3 passages I want to preach (but have been afraid to)

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I’m going to let you in on a not-so-secret secret: preaching is really hard. It’s a task that can (or should) make even the most confident man a little weak in the knees. One of the things that’s always freaked me out has been trying to choose the right passage to preach… What if it’s the “wrong” message for the church, or what if I do injustice to the text? And let’s face it, some texts are significantly harder to teach than others.

Here’s a look at three books I want to preach, but have been afraid to:

Obadiah. How many sermons on this book have you heard? Thanks to The Gospel Project, I think my kids have now heard more messages on it than I have (that being, one). But this book, despite being the shortest book of the Old Testament, is rich with gospel goodness, with its powerful reminder that the Lord is sovereign over all nations and that He judges all and He has made a way to escape His wrath.

Genesis. Specifically, Genesis 1. It’s not because I’m afraid to wade into the origins debate, but because I don’t want that to be a distraction from a larger point in the text: this passage is primarily about Jesus—His power, His wisdom, His character and His redemptive work. And too often the origins debate overlooks this important truth. (This, incidentally, I’ve been thinking about coupling with Romans 1.)

2 John. This one is challenging in some ways simply because it’s so short (13 verses!). But again, it’s packed with richness that we can overlook due to the letter’s length. But just think about 2 John 9-11:

Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God. Whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting, for whoever greets him takes part in his wicked works.

This is such a strong warning from the apostle John—if you don’t believe what He said and do what He commands, you’re not Christian. Worse, if you allow false teachers to be among you, you’re indicted along with them. That’s heavy stuff, isn’t it?

So, those are a few of the passages I’ve wanted to preach, but have been afraid to—at least up until now. I’m working on my summer preaching itinerary now (and if you’re interested in having me come to your church, drop me a line!), and now I’m praying about the texts to preach—and specifically whether or not to teach some of these. It’ll be interesting to see where He leads.

What are some books you’ve never heard preached? Pastors, what are some books you’ve wanted to preach but have shied away from?

Links I like

Mohler on Spurgeon

This is long, but worth your time:

HT: Justin Taylor

The Osteenification of American Christianity

Hank Hanegraaff:

Osteenian Scriptorture is not unique. His words and phrases are now mimicked in pulpits throughout the land. As a result, Christianity has been plunged into an ever-deepening crisis. If occult sources such as those referenced in The Secret pose the greatest threat to the body of Christ from without, the deadly doctrines disseminated through the Osteenification of Christianity pose the greatest threat to Christianity from within. To avert the carnage, a paradigm shift of major proportions is desperately needed—a shift from perceiving God as a means to an end, to the recognition that He is the end.

3 Ways to Recognize Bad Stats

Ed Stetzer:

Often times, a statistic is like a piece of candy thrown at a parade—you really don’t know if you should bite into it or not. We’ve all heard Mark Twain’s famous quote about lies and statistics. There is a reason so many people have had skepticism toward stats. Too frequently, people repeat inaccurate, bad, or explicitly made-up numbers.

I’ve written about the issue before—on many occasions. Here at the blog, you can read about a lot about stats, including specifics about bad marriage stats and why we like bad stats in general.

Still, I keep hearing statistics quoted at conferences and through blogs and social media that make me scratch my head in amazement. I’m not sure where some of these stats originate, and I’m the president of LifeWay Research.

So how can you really discern good stats from bad?

How Did Jesus Read the Old Testament?

Nick Batzig:

Another reason why this question has not been asked more frequently is that the Reformed are rightly zealous for application and experientialism. The Bible shoud make a difference on my life. The precious truths contained in it should lead me on to godly living. This is taught everywhere in the pages of Scriptures (e.g. Titus 1:1 and 1 Timothy 4:16). Some have mistakenly thought that if we say that the Scriptures are first and foremost written to and about Jesus that this will somehow lead on to a denial of my need for transformation. In fact, it is only as we see that the Bible is written to and about Jesus that we will experience Gospel transformation in our lives.

With these things in mind, here are 10 ways to help us understand how Jesus would have understood the Old Testament to have been written to and about Himself.

Outrage Porn and the Christian Reader

Tim Challies:

We as Christians are also easily outraged. Sometimes we seem to forget that we are sinful people living in a sin-stained world and that sinners—even saved ones—will behave like sinners. Sometimes we appear to hold the people we admire (or admired) to the impossible standard of perfection. We don’t mind if our historical heroes are deeply flawed, but we can barely tolerate the slightest imperfection in our contemporary heroes. When they fail, or even when they falter, we respond with, you guessed it: outrage. For a few days we light the torches and lift the pitchforks in our empty protests. And then we move on.

Captain Context

So good:

Three reasons to keep reading the Old Testament

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The Old Testament causes much consternation among North American evangelicals. Although historically, Christians have embraced the Old Testament as being absolutely essential to the Christian life—I believe the first person to do this was Jesus—somewhere along the way, we got scared of it.

We started reading into the New Testament a kind of sentimental love that isn’t there. We started seeing the actions of God in the Old Testament as harsh and mean. And as our sentimentalism took root, we found ourselves asking, “can’t we just skip this?”

Here are three reasons to keep the Old Testament front and center:

1. To understand God’s actions in the world. To not put too fine a point on it, when you lose the Old Testament, you lose the gospel. Period.

The Old Testament is the historical backdrop for everything we see in the New. The gospel takes place within the framework of the covenants established with Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses and David, and fulfills them. If you do not have the Old Testament, you cannot understand why Christ came to die. We lose the foundation for his death and resurrection.

But when you maintain a solid grasp on the Old Testament, you not only keep the gospel’s foundation, you get the fuller picture of God’s actions in the world. The entire Bible tells the story of God’s war against sin—from the first promise of the coming of one who would crush the head of the serpent until the consummation of the new creation, this is what God is doing.

When you lose the Old Testament, you lose the reason for God’s actions in the world. You lose the gospel. So read the Old Testament.

2. To understand the character of God. When we skip the Old Testament, we lose a clear picture of who God is. In his Christianity Today article addressing this very subject, Mark Gignilliat puts it well:

We do no favors for God or ourselves when we lessen his severity, even in our attempts to make him acceptable to non-believers. While many of our worship songs today speak of touching and seeing God, most biblical characters did not line up for such an opportunity. Isaiah knew his life was over after seeing Yahweh. Jacob never walked the same way again. Job asked for a day in court with God and then regretted it.

We cannot understand God’s character without reading the Old Testament. He reveals himself in all his perfection there. His holiness is on display—and his love is magnified more deeply because we understand just how great our offenses are. So read the Old Testament.

3. To avoid becoming a heretic. This might seem ironic considering just yesterday I wrote about our need to not cheapen words like this one. But if you skip over the Old Testament consistently, if you create a false dichotomy in the Bible, you’re going to fall into heresy. Here are two common heresies that stem from rejecting the Old Testament:

Marcionism. A heresy that emerged around the year 144, this is a dualistic view that rejects the Old Testament and the God of Israel as being a tyrannical monster where the God of the New is a God of love and peace. This is the god we see in Rob Bell’s Love Wins, Brian McLaren’s New Kind of Christianity, and so many others (whether it’s outright stated or not is another question). But more practically, it’s the god of anyone who says, “I could never believe in a God who…”

Antinomianism. This is the more subtle heresy because it’s harder to spot. In its crassest forms, antinomianism proposes that we don’t need the Old Testament—and more specifically, the Mosaic Law—at all anymore. It has no good purpose or benefit for the Christian. It suggests Jesus obliterated, rather than fulfilled the Law. Yet, this is what Paul warned of in Romans 6:1, “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?” And his answer, “By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?” (Rom 6:2).

But we still need the Law—not as a means of earning salvation (for it was never that to begin with), but to see the perfection of God, to see the requirements of holiness, to see how far we fall short and our desperate need for rescue.

If we lose the Old Testament, we lose all of this. We lose all hope, all joy, and all purpose in the Christian faith. So, Christian, read the Old Testament.

Where Is Jesus In The Old Testament?

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Throughout the gospels, Jesus told both disciples and opponents that the Scriptures bore witness about Him. For example, in John 5:39, Jesus told the Pharisees, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me.” In Luke 18:31-34, He told the twelve as they were on their way to Jerusalem, “Everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For he will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise.” And after His resurrection, He rebuked the two travellers on the road to Emmaus, saying:

“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)

So Jesus was pretty clear: the Scriptures—specifically the Old Testament—are all about Him. So how do we find Jesus in the Old Testament? Here are six broad categories that help us to see Jesus in all of Scripture:

1. Christophanies. These are the appearances of Jesus in the Old Testament before His incarnation. In these Jesus frequently appears as “The Angel of the Lord” (which is different than “AN angel of the Lord”). Passages to study include: Judges 2:1-5, Joshua 5:13-15, and Isaiah 6:1-13.

2. Types. Old Testament representative figures and institutions that foreshadowed Jesus. These include the tabernacle, the sacrificial system (now you’ve got a reason to go read Leviticus!), the prophets, priests and kings (esp. David & Solomon). Key prophetic ministries to study are Elijah and Elisha.

3. Analogous service. These are people who do things that ultimately Jesus does perfectly and completely. TIm Keller & Sinclair Ferguson do a brilliant job explaining these here.

4. Events that prophesy the coming of Jesus.This would include the Exodus—particularly the Passover—where the Israelites were freed from slavery in Egypt. The entire book of Exodus gives us a glimpse of what Christ came to do. As the people crossed the Red Sea, they were crossing from death to life. Death awaiting them at the hands of Pharaoh’s army to life in the land God had promised. In Christ, we cross from death in our sins to eternal life with Him.

5. Titles that refer to Jesus. These are titles for God in the Old Testament that refer to Jesus. Redeemer, Savior, Lord of Glory, Husband/Bridegroom, Light, Rock, Shepherd and Son of Man are among those titles.

6. Old Testament prophecies about Jesus. Different from category 4 which are events that point to Him, these are prophecies about Jesus directly. These include Isaiah 7:14-15, and 52:13-53:12,  Psalm 110, and Deut. 18:14-22, among others.

I hope having a sense of these broad categories will help you to see Jesus as you read the Old Testament.


Edited October 2014 with a new introduction. For more on this subject, you can also check out this video which handles the subject well (despite the status of its preacher). 

Daniel Akin on Preaching the Old Testament

“Jesus is the hero of the Bible. The Old Testament anticipates Him. The New Testament explains Him. This is not a novel idea. The church fathers were thoroughly Christo-centric in their preaching. After all, they got it from the apostles; they got it from Jesus. Jesus teaches us in Luke 24 that all the Scriptures are about Him. All of it.

So, hear me, and hear me well—We dare not treat the Old Testament like a Jewish Rabbi. We are not Jewish Rabbis. We are gospel heralds, gospel preachers, gospel ambassadors, and therefore we preach Christ and His gospel in all the Scriptures… If you treat the Bible in such a way that a Jewish Rabbi or a Unitarian would be comfortable, then you have treated the Bible wrongly and improperly and honestly, you have missed preaching the gospel.”

(From the Acts 29 boot camp in Raleigh, North Carolina)

Sunday Shorts (07/05)

Crazy Love: Free Audiobook of the Month

Francis Chan’s much talked about Crazy Love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless God is this month’s free audiobook at ChristianAudio.com.

Here’s the video introduction to the book:

Use the coupon code JUL2009 to get this audiobook for free.

Why Do the New Calvinists Insist on Complementarianism?

Kevin DeYoung recently took some time to respond to the question of why the “new” Calvinists insist on complemetarianism. Here’s a snippet:

I think you can be a Calvinist and an egalitarian. My denomination–the one I grew up in and have always been a part of–strongly supports egalitarianism. This is very problematic to me. I can understand why some would leave an egalitarian denomination, but I don’t think egalitarianism necessitates that one must leave. For the time being, I am content to work with, through, and in my denomination, where both views are at the table (though my view is usually put at a card table somewhere in the basement far away from the corridors of power).

But (you knew there was a “but” coming) I am glad that the network of “New Calvinist” organizations and conferences have made complementarianism a plank in their platform. I can live in a church environment without this doctrinal boundary, but I think it would be better to have it.

Read the rest at Kevin’s blog.

The Gospel Coalition Serves Pastors – C. J. Mahaney

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more about “The Gospel Coalition | The Gospel Coa…“, posted with vodpod

In case you missed it

Here are a few of this week’s notable posts:

The Watchmen How does Ezekiel’s call to preach repentance to Israel apply to believers today?

Book Review: The Truth War Reviewing John MacArthur’s call to contend for the faith.

Reflections on the Old Testament What have I taken away from my brief study of the Old Testament? Anticipation.

Reflections on the Old Testament

A short time ago, I completed my read through the Old Testament. After I told Emily that I’d finished, she asked me a great question: “What do you take away from it?”

Anticipation.

Throughout the Old Testament, we read of men and women who try to pursue God on their own terms and fail. Who pursue things other than God and it destroys them. And we see the hopelessness that comes from trying to follow the Law apart from faith in Jesus Christ.

The Law and the Prophets teach us one thing: We are completely incapable of following the Law. And even if we conform morally, our hearts become proud and we trust in our moral conformity rather than in the God who gave us His Law!

So when we don’t follow the Law, we sin. And when we do follow the Law, it shows us just how broken and evil we really are.

But in the midst of that, there’s so much hope.

Salvation will come.

God has not left us in the darkness of our rebellion.

He has not left us in our pitiful moral conformity.

The Lord will come (Zech. 14:5) and will be king over all the earth (Zech. 14:9). “And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts” (Mal. 3:1b).

God is coming, and His herald will come before Him to prepare the way… “But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears?” (Mal. 3:2).