By Liam Bunce
This Sunday I’ll be picking up our preaching series at The Ark in the book of Nehemiah. With that in mind I wanted to share some thoughts on why we preach from (what is known as) the Old Testament so much in The Ark. At The Ark we preach from the Old Testament quite a lot. In the last year two years or so we’ve preached from Genesis, Exodus, (the whole of) Ruth and now Nehemiah. I may have forgotten about other Old Testament books we’ve preached (though hopefully not ones I’ve preached myself!). Almost every Sunday people will read or pray out one of the Psalms or something from Isaiah (not just at Christmas!). As a slight aside, our name “The Ark” points to two things in the Old Testament; Noah’s Ark (a place where God rescued people) and The Ark of the Covenant (the box where chose to reside with His people). So we want to be a church where people get rescued by God and a place where they meet with God.
So why are we so keen to preach from the Old Testament? Here are a few thoughts:
1. It’s all about Jesus (Luke 24v13-35)
Jesus is the climax of the whole Bible. After His resurrection, Jesus (unbeknown to them) spent a good 3 hours walking with some of his disciples who were still grieving his death. We’re told that ‘beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.’ (24v27) Jesus wanted his friends to know that the Old Testament was about Him. I wonder why Luke doesn’t record exactly what Jesus said to them. Surely that would have helped! But maybe the reason we’re not told exactly what He said is so that we’d search the Scriptures to find Him ourselves? That’s what I like to think anyway, and that’s another reason why we preach the Old Testament: It’s all about Jesus! I know I’m just scratching the surface when it comes to knowing Jesus through the OT.
2. ‘All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.’ (2 Timothy 3v16)
This was written by Paul before the New Testament existed, so ‘All Scripture’ applies here exclusively to the Hebrew Scriptures, which at the very least refers to the Pentateuch (first 5 books of the Bible) and possibly the whole of the Old Testament. If the Old Testament is the word of God, then God will speak through it.
3. If it’s Jesus’ story, then it’s our story
If the Old Testament (which is predominantly narrative/story) finds it’s meaning, climax and fulfilment in Jesus, then it’s our story (as those who are “in Christ”) too. It provides the back-story and context for Jesus’ coming into the world, so if we want to know and understand who Jesus is, then we need to know our Old Testament! It also tells us where creation is heading – to a renewed creation where God dwells with His people. God walked with His people in the Garden (Genesis 3), dwelt among His people in the tabernacle and then the Temple (which was full of “garden” imagery, like ornamental stone fruits and trees) and then the prophet Ezekiel looks forward to when the whole of creation will be a garden/temple (see Ezekiel 40+). If we don’t know the Old Testament then we don’t really know God’s Story.
4. Narratives are really helpful!
People love stories! Some modernists may dismiss stories and presume that if something is presented in narrative form it is of less value, but this isn’t how the people of God have seen things through the centuries. God has chosen to speak and reveal Himself predominantly through stories. Stories are not less truthful than lists or a systematic theology tome. Stories (to paraphrase Night At The Museum) bring truth to life. Or perhaps put better, stories cast light on the truth. Truth about God is easier to think through when it comes to us through the stories involving real people in real situations. Preaching the Old Testament stories, and indeed preaching as a narrative as opposed to a series of propositions about God (though I’m not claiming to be very good at this!), is really helpful for us as we look to meet with the living God. This is, after all, what all good preaching should lead us into.
So, this Sunday…Nehemiah 2! Why not have a read of it before then?
(The Ark meets on Sundays at Greenhead College from 10am for tea & coffee)