Is it true that all true preaching roads lead to Jesus? Let me put my cards on the table:
Yet preachers need to be careful how they take the road to Jesus in a sermon.
There is a particular challenge when preaching on the Old Testament. Some Old Testament books can appear to be more distant from the gospel than others. One Old Testament book, Esther, manages to run to ten chapters, without even mentioning the name of God!
At times the introduction of Jesus into a sermon can appear to be artificial, forced, or arbitrary.
There is the “here is something I prepared earlier” pro-forma section on Jesus and the gospel that is woven into the message without any logical link with the text. This cut and paste approach is artificial and can after time become so predictable and dull that it becomes a distraction.
There is the “trying to fit the foot of an ugly sister into Cinderella’s glass slipper.” Sermons that try to force a reference to Jesus into their sermons that is not a natural fit can appear awkward. The attempt to “get in the gospel,” can lead to desperate measures.
There is the “pin the tail to the donkey” approach to preaching Jesus. Perhaps you have played this children’s game, in which the participants wear a blindfold and try to guess where to pin the tail onto a painted donkey on the wall? The result can be hilarious as the tail tends to end up anywhere but where it belongs on the donkey. Preachers who take this approach can tend to be comical.
I often say to my students, “You don’t need to squeeze Jesus into the Old Testament story; you just need to let him out”.
It is like picking apples. When an apple is ready to pick, all you need to do is hold it in your palm and it will come off the tree easily. If you must tug at the apple so that you get a piece of the branch coming away too, the apple is not ready to pick.
Jesus lets himself out of the Old Testament story on his famous walk with two of his followers on the Emmaus Road. On a seven-mile journey, which Luke describes like this:
“And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.” (Luke 24:27)
What tantalizing words. If only there had been a recording of that conversation.
I guess we get it slowly dispersed through the New Testament in a combination of quotations, echoes, and allusions to the Old Testament.
I was delighted last Sunday to talk to a young teenager at the Communitas International Church in Riga. She thanked me for my sermon on Stephen’s speech and martyrdom in Acts 7. I asked her what she found most helpful. She replied, “I liked the way that you brought everything around to Jesus.”
Well, of course I had a very strong steer for doing this from Stephen himself, by how he spoke, how he prayed, how he looked, how he lived and how he died. Jesus was the essential subtext of everything Stephen communicated in word and action.
Talking about Jesus in every sermon is not a technique to learn, but an instinct to be developed. Just learn to let him out in all the right places for all the right reasons.