In his insightful book, The Modern Preacher and the Ancient Text, Sidney Greidanus contends that Christian preachers will never fully comprehend the message of the Old Testament without reading it in light of the New Testament. While he admits that not every passage in the Old Testament speaks directly about Jesus, he argues that sound biblical exegesis and faithful biblical exposition must always view biblical texts “in the context of the universal kingdom history which finds its goal and climax in Christ” (221). In other words, Greidanus reminds preachers that they don’t have to “force” the gospel into Old Testament texts; they must preach the gospel that is already there.
Indeed, the Old Testament is one grand narrative with a central plot, a leading character, and a singular purpose. In Luke 24:27, Jesus tells us what the Old Testament is ultimately about: “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets He interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” With each turn of the biblical page, the plot unfolds, the leading character’s role becomes more apparent, and the central purpose becomes clear. If we were to remove Jesus from any portion of the Old Testament, the whole narrative would make no sense. We must view the Old Testament through Christocentric lenses.
When preaching Old Testament law, this hermeneutical principle is not only important—it is absolutely imperative. Jesus could not be more explicit when He asserted, “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” (Matt 5:17). According to Jesus, ultimate knowledge of and adherence to the law of God requires one to place Him at its center. In John 5:39 He affirms, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me…” Indeed, the whole Bible is a “Him” book—it all points to Jesus.
How then does one preach Christ from the law? Here are two insights to guide both your exegesis and exposition:
1. Jesus elevated the law to such a lofty degree that it underscores our inability to meet its demands. His command to pursue perfection is met by the reality of our sinful imperfection. We may desire to keep His law, but in our hearts we know that we are unable. Our inability to keep His law, however, does not abrogate its demands for perfect obedience. Rather, it drives us inexorably to His mercy, forgiveness, and grace. God’s law is the standard by which we will ultimately be judged; and it is only in the fulfillment of His law (Jesus) that we can be saved. If you preach the law then you must preach the gospel—they are directly related. Heaven belongs to those whose “righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees” (Matt 5:20). If it were not for the imputed righteousness of Christ, we would all be in big trouble.
2. Even though we are recipients of grace, we must still take God’s law seriously—including our responsibility to preach it. To be sure, Jesus perfectly fulfilled God’s sacrificial law, and the new covenant supersedes God’s judicial law. And, yes, the perfect righteousness of Jesus is the only righteousness that can bridge the gap between a sinful humanity and a perfect God. Still, Jesus said that God’s law would not pass away until “all is accomplished” (Matt 5:18). Even as Jesus offered grace, He never lowered God’s standards. In fact, He elevated them to a whole new level. He was unwavering in His affirmation of biblical authority. As the apostle Paul would later affirm, we are now under the “law of Christ” (1 Cor 9:21) and that our ultimate pursuit should be to “keep the commandments of God” (1 Cor 7:19). In a sense, we’ve been freed from the curse of the law so that we may pursue a life of Christ-centered righteousness. For Jesus, a life of radical obedience was not optional—it was expected. May our belief in, adherence to, and preaching of God’s truth be no less passionate. God’s law reveals our sin, points us to Jesus, and then motivates us to pursue the righteous life He desires. To preach Christ from the law is to challenge our people to pursue a life of radical Christ-centered obedience to God’s commandments.
About: Dr. Mark A. Howell serves as the Senior Pastor of Hunters Glen Baptist Church in Plano, TX. He has been in the ministry for twenty-five years serving churches in Florida, Texas, North Carolina and Arkansas. He was most recently senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Daytona, Florida. Dr. Howell earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from Carson-Newman College in Jefferson City, TN where he played linebacker on the 1986 National Championship football team. He also holds the Master of Divinity and Doctor of Philosophy degrees from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, NC. Dr. Having a passion for taking the gospel to the nations and to preach the gospel around the world. Dr. Howell has led mission teams to Ecuador, Honduras, Mexico, Kenya, South Africa, India, Nepal, Argentina, Russia, Ukraine, China, Indonesia, the Philippines and Singapore, and currently serves as a trustee of the IMB of the Southern Baptist Convention. His wife of 24 years, Carmen, holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Biblical Counseling from Criswell College. They have two daughters, Abigail who will be a freshman at Dallas Baptist University, and Rebekah, who will be a junior in high school. Joining them is their faithful Lab, Amos. An avid outdoorsman, Dr. Howell enjoys hunting, running, and golfing.