Four Reasons You Should Preach Through The Old Testament

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For years, I almost exclusively preached from the New Testament. To be honest, I just didn’t know what to do with the Old Testament. I didn’t understand God’s Law, the prophets, the bulk of the Torah. It wasn’t until I discovered the works of Ed Clowney and got my head around Covenant Theology that I waded into the deep waters of the Old Testament.

It was then that I realized the gaping hole in my preaching. Much like a musician who only practiced scales and never melody, my preaching lacked cadence and unity. With the next five principles, I’d love to help rip you from your one-lane preaching rut and widen your scope to a more robust dual covenant harmony. 

1. The Old Testament is God’s Word 

Pastor, I’m sad that it has to be said, but the Old Testament is just as much God’s Holy Word as the New Testament. When Paul writes in 2 Timothy 3:16-17 that “All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work”, he is not just validating his own New Testament writings but the totality of Scripture.

If you believe every word of the above mentioned passage, then you know that every word of Genesis through Malachi is just as profitable for teaching, reproof, correction, training in righteousness, and equipping the believer as Matthew through Revelation. The late Ed Clowney reminds us that “Jesus endorsed the inspiration of the Old Testament, not only as ‘full’ or ‘plenary,’ but even ‘literal’ in the sense that the very letters of the words were inspired (see Matthew 5:17-18).” 

As a pastor, it is your responsibility to preach the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27). Contextually, when Paul says this in Acts, he’s not implying that he preached every word of the Old Testament documents he had access to, rather as D.A. Carson put it, he “taught the burden of the whole of God’s revelation, the balance of things, leaving nothing out that was of primary importance, never ducking the hard bits, helping believers to grasp the whole counsel of God that they themselves would become better equipped to read their Bibles intelligently, comprehensively.” 

God’s Word in the Old Testament is profitable for you and for your congregation. Despite some teachers suggesting we completely ignore (or unhitch from) the Old Testament because passages can be difficult to understand, irrelevant, or because we live under a new covenant; you, as a pastor, have been mandated to preach the whole counsel of God. In fact, you have also been commanded to unhitch yourselves from any Christian who teaches otherwise.

2. The Old Testament is God’s Story

Pastor, you control the hermeneutical methodology of your church. How you teach and exposit the Scriptures is how your flock is going to interpret the Scriptures. You may find hermeneutical books enjoyable, but I can assure you the majority of your flock does not. What I mean is, how you open God’s Word and explain it week in and week out, during your Sunday gathering is how your flock is going to learn how to read their Bible. 

I believe this section’s headline proves my point—the Old Testament is part of God’s story. Many in your congregation may make the mistake in believing that the Old Testament is just the story of God’s people—Israel. While Israel gets a lot of screen time in the Old Testament, reading the Old Testament to learn about Israel is a telling symptom of a disease that the people of God have suffered from for some time. That disease is narcissism.

For too long pastors have fallen into the trap of leaving their hermeneutical practices and convictions at the door in the name of practicality and applicability for their flock.

The Old Testament is not the story of Israel, but rather it’s the story of God and should be preached as such.

Genesis isn’t about creation, it’s about the Creator God. Exodus isn’t about Moses and Pharaoh, it’s about the Redeemer God. Leviticus and Deuteronomy aren’t about the Law, they’re about the Holy God! Do you see where I’m going with this? 

Pastor, for too long the people of God have been plagued by moralistic therapeutic deism. The practice that inserts the believer into every text as a way to make themselves the moral hero of the narrative. They see themselves as David as they conquer their own giants. They see themselves as Joshua as they stand against their enemies. They see themselves as Daniel as they sit in their own “lion-like” den. This sort of narcissistic exegesis (narcigesis, if you will) is why so many people avoid the more dense books of the Old Testament. That is, these books are too difficult to import themselves into the narrative.

Instead, Christians must learn to love these more dense books (say like Lamentations or Ezekiel) not because they can teach us something about ourselves but because they can teach us something about God. Ultimately, we are not the main character of the Bible. It’s your job to remind your congregation of that reality. 

3. The Old Testament is God’s Law 

Many pastors don’t know what to do with God’s Law. In fact, for nearly a year I attended a church that was all Gospel and no Law. During our mid-week study questions at small group, a member of the church leaned over to me and said, “It doesn’t really matter what questions they are asking, the answer is either Jesus or the Gospel.” 

Until that he said those words, I hadn’t noticed the gaping hole in our church’s biblical theology. Nowhere, not in a sermon nor in a small group, had I heard reference to or substance of the Old Testament Law. The result was a detrimental theological deficiency.

The Law of God is the grand amplifier of the Gospel. Without the weight of the Law, the unmerited righteousness of the Gospel loses its significance.

The reminder that pastors often need is this: We need both Testaments. We need the Law and we need the Gospel. If you don’t preach God’s Law, then you risk producing licentious antinomians; if you only preach God’s Law, you risk producing legalists; if you only preach Gospel without the Law you risk spiritual sobriety. You must, therefore, balance both law and gospel in your preaching, and this makes preaching through the Old Testament essential. 

As stated in the prior point, you drive the hermeneutical bus for your church, and your pulpit is the driver’s seat. You, by God’s wisdom, decide where you go, and just as importantly, how you get there. Earlier, I stated that many pastors don’t know what to do with God’s Law. So can you imagine how many of God’s people don’t know what to do with God’s Law? We desperately need God’s Law preached to us today, and pastor, we need you to do it. 

This next statement may sound repetitive but I need to say the same thing with different words. God’s Gospel has no power without God’s Law. C.H. Spurgeon tells us, “I do not believe that any man can preach the gospel who does not preach the law. The law is the needle, and you cannot draw the silken thread of the gospel through a man’s heart unless you first send the needle of the law to make way for it. If men do not understand the law, they will not feel that they are sinners. And if they are not consciously sinners, they will never value the sin offering. There is no healing a man till the law has wounded him, no making him alive till the law has slain him.” 

4. The Old Testament is God’s Promise 

Arguably, the strongest current that runs through the entire Old Testament is God’s promise, and that promise is Jesus. Jesus is ever-present in the Old Testament. In fact, I would argue that the entire Old Testament is both preparing you for or pointing us to, Jesus.  

Pastor, if you would let me, I would like to give you an analogy from the world’s favorite princess-saving, mustachioed plumber, Super Mario. The Super Mario video game series has sold over 330 million copies around the globe. Its iconic bright blue opening screen is familiar to nearly everyone. But what’s unfamiliar for most is that every Mario game has secret passages and hidden glitches that give a totally different gaming experience to those who know where to find them. Everyone who plays Super Mario has an identical copy, but only some players know what clues to look for.

Much like Super Mario’s secret easter eggs, Christ can be found in the entire Old Testament if you know what to look for. And in fact, they share a common metanarrative and purpose almost identically: defeat the villain and save the princess. 

Pastor, it is your responsibility to point your church to the complete work of Christ, meaning His work and presence in the Old Testament and His work and presence in the New Testament. You cannot have a full picture of Christ without a full picture of the Bible.

Conclusion

As we conclude, I want to give you one final reason to preach through the Old Testament. 

I have not been preaching for decades but I can tell you with certainty that preaching through the Old Testament faithfully will stretch you as an expositor and teacher. Digging deep into the well of God’s historical revelation will yield gallons and gallons of refreshing spiritual water. Your congregation will be nourished by the richness of such sweet preaching that brings illuminating context to their Savior and King.

As stated in the beginning, we believe in the inspiration and authority of all of Scripture. Meaning we believe that the Old Testament is infallible and authoritative. This authoritative text tells us the story of God and His plan for redeeming a chosen people. It shows us God’s Law and God’s Gospel through the promise of His Son who could come and fulfill the Law given in the Old Testament. 

Pastors and shepherds, I exhort to open God’s Word, the whole Word, and preach it faithfully.

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