s burden is to establish the superiority of Jesus over the angels. The preaching relevance of that I would love to take up on another occasion, but right now let me simply draw you to one small part of the argument in Hebrews 1: 8–9.

To the angel, to the angels, or about the angels, God says a variety of things, for example, Hebrews 1:7.

But of the Son he says,

“Your throne, O God, is forever and ever,
     the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your kingdom.
You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness;
therefore God, your God, has anointed you
     with the oil of gladness. (Hebrews 1:8)

The quotation, in other words, is from Psalm 45, and we have very often used that as one of the many New Testament texts that affirm quite explicitly the deity of Jesus Christ.

Psalm 45 Overview

Now, go back to Psalm 45 to see what is going on there. Psalm 45, on the surface of it, is a wedding song, as the superscription itself announces: “A [Song] of the Sons of Korah.”

The first verse is one of those introductions one gets in a variety of psalms where the psalmist reflects on what he is about to do. You find similar introductions in Psalm 39 and Psalm 47.

My heart overflows with a pleasing theme;
     I address my verses to the king;
     my tongue is like the pen of a ready scribe. (Psalm 45:1)

Then the psalm is broken up into a number of, more or less, equal parts. In Psalm 45:2–5, the king’s majesty and status are emphasized. Don’t forget now the psalmist is addressing the king.

“I address my verses to the king” Psalm 45:1. So addressing the king, he says,

You are the most handsome of the sons of men;
     grace is poured upon your lips;
     therefore God has blessed you forever.
Gird your sword on your thigh, O mighty one,
     in your splendor and majesty!

In your majesty ride out victoriously
     for the cause of truth and meekness and righteousness;
     the peoples fall under you. (Psalm 45:2–5)

Then in the second section, Psalm 45:6 and following, the king’s person and state are emphasized. “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever.” Notice carefully, the author is not now turning from the king to address God. He’s still addressing the king, as is made clear by Psalm 45:7:

Your throne, O God, is forever and ever.
     The scepter of your kingdom is a scepter of uprightness;
     you have loved righteousness and hated wickedness.
Therefore God, your God . . . (Psalm 45:6–7)

This can't be addressed to God. It’s not as if the author is changing objects. He’s still addressing the king, yet he dares to address him as God. Even making allowances for the fact that Elohim in Hebrew sometimes refers to judges and other honorable personages, not normally in terms of address.

This is very strange language by Hebrew canon status. “Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever.” Who would ever say that to a judge? “A scepter of justice will be the scepter of your kingdom. You love righteousness and hate wickedness.” Doesn’t this sound like a bit of Near Eastern hyperbole? The court jurors getting a little bit out of hand here? Well, press on. Let’s see how this psalm works out.

Therefore God, your God, has anointed you
     with the oil of gladness beyond your companions;
     your robes are all fragrant with myrrh and aloes and cassia.
From ivory palaces stringed instruments make you glad;
     daughters of kings are among your ladies of honor;
     at your right hand stands the queen in gold of Ophir. (Psalm 45:7–9)

Now, Psalm 45:10, the author does change the person to whom he is speaking. It’s clear, not only by the explicit words (daughter) but by the change of pronouns in Hebrew. “Hear, O daughter, and consider, and incline your ear: forget your people and your father's house.” In other words, just as in Genesis 2, the man is to leave father and mother and cleave to his wife, here the daughter is to leave father and mother and cleave to her husband. “Forget your father’s house. You may be a princess, but now you don’t owe allegiance there; you owe allegiance here.”

“The king will desire your beauty. Since he is your lord, bow to him. The people of Tyre [proverbial for wealth] will seek your favor with gifts” (Psalm 45:11–12). That is, if this home is really established in justice and faithfulness and fidelity, there will be honor in it, and others will come bringing gifts. “The richest of the people” (Psalm 45:12).

Then another shift, a comment now on the bride and her, what we would call, the bridal train. Psalm 45:13–15:

All glorious is the princess in her chamber, with robes interwoven with gold.
     In many-colored robes she is led to the king,
     with her virgin companions [what we would call the bridesmaids] following behind her.
With joy and gladness they are led along
     as they enter the palace of the king.

Then in Psalm 45:16–17 we are reverting to addressing the king, as is made very clear by the pronouns in Hebrew. You’re not addressing God. You’re not addressing now the bride or talking about the bridesmaids. You’re back to addressing the king. Listen very carefully. “In place of your fathers shall be your sons” (Psalm 45:16). Do you see what is being said? “Out of this marriage union will come children, and the dynasty will be persevered.” You are still talking at the human level.

In place of your fathers shall be your sons;
     you will make them princes in all the earth.
I will cause your name to be remembered in all generations;
     therefore nations will praise you forever and ever. (Psalm 45:16–17)

Those last two verses show conclusively the psalmist, at this point, is thinking of the royal consummation of the marriage in human procreation terms. Isn’t that clear?

Connecting Psalm 45 and Hebrews 1

So now the question is, What, then, is Hebrews doing with Psalm 45? That’s the question, and if you think exclusively in terms of verbal propositional prophecy, you just can’t get out of it. You have a problem that no amount of clever hermeneutics is going to get you out of, but there are other kinds of predictive elements in Scripture, including the typological, and David is the focus of an enormous amount of typological prophecy.

Typology and Messianic Prophecy in 2 Samuel

I think if I had time I could show you the line of typology is finally authorized by explicit prediction from 2 Samuel. In 2 Samuel 7, where David is interested in building a temple for God but then Nathan is instructed to tell David that Solomon will do that task. David himself is not to do it, God says, “The Lord declares to you” — the prophet recites the words — “that the Lord will make you a house” (2 Samuel 7:11).

There’s a pun, of course, on house. A household. A dynasty. David wanted to build a house for the Lord, a temple; God is going to build a house for him, a dynasty.

When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. (2 Samuel 7:12–13)

This is still not talking about the Messiah ultimately or explicitly. It’s still talking about Solomon, because you then read, “I will be his father, and he will be my son. When he does wrong, I will punish him,” which most of us wouldn’t want to apply directly to Jesus. In other words, what David is being told is, unlike Saul who, when he sinned, was removed, David’s line, even when it sins, will be maintained. By God’s sovereign decree, that is what will happen. The line will be preserved.

I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. When he commits iniquity, I will discipline him with the rod of men, with the stripes of the sons of men, but my steadfast love will not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you. And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever. (2 Samuel 7:14–16)

Development of Davidic Typology

Now, brothers and sisters, that either means there’s always going to be a successor on the throne of David, one after the other, one after the other, one after the other, world without end, or ultimately you’re going to find one who lives forever, world without end. There are no other choices possible.

Then you start coming to a couple of other things connected with Old Testament prophecy. At the risk of caricature, Old Testament messianic expectation follows one of two tracts. This is a simplification but it will do. In one tract, Yahweh himself says again and again, “I will come to you. I will lay bear my arm. I will descend upon you. I will visit you.” Thus, for example, in Ezekiel 34, “There are all those terrible shepherds that are you leading you astray, but I am the true Shepherd of Israel, and I will come to you.”

And the other line says, “I will send my servant David to you.” Sometimes those two lines come together, not least in Ezekiel 34. After about two-thirds of a very long chapter in which Yahweh says again and again that he is the one who shepherds his flock, he is the one who will pastor them, he is the one who will come down to them, he then says, “I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd” (Ezekiel 34:23).

You find the same sort of thing in one of the most famous Christmas texts, Isaiah 9:6. “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given.” Yes, yes. “He will sit and reign on the throne of his father, David. And he is also called the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father.” Thus, out of this forging of Old Testament expectation in which the one who is to come is identified with God on the one hand and is great David’s greater son on the other hand, you get built out of these explicit texts a whole Davidic typology.

If David could be addressed as Elohim, how much more is great David’s greater son, Elohim par excellence? The same sort of argument works in Psalm 69 in many of the suffering passages that are applied to Jesus on the cross. There are parts of Psalm 69 and Psalm 22 that you cannot apply to Jesus.

Parts of Psalm 22 find David sinful again, but on the other hand, they’re applied to Jesus because David becomes a kind of model, a type, a paradigm, a structured expression which, built into the nexus of verbal predictions about David’s line and what God will do and how he will disclose himself as very God of very God, yet as great David’s greater son, builds up an anticipation that the one who comes is like David only more so.

Does David suffer the loss of all his friends? So does great David’s greater son. Does David feel abandoned? “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Psalm 22:1). So does great David’s greater son. So that so many of the suffering passages applied to Christ in the New Testament do not spring out of Isaiah 53 (many do), but many spring out of the experience of David when David becomes a suffering servant.

Challenges and Opportunities in Understanding Typology

Now, in our word-oriented, verbal-prediction age, we want prophecy to be narrowly verbally predictive, but it seems to me you can’t read the New Testament very long without discovering how much of the Word of God is cast in typological prophecy. Now I know there all kinds of ways of abusing it, but at the end of the day, if I could extend my twenty hours to twenty-five or thirty, I think I could also articulate some of the principles that control it.

We simply have not spent enough time doing inductive work in Scripture. We’ve been intimidated by the atemporal systematicians and by the narrowly inductive biblical theologians and have not done whole-Bible biblical theology. I will give you one more quick example, though I wish I could give you many more.

Exodus in the Gospel of John

Turn to the end of the prologue of John’s gospel, John 1. One more example and one more theme and then I will pass one to my last two points much more quickly. There’s not time to expound the entire prologue, so let me direct your attention to the last five verses.

The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.’”) For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father's side, he has made him known. (John 1:14–18)

Exodus 32–34 Overview

Now many, many people have remarked that these five verses contain six either probable or certain allusions to Exodus 32–34, and it is important you remind yourself what those chapters contain. In Exodus 32–34, you have the account of the golden calf and the aftermath. Because of the terrible sin of the people, God declares he will not live amongst his people.

Don’t forget, at this point the tabernacle is not yet built. The instructions for the tabernacle are just coming down from the mountain now. The tabernacle is not there, but God announces he will now not live in the middle of the people where ultimately the tabernacle was to go with all of the tribes around the tabernacle. No. He would be outside the camp, because if God stays with them they will surely be destroyed.

So we read Exodus 33:7: “Now Moses used to take the tent and pitch it outside the camp, far off from the camp, and he called it the tent of meeting.” The sort of prototype of the tabernacle that would be was a place where Moses met with God, but outside the camp — have you noticed that? — that is part of God’s judicial sentence on the people because of their great idolatry, their hasty denial of his covenantal, redeeming mercy from slavery in Egypt.

Whenever Moses went out to the tent, all the people would rise up, and each would stand at his tent door, and watch Moses until he had gone into the tent. When Moses entered the tent, the pillar of cloud would descend and stand at the entrance of the tent, and the Lord would speak with Moses. And when all the people saw the pillar of cloud standing at the entrance of the tent, all the people would rise up and worship, each at his tent door. Thus the Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend. (Exodus 33:8–11)

Now, of course, this is picked up in 2 Corinthians 3. I wish I had time to expound that passage as well, but this passage is picked up in 2 Corinthians 3, and it says some very formidable things about how our canon is to fit together. Now you have Moses praying. It is intensely moving. Moses is in the pit of despair! His right-hand man, his brother, has been the leader of the pack in this idolatry.

So he says, “Lord, you have been telling me, ‘Lead these people,’ but you have not let me know whom you will send with me.” In other words, “Aaron has compromised; I am left! Who are you going to send with me now? This motley crew? And I’m supposed to lead them? The original deal was Aaron would come with me or I wouldn’t go. Remember? “You have said ‘I know you by name, and you have found favor with me.” “If I found favor with you, then why are we stuck outside the camp?” That’s what he’s saying.

“If you are so pleased with me, teach me your ways that I may know you and continue to find favor with you. Remember that this nation is your people.” This wasn’t my idea! You called this nation. You called them with Abraham. You called them out of Egypt. I didn’t do that. You did! This is your people.” It is a covenantal reminder.

The Lord consoles him. “‘Moses, Moses. My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.’ Then Moses said to him, ‘If your presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here.’ ” I think in the context of the flow of the narrative he’s saying, “If your presence does not go with us right in the body of the people — you talked about going with us, but you talked about being outside the camp. No, no, no. If your presence does not go with us inside the camp amongst the people, don’t lead us up from here.”

“How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?” If we’re not distinguished by the presence of the living God, what are we? Just another religion. A bunch of nomads.

Glory and Presence

“And the Lord said to Moses, ‘This very thing that you have spoken I will do, for you have found favor in my sight, and I know you by name’” (Exodus 33:17). From that point on, there is no further mention of God meeting with Moses outside the camp, and when the tabernacle is built, it’s built inside the camp, but it’s still not enough for Moses.

“Moses said, ‘Please show me your glory’” (Exodus 33:18). It is as if Moses knew the only thing that would sustain him in all the wretched vicissitudes of leading sinners like himself across the wasteland was a sure and deep vision of God himself.

How does God respond? “‘Show me your glory.’ And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The Lord’ [the self-existent one, Yahweh, in your presence]. And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy” (Exodus 33:19).

That is, “I’m still sovereign here, Moses. Don’t you forget it, but I am a compassionate God, and if you want to see my glory, I’ll show you my goodness. But,” he said, “You cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.” Mark that passage. We’ll pick it up in a moment.

Then you have the account of Moses being hidden in a cleft of the rock. You’re familiar with it. Moses is hidden in this cleft. God covers him over, as it were, and goes by, and after he has gone by, Moses is allowed to peep out and see something of the trailing edge of the afterglow of the glory of God, but while God goes by he intones — this is what he intones in Exodus 34: “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Exodus 34:6).

Connections to John

Checed ‘emeth. Love and faithfulness. Checed. God’s gracious covenantal sovereign love. It could equally be rendered grace. And ‘emeth? Yes, it is faithfulness, but it often rightly rendered truth. For example, when the queen of Sheba comes to Solomon and says, “Everything that was told me of you was ‘emeth,” she means, “It’s faithful, and thus, it was true. It conforms to reality.”

Love and faithfulness are picked up in one form or another again and again in the Old Testament. In the New Testament, the same expression, as far as I can see, comes across again and again and again in various collocations, grace and truth. Now go back to John 1: “The Word” — which is already defined in a number of ways by the preceding verses — “became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14).

There’s the first allusion. Anybody steeped in Old Testament history knows how God came down and tented with his people. He tented with Moses outside the camp. He tented in the tabernacle. The temple is nothing more than a big permanent tent, and now God himself has come down in the tent par excellence, the place where God meets with his people par excellence, in the Word made flesh.

“We have seen his glory” (John 1:14). What was it Moses was crying for? “Show me your glory” (Exodus 33:18). John says, “We have seen his glory.” But when you work through glory as a theme in the Gospel of John, you discover where the Son is glorified ultimately is in the cross. It is by the cross that he returns to the glory he had with the Father before the world began. Jesus can actually pray about his impending crucifixion, “Glorify your Son” (John 17:1).

Yes, it is glorify in the sense that he is returning to the glory he had with the Father, but it is by way of the cross, and here in John, in all of the Scripture, is the epitome of grace and truth, of God disclosing his goodness. You ask for glory and you will not see a halo on the face of Jesus; you will see the cross. He’s full of grace and truth. Can anybody literate in Old Testament categories not hear those themes again? God disclosed himself to Moses as the God full of grace and truth.

In case we miss this reference to the Old Testament, John 1:18 is bound to make it clear. Is it not? “No one has ever seen God” A direct allusion to Exodus 33. “No one can see my face and live. No one.” The clearest articulation of that truth in the Old Testament, and it’s picked up again here. What’s the point? No one can see God in all of his unshielded glory. No one can see the glorified Son in all of his unshielded radiance. Not yet. Not yet. Not yet.

But we have seen monogenēs theos, the unique One, himself God, who is in the bosom of the Father. That is, the constant fellowship of the Father. He has made him known. He has narrated him. Exēgēsato — it is the word from which we get our verb to exegete. He has exegeted him. Only it might better here be rendered he has narrated him. Christ is the narration of God.

In fact, John 1:18 is a kind of mirror image of John 1:1. There’s a kind of inclusio going on between John 1:1 and John 1:18. God, the One and only; the unique One, himself God. That’s what is said about the Word in John 1:1. “The Word was God . . . who [was] at the Father’s side.” That is to say, he was with God. This one is simultaneously God’s own person and God’s own fellow. He is at the Father’s side. He is the Word. That is, he has made him known. He is God’s self-expression.

Grace and Truth

This is not arbitrary abstract doctrine. It is in the space-time continuum. It is in the plane of history, and thus, you have the testimony of John the Baptist again intruded into the passage, John 1:15. Then in John 1:16, we have, I’m afraid, one of those places where the NIV gets it wrong. This is a hard passage to translate, but the NIV does poorly.

“From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another” (John 1:16 NIV). It sounds like a good evangelical cliché. “One blessing after another.” That’s what we like in the West; one blessing after another. But the text more literally rendered reads, “From his fullness we have all received grace anti grace. Not epi: Grace on top of grace, grace piled on grace, one blessing after another, one grace stacked on another.

No, no, no. Anti is used for exchange or substitution or payment. It is never used for stacking things up, and in any case, that interpretation doesn’t fit with the next verse, which is logically connected to it. “We have all received a grace replacing a grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:16–17).

Fulfilling the Law

Do you see what’s being said? The law was a gracious gift from God. The law covenant was a gracious gift from God, but now we have received that to which the law covenant pointed, grace and truth par excellence, a grace replacing a grace, a grace instead of a grace, so the law itself becomes a prophetic category.

Do you see? We so often struggle with problems of law and grace, primarily because we think of law in terms of lex, demand, and grace in terms of gift, but supposing God’s law is also a gracious gift and supposing salvation historically, the law itself can function prophetically. Isn’t that what Jesus says in Matthew 5? “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matthew 5:17).

Plēroō in Matthew never means maintain them. It doesn’t mean intensify them. It means to fulfill on the prophetic line. The law looks forward to, it anticipates, it points forward to, it predicts. The law has a prophetic function as well as several other functions. “I have not come to abolish.” So we make the antithesis of that, “I haven’t come to abolish but to maintain.”

That’s not what the text says. The text says, “I have not come to abolish. My purpose here is not to wipe out, to destroy all the past and redemptive history. No, I have come to serve as that to which it points. The whole law, in all of its structure and its morality and its sacrifices, in its institutions, in its temples, in its rites, in all that it does it points to me.”

And rightly understood and rightly preached in a canonical structure, you move from the law to Jesus Christ. Not merely in the one term used in Galatians 3 in terms of bringing guilt upon the people, which is one use of the law, but in the excellencies of its purity, in its profound God-centeredness, in the glories of its morality, in the institution of the priesthood and the sacrificial system established to show how you get back to a clean God when you’re so dirty.

“I have come to fulfill that law. You understand the law, right?” Jesus says, “And it points to me.” Does not John here say then the same thing? Oh, yes! “From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses” (John 1:16–17). That was grace number one. Grace and truth par excellence, the culmination of all that anticipation of checed ‘emeth is now here under the new covenant.

New Exodus Theme

Now, I've preached this from the John end. What I maintain is that you must equally preach it from the Exodus end and from all kinds of points in between. Let me give you another quick example. Just a very quick one. There has long been a dispute in Markan studies as to whether or not Mark has a new Exodus theme.

What people point out is that the theme seems to be there in Mark. The themes really do seem to be there so that Jesus is presented as the new Exodus Redeemer, taking the people out of slavery again, but on the other hand, when you actually compare the language of Mark with the actual language of Exodus, whether in the Hebrew or in the Greek, the connections just aren’t there. When he could have made the connections, they’re just not there, so as a result, commentators historically for centuries have been divided on that issue.

A friend of mine, an Australian committed to biblical theology, sorted that one out. I am so sure he is right it is disgusting I did not see it earlier. It is one of those truths where as soon as you see it you say, “Of course! Carson, you idiot! You were really slow on that one.” It’s one of those. Do you know what the answer is?

The themes are there, all right, but the literary connections are with the new Exodus theme in Isaiah. They’re all over the place. What you have is Isaiah announcing a coming Redeemer in new Exodus themes which Mark picks up and applies to Jesus. Inner-canonical connections. Do you see?

Preaching Challenges from the Gospels

Preachers who believe the Bible is the whole counsel of God and are not embarrassed by the surface difficulties, the more they delve, the more they read, the more they study, the more they think, and the more they bow in prayer before this Book and the author of this Book, the more they bring out its treasures, things new and old, and feed the people of God with the mind of God.

I'm going to skip the third point. It will take too long. Let me come now to the fourth point.

There are some peculiar difficulties, I want to argue, in preaching from the Gospels that we have not always understood. The reason for this, I think, is we have treated the Gospels very often as if they are simply Christian documents (that is, post-Pentecost documents) so that very often in our preaching we have elicited from the texts lessons about how to come to faith or lessons about obedience or the like.

What I want to argue is, in the first place, the Gospels are not designed to give us profiles on coming to faith; they’re designed to teach us Jesus. They’re designed to teach us Christ, and the reason why they’re so difficult to preach is because they come at a peculiar point in redemptive history.

On the one hand, they’re connected with the old covenant: the temple is still there, the sacrifices, obedience to the law, Sabbath observance of the strictest form, no question of Sunday or anything like that. Do you see? In fact, Jesus himself, even while he was excoriating the Pharisees for their hypocrisy, can say in Matthew 23:23: “You tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.”

Jesus obeys the law. He goes up to the temple. His parents offer sacrifice for him. On the eighth day he’s circumcised. It is the very Old Testament book. Yet, at the same time, it is the announcement of all that is breaking in with the coming of Jesus — the kingdom is dawning — but you have not yet moved into a Christian church in the full post-Pentecost sense.

So, to preach this kind of material means we must constantly remember the disciples’ coming to faith in the Gospels is never quite like our coming to faith, because their coming to faith always involves waiting for the next redemptive-historical appointment: the cross, the resurrection, and Pentecost.

Now, there are some analogies. Coming to faith, is coming to faith, but at the same time, when we come to faith, it is not that we have to wait for the next redemptive historical appointment. Isn’t that part of what this “stay in the city until you are clothed” business is about (Luke 24:49)? It’s also there with all of the Gospels. Their coming to faith is qualitatively different from our coming to faith today.

And therefore, the right lessons must be inferred from the Gospels and not the wrong lessons. I wish I could unpack that one at great length, but let me try one more passage on you.

Isaiah in the Gospel of Matthew and John

Matthew 11:2 — let me just sketch the outline for you. “When John [the Baptist] heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ” — the article is there. It’s almost certainly being used titularly.

“What the Messiah was doing” — that is, from Matthew’s perspective Jesus is the Messiah. John, by the context, shows he’s not all that clear. “He sent word by his disciples and said to him, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?’” (John 11:2–3).

Jesus replies in John 11:4–6 in the categories of Isaiah 35 and Isaiah 61. It’s very important to see that. He’s using language steeped in Scripture that John, because he was a man steeped in Scripture, would instantly recognize.

Nevertheless, what Jesus does as he cites Scripture and applies it to his own ministry is cite only parts of the text. Thus, for example, in Isaiah 35:5–6, “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the and the tongue of the mute sing for joy” and so on.

But what he does not mention is the preceding verse, “Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will come and save you” (Isaiah 35:4). That is what John the Baptist expected. Did he not preach when the Messiah came he would take the winnowing fork in his hand and thoroughly clean his threshing floor? Or in Isaiah 61, again, “Je has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Isaiah 61:1–2).

What he has left out is “on the day of vengeance from our God.” So only quoting the positive bits, then Jesus says, “Blessed is the one who is not offended by me” (Matthew 11:6). Which in the context is a way of saying, “John, John. Look at the miracles, the signs of the dawning of the kingdom all around. The vengeance may not be here yet, but don’t fall away on account of me. Press on, John.” That’s what he’s saying.

Then as John’s disciples are leaving, Jesus then begins to justify John to the crowd. He asks a number of rhetorical questions. “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind?” (Matthew 11:7). “Some fickle thing that gets pushed about by every faddish opinion? Is that what you expected when you went to hear John? Not a chance.”

“What then did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing?” No. no. no. “Those who wear soft clothing are in kings' houses” (Matthew 11:8). Shaft! “While John the Baptist is in the prison at Machaarus, Herod is wearing the fine clothes. What do you expect? To go out and be impressed by somebody in a lovely pinstriped suit? No.” “Then what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, and more than a prophet.”

Then Scripture is cited. “This is he of whom it is written, ‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you,’” quoting Malachi (Matthew 11:10). I would love to expound that, but I’ll press on. Then he says, “Among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist” (Matthew 11:11).

The Uniqueness of John the Baptist

Do you realized what this means? John the Baptist is greater than David. John the Baptist is greater than Solomon. John the Baptist is greater than Abraham. John the Baptist is greater than Isaiah. John the Evangelist says as much in another way. He says, “John did no miracle, but everything he said about Jesus was true.” The greatest person in the Bible never did a miracle.

Why is he great? What makes him better than Jeremiah or Isaiah? In the context, it can only be because of the prophecy just cited in Matthew 11:10, because to John fell the inestimable privilege of pointing out who the Messiah would be. He was the precursor, so he’s the greatest one. There is a sense in which Isaiah announces Jesus, but he does so seven hundred years earlier. There’s a sense in which Jeremiah announces Jesus, but he does so six hundred years earlier.

To John falls this immense privilege. He points Jesus out, and he says, “There! That’s the one! That’s the one!” “I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.” “That’s the one!” He’s the greatest one born up to this point in all of redemptive history. Can you imagine saying that? Supposing I said, “I would like to tell you David Livingston is a great man. He’s the greatest man who ever lived because he introduced me.” It is so stupid it’s embarrassing! It might make a good line on Saturday Night Live but that’s about all.

But Jesus says it, because even in his attestation as to who John is, the point is it redounds on himself to establish who he is. That’s the focus of all of Scripture. Then when he says, “And I tell you, the least in the kingdom of God is greater than he,” you are in redemptive historical categories again, for the only way to make sense of that verse is to assume the categories of our greatness must be the same as the categories for the greatness of John.

If you simply say, “We’re greatest in privilege,” or something like that, then you are comparing apples and oranges. The reason why John is greater than Isaiah and Jeremiah and anybody who has preceded him is because he had the inestimable privilege of pointing out who the Messiah was more clearly than anybody else up to that time.

The Least in the Kingdom

“But the least in the kingdom” — that is, this side of the cross and the resurrection, this side of the coming of the Spirit, the least in the church, the least person who is in the kingdom at all, the least person who is born again, the one who has only been born again for a few minutes. At least he knows the Messiah came to die on the cross and rise again that we might be justified before him, and John the Baptist never had all of that fully implanted in his head. If you want to ask me about the Lamb of God passage, you ask me later.

In that sense, the least in the kingdom can point out Jesus more clearly than John the Baptist could, which makes us greater than John the Baptist. Do you realize that your importance, your greatness is not bound up with the fact you are a preacher or you have a wonderful IQ or a lot of money or a superb education or a magnificent ministry behind you? It’s bound up with the fact you’re a Christian.

As Peter puts it, “The things that have now been announced to you . . . things into which angels long to look” (1 Peter 1:12). They’ve come to us. We have the immeasurable privilege of articulating who Jesus is to a lost world, and in that our greatness consists. On this axis, brothers and sisters, each one in this room is greater than King David, greater than Solomon, greater than Isaiah, and there’s not a trace of it that can go to our heads because we are the recipients of privilege and our greatness is bound up in knowing God through faith in Jesus Christ.

Read and Re-Read the Whole Counsel of God

Now, if instead, you go through this passage and just talk about perseverance or you talk about the nature of faith or you talk about privilege and you miss the centrality of Jesus Christ, in the Gospels of all places, where he is above all set forth, it is not Christocentric, faithful, biblical-theological preaching.

Do you see? Theology without proclamation is empty; proclamation without theology is blind. One of the most important, one of the most urgent tasks for the church today, brothers and sisters in Christ, is building up an entire biblical theology, um eine gesamt biblische Theologie, a whole-Bible biblical theology which is the only secure foundation in any generation for systematic theology out of the preaching of the Word of God.

Read. Re-read Scripture. See how it fits together. Think. Read. Re-read. Find the best authors. Let me mention one or two. It’s out of print now, but Clowney’s book, Preaching and Biblical Theology, is still a gem, updated and improved somewhat in his little book, The Unfolding Mystery. Still worth reading.

There is no comprehensive treatment of these themes in recent years. There just isn’t. You find some very good and useful material in, for example, the 1939 book Typos, recently published in English, by Leonhard Goppelt. Some very useful material even though some of it is liberal. You have to discount some of it. Some of it doesn’t work, but there’s some very useful material there as well as to how the Bible is put together.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, study, read, think, pray, submit your mind to the whole counsel of God so through the inner-canonical connections all of our preaching is profoundly biblical and, therefore, Christ-centered.

is emeritus professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois. He is a founding member of The Gospel Coalition, and the author of How Long, O Lord?