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highways to christ – john tucker

204 road to cross 200

Charles Spurgeon, the famous nineteenth century preacher, once told a story about a young pastor who asked an older seasoned minister to listen to him preach and give him some feedback. The old pastor listened to the young man’s impassioned sermon and made the comment. “It was disappointing.” “Why?” the young preacher asked. “Because,” said the old man, “There was no Christ in it.” The young preacher responded, “But Christ was not in the text!” The old man replied, “Don’t you know, young man, that from every town and every village and every little hamlet in England, wherever it may be, there is a road to London? So, from every text in Scripture there is a road to the metropolis of the Scriptures, that is Christ. Dear brother, when you get to a text, say, ‘Now, what is the road to Christ?’ and then preach a sermon, running along the road to the great metropolis, Christ.”

 

I think Spurgeon was right. As Christian preachers, our impulse, surely, must be to proclaim Christ whenever we can. But how do you do that in a way that doesn’t do violence to the text and doesn’t sound the same every week? It’s a challenge! In their recent book, Saving Eutychus: How to preach God’s word and keep people awake (Sydney: Matthias Media, 2013), Gary Millar and Phil Campbell identify several legitimate routes to Christ. Drawing on their work, here are eight paths which I think are safe:

 

  1. Highlight the promise. Some passages point to Christ by way of a promise. They speak, for example, of a suffering servant (Isaiah 53) or one like the Son of Man (Daniel 7). In these cases it is easy enough to get to Christ simply by showing how he is the fulfilment of that promise.

 

  1. Expose the problem. Most texts don’t refer explicitly to the Messiah, but they often speak implicitly of our need for a Messiah because they highlight the tragic reality of human sinfulness (e.g. Exodus 32, Judges 21, Nehemiah 13). The way to preach Christ from these passages is to emphasise the problem and then explain how Jesus is God’s solution.

 

  1. Celebrate the attribute. Another approach is to train the spotlight not so much on our depravity, but, wherever possible, on God’s beauty – on those attributes of his character revealed in the text. It is natural with this kind of emphasis to then go on to show how these aspects of God’s character (such as his love and faithfulness in Exodus 34) are even more clearly demonstrated in Christ (John 1:14).

 

  1. Compare the action. Another option, with narrative passages, is to focus on the action in the story, particularly where God uses human actors to being about his redemptive purposes. From here, it is a short step to show how Jesus does the same thing on a grander scale. He is, for example, the true and better Joseph, who sat at the right hand of the king, and used his power to forgive and save those who betrayed and sold him. He is the true and better David, whose victory over Goliath was imputed to his people on whose behalf he fought.

 

  1. Trace the theme. Where the passage contains a major biblical theme (like creation, covenant, exodus, kingdom, temple or sacrifice) a good option is to trace that theme through scripture and show how it finds resolution in Christ. With Genesis 22, for example, rather than focusing on God’s faithfulness, or Abraham’s faith, we could explore the whole idea of substitutionary sacrifice and how it finds its ultimate expression in the cross.

 

  1. Explain the symbol. On occasion Scripture provides symbols (or “types”) that clearly pre-figure or foreshadow Christ. These can be events (e.g. God’s self-revelation in Exodus 34), objects (e.g. the bronze snake in Numbers 21) or people (e.g. Adam or Abel). In each case, where a New Testament writer explicitly cites that symbol as prefiguring the person and work of Christ, we can have confidence in drawing the link. So Jesus is the true and better Adam who passed the text in the garden and whose obedience is now imputed to us (1 Cor. 15). He is the true and better Abel who, though innocently slain, has blood that cries out for our acquittal, not our condemnation (Heb. 12:24).

 

  1. Describe the ideal. With texts in the Torah or wisdom literature that lay down how we must live or what it means to be godly a good approach is to identify the moral principle or ideal, acknowledge that we can’t live up to it no matter how hard we try, and then demonstrate how Jesus perfectly embodied that principle or character quality. In this way we show that the text is ultimately about Christ and his character, which his Spirit produces in us as we contemplate his glory (2 Cor. 3:18).

 

  1. Satisfy the longing. Some passages in the Old Testament (such as the Psalms) are charged with pain, disappointment and longing for God to act. It is natural, after acknowledging these emotions, to then explain how these longings are resolved by the coming of Jesus and the New Covenant.

 

These are eight pathways that, I think, can safely lead us to Christ from any passage in the Bible. What’s missing? What other path should be included on this list?

4 Comments

  1. Dale says:

    Just beautiful, sir. Reminds me of a classroom discussion Paul Windsor led about a ‘synagogue sermon’ (!!!). If I’m not mistaken, didn’t Spurgeon also say that if he could not find a pathway to Christ, he would make one!? 🙂

  2. John Tucker says:

    Hi Dale. I’m not sure if Spurgeon insisted on making a pathway to Christ if he couldn’t find one, but I think we need to be careful about finding direct references to Christ when they’re not there in the text – just as we need to be careful about finding our way to Christ by the same indirect route every time we preach. Over time, every sermon can end up sounding the same, and we run the risk of glossing over the riches of the Old Testament – much to Csilla Saysell’s horror! 🙂

  3. Roger Driver-Burgess says:

    Great article, John
    Since we started having communion more often – and usually directly following the sermon – I’ve found this much easier to do. Every week I need to find my way from the text to the table, and there’s always a way.

    1. John Tucker says:

      Hi Roger. That’s really interesting. I wonder if there tends to be more of a Christocentric preaching focus in those church traditions where the Lord’s Supper is celebrated often – and just after the sermon. As you reflect on the different ways you’ve been getting to Christ, can you think of any path that’s not included in my list?

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