Imagine you were traveling across the country, and found yourself scanning radio stations. Now suppose you heard an engaging preacher and stopped to listen – here’s my question: how would you be able to tell if it was a Christian preacher or a Jewish Rabbi? (To make this more interesting, let’s just say that in this scenario, Jewish folks are a bigger presence in our country than they actually are, and that as many Rabbis are on the radio as Pastors. So you’ve got a 50-50 shot here.)
The message from this mystery expositor, of course, is from the Old Testament. The New Testament would be a dead giveaway. So…would you be able to tell?
And by the way, no fair listening till the end when the Christian closes in prayer, and says, “In Jesus’ name, Amen.” I’m talking about actual content here.
The truth is that in such a situation, whether listening to a sermon from Exodus or Ezekiel, a lot of times, most of us (myself included) wouldn’t be able to tell, and that’s a bad thing – not for us, mind you – but for the engaging Christian Pastor who’s preaching and who sounds just like the engaging Rabbi. So a message on murder or adultery from the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20 would sound the same from either communicator: “It’s bad. Very bad. Be sure you don’t do it.” Only from a good communicator, much more clever.
As a pastor, I’ve made the “sounds just like a Rabbi” mistake too many times. It’s moralism, and it’s pretty easy to do. But consider this – whenever the Apostle Paul preached, he always had the same message, and that message…was Christ:
To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ. Ephesians 3:8 (ESV)
Here was a man with only the Old Testament to work with and yet, when he preached, he always proclaimed Christ. Always.
- Did they hand him the scroll of Exodus in the Synagogue? Jesus was the Passover lamb.
- The scroll of Isaiah? That’s an easy one – Christ was the Suffering Servant.
- 1 Samuel and David and Goliath? The message from Paul would not have been “Try to trust God more like David did, and you’ll slay your giants too,” but, “Isn’t it great that we too have a Champion who slayed the giants of sin and death for us, so we can rush forward in victory?”
I don’t know about you, but I’ve heard those messages on David and Goliath, and I’ve tried that “Trust God and try harder plan” against the giants in my life, and yet I’ve still got one or two (or more) giants greeting me every day. So you see, the first message on “being a better trust-er” only puts me under the condemnation pile, but the second one…fills me with hope. The real giants have fallen because HE was perfect in HIS trust.
So, whether Paul’s text was from the Prophets or Proverbs – the Apostle talked about Jesus. Because ultimately, if the message is not about Christ, it is only a warmed up version of “try harder.” And to be sure, the “try harder” message is often preached very cleverly and sometimes with great insight and humor, but it’s still the law, and such messages usually produce about as much change as a New Year’s resolution.
Paul, however, had a better plan, the only plan for the Christian preacher:
For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 1 Corinthians 2:2 (ESV)
For tomorrow, Friday, June 26th: Ephesians 4