Preaching the Great Christological Texts, Part 1

Evangelicals believe the biblical teaching concerning the uniqueness of Jesus Christ as the sole and sufficient Savior for all persons who have lived or ever shall be. We note that such an affirmation is needed because the Christian church is now confronted with various theological heresies such as universalism, radical pluralism, theological inclusivism, and religious relativism, all of which call into question the clear teachings of Holy Scripture and belief in the particularity and finality of the revelation and salvific work of Jesus Christ.

What is it that drives Baptists like us, and evangelical Christians as a whole, to make such strong statements of theology and faith? I believe the answer can be found not only in “the clear teaching of the Holy Scripture” in general, but in the great Christological texts in the New Testament in particular. I refer to the quintessential quartet of John 1:1-18; Phil 2:1-11; Col 1:13-23; and Heb 1:1-3.

The clear exegesis and exposition of these four passages are the bedrock foundation of biblical and orthodox Christology. Both his person (full deity and perfect humanity) and work (sacrifice and atonement) are gloriously expounded in these texts, though it is his person that is more strongly emphasized.

What we think and believe about Jesus influences all aspects of our theology: what we think about God, the Bible, and salvation, for example. If we are to think correctly, that is biblically, about Jesus, these four great texts should be taught clearly, consistently, and courageously without compromise or apology.

What might four expository sermons on these great texts look like? What would be an accurate assessment of their theme and emphases? I would like to propose the following for consideration of how to get at these passages in preparing to proclaim them to the people of God.

1). A message on John 1:1-18 might be titled “Jesus Christ: The God of Incarnation.”
Such a sermon would declare that as the Word of God Jesus powerfully preexisted (1:1-5), was prophetically witnessed (1:6-9), was personally rejected (1:10-13), was permanently incarnated (1:14), is properly exalted (1:15-17), and that he perfectly communicated (1:18).

In this text emphasis is placed upon the Logos, the Word, Jesus as coeternal, coequal, and consubstantial with the Father (1:1-3). He is the perfect embodiment of God revealing himself to humanity (1:14, 18). By believing in Christ alone we can become children of God (1:12). Various structural analyses of the passage generally agree that the focus is on vv. 10-14, while vv. 1 and 18 also receive emphasis. The central verse is considered to be either v. 12 or v. 14. It can be argued, in fact, that v. 12 contains the soteriological heart of the passage and v. 14 the Christological heart. This text is so full theologically, one could consider a six part series of these 18 verses.

2). A message on Philippians 2:1-11 could bear the title “Jesus Christ: The God of
Humiliation.” This passage declares first that we must cultivate the disposition or mind of our Lord (2:5) by seeking unity (2:1-2), humility (2:3), and sensitivity (2:4). Second, we must consider the humiliation of our Lord (2:6-8), who humbled himself in his renunciation (2:6), in his incarnation (2:7), and in his crucifixion (2:8). Third, we should celebrate the exaltation of our Lord (2:9-11), who has an exalted position (2:9), designation (2:9-10), adoration (2:10), and confession (2:11).

The second and third divisions of this passage (2:6-11) is believed by many to be based on an early Christian hymn of two stanzas. It may find its Old Testament roots in Isaiah 53. The passage is ethical (especially vv. 1-5) and soteriological, with emphasis falling on the humbling and emptying of our Lord. The incarnation was not a subtraction of deity. It was an addition of humanity. Emphasis on Christ’s full deity and utter uniqueness as the God-man is clearly communicated in the text.

Contours of a Great Commission Resurgence, Part 17: The Crisis in 21st Century Preaching: A Mandate for Biblical Exposition, Part E

Contours of a Great Commission Resurgence is a series of articles by faculty of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary that seeks to offer some definitions of what constitutes a GCR, why we believe the SBC is in need of such a movement, and what such a movement might look like in SBC life. The series will address biblical, theological, historical and practical issues related to a GCR with the hope that God will use our finite and flawed efforts for His glory and the good of the people called Southern Baptist.

The Crisis in 21st Century Preaching: a Mandate for Biblical Exposition
Part E

5. Effective biblical instruction will take serious and develop the implications of what Jesus said in Luke 24 about the Christological nature of Scripture.

Jesus said in John 15:26, When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father- the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father- He will testify about Me.” And in John 16:14, Jesus adds, “He [the Holy Spirit] will glorify Me.” Call it what you will, preaching that does not exalt, magnify and glorify the Lord Jesus is not Christian Preaching. Preaching that does not present the gospel and call men and women to repent of sin and place their faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is not gospel preaching. We are not Jewish rabbis or scribes, and this truth should guide us in how we handle the Old Testament. Jesus, Himself, provides the hermeneutical key in Luke 24 (cf. also John 5:39).

Good and faithful exposition will be Christological in focus, inner-canonical in context, and inter-textual in building a biblical theology. It will carefully interpret Scripture in the greater context of the grand redemptive storyline of Scripture. The near and immediate context will be honored, but the extended and canonical context also will be honored and explored as well. Such a hermeneutic and homiletic is in harmony with that which was employed by the apostles. Applying what can be called a comprehensive Christocentric hermeneutic, we will examine “the little narratives” and “pericopes” in light of the “big narrative,” the great redemptive narrative centered in Christ. As this applies to the Old Testament, we will exegete and expound Scripture recognizing that all of the Old Testament points to Christ, and as those in Christ, it points to and is applied to us mediated through Christ.

Jon Akin guides us when he writes,

We look for clues, themes, etc. that foreshadow what will happen at the end of the story. After reading the whole story, those clues and themes make greater sense, and are read in light of the rest of the story. When reading stories like Romeo and Juliet, The Odyssey, or The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, etc. we do not dissect the earlier episodes without putting them in the context of the entire story. It would be like analyzing act two of Romeo and Juliet without seeing the clues and themes that foreshadow the tragic movement of the plot. The same must be done when reading the Old Testament, because there are “clues” and themes that point forward to fulfillment in Christ (Jon Akin, “Reading the Bible Christocentrically: Part 2,” SBC Witness, 11-08-06).

6. From beginning to end, from the study to the pulpit, the entire process of biblical exposition must take place in absolute and complete submission to the Holy Spirit.

J. H. Jowett captured the essence of what we are after when we stand to proclaim the Word of God. There is a sobering and piercing nature to what he says: “What we are after is not that folks shall say at the end of it all. ‘What an excellent sermon!’ That is a measured failure. You are there to have them say when it is over, ‘What a great God!’ It is something for men not to have been in your presence but in His” (J. H. Jowett, quoted in Context, Dec. 1, 1997, p. 2).

All that we do in preparation and proclamation of the Bible should take place in humble submission to the Holy Spirit. In the study, as we analyze the text, study the grammar, parse the verbs, consult commentaries, and gather the raw materials for the message, we should seek His guidance and confess our total dependence on Him.

When we stand to preach, to minister the Word to our people, again we must plead for His filling and direction. Word and Spirit was a hallmark of the Reformers, and it must be the same with us. Submission to the Spirit is no substitute and no excuse for shirking the hard work of the study. However, a homiletical masterpiece will be of little value without the ministry of the Holy Spirit.

We are not journey guides, self-help gurus, positive thinkers, entertainers, comedians, or liberal or conservative commentators, parroting the wisdom of the world, true though it sometimes may be. We are gospel preachers, Jesus-intoxicated heralds by virtue of the indwelling and filling of the Holy Spirit. Submission to the Spirit will lead to exaltation of the Son.

7. Changed lives for the glory of God is always the goal for which we strive. Therefore it is a sin, of the most serious sort, to preach the Word of God in a boring and unattractive fashion.

We agree with Charles Koller who says, “It is more important clumsily to have something to say than cleverly to say nothing” (Charles Koller, Expository Preaching Without Notes, 42-43). However, in Ecclesiastes 12:9-10 Solomon says, “. . . the Preacher also taught the people knowledge; and he pondered, searched out and arranged many proverbs. The Preacher sought to find delightful words and to write words of truth correctly.”

In the multi-media, entertainment saturated culture in which we live, we repeatedly tell our students, “What you say is more important than how you say it, but how you say it has never been more important.” Haddon Robinson, paraphrasing a Russian proverb says, “it is the same with men as with donkeys; whoever would hold them fast must get a very good grip on their ears.”

We believe that we cannot improve on the 3 canons of Aristotle’s Rhetoric. In the communication event we must weave together in an attractive tapestry Logos (what), Ethos (who), and Pathos (how). Content is essential, credibility is crucial, and delivery is of no small importance. Aristotle reminds us, “it is not enough to know what to say – one must know how to say it” (Rhetoric, 182). Chuck Swindoll warns us, “If you think the gathering of Biblical facts and standing up with a Bible in your hand will automatically equip you to communicate well, you are deeply mistaken, It will not. You must work at being interesting. Boredom is a gross violation, being dull is a grave offence, and irrelevance is a disgrace to the Gospel. Too often these three crimes go unpunished and we preachers are the criminals . . . preaching is not as simple as dumping a half-ton load of religious whine, and a hodgepodge of verbs, nouns, and adjectives; but preparing the heart, sharpening the mind; delivering the goods with care, sensitivity, timing, and clarity. It’s the difference between slopping hogs and feeding sheep . . . [Therefore] study hard, pray like mad, think it through, tell the truth, then stand tall. But while you’re on your feet, don’t clothe the riches of Christ in rags. Say it well” (Evangelical Church Of Fullerton Newsletter, date unknown.) Martyn Lloyd-Jones adds, “There is no doubt about this; effective speaking involves action; and that is why I stress that the whole person must be involved in preaching.”

An effective communicator will always be genuinely relevant. The wise preacher will exegete both the scriptures and the culture. He understands that he must know each equally well. Both Luther and Calvin understood this. Luther said, “If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christ” (quoted in Good News, Sept/Oct 1998, p. 9).

Calvin adds,

What advantage would there be if we were to stay here half a day and I were to expound half a book without considering you or your profit and edification? . . . We must take into consideration those persons to whom the teaching is addressed . . . For this reason let us note well that they who have this charge to teach, when they speak to a people, are to decide which teaching will be good and profitable so that they will be able to disseminate it faithfully and with discretion to the usefulness of everyone individually” (John Calvin, quoted in Peter Adam, Speaking God’s Words, pp. 132-133).

Bad preaching will sap the life of a church. It will kill its spirit, dry up its fruit, and eventually empty it. If we would dare to be honest, we must say that bad preaching is not true preaching. It is preaching not worthy of the name. It is preaching that will stonewall a Great Commission Resurgence.

Contours of a Great Commission Resurgence, Part 15: The Crisis in 21st Century Preaching: A Mandate for Biblical Exposition, Part C

Contours of a Great Commission Resurgence is a series of articles by faculty of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary that seeks to offer some definitions of what constitutes a GCR, why we believe the SBC is in need of such a movement, and what such a movement might look like in SBC life. The series will address biblical, theological, historical and practical issues related to a GCR with the hope that God will use our finite and flawed efforts for His glory and the good of the people called Southern Baptist.

The Crisis in 21st Century Preaching: A Mandate for Biblical Exposition, Part C

2. Preaching must honor the principle of authorial intent, recognizing that the ultimate author of Scripture is the Holy Spirit, God Himself.

The faithful expositor is humbled, even haunted, by the realization that when he stands to preach he stands to preach what has been given by the Holy Spirit of God. Why is he haunted? Because he understands that what is before his eyes is divinely inspired by God, and he trembles at the very thought of abusing, neglecting or altering what God Himself wrote. Yes, the Bible is best described as the Word of God written in the words of men. However, we must never forget it is ultimately the Word of God, and the divine author’s intended meaning as deposited in the text should be honored. The Westminster Dictionary (A.D. 1645) captures this well when it states, “. . . the true idea of preaching is that the preacher should become a mouthpiece for his text, opening it up and applying it as a word from God to his hearers, . . . in order that the text may speak . . . and be heard, making each point from his text in such a manner that [his audience] may discern [the voice of God].” Charles Spurgeon notes,

A sermon comes with far greater power to the consciences of the hearers when it is plainly the very Word of God–not a lecture about the Scripture, but Scripture itself opened up and inforced . . . I will further recommend you to hold to the ipsissima verba, the very Words of the Holy Ghost . . . those sermons which expound the exact words of the Holy Spirit are the most useful and most agreeable to the major part of our congregations. They love to have the words themselves explained and
expounded (Lectures to My Students, 73).

Haddon Robinson adds, “When a preacher fails to preach the Scriptures, he abandons his authority. He confronts his hearers no longer with a word from God but only with another word from men.” In the 20th century the issue of authorial intent came under heavy and sustained assault, especially with the popularity of the deconstruction movement and its godfather, the deceased Jacques Derrida. For a number of years the English literary critic E. D. Hirsch stood in the gap. Kevin Vanhoozer has exposed the underlying [a] theistic/ [a] gnostic agenda that was driving the deconstructionist all along. In his work, Is There a Meaning in This Text, he presents a careful and impressive defense for “Resurrecting the Author” (ch. 5) and “Redeeming the Text” (ch. 6). This is a much needed critique. It is a sad commentary how easily evangelicals can be fooled, if not by the academy, then by the culture. That this theological and hermeneutical quicksand is ever a serious consideration for those who man our pulpits and shepherd the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ is a tragedy with enormous consequences. We should not ignore what a reader or hearer brings to a text or a sermon. However, we should not deify (small “d”) it either.

3. Scripture must be interpreted and understood as it was given to the original audience. The text cannot mean today what it did not mean then.

Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart correctly assert, “A text cannot mean what it never could have meant to its author or his or her readers” (How to Read the Bible For All Its Worth, 64).

This principle does not neglect the fact that the faithful expositor must build a sturdy bridge between the historical audience and their context, and the audience he addresses here and now. It does mean he will not “eisegete” the text, reading into it the preconceived notions of his own imagination or interest. Further, he will not injure the inspired text with a fanciful and irresponsible hermeneutic that surpasses the allegorist of the medieval period. As evangelical expositors we must continue to affirm that “the meaning is one, though the applications are many.” We must honor the text as it was given and as it would have been understood by the original audience. However, and this is crucially important. This principle does not ignore the divine authorship of Scripture, interpreting Scripture in light of the whole canon, the flow and nature of redemptive history and its Christological focus (principle #5 below), or the intriguing issue of Sensus Plenior. As Vanhoozer argues, and we find his argument compelling, “‘the fuller meaning’ of Scripture–the meaning associated with divine authorship–emerges only at the level of the whole canon . . .the canon as a whole becomes the unified act for which the divine intention serves as the unifying principle. The divine intention supervenes on the intention of the human authors. The Spirit will apply meaning, not change it” (264-65). In other words, implications and significances embedded in the meaning of the text, in light of the whole canon and the grand redemptive storyline may certainly come to light. This will provide balance, as well as a healthy affirmation of the principle of progressive revelation.