by Bryan Chapell
Why should a preacher’s exposition of Scripture be “Christ-centered,” as Pastor Tony Merida advocates in this wonderful text?
In part, the answer must be that Jesus teaches us to expound Scripture with his ministry in constant view. The Gospel of Luke tells us that after Jesus rose from the dead and was walking with his disciples on the road to Emmaus, he explained the Bible this way: “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27 ESV).
Does this mean that Jesus used some magical formula or secret decoder ring to show how every verse in the Bible makes some mention of him? Sometimes we hear well-meaning people try to explain the Bible this way.
Such interpreters may tell us things like the wood of Noah’s ark symbolizes the wood of the cross. Or they may stretch a bit further and suggest that the wood of the ark was made of “gopher” wood, and that is supposed to remind us of the resurrection—since gophers live in the ground and Jesus came up out of the ground.
Hopefully we recognize that such fanciful explanations are more about what is in the imagination of the interpreter than what is actually being communicated in the pages of Scripture. Such imaginative explanations could make the Bible mean anything we want it to mean (e.g., the wood could also symbolize the wood of the manger, or the wood Jesus used for his carpentry, or the wood of the boat from which he stilled the storm).
Jesus was not playing such imagination games when he told his disciples that all the Scriptures revealed him. He was teaching that he was the fulfillment of all the promises the Scriptures had made and the full revelation of the grace that God had been beaconing throughout the biblical record.
Prior to Jesus, the Scriptures had been progressively and consistently revealing the nature of the grace of God that would culminate in Jesus. Throughout the Bible, God had provided for people who could not provide for themselves (food for the hungry, strength for the weak, rest for the weary, forgiveness for the flawed, faithfulness to the unfaithful, freedom for slaves, sacrifices for the sinful, etc.). By all of these means, God’s people were learning about the character and care of God that would be fully revealed in Christ. He is the culmination of the grace God’s Word had been unfolding since the dawn of humanity.
When Jesus said that all the Scriptures spoke of him, he was not requiring us to make him magically appear in every Old Testament mud puddle or camel track by some acrobatic leap of verbal or symbolic gymnastics. Not every verse in the Bible mentions Jesus, but every passage does reveal aspects of God’s character and care that relate to his saving work. Thus, for us to try to interpret a passage of Scripture and only speak of the commands that we should do or the doctrines that we should know actually misses the gospel truth Jesus said the passage contains.
Finding that gospel truth is not only required so that we will get the right and full meaning of the text. Consider what happens if all we do is teach a passage’s moral instructions or doctrinal information. If that is all we do, then we are saying this passage is only about increasing the quality of our human performance or competence. The message basically gets entirely focused on broken humans doing better—straightening up and flying right.
There are only two possibly human responses to messages that entirely focus on us doing better. One possible response is pride. Like the rich young ruler of Mark 10, we could conclude, “I have done all that God requires.” The problem with this conclusion is that our best works are like “filthy rags” to God (Isa 64:6) and, according to Jesus, when we have done all that we should do, we are still “unworthy” servants (Luke 17:10).
The other possible human response to a message that focuses entirely on increasing human performance or competence is despair. When we actually face the holiness that God requires in the context of our own human brokenness, we will inevitably despair that heaven will ever receive or bless us (Isa 6:5).
The Bible, of course, is not moving us toward pride or despair but toward faith in a Savior who makes gracious provision beyond the limits of our performance or competence. When we really understand how holy are God’s requirements, then we are forced to seek help beyond our own resources to satisfy God and have a loving relationship with him. That’s what the apostle Paul taught when he said that the law (the holy requirements of God) were a “schoolmaster” or “guardian” to lead us to Christ (Gal 3:24).
Paul would never want us to believe that the moral and doctrinal standards of Scripture don’t apply to our lives, but neither would he want anyone to teach that our path to God is made by the perfections of our obedience. Jesus makes our path to God. When we put our faith in him, he provides the holiness that God requires.
Christ’s perfect life and sacrificial death were provided for us so that we would have his righteousness in our place (2 Cor 5:21). Love for him and dependence on the enabling power of his Spirit are required for us to have the proper motivation and enablement to serve him—not only at the moment of our justification but for every step of our sanctification.
So, when we are interpreting a text from the Old or New Testament, we need to do more than show the duty others should do or the doctrine they should know. We also need to explain how the Scriptures are pointing us to dependence on our Lord for the grace that makes us his own and enables us to do as he requires.
We must take care to remember that apart from Christ we can do nothing (John 15:5). Such biblical mindfulness will encourage us to excavate the aspects of grace glistening throughout Scriptures that point us to the character and care of our Savior. Such Christ-centered exposition will lead God’s people to heart responses of devotion and praise—not to gain God’s affection but to return love to him who has been so gracious to us.
Editor’s note: This is an adapted excerpt from the foreword to The Christ-Centered Expositor: A Field Guide for Word-Driven Disciple Makers. Order a copy at LifeWay, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or Christianbook.com.