Monday, June 19, 2006

When Jesus Doesn't Jump Off The Page

OK, we've established that any exposition of a text that neglects to set forth "Christ and him crucified" ultimately falls short of being a Christian sermon. But how is the preacher to (legitimately) find Christ in an obscure Old Testament text? Genesis 22 or Isaiah 53 are easy, but what about less obviously Christological passages?

Let me provide an example from a portion of Scripture where Jesus doesn't exactly jump off the page at you: Ezra 3:10-13.


In this passage, the newly-returned exiles have begun to rebuild their temple, but upon the laying of the foundation, the emotions of the people were mixed. Many cried out for joy at God's faithfulness, but others (particularly the elderly who remembered Solomon's temple) lifted up their voices and wept, so that "the people could not distinguish the sound of the joyful shout from the sound of the people's weeping."

Coupled with this obviously "small beginning" and the lingering trouble posed by Israel's enemies outside the camp was a palpable sense of anticlimax that clung to this whole venture. Yes, Israel was back in the land, but they were still laboring under the same covenant that had both threatened and foretold the exile from which they had just been liberated. In a word, they were in no better a position than they were in before their captivity. The law, the temple, the priesthood -- indeed the entire Mosaic Covenant -- screamed at them "DO THIS AND LIVE!" If Israel obeyed, they were promised blessing and long life in the land. But if they failed (again), a threatened curse loomed on the horizon. The law could command, but it could not renew. Hence the bittersweetness of this building project.

So was this it? Was this the promised restoration that God's people had been longing for? Was it their fate to forever worship him under the constant threat of disinheritance?

Absolutely not! About 560 years later, in that very spot on the temple mount, a Man stood and cried, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up" (which his disciples later learned was a reference to his resurrection). And concerning the physical temple that then stood, he simply said, "Do you see this temple? Not one stone will be left upon another which shall not be thrown down."

God's people no longer labor under the harsh tyranny of the law which, metaphorically speaking, commanded bricks to be made while providing no straw. Rather, we worship under a New Covenant, the blood of whose Mediator speaks better things than that of Abel. The law commands "Do this and live," while the gospel cries out, "It is finished!"


The more we read the Bible Christocentrically, the more we'll see him on every page. And pretty soon we'll become so trained to expect Christ to be preached in every sermon that the usual moralism ("Dare to be a Daniel!") and therapeutic pop psychology ("Ten Steps for Raising Positive Kids in a Negative World") will no longer suffice. God's children need to feed on the Gospel of the crucified and risen Christ, not on the Law of a kinder and gentler Moses.