The Best Story Ever.
Has anyone ever asked you this question, what is the Bible about? There could be several different answers to that question. In general, though, it seems to me that there is a popular belief that the Bible is a moral encyclopedia that shows us what “we must do.” It tells us how to live, how to think, how to be a good father, mother or teenager. While all this is true in one degree or another, I have a serious concern that we may genuinely think that the Bible is only that—a moral booklet.
Now, I don’t think that most pastors or preachers would verbalize it like that, but in practical terms, and perhaps inadvertently, they very much affirm to that belief system. It is a profound tragedy, if you really think about it, that a book that is so rich in theology would be relegated to a footnote that pastors use to speak about what “they think” people need to hear from them. When we want to talk about depression, alcohol, Bible translations, marriage, or finances, we just look for passages that best support our idea and off we go! We build our sermons the same way we build our order at Burger King—have it your way!
Dear friends, it must not be so. Preaching that is alienated from the overarching telos of Scripture is desperately incomplete. Preaching the Bible is the most exquisite, delightful, satisfying action that we could possibly do; therefore let us do it in the way it was intended to be done. Preaching has to be theological in nature, Christo-centrical in essence, and redemptive at its core. There is simply no other way to preach biblically.
One of our favorite verses to use when referring to preaching is 2 Timothy 4:2, when Paul famously insists that Timothy must, “Preach the Word.” Yes!—we say excitedly. We must preach the Word!!! The Word… the Word? What word? I think that we need to go back to the drawing room and examine what Word is it that we must preach so passionately.
I would argue that what Paul had in mind when he wrote to Timothy, was that Timothy ought to preach the Word that they had available in that particular moment, namely, the Law, the Prophets and the Writings. We call it the Old Testament. Paul did not have the full understanding that his letters would eventually be part of the canon of Scripture. Yes, he did know that what he wrote was the Word of God (1 Thess. 2:13), but there is a very serious consensus among scholars that what Paul meant when he referred to “the Word” was indeed the Old Testament.
Now, just think about that for a minute. On one hand, Paul declares that “we preach Christ crucified…” 1 Cor. 1:23. That phrase is clearly referring to a New Testament message. On the other hand, however, he also says that “the holy scriptures… are able to make thee wise unto salvation” 2 Tim. 3:15, and we understand that the “holy scriptures” is a direct claim to the Old Testament. And if that was not enough, to Timothy he dares to order to, “Preach the Word.” So then, should we preach Christ, or should we preach the Old Testament? What is Paul doing here? I would propose that Paul is not making a strict difference between both testaments, rather he is continuing the central message of Scripture. He is linking the narratives, expounding on revelation, and proclaiming the New Covenant which is built on the Old one. Paul is commanding us to preach the Old Testament, in season and out of season, because it is the Old Testament that is able to make us wise unto salvation, as it points us to the preaching of the Cross which is fully revealed in the New Testament.
Your preaching quality will be largely affected by your understanding of the redemptive narrative that reigns throughout Scripture. I think that Scripture, in its whole, can be encapsulated in one general theme. If you keep this “theme” of Scripture, I truly believe your preaching will go to the next level. I truly believe that God will be honored and growth will be produced, both spiritually and numerically.
The Bible is About the Kingdom of God.
This is something that is largely ignored or quickly forgotten as a “second level” priority—but it is not. The Bible is about the Kingdom of God. We talk about the creation of the world in Genesis, and as valuable as it is that we are “creationists,” we tend to forget that Moses wrote Genesis not so that he could be prepared for the next debate with Dr. Bill Nye! Genesis, part of the Pentateuch, was written to a younger generation who were about to cross to the Promised Land! Now, this is strikingly important to the narrative. The Promised Land was the fulfillment of the Abrahamic Covenant (Gen.12). As that generation was about to cross, Moses delivered the story of “the beginning—Genesis.” How they are supposed to live in the promised land is traced all the way back to Genesis chapter one. God created male and female and made them into “His image.” They were co-regents with God. God was the King, Adam and Eve were His people, and the Garden of Eden was His place. In his book, “The Kingdom of God,” Patrick Schreiner emphasizes those three elements as the core foundation of the kingdom: power, people, place. These components are persistent throughout the biblical narrative. Every passage of Scripture, no matter what passage, connects directly with the theme of the Kingdom of God.
God, since the beginning has wanted to be our King, with us as His people, in the place that He has prepared for us. The Kingdom of God was attempted to be established with Adam and Eve, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob… and each one of them utterly and abruptly failed to keep a Kingdom relationship with God. Israel, the a nation, got really close! Jerusalem was conquered, King David was in place, his dynasty in line, the Temple built by his son— but they also failed completely! They wanted their own kingdom, not the kingdom of God. They wanted their own kings, they did not want God as their King.
Time after time, God wanted to “be their King, and they His people.” Yet, the power of the serpent was vividly present. Indeed there was “enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed,” (Gen. 3:15). The climax of the Israel debacle came in 586 BC. Jerusalem was utterly destroyed by Babylon just as God had foretold. Babylon took captives but left a group of Jews in Jerusalem as a sign of humiliation that the mighty Israel had no city, no king, and no people. However, the original readers of the Old Testament, Jews of course, are wondering what about the promises to Abraham! What about the promises about building a great nation? Is it too late? Has God forsaken Israel? What about the Messiah? Can His unconditional promises become suddenly conditioned on our obedience?
Isaiah, Daniel, and Ezekiel raised their voices time after time to give a message of hope in the midst of national chaos. Isaiah 35 and Ezekiel 37 picture prophecies that speak about a perfect Kingdom, with a perfect King, with perfect people. How can this be though? It seems that humanity is clearly unable to accomplish this purpose. How, then, can the prophets be so sure about these prophecies of such a perfect place with such perfect people? Ah! Good question!
You are right. This humanity, our humanity, is totally incapable to be the people of God. And these kings, no matter who sits on the throne, are all incapable of being the king that God wants. And this Jerusalem is incapable of witnessing the glory of the City of God. Therefore—and I love this part!— we need a new humanity, with a new King, in a new city. This means a redeemed and perfected humanity, with Christ Jesus as the perfect King, living forever in the perfect city called the New Jerusalem.
So, when Jesus comes in Mark 1:15 preaching, “the Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe the Gospel,” Israel should have been astonished, amazed, and overly excited that finally the Kingdom is here. Obviously, we read that it was not so. They rejected their Messiah. They thought they were healthy, when in reality they were dead. However, Jesus did inaugurate His Kingdom. All the prophecies are fulfilled in Him. He is the King that redeemed His people to reign in the New Jerusalem forever.
Now, that is what the Bible is about. Sure! We need to talk about money, and marriage, and divorce, and alcohol. But all these issues fall under the umbrella of the great theme of the Bible: the Kingdom of God fulfilled in Jesus Christ.
Just imagine this for a minute. If you only talk about issues, it is as if someone was asking you for directions to get to a particular place. You are standing at a gas station and someone comes asking for directions. You take your phone out and open Google maps and start yelling street names! “listen friend”— you say— “Main Street, MLK Street, W Street, Palafox Avenue, 110, left, right, south, north, Avon Street, Q Street!!!” Was that helpful? — Of course not! I am afraid it was a waste of time. When you don’t give the general context, the overarching location, the specific panorama, then you are wasting your time and confusing the guy who is lost.
I am afraid that is what many of us do when we just preach moral principles without any overarching biblical unity. Preaching with the Kingdom story in our minds is not optional. The greatest preacher of all times gave us that preaching pattern. He preached the Kingdom. He preached the arrival of the Kingdom. He preached the Scriptures. He explained the Scriptures. He pointed to himself in the Scriptures (Luke 4:21). He illustrated Scripture (Mat. 13). He breathed Scriptures. And then He had the audacity to say that “whosoever shall do the will of God, the same is my brother, and my sister, and mother,” Mk. 3:35. Hey, listen, the entrance into the family of God literally depends on Scripture!
Friend, preach Jesus crucified, in season and out of season, because Scriptures alone can make one wise unto salvation. Preach His Kingdom. Preach the biblical narrative. Preach the relentless pursuit of God for mankind. He wants us. He loves us. Show how lovable God is. And then let the Spirit convict people. Let the Gospel run freely. Stop making people obey out of fear, rather help people fall in love with God. Obedience to God out of love—always. But how will they know about the love of God if we ignore the central issue of the Bible? How will they hear about the beautiful and eternal Kingdom of God? We hear Paul answering loudly, “just preach the Word!”
Josué Ortiz (MDiv. DMin.) serves as missionary to Mexico City. He is the founder of the Abundant Grace Baptist Church in Mexico City. He is a graduate of Pensacola Theological Seminary and The Master’s Seminary. He is married to Rebekah and together have three children.