The Need: Preaching Christ from the Old Testament
Is there a need to preach Christ from the Old Testament (OT)? Is there some grand, compelling reason that removes all other options? Yes, I think there is. The compelling reason is to preach Christ from the OT is Christ himself. When we look in each of the Gospels, we have a record of some teaching concerning the relation of the OT to Jesus (e.g., Matt 12:39–42; Mark 9:2–9; Luke 24: 27, 44; John 5:39). What these passages indicate is important for our question: Jesus exerts a gravitational pull on all of Scripture.
I say “gravitational pull” because I found it to be a helpful analogy from the field of physics. In physics, the greater the mass of an object is the greater its gravitational pull. At the risk of oversimplification: the bigger it is, the harder it pulls. This is true of Christ as well. Because of his person and work, he is the massive object of Scripture; therefore, he exerts the largest gravitational pull on Scripture. This does not mean an equal amount of pull is exerted on all parts. As you could probably figure out, the farther away something is from an object’s gravitational pull, the less affected it is, or, we might say that the gravitational pull of the object is less pronounced. At the singularity (or center) of a black hole, the gravitational pull is so strong that not even light escapes. The farther away you move from that center, the less of an effect the gravitational pull will have. My point is that even though Jesus exerts gravitational pull on all Scripture, the force of that pull is felt differently in different texts.
There are texts where the gravitational pull is like the singularity of a black hole. There is no escaping. The force is undeniable. I think of passages like Isaiah 53. These “singularity” texts are also the texts where NT authors provide the Christological interpretation for us. Then there are other texts where the gravitational pull is less like the singularity; the pull is less prominent, and at times hard to discern, but the pull still exists. I think of passages like sections of Numbers or Leviticus, or the book of Esther. The pull is still there; those texts still, in some way, somehow, connect to Jesus because of the gravitational pull he exerts on them.
My point is that we may disagree on the ways and means—Christocentric, Christotelic, or Christiconic preaching—but that Christ exerts a pull on every text, in the Old and the New, is foundational. Not to be too simplistic, but as I think about one massive reason to preach Christ from the OT, I cannot help but think that Christ himself is that reason. There is certainly a need to preach Christ from the OT. At the very least we should employ a Christ-informed hermeneutic and homiletic. We should not read any text or interpret any text as if the Christ-event has not happened. Of course, we do not insert Jesus into a text or resort to unregulated, mysticism-fueled allegory in order to “preach Christ.” Instead, with every text we read, interpret, and preach from the OT, we keep in mind that Jesus, either forcefully or faintly, exerts a gravitational pull on that passage.
There is another reason I think you should preach Christ from the OT. When I compare Paul’s summary of his own preaching with the command he gives to Timothy, I conclude that preachers are to preach the Word and preach Christ. Paul describes his preaching in various similar shades: “I make it my ambition to preach the gospel (Rom 15:20); “the preaching of Jesus Christ” (Rom 16:25); “we preach Christ crucified” (1 Cor 1:23); “that I might preach him among the Gentiles” (Gal 1:16); and “to preach the unsearchable riches of Christ” (Eph 3:8). Paul preached Christ. The command to Timothy, however, is to “Preach the Word” (2 Tim 4:2). This command to preach includes the OT Scriptures Timothy had known from childhood (2 Tim 3:15). If we follow the model of Paul and heed the charge of Paul, we have two commands for preaching: preach the Word and preach Christ. In our preaching, we are to do both. We preach the Word and we preach Christ. Our preaching is meant to be both, we preach the Word and Christ. We do this by discovering the gravitational pull of Jesus on a text, and then preaching both the Word and by also falling the pull.
To use a different physics-related illustration, think of a sheet held on all four corners and pulled tightly. Now imagine a 16-pound bowling ball placed in the middle. The sheet would not be flat but would be bent downwards towards the bowling ball. Likewise, when we study and preach a passage, we are discovering and declaring how the Christ-event now “bends” the text towards Christ. Some would say the bend was always there and others would disagree, but to preach a text out of the OT and not preach Christ would seem to ignore the 16-pound bowling ball on the sheet.
I close by making my point another way. Not to make light of the many complex hermeneutical and theological presuppositions in one’s answer to this question, but when asked if there is a need to preach Christ from the OT, my response to this question is, “How could you not?” How could the single greatest human being, who accomplished the greatest act in history by being the greatest sacrifice and high priest, by shedding the most precious blood for the most vilest of sinners, in the most purest act of love, grace, and mercy, for the greatest demonstration of God’s glory—how could that not exert a gravitational pull on the texts which came after it in the NT, and, especially, on those that came before it in the OT?
Preach the Word and preach Christ, especially from the OT!
Jason Corn serves as Lead Pastor at Calvary Baptist Church in Andrews, Texas, and he is a current Ph.D. student in preaching at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.