How do we look at Scripture and see a redemptive message everywhere we turn? The goal is to understand how to interpret Scripture so as to communicate the Christ who is there. Our messages must proclaim that all is a result of God's grace, both salvation and sanctification.
The Hands of a Christ-centered Message
2. How do we develop messages that proclain that all is a result of God's grace, both salvation and sanctification?
a. It is up to every generation to rediscover grace
b. Begin with a "fallen condition focus"
1. What does the text say?
2. What is the context?
3. What do we share in common with the person by whom the text is written or to whom the text is written?
c. Elements of a "fallen condition focus" that all people share
3. What does not characterize correct redemptive interpretation of the Bible?
a. Antinomian messages
b. Allegorical messages
4. What does characterize correct redemptive interpretation of the Bible?
a. Recognition of all of Scripture as one coherent history of God's redeeming work
b. All persons and events relate to this one history
5. How do I discover the specific elements of redemptive truth that there are?
a. Topical approaches
b. Expository approach
1. What does this passage demonstrate about God's nature or attributes that provide the work of Christ?
2. What does this passage demonstrate about God's nature or attributes that require the work of Christ?
6. What redemptive messages sound like
a. Grace despite our sin
b. Grace destroying the guilt of sin
c. Grace defeating the power of sin
d. Grace compelling holiness
e. Loving service
Course: Introduction to Public Speaking
My goal yesterday was to communicate to you the importance, I think, of a Christ-focus in all of scripture. My intention today is to say, "If it's important, how do we do it?" How do we actually look at the scriptures, and see a redemptive message wherever we turn. And then my goal for tomorrow is to say, "What are the implications of that?" How does seeing Christ in all the scriptures actually affect the messages that we proclaim?"
You see the goal of today's lesson at the top of your sheets: To understand how to interpret scripture so as to communicate the Christ who is there. This is the way Calvin expressed it in terms of our goal, he said,
We must gather that to profit much in the holy scripture, we must always resort to our Lord Jesus Christ and cast our eyes upon him without turning from him at any time. You will see a number of people who labor very hard at reading the holy scripture, and they do nothing but turn over the leaves of it. Why? They have no particular aim in view. They only wander about. Although they have gathered together a number of sentences of all sorts, yet nothing of value results from them. Even so, it is with them that labor in the holy scriptures and do not know the point that they ought to rest on, namely, the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
That's from a sermon of Calvin's on Ephesians 2. What's the point that it all ought to rest on? What are we always looking toward? He is saying it is the Lord Jesus Christ. All the scriptures -- all the leaves of it -- are about that point.
Now, just to do a brief review for you here before turning to methodology -- to talk about some of the importances -- to review yesterdays discussions. Some of the things that we talked about there were the moralistic, legalistic danger of what sometimes is called 'exemplary preaching' or 'exemplary messages." Paul Coister (?) actually introduced me to the appendix of a rather famous book by an author that I am not going to name for you. The name of the appendix is called 'The Menace of the Sunday School' in which the author simply describes the difficulty of children understanding the gospel when the well-intentioned word of many a Sunday School teacher is, "Now, Sally, if you're just a good little girl, Jesus will love you. Johnny, if you're just a good little boy, God will care for you."
It sounds so reasonable. Have you got it down now though that that is not just a sub-Christian message, that is an anti-Christian message? God does not love or favor on the basis of what Johnny or Sally do. Therefore, "B," there is a necessity of a redemptive focus in all Christian messages if they are truly Christian.
We tried to identify some marks of non-redemptive messages: Number 1, they are 'solo bootstrapsa,' that is, by boot straps alone you just do better this week. Pick yourself up and do better. These solo bootstrapsa messages are identified by the deadly bees (Bs): Be like, be good, be disciplined. Now, remember the important conditional phrase that follows: These are not wrong messages in themselves, they are wrong messages by themselves. If all we've said is, "Be like, or be good, or be disciplined." That is because no scripture, in context -- there's the key phrase -- says only, "Be good."
Such messages are not merely sub-Christian, but anti-Christian. Why? Because such messages inadvertently imply -- and usually it is inadvertent. Usually we don't intend to say this, but inadvertently such messages alone imply -- number one, that we are able to achieve self-sanctification; that what I do sanctifies me. Or two, that our acceptance with God depends on our conduct. Or three, that there is personal merit in moral behavior, which is in contrast to the scriptures that will say all our righteous acts are like filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6); when we've done all that we were commanded we are still unprofitable or unworthy servants (Luke 17:10).
Look at how the confession states this -- the Westminster Confession, chapter 16. We cannot, by our best works, merit pardon for sin. By them, that is these good works, we can neither profit, nor satisfy for the depth of our former sins, but when we have done all we can, we have but done our duty, and are unprofitable servants; and because as they, that is these good works, are good, they proceed from his spirit, and as they are wrought by us they are defiled and mixed with so much weakness and imperfection that they cannot bear the severity of God's judgment.
That's an amazing statement. Our good works actually cannot endure God's judgment. Our best works actually are deserving of God's judgment. Believers, however, being accepted through Christ, their good works are also accepted in him, not in themselves, not as though they were in this life wholly unblamable and even unreprovable in God's sight. What's the only reason that our good works are acceptable to God? Because they too are wrapped in the righteousness of Christ, not because they are good enough from our perspective. God accepts them due to his care, not due to our goodness.
I think of it in some contexts of my childhood. When I was growing up, one of the rights of passage for a young boy growing up in Western Tennessee, is that you had to learn to use a crosscut saw. It wasn't that my family didn't know about chainsaws, but my father had had to learn to use a two-man crosscut saw, and his daddy, and his daddy before him, and it was just something that you did when you were a southerner in Western Tennessee.
I can remember one crisp fall morning when we were out cutting logs and working with the saw, and we got a log on the cutting frame and got just a little way into it, not realizing that on the inside it was rotten. As we began to saw, we got a little way into it and it broke in half, fell off the frame, hit the ground hard and when it did it sheared down along a face and it created an interesting design. When I looked at it with my childish imagination, I thought, "You know, that it looks kind of like a horse's head, that rotten piece of log." So when we were through the cutting that day, I picked up that rotten piece of log and I put it under my arm and I took it home.
I don't remember any more what the occasion was, whether it was Christmas or Father's Day or my Dad's birthday, I can remember I took that rotten horse-head log, and I nailed a two-by-four to it, and put some stick legs on it and tied a rope tail on it. Then I put some nails down the two-by-four and I wrapped it in butcher block paper and put a ribbon it and presented it to my Dad for whatever the special occasion was.
He looked at the ribbon, took the paper off, and looked at that and said, "That is wonderful...what is it?" I said, " Well, Dad! It's a tie rack. You see those nails going down the side of the horse? You can hang your ties on there."
He said, "That's great, thank you." And he took that rotten horse-head piece of wood and he leaned it up against his closet wall -- because the legs wouldn't quite hold it up straight -- and for years he used that for a tie rack.
Now I must tell you that when I first presented that work to my Dad, I thought it was really good. I thought this was a work of art ready for the museum somewhere. This was just really good. But it didn't take much maturing that I would go to my Dad and say, "Oh, Dad, would you please get rid of that thing. Please throw that away."
He valued it because he had received it in love, not because it was good, but because he was good. In love he received it. It was ultimately his goodness reflected in receiving the gift, not any goodness in the thing itself.
The good that we do is truly good but it is not sufficiently good to make us right before God. The fact that God receives our good gifts, that we offer them to him in love, is because we love him, but he receives them out of his love and it's his goodness that makes them acceptable, not our goodness. It's not our good that makes us acceptable to God.
If that is the case, then recognize this: Our messages must be the Bible's, that is, all is of grace; salvation and sanctification. Sanctification is of grace, too. The Bible says, "For from him and through him and to him are all things." I think it is pretty much up to every generation to rediscover grace because it is so easily obscured by the concern to either gain holiness or to compel purity. Why are we so concerned about grace and why do we get so worried? Because we're concerned that I've got to go something to get in God's good grace or if I just tell people it's all grace, they'll do whatever they want. And so the concern to compel purity keeps us afraid of grace. Therefore every generation has to rediscover: What is its meaning, what are its implications because of these great concerns of ours.
I think Babel occurs early in scripture because it's never far from any of us. We have this early warning sign. Don't try to build your way up to God. It's not by your work that you will reach God. That early marker occurs in scripture because we're always, every one of us, so close to it and God has to keep reminding us again and again.
Martin Luther expressed it this way. Here he was at the end of his life in what is a famous sermon called 'The Sum of the Christian Life.'
"It is exceedingly difficult to get into another habit of thinking in which we clearly separate faith and works of love, even though we are in faith, the heart is always ready to boast of itself before God and say, 'After all I've preached so long, lived so well, done so much, and been on so many mission fields, surely he will take this into account,' but it cannot be done. With men you may boast but when you come before God, leave all that boasting at home and remember to appeal from justice to grace. But let anyone try this and he will see and experience how exceeding hard and bitter it is for a man, who all his life has been mired in his work righteousness, to pull himself out of it and with all his heart rise up through faith in the one mediator. I myself have been preaching and cultivating grace for almost 20 years and still [this sounds like pure Luther] I feel the old clinging dirt of wanting to deal so with God that I may contribute something so that he will have to give he his grace in exchange for my holiness. Still I cannot get it into my head that I should surrender myself completely to sheer grace. Yet I know that this is what I should and must do, I want to contribute something."
"Surely God you'll recognize me for this; surely God you'll favor me for this; surely God you'll recognize me in heaven for this," instead of saying, "Lord, my only claim is what you have done and my faith in that."
If it is important to have that essential Christian message characterize all that we preach, all that we proclaim, all that we teach, how do we develop such Christ-centered messages? That's Roman numeral two in your notes: How do we develop these messages?
A starting point, I think, you already know. It doesn't have to be something terribly difficult. Yesterday I talked about the Fallen Condition Focus -- if we start with an FCF. Remember what the fallen condition focus was? The mutual human condition that contemporary believers share with those to or for whom the text was written, that requires the grace of the passage. If that's our starting point, we've identified the mutual human condition -- how am I like the people in that text; their concern, their problem -- how am I like them that God had to provide a grace to rescue them? Once I start with that point, legalistic, even moralistic communication will be self-evident and self-defeating.
If I'm looking at people like Swiss cheese, and the hole in them is truth-fallenness -- something that cannot be corrected by human work -- if that's what I've seen in them; that's what I've identified as the starting point; this passage is dealing with that hole, then it should become fairly evident to me from the beginning that if all I've said to people is, "You need to fill that hole with some good works," if I've started with fallenness as the basis of this message's unfolding.
How we determine a Fallen Condition Focus
Here is a quick three-step process. I can ask these things about any text to have a proper starting point -- a good starting point. I'm not saying its the only starting point but a place to start.
1. What does the text say? Those of you who were raised on Haddon Robinson in preaching classes; he would say, "What's the big idea?" What does the text say? What's going on here? What was being communicated by the biblical author?
I would say for maybe ninety percent of the evangelical preachers that I listen to, that's not just the first step, that's the last step. What's going on here? Let me tell you what the big idea was here. I want to press further. Remember we said that we are not ready to preach on a passage until we have discovered why the Holy Spirit included it in scripture. Why is it here?
2. What concerns did the text address? Basically, what is the context? What was going on here? Not just what's the big idea, why was it being addressed here? What's the context?
3. What takes it from being just information to being transformation in its focus? What do we share in common with those to or about whom the text was written or the one by whom the text was written? We're saying, "Isn't it awful that Thomas was a doubter?" Look at Thomas. Why was it there? How are we like him? How are we like Euodia and Syntyche? The Psalmist says my tears have been my drink all night long. How are we like him? It's because when I begin to find that mutual condition that the Psalmist had, that the text was dealing with, that I begin to understand why the Holy Spirit included that in scripture...for me, not just for information but for transformation.
If you begin to think of it this way: that we're looking for concerns in the text that we share. I want you to help me for a moment just by thinking of what are possible examples of FCFs, or fallen condition focus. If you were to think in general terms about the Bible and you're saying, "What are concerns that the Bible addresses that we should be talking to people about? Can you just kind of speak out? What could you just say? What's wrong in their lives that we should be talking about? Greed, pride, selfishness, immorality, unbelief, worry. Any one of the ten commandments will do.
Everything that we've named thus far have a certain character about them and I want to make clear that these are all good things to speak about. They are all characterized by things that we are all guilty of. They are all sins; perfectly legitimate subjects for Christian messages.
But I want you to recognize that there are FCFs that are not sins -- aspects of being a fallen creature in a fallen world that the scriptures are addressing that are not necessarily sins. For instance, as a fallen creature in a fallen world, do you sometimes face unexplained tragedy? Is unexplained tragedy a sin? No, it's not something we are guilty of, but it's a consequence of being a fallen creature in a fallen world.
We could say loneliness, simply being alone. is not necessarily a sin but it is a difficulty that we face and that the Bible addresses in various ways.
Illness is not a sin. The Bible says it can be a consequence of sin, but it is not necessarily a consequence of sin. Illness is a fallen condition and the Bible gives us help in dealing with these hard things in life that are not necessarily things for which we are culpable, guilty, but are still aspects of being fallen that the scriptures come to deal with.
Hear the difference? Both of these things are legitimate in terms of addressing a fallen condition focus. Not all FCFs are sin, though all are a result of our fallen condition.
Now, if that's the starting place, we say, "I'm going to deal with fallenness in some way, and I recognize this passage because the scriptures tell me all scripture is given to complete us -- all the scriptures, everything that was written afore time was written to give me hope in my fallen condition." So once I've identified a fallen condition I want to say, "Now, how does that scripture deal with it?" and I want to talk about that.
Because we do this we need to determine some of the distinctives of a Christ-centered message. What will it now be characterized by? I'm going to start in the negative: What does not characterize correct redemptive interpretation of the Bible?
a) Antinomian messages. Sometimes people say, "Well if you're just going to concentrate on grace, that means you can't talk about obedience." That becomes antinomianism -- disregarding the law of God or the requirement of proper conduct in scripture. That's not what we're talking about. To emphasize grace does not mean that we neglect the requirements of obedience. That should be evident if you're starting with an FCF. You're saying, "The problem here is disobedience." Then ultimately you're going to be dealing with that problem. We're not talking about antinomianism.
b) The second thing we are not talking about that people get concerned about when they hear about a Christ-centered message is allegorical messages: Making Christ appear in every Old Testament mud puddle or camel track through imaginative or allegorical connections or even word play. Sidney Greidanus in his book 'Sola Scriptura' calls it leap frogging to Golgotha. You just take some image in the Old Testament -- "Elijah was at the crossroads when he met the enemies of God, and Jesus was at the crossroads when he met...." It's just kind of word play and he says it's not that.
Or, you know, you're dealing with, "Moses met the daughters of Jethro at the well of Jacob, and Jesus met a woman at the well," -- this kind of allegorical word play or connecting. That's not what we're talking about either when we're saying we want to preach Christ in all the scriptures. We're not talking about allegorism, we're not talking about antinomianism.
What are we talking about? Number two: What does characterize correct redemptive interpretation of the Bible?
a) Recognition of all of scripture as one coherent history of God's redeeming work. It's all one history.
b) All persons or events relate to this one history. Everything there connects to one history, and therefore,
c) Proper interpretation relates the pieces to be related to the whole.
In what is a very influential book in my life, in Paul Coister's life -- in fact maybe, I should just tell you, one of the ways that Paul Coister and I discovered one another was by the book 'Sola Scriptura' by Sidney Greidanus. It's not in print anymore, but I had come out of a background where I had seen what I felt was a great deal of failure in my preaching. Not that I couldn't do certain things delivery-wise, but I was not seeing the kind of transformation that I felt the gospel was about. I saw people's moral behavior change, I did not see their spiritual lives improve, however. I watched a lot of just growing pride, growing bitterness in people who at the same time were trying to live obediently. And I began to wonder, "Why is my preaching in some ways encouraging this, from what I could tell?" I was on a path of trying to find out. I'm just saying what the Bible says: Do these things or be like Joshua, how can this be wrong?
Finding the book by Sidney Greidanus where he talked about mainly the error of what was called 'Exemplary Preaching in the Dutch Reformed Church' and he did the long history of that. Now it's a highly technical book but it came along at a very key time in my life and when I went to the seminary and Paul Coister and I used to jog in Queeney Park, one of the things we discovered very early and kind of got this sense of synchrony, harmony, what we were doing is we began to talk about Sidney Greidanus -- oh, you've read that too? Well I've read that. We began to go back and forth about what we had discovered about the message of grace in all the scriptures.
Now, I'm not saying Greidanus is right in everything. I think he makes some rather strong errors in what he says but he sure got us going down a good path. And part of it was in looking at all the Bible as this one history. Here's a key quote from Greidanus, it's in your notes:
“In opposing the fragmentary interpretation which reads the Bible as a collection of biographies, the redemptive-historical side stresses the . . . unity of redemptive history. . . . The unity of redemptive history implies the Christocentric nature of every historical text. Redemptive history is the history of Christ: He stands at its center, but no less at its beginning and end. . . . Scripture discloses [its] theme . . . right at the beginning. Gen. 3:15. . . places all subsequent events in the light of the tremendous battle between the Seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent, between Christ coming into the world and Satan the ruler of this world, and it places all events in the light of the complete victory which the Seed of the woman shall attain. In view of this, it is imperative that not one single person be isolated from this history and set apart from this great battle. The place of both opponents and ‘co-workers’ can only be determined Christologically."
Now for Greidanus, and I think correctly, looking at scripture, the key verse is not John 3:16, it's Genesis 3:15. Now what he's saying is this: I will put enmity between you and the woman and between your seed and her seed. He will strike your heel, you will crush his head. Here's the promise, the protoevangelium, the first gospel. There will be that coming redeemer who will defeat the forces of Satan, but what is the rest of human history about? The rest of human history, Geidanus is saying, is the great battle. It is now the forces of Satan against the forces of the seed of the woman and all of history is the unfolding of this great battle of what's going on.
I wish you could almost perceive the Bible, if you could see it in your mind's eye, and some of you have been to these battle grounds like you were at a vast Napoleonic war battle ground, and you're on a hill overlooking it. As you look over the scene, you see over in one area that there's the cavalry. In another area there's the infantry. In another area there's the supply train. The spies are behind the lines. The artillery is back on some distant hills. Now, there are many different pieces, but you know that they are all related to the great battle and you can't explain what the cavalry is doing over there or what the infantry is doing over there, if you don't relate it to the battle.
Now we say, "There's Samson, and there's Joshua, and there's the law of Moses, but they're all part of the great battle and we stand on a hill, from the perspective of Calvary, and we are able to see: Here's where it all fits. It's all part of this great battle.
What I am doing when I am interpreting scripture now is I am not trying to say, "Oh let's see. What's the word play here 'well' and 'well' and 'woman at' and 'woman at.' It's not word play. It's not allegory. It is logically, really, actually seeing how this component fits into the battle. What is its place? So that when I am beginning to consider the scriptures, I am not doing this notion of, "Here's the law of Moses, and here's something about the kingships, and when I think about David the king," then I think, "Oh, that reminds me of something in Jesus' life." That leap-frogging to Golgotha that's almost always saying, " That reminds me of...."
It's something different. It is saying that there is this great battle where ultimately the son is going to defeat the serpent and everything in history is about that great battle. Whether I'm talking about the man and the woman in the garden, whether I'm talking about the flood, whether I'm talking about the law or the patriarchs, whether I'm talking about the law, the kings, Christ coming into the world, his crucifixion, his ascension, or his coming back, wherever I am in history, it's all related to this battle. It's all about that work that God has to do to overcome, and his relating that part of his plan, whether it's historical or instructional, God is in some was always relating, "Here's how I am the victor. Here's this piece of the battle that's going on," and what we are to understand is: Joshua is not the hero, God is the hero of every text. What God is providing in this grand battle of his ultimate victory is what we are to see happening. Here is God's provision in behalf of his covenant people and wherever we are in history, that's what's going on. Joshua is not just telling me, "Be strong and courageous and you can beat up giants, too. You rely on the God who is greater than you who can overcome all because apart from him we can do nothing. He will supply for you wells you did not dig and cities that you did not build because he is the one who must provide. You cannot. You have to see it in context. What is God teaching his people? Where are we in history now?
If you see the bottom of that little chart in your notes, we are not trying to say, "This reminds me of, and therefore the text leap-frogs to the cross, but where does this passage fit in the plan of redemptive history or redemptive instruction?
Simon Blocker, again a very famous quote from 'The Secret of Pulpit Power,' his book written in 1955, said it this way, “[Scripture’s message] is simply the proclamation of the divine crusade of redemption, of God’s way out of our human predicament." Now if he had said 'fallen condition focus,' I wouldn't have had a book to write, but he said 'human predicament,' It's God's way out, not what we do to get out. The whole of scripture is the divine crusade of revealing to us God's way out of our human predicament.
How we begin to mine this redemptive revelation. If we say, "All right. It's there. It's the great battle being revealed in all of scripture. How do I mine the specific truths -- the redemptive elements -- that are there?
One approach is a) Topical Approaches. These are well intended, but they have only human authority. Do you know what a topical approach is? I'm dealing with God's family plan or I'm dealing with a better prayer life or whatever it is, and redemptive truth is creatively added to the topic at hand. The worst caricature of this was a sermon I remember hearing one time, where the whole sermon was: don't procrastinate -- don't put off till tomorrow what you can do today, it's God's time, be a good steward of God's time -- and at the end there was an altar call. You kind of go, "Well...I'm glad the message of Christ got in here. That's good. "But there was nothing in the message that related to anything more than just: make good use of your time, and one way is to come to Christ now.
There was really no integration of these things. It was just kind of human authority that says, "I tell you this is a good thing to do. It doesn't have anything to do with my text or my message but it's a good idea so just do it." That's human authority.
But what I think most of us prefer is an expository approach where we are interpreting the scripture with scriptural authority. Redemptive truth is logically demonstrated in scripture through one or more of these three means -- how can I show redemptive truth in scripture?
The first thing I can point to is the text; expository preaching that simply uses the text, that is, the text actually mentions Christ or his messianic work. If I'm in Matthew 26 and I can't see God's redeeming work, I'm not reading -- there's the account of the crucifixion. Sometimes the redemptive message simply requires you to say what the text says. "When the kindness and mercy of God our savior appeared he saved us, not by the righteous works that we have done but by his mercy." Just say what the text says.
And you could go [to] various texts to say that, not just in the New Testament, you can look at the messianic psalms, the gospel accounts, epistolary references, there are various places we could go. Now the trouble is this: If the only time that I'm going to preach the redemptive message of Christ is where he's specifically mentioned in the text, how much of the Bible am I going to use? Well, ten percent, maybe 15? You're going to miss a whole lot of scripture if the only time you're going to preach Christ's redemptive message is where he's specifically mentioned in the text. That's a good place, but I don't want to limit myself there.
So a second way in which I can find redemptive truth is, if not by text, by type. That's where Christ's redemptive work is represented typically in an Old Testament type. Now particularly in reformed circles we insist that a type is not a type unless the New Testament says it is: This represents Christ, like the temple or the kingship of David, or the life of Joseph. There is typology that we recognize presents Christ's redemptive work in the Old Testament.
I'm not going to get into discussing typology with you. We'll get Professor Long here some day to do all of that. But here's the notion again: If I'm going to limit myself to talking about God's redemptive work only where there is either text mention or typological reference, how much of the Bible am I excluding now? Still the vast majority. The vast majority of the Bible still is not going to come in my purview as representing redemptive truth, so what's left to me?
Redemptive truth exposed not by only text, not only by type, but by context, identifying where this passage fits in the overall revelation of God's redemptive plan. In its context, every passage either is one of these four things. Now I trying to limit to this. You may come up with other ways of thinking about this and that's fine. But it seems to me that these cover the ground pretty well. In it's context every passage is either:
a) predictive of the work of Christ
b) preparatory for the work of Christ
c) reflective of the work of Christ
d) resultant of the work of Christ
Certain texts are predictive of the work of Christ. Certainly the prophesies are predicting what Christ would do. The messianic psalms, even the Old Testament sacraments, are predicting what Christ would do on our behalf.
Certain passages are preparatory for the work of Christ. We understand what he had to accomplish on the basis of what preceded. There was a preparation for our understanding and I preach or proclaim or teach these texts understanding they were meant to prepare us for what Christ had to do. Galatians 3:24 -- I've already cited for you yesterday, "The law was our schoolmaster to bring us to Christ that we might be justified by faith." There is the law. The law had a purpose in making me understand what Christ had to accomplish.
Curiously, not only was the law preparing us, but even the explanation of faith in the Old Testament. Remember Romans 4:23 and 25? "It was not written for Abraham's sake alone that righteousness was imputed to him, but for us also if we believe in him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead who was delivered for our offenses and was raised again for our justification." Why do we have the account of Abraham and Isaac? It wasn't for him alone. It was written for us, too, that we might understand that Abraham believed God and it was counted to him for righteousness. We understand the work of Christ and our dependence upon it, by what came before. We were prepared for that understanding both by the law and by the expression of grace through faith. All of that preceded, preparing us to understand.
Now, it's this next one that I really want to focus on, because it strikes me as holding in it the key elements that we can use virtually anywhere in scripture. Some scriptures we say are limited in being prophetic -- some scriptures are limited in their preparation ability, but if we say that there are scriptures that are reflective of the work of Christ, that's where I think you can go to and fro throughout the whole of scripture and still think redemptively without feeling like you have to twist things or add something in that's not really there. It's by thinking of these two essential questions when you approach the text. The first is this: I look at a text and I say, "What does this demonstrate about God's nature or attributes which provide the work of Christ?" Then flip it, "And/or, what does this text reveal about our nature or attributes which require the work of Christ."
You know about Calvin's lens, right? That we look at the world through the lens of scripture, the Holy Spirit enabling us to see truth as it really is. But what I wish you could see is almost taking out new glasses now, and they have two lenses to enable us to see scripture in its redemptive truth regardless of where we go, and it's enabling you to ask this question: I look at a text -- Old Testament, New Testament, Genealogies, or law, and I say, "What does this tell me about the nature of God that provides redemption," and/or -- the other lens, "What does this tell me about the nature of man that requires redemption?" It will change the way you look at scriptures.
Now, let me think of an example here. Imagine yourself at the dinner table and you're getting to that portion of Chronicles where it starts to recount the land grants that we given to the children of Israel when they returned from exile. Now this is a sure way to kill enthusiasm for reading the Bible at dinner time is to have your children try to read through the land grants, and you think, "Why in the world did the Holy Spirit put this in scripture?" Talk about dull! Talk about undecipherable: "And so the house of Melchinado got this piece of land between this river and that field...." Why in the world do we go through all of this?
Well, now think about it. The children of Israel have been in bondage for 70 years because of their sin and their faithlessness. They come back, not a whole lot more holy, you know. They don't even remember the language of God, much less the law of God, and here they are coming out of bondage that they have been in due to their own sin, coming back to Canaan, coming back to the promised land, and God begins to say, "That family there, you get that piece of land; that family there, you get that piece of land; that family there...," and you begin to think, "What's the purpose of that?" until you begin to compare it to another account. That family that gets that piece of land, guess what piece of land it is. The very same piece of land that was given to their forefathers when they came into the land of Canaan after their exodus from Egypt. The very same piece of land is given back to the very same family as was promised to their forefathers.
The people have been faithless, what has God been? Faithful. On account of their goodness? No, by his mercy alone. What do I learn? What do I learn about the nature of God that provides redemption? We may be faithless, but he abides faithful. What do I learn about my nature? I may think that I am a covenant person by my goodness, but I am entirely dependent on the mercy of God. No matter where I go, I say, "What does this reveal about the nature of God that provides redemption? What does this reveal about the nature of man that requires redemption?
I can look at the most moralistic, legalistic portions of scripture and if I am asking those kinds of questions, I begin to think and teach and react redemptively. You take a passage like Proverbs 5, "My son, do not be seduced by the beauties of an adulteress." Now where is Christ in there? Ask the questions. What does this reveal about the nature of God who provides redemption? God days, "My son, do not be seduced by the beauties of an adulteress." What's the nature of a God who would give such a command? What does he tell you about himself? What does he value? What's his character? If God would say, "My son, do not be seduced by the beauties of an adulteress," what is the nature of God? What's he telling us about himself? What does he value? Righteousness, fidelity, purity, covenant keeping. Don't forget the first words: My Son. What else does he tell us about himself? That he's a father. God tells us by the command that he is holy and loving.
By the way, what does the command tell us about ourselves? "My son, do not be seduced by the beauties of an adulteress." What are we like? We are seduced by the beauties -- we are easily seduced -- vulnerable to the seductions of an adulteress.
I've thought redemptively. God is holy and I'm vulnerable. He's father and I am child. He gives what is good to those who tend to wander. I've learned something.
Now you say, " It doesn't say that in the text." Yes it does. In context it does. That's the point. I understand -- I'm not limited to looking at this text just in this narrow little bracket of where it says chapter five verse three. I stand here beyond Calvary. I look back at the scope of history that God has explained to me already. This is to reveal his nature, to reveal his purpose, to bring his covenant people to himself. That is his purpose. He has told me as much in his word, and so now when I go to his word, I look at it in the context that he has give to me. I would be wrong to step away from the context and somehow eliminate the rest of what I know about scripture and say, "That doesn't count. I want to just look at this little narrow piece." No, he has told me his nature, he has told me his way, and my obligation now is to look at the scripture and say, "How does this reflect the very things that God told me it was to reflect?" Start thinking redemptively as you move through the texts and I believe you will start preaching a grace that is in the text, because of the context with which God gives it.
If you'll back up to the bottom of page four you can fill in the blanks there now. The new lens is to see redeeming work through scripture. What does this text reveal about God that provides redemption? Number two, what does this text reveal about man that requires redemption? Those are the lenses that you can use over and over again and think redemptively about the text.
The last category that I was mentioning on page five is: Certain texts are resultant of the work of Christ. I think of how we sometimes have those wonderful sermons on improving your prayer life, you know, you pray longer, you pray in the words of scripture, you pray the 'ACTS' acrostic. You do all these things to improve your prayer life and you know what sometimes gets left out? The mediator. Who is the one who's at the right hand of God so that we can approach the throne of grace boldly? Who is the one who allows that? Is it the fact that you've prayed longer or the ACTS acrostic, is that what makes it? Sometimes I think we might as well be people out of Asia, spinning our prayer wheels -- do it with the ACTS acrostic, instead of saying, "Wait! Have I remembered that the only reason that I can approach God is as a result that the risen Christ is there interceding for me? Have I remembered to put that little piece in there?" Or else what we do is vain words. Things are a result of Christ -- sometimes the way we see passages exemplifying his redemptive message.
If you think about not only method but ultimately what the results will be, Roman numeral III is briefly about that: What redemptive messages sound like. If you say, "All right, what I'm trying to do is I'm trying to look at the text and see redemptive truth there. Ultimately, what does a redemptive message sound like? What do the redemptive themes become in terms of their dominance? We obviously know it's not going to be 'solo bootstrapsa' or the deadly 'Be's' but what is it then? What do redemptive messages sound like if we have captured Christ's purposes in all the scripture?
1) I think we will often be preaching a thousand different ways but this basic theme: Grace despite our sin -- the messages of assurance and adoption. Typical topics can be things like our comfort in God's love, the whole notion of biblical sabbath -- again, if you're not thinking redemptively when you come to sabbath, you're going to think of only rules of what you do or don't do on Sunday.
But what is the biblical notion of sabbath? After God had created, he rested. He rested from all of his labor, and depending on how you read the fact that there's no morning or evening on the seventh day -- and I know that's an issue, yes I do -- at the same time, recognize that now mankind enters that rest of God. God has now rested and man is now in that period of God's rest. Man in the edenic state is in sabbath. He is in God's rest. Now, because if his sin he is made bond-slave, servant, laborer again in Egypt. And when God promises release from their bondage, he says to the children of Israel, "You will go from the land of bondage to a land that I have given you called Canaan (in some places, but in other places called 'sabbath land'). You are going from bondage to your rest that I will give you in the land of Canaan, in the land of sabbath."
Now we know that the covenant people failed again, didn't they? They never fulfilled their covenant purposes in God, and so we know that God had to send a redeemer. In Hebrews 4 he tells us what? There yet remains a sabbath rest for the people of God. They will yet enter my rest because when we come to Jesus Christ, we cease from our labors, wrestling to get his attention and his favor and his merit. We have ceased from that wrestling in our strength for his approval. We are now in his rest. We've rested from our labors, even as we enter his labor again, we have rested from our labor and the fact that we can serve him so well is because we are so well rested.
Now it's still not perfect. But there will come that time in which we are released from this veil of tears in this world and we will be with our Lord in heaven in a renewed heaven and a new earth, and guess what the book of Revelation calls it. We will enter God's sabbath.
What's sabbath about? It is the assurance that not by our works but by God's we are made his own, we enter the kingdom. We are part of his people and the holy place that he has made by his work, not our own. We enter his rest. It's the great message of assurance.
Rosemarie Miller is here and you know how we are talking about adoption. Jack used to simply say, "Until you've gotten sonship straight you can't live the Christian life." You must understand that you are in relationship to God by his work and not your own and you're not going to, by your goodness or by your badness, if you are a child of God, it's not your work that's going to change that relationship. You can affect relationship, you can affect fellowship, but you will never cease being a child of God. And it's that knowledge of my security in the love of God that ultimately enables me to serve him with strength and with ability.
Even in this room -- you can't be in a room with this many Christians without recognizing there are those of us that are scarred by the parenting that makes love conditional and God is simply saying, "You gotta get sonship straight. I love you because I love who you are; you are my child." That is unconditional and it's what enables you to serve him, and take risks and go on the mission field and in a certain sense deal with the disappointments and the dangers and the frustrations because they are not what make you God's child. He has made you his child, and you have strength and energy for the task because of your security in that relationship.
2) Grace, despite our sin. A second major topic is grace destroying the guilt of sin. These are the messages of justification and forgiveness. Far from being antinomian, a true Christ-centered message has a typical topic dealing with our need for repentance. We must live a repentant life daily preaching the gospel to our own hearts. You know the famous saying of Luther that we must daily preach the gospel to our own hearts, recognizing our sin, but recognizing how much greater is our savior. We must therefore talk about God's cleansing as well as our repentance making sure that we not only lead people to recognize in conviction the weight of their sin but the fact that Christ has removed it.
3) We will talk about grace defeating the power of sin -- messages of sanctification and enablement. Typical topics are the fact that we may have victory over the world, the flesh, and the devil. How? By the provision of the Holy Spirit, the giving of the work that enables victory. We have the ability. We are new creatures in Christ Jesus. Once we were not able to keep from sinning but have been made able. It's our fundamentally changed nature. We are able not to sin. 'Pose non pecare' now, right? Able not to sin, doesn't mean that we don't sin but we have the ability that we at one point did not have at all. When all that we did -- all that we could do was sin but we are different now. The Lord has made us new. He has given us his spirit and he has given us his word to give us victory. Therefore we preach about the enabling power of God.
4) We talk about grace compelling holiness. These are messages of worship and obedience. Typical topics are that we are now compelled to be holy because we love God so. We are so in love with Jesus that we cannot stand in our lives those things that hurt him. And so we live in loving obedience, we live in loving service and it is this last topic that is often the telltale sign of Christ-centered messages, that is, loving service, serving God out of love for him.
Historically you see concerns for obedience caused the most debate among us because it's difficult to remove obedience as a qualification for grace without having some question whether you have removed obedience as a requirement for life. If I say, "Obedience is not a qualification for grace.' then you say, "Well, did you say I don't have to obey?" No. But obedience is not what gains grace. Grace properly understood compels obedience in the transformed heart.
This is hard to say. It's hard to teach. Consistently communicating the necessity and proper motivation for holiness may be the most difficult task that evangelicals face. The necessity of holiness and the proper motivation -- so we're going to spend all tomorrow talking about it.
But think of it this way: If you would think about your own obedience, can you make sense of one of the oldest illustrations of Christendom told by Anselm, Anselm's flowers. Anselm talked about a child out in the fields collecting flowers for her father. She collected this bouquet and brought it first to her mother to show what she was going to give for her father. The mother looked at the flowers that the child had collected and recognized that among the daisies were thorns and vines and weeds. It wouldn't have been appropriate for the father. And so the mother took the bouquet from the child and took out the thorns and the vines and the weeds and put in flowers from her own garden and said, "Now present it to the father." So, Anselm said, Christ works on our behalf, taking our best works and removing from them the thorns and the weeds and the vines, and substituting his own righteousness that we might be presentable to the father.
Now, you're going to tell people to do good things for God, that they are going to be presenting to him their bodies, their lives, their works, living sacrifices now to God. But as you do so, are you prepared to say, "What's the basis of their goodness?" Are you prepared, by teaching the scriptures in context to say, "It's still Christ who must provide the righteousness?" When you know he has, you will now long to present them to the father. May God help us to see the necessity and the right motivation as we now move forward to present the whole word of God to his people in such a way that his redemption is made clear.
Let me pray. Father, would you guide us as we continue here? We've just scratched the surface, we know, of thinking of how your scriptures unfold the glorious message of your grace -- the redemption that's available in Christ Jesus alone. But as we think about what the scriptures say, we now have to think about how it will affect what we say. Help us, teach us, change us, that we might reflect the glory of your son, that his name might be known above all names. This we pray, in Jesus' name. Amen.