Preaching Pointers from Leviticus

Originally posted at Preaching Source.

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Few books of the Old Testament confound preachers and laypersons more than Leviticus. The hermeneutical and applicational matrix is difficult but not insurmountable, and the reward is worth the exertion. I hope to provide five pointers for Leviticus. My intention is to equip you with a basic framework for making sense of Leviticus as you read and study. To that end, each section ends with a diagnostic question you can ask of each passage.

Practice good sermon preparation. First and foremost, pray. Recall Paul’s words, “For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God” (1 Cor 2:12). Confess known sin. Stay clean and close to Jesus. Read the text. Read the whole book as many times as possible, perhaps ten times at a minimum. There is no magic number. Probe the text. John Stott admonishes preachers, “Probe your text, like a bee with a spring blossom, or like a hummingbird probing a hibiscus flower for its nectar.”[1] Consult good commentaries to help with difficult exegetical issues (here are some resources I found helpful). Good sermon preparation begins with time in the Word before the Lord. The diagnostic question: “What does this text mean according to the intent of the author?”

Seek out how a passage encourages love for the Lord and/or love for neighbor. Jesus says there are two commandments on which “depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matt 22:36–40). Jesus says the first and great commandment in the Law is to “love the Lord your God” and the second is to “love your neighbor as yourself.” In his De Doctrina Christiana Augustine notes the “fulfillment and the end of the law and of all the divine Scriptures is love” (I.39). Therefore, “if it seems to you that you have understood the divine Scriptures or any part of them, in such a way that by this understanding you do not build up this twin love of God and neighbor, then you have not yet understood them” (I.40). If we cannot answer this question of any passage, but especially in Leviticus, we are probably not ready to preach it. The diagnostic question: “How does this passage encourage love for God and/or my neighbor?”

Grasp the context of the book. Leviticus follows the description of the glory of the Lord filling the tabernacle in Ex 40:34–36. God now dwells among his people again as an echo of Eden and a preview of the Temple. Sin and perfection could not cohabitate in Eden and cannot in Leviticus. Remember Leviticus is part of the larger Pentateuch. Yes, Leviticus is legal literature, but it is nestled in narrative, in the long arch of Scripture in which God dwells with his people in the beginning (Genesis 1), among his people (Jn 1:14), and then both in and among his people in the end (Rev 21:3). Leviticus demonstrates how all of life is to be lived in the presence of the Lord. Also, the context is essential to grasp because Leviticus follows God’s gracious redemption of Israel from Egypt. The diagnostic question: “How does this passage contribute to an understanding of all of life being lived in the presence of God?”

Keep grace in the background. Grace is the stage scenery for Leviticus. If you understand the context, you perceive Leviticus as a response to God’s grace. We must be careful not to make the distinction between law and grace so great that we do not see God’s grace in the OT. Leviticus answers the question long before Francis Schaeffer, “How should we then live?” God redeemed Israel out of slavery to Egypt, and because of God’s grace in his deliverance and his dwelling, Leviticus stipulates the covenant responsibilities of Israel. Leviticus is not primarily about starting or initiating a relationship with God because Israel did not determine to come to God and then subsequently set the prescriptions found in Leviticus. God initiated and delivered, but now Israel is called to respond. Remembering grace will also guard against legalism and antinomianism. The diagnostic question: “Am I trying to understand this passage apart from God’s previous gracious deed(s)?”

Use the theme as a template. The book functions as a cardiac tuning fork for Israel. Leviticus 19:1 gives the tone. The Lord speaks to Moses, saying, “Speak to all the congregation of the sons of Israel, and say to them, ‘Be holy, because I, the Lord your God, am holy.’” God invites Israel to become as he is. If Leviticus were a song, it would be in this key. As a template, it demystifies much (but not all) of Leviticus. This is not dissimilar from what Abraham Kuruvilla terms “Christiconic interpretation.” Leviticus summons Israel to “theoiconic” living. One question you can ask of each passage you study is, “What aspect of holiness does this passage promote?” Answer this question by understanding the why of a passage. There are basic questions we ask of any text, those great investigative questions, but often our focus in OT law centers on the “what.” Do not misunderstand me. We need to answer the what. We need to know what a burnt offering is and what the word “abomination” means. Let us not forget, however, to investigate the why. Why is this in Scripture? This will help cross the bridge from then to now. The diagnostic question: “How does God intend for believers to become more like God (or Christ) through this passage?”

I hope these pointers help you as you labor to understand and to preach Leviticus. God will honor your labors in this important and wonderful portion of God’s inspired, inerrant, and infallible Word.

[1] John Stott, Between Two Worlds: The Challenge of Preaching Today (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982), 220.

Psalm 69

What do you do when everything goes wrong? Have you ever had one of those moments or one of those days, weeks, months, or years? I’m talking about a day or a time in your life when everything goes wrong but not only that but everything that was a consequence of all the things that went wrong are now going wrong as well. It’s like you’re caught in this endless downward spiral of things going wrong. What do you do in those moments when it feels like everything is going wrong, everything is falling apart and everything is crashing down around you?

David finds himself in such a situation. Everything you need to know about David’s situation can be heard in the first words of the Psalm, “Save me, O God!” Most of us have uttered that cry at different times in our lives and for different reasons. Hopefully at one point we realized our depraved sinfulness and cried out to God, “Save me, O God!” Or we walked in open rebellion against God and his will for our lives, and this led to a chaos in our lives. We don’t know how to get ourselves out of our own mess and we cry out to God, “Save me, O God!”

David’s life is in a state of chaos. He continues the verse with the reason for his plea, “For the waters threaten my life.” The word “life” is the Hebrew word nephesh and it doesn´t only mean his physical life, although it certainly means that. The word is more holistic than that. David feels like he is physically and spiritually about to drown! Oh, I don’t have to explain that feeling to you, do I? Your life is so chaotic that you feel like suffocation is just seconds away. You just need to stop sliding deeper and deeper. David felt that way. Look at v. 2 where he says I sink in deep mire.” What is mire? “Mire” is an area of wet, swampy ground. It is slimy soil that is usually very deep.

David uses this word in Ps 40:3 and listen to how he describes it there. “He [the Lord] drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon the rock, making my steps secure.” If you think about it, we often use geography to depict our lives. We call the good times the mountain tops and the bad times the valleys. Here when it comes to stability and instability, stability is being able to walk on solid ground, on the rock, and being able to take secure steps, not having to worry about what you’re walking on.

In contrast, the miry bog is the picture of instability. In the miry bog there are no sure steps, only struggle and strife. It is almost tortuous. To have only one thing you need and you are stuck in the one place that doesn’t have the one thing you need. But David continues by saying that he is in deep waters. Have you ever tried to tread water? You may know this about me but at one point in my life I was one signature away from enlisting in the Navy. One of the fitness requirements was being able to tread water for 5 minutes. I remember going to the pool and thinking, “Okay, I just have to sort of float and stay up for 5 minutes. No big deal.” It was about 1 minute in that I realized I was in trouble.

David is in deep water and he is exhausted. He then says the “flood sweeps over me.” The imagery is just relentless. The chaos and craziness is unrelenting! And David is starting to lose hope. He says in v. 3, “I am weary with my crying out.” That word “weary” is used in another interesting context. In 2 Samuel 23, David’s mighty men are battling the Philistines. A man named Eleazar was fighting and it says in v. 10, that he “rose and struck down the Philistines until his hand was weary, and his hand clung to his sword.” What a picture! It’s like David is fighting, and fighting, and fighting . . . and he is so, so weary. How is he fighting? By crying out!

We talk about crying out to God but David cried out time and time again. He was weary with his crying out. He says, “my throat is parched.” He’s going horse pleading for God to answer and save him. He closes with almost a heartbreaking language. It’s like seeing a great warrior about to give up even though you may be cheering for him. He says, “My eyes grow dim,” they are failing. He’s seeing no light at the end of the tunnel. No hope. No coming deliverance just on the horizon. He’s looking to the horizon for a sunrise and yet he only sees pitch black midnight.

Have you been there? Was there a time in your life, or maybe it is right now where you need to cry out to God, “Save me, O God!” If you’re in the midst of such a time in your life and you haven’t cried out to God to save you, I would encourage that you do that. I spend so much time highlighting the nature of David’s condition because I think it only magnifies what we read towards the end of Psalm 69. Look at what David says, “I will praise the name of God with a song, I will magnify him with thanksgiving.” Wow.

Jesus, God’s Final Word

 The Book of Hebrews is concerned with demonstrating that Jesus as superior to anything and everything else. It will argue that Jesus is better than the prophets, angels, and Moses. The covenant Jesus enacted, the New Covenant, is a better covenant. Jesus’ blood, his sacrifice, is a better sacrifice. All of Hebrews devotes itself to holding up Jesus Christ as supreme, superior, and set apart. Jesus is in a league of his own and in a class of his own. Hebrews is written to Jewish believers to challenge them to see Jesus and listen to him. Why? Well, they were tempted to dwell on the past, to hold past prophets and priests in higher regard. To value anyone more than Jesus was to put them above Jesus.

We must be fair and say that we all it difficult to let go, and since we aren’t walking through Hebrews, we may miss the weight of what the book is saying. He is telling Jewish believers that Jesus is better than everything they value as being part of their identity, their culture, their livelihood! Everything that you think defines you, gives you meaning, helps you make sense of the world—all those things—Jesus is better and Jesus is higher. From the beginning of the book, the writer strikes this note: God has appointed Jesus as his final, supreme message; therefore, we must listen to him above all others.

Although I want to focus on Hebrews 1:1-2 in this post, it is worth quoting 1:1-4 in full. The author writes:

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.

Jesus is God’s final, supreme message (v. 2). There are three aspects to note concerning this verse. 

First, God has spoken in the past through prophets. The writer of Hebrews acknowledges this. He writes, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets” (v. 1). First, let us not miss the fact that our God is a God who speaks! In places of the OT, this was the distinguishing factor between the true God and false gods. Listen to Ps 115:4-5: “Their idols are silver and gold, the work of human hands. They have mouths, but do not speak; eyes, but do not see.” Our God is a speaking God but his supreme, final message was not one of the prophets but his Son.

Second, God speaks today through his Son. Notice the contrast in the rest of verse two, “but in these last days he has spoken to us by His Son.” When he says, “in these last days,” he uses a Greek of rendering of OT terminology. When you read the OT prophets, they often talk about “in the last days.” These “last days” are the time when all the prophecies of the prophets will find their fulfillment. In other words, the prophets would often prophecy about “these last days.” The author of Hebrews is saying, “Those ‘last days’ the prophets always pointed to are now when God has fulfilled his promises and spoken through his Son.” I love how the commentator, F. F. Bruce put it. He says, “God’s previous spokesmen were His servants, but for the proclamation of His last word, to man He has chosen His Son.”[1] But to whom does God speak

Third, God speaks “to us.” The writer also says that God has spoken “to us” through his Son. Hebrews was written after the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. These are post-Pentecost believers. Still the writer says that God has spoken to them through his Son. What God has said through Jesus was not applicable only while he walked the earth but it was relevant for these Hebrew Christians who were living some years after the life of Jesus. There was a definitive event— “God has spoken” —the authority of which carried to the present day of the readers; and this definitive event is also authoritative today! Therefore, I feel comfortable saying that God has spoken, to us (!), to you and to me, through His Son.

Application

Are you listening to Jesus? How does this change your time reading the Scriptures? When you open the Scriptures, God is speaking to you! This changes your quiet time. It is God conversing with you as you read and you converse with him as you pray. I would challenge you to listen to Jesus above all others. What decisions do you need to revisit that were made without submission to King Jesus? What coming decisions need to be surrendered to the Lord?

[1] F. F. Bruce, Hebrews, The Epistle to the Hebrews, NICNT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1964), 3.

When a Great Pastor Leaves

Our church is approaching a time of transition. God has called our senior pastor to take a position at another church. Our pastor has served for five years. Our pastor has loved the people. Our pastor has wept with and for people. Our pastor has prayed with them. Our pastor has married them and buried them. Our pastor’s preaching is faithful to Scripture. Our pastor’s wisdom is beyond his years. Ours is a great pastor; he is our great pastor.

Or, “was,” I should say. He is no longer our pastor. In his sovereign wisdom, God has moved him. It may seem strange for God to do so. We are not a church in decline. All glory goes to God for the fact that our church has steadily increased in membership in a time when many churches are experiencing decline. Not only are we growing but we are growing diversely. Moreover, no bitter strife exists among the staff nor has giving declined dramatically. We are a growing, healthy church. So, why now? Sometimes a pastor leaves and it is a mutually desired outcome. Everyone is happier. There are, however, situations like ours. The timing seems strange but God is sovereign. He declares, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORDFor as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Is 55:8-9, ESV).

In this post, I want to deal with three realities, three truths we need to keep in mind in the days to come. In the second post, I want to highlight some of the positive aspects of the situation. In the third and final part, I want to provide a vision for what I think our focus should be in the coming days. What does an individual or a church do when a great pastor leaves? There are three realities which we meet (or “collide”?) at this point.

1. He was never our pastor. Yes, in one sense, he was our pastor; yet, in another sense, he was not our pastor but the Lord’s. We expect our pastor(s) to consider themselves accountable to the Lord Jesus Christ above all others. We payed him, but we did not purchase him. Peter writes as such: “For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed . . . but with the precious blood of Christ” (1 Pet 1:18-19, ESV). Pastors are often admonished to remember that the flocks they shepherd are God’s flock. “Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care” (1 Pet 5:2, NIV). We are God’s flock. Pastors are told, “It is not your flock.” True. And we would do well to remember the converse. He is not our pastor. He does not belong to us but to the Lord. Jesus can move his servants when and where he chooses. He can and does because of the second reality.

2. Jesus is Lord of the church. The church belongs to Jesus. He is the head of the body, the church, and his the bridegroom of the church. As Lord of the church, his servants are his to move. Remembering this is important because if we trusted our pastor to follow God’s call while he was here, we must trust that he is following God’s call when he leaves. If God has led him away, then we ought to rejoice that the will of the Lord is done. We should also rejoice because as Lord of the church he has not forsaken ours. Pastors come and go but the Lord remains steadfast and sure. With Jesus as the Lord of church, we can and should be encouraged to have the most gracious, loving Lord looking out for our good. He truly is the Good Shepherd. This leads to the third reality: Jesus is our only real hope.

3. Jesus, not a pastor, is our rock. Micah Fries, a pastor whom I follow on Twitter, tweeted the other day: “Too often pastors are emotionally dependent on their churches & churches are dependent on their pastors while no one is dependent on Jesus.” It was a timely and needed reminder for me. Indeed, through the following days, we have a greater opportunity to exercise a greater dependence on Jesus, not a pastor or a staff member. Sometimes God strips away the things that make us comfortable, or give us confidence, so that we have greater, stronger confidence in him.

This thought gentles my soul because at times I feel like a giant tree has been uprooted. A storm has extracted it and left a massive hole. But God does not uproot and leave the hole empty. He fills it with himself; he fills it to overflowing. And we should not be shocked to learn that this tree that we hold so dear, that we mourn, that has been precious to us and beautiful in our sight, is made of plastics and wire–not real. God plants himself in our lives and grows in us, growing a living, vibrant tree. I am not saying this is true of everyone or as a church as a whole, but in the departure of our pastor, the Lord has shown all those areas where I was leaning on the pastor more than Jesus. God has unearthed those secret chambers where my faith was in a man and not the God-Man.  Jesus–our rock! “The LORD is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold” (Ps 18:2, NIV).

In the coming days, we are blessed with the opportunity to exercise greater faith in the Lord Jesus. It is a chance to drown in grace. Let us take this opportunity to grow in our love for the Lord Jesus. May we see all that we have in him, all that overflows to us and for us.

In the next post, I will cover three positive aspects of our pastor leaving. Check back next week!

Reading OT Narrative

My intention in this post is to focus on practices that help a believer develop and mature in your Christian faith, namely, by reading the OT. In this post I want to provide simple tools to equip you to read your OT. I will discuss how to read your OT to know God. How do we know God through the Old Testament? I want to stress this point because learning tools for Bible study is not an academic, abstract, ethereal discussion. To know God, we need to know his word. To know his word, we need to know how to read his word. It is when we read God’s Word and understand it that we come to know him.

Old Testament Narratives

Our task this morning is to discuss OT narratives. OT narratives are books like Genesis, Samuel, and Kings. These are the books of the Bible where the layout looks like a book and not like poetry. A substantial portion, nearly half of the OT, is narrative.How do we read the OT narratives and make sense of them? At this point, it’s helpful to discuss briefly what OT is not. OT narratives are not the Aesop’s Fables of the OT. They are not moral stories intended to be divorced from a worshipping relationship with the one, true God. OT narratives do teach morality, and they make value judgments. These morals, however, are rooted in the larger story of God’s dealing with Israel and the nations. Therefore, one of the most basic questions I ask of a text, of any text, when I’m reading devotionally or preparing for a sermon is, “What does this passage teach me about God?”

The most important thing to remember is to read the OT as stories. In our media-driven, visual-dominated culture, many have a dampened the ability to read stories. I don’t mean that they are illiterate, that they cannot read, but they have little practice analyzing literary devices such as characterization, setting, and plot. I don’t say this as an insult but just an observation. I think, however, that we don’t necessarily need to be taught how to do this. There is an intuitive skill in humans that enable us to understand stories. There’s something about being human that makes this so. But more than that, you instinctively process stories. Think about when you watch a movie.

Six Tools for Old Testament Narrative

I want to give you six tools to help you read OT narrative.

Setting. There are two kinds of settings to which I am referring. One is what I’ll call the historical setting. The other is the contextual setting. The historical setting is the historical situations in which events take place. While you don’t need to be an expert in the ancient Near Eastern setting of the OT narratives, some background helps. But more important is the contextual setting. Where does a story take place? What happens before it? What happens after it? Why is it placed here? These are the kind of questions we want to ask. So, let’s look at the context of Gen 22. We notice that Gen 22 follows Gen 21. Gen 21 narrates the birth of Isaac. God fulfills his promise to bless Abraham with a son! Hagar and Ishmael are sent away but are graciously cared for by God. Now, all the hopes of the Abrahamic covenant are placed squarely on the shoulders of Isaac. He is the one. Look at Gen 21:12. God tells Abraham to listen to Sarah because “your offspring will be traced through Isaac.” You might want to do more analysis of the context but this is sufficient for our demonstration. One tool in your tool belt is to understand the context. When we come to Genesis 22, we see another tool that we need to keep handy. Our second tool is the narrator.

Narrator. Sometimes the narrator gives the reader information relevant to the story, but this information may not necessarily be available to the characters within the story. The best way explanation, in this case, is a demonstration. Look at Gen 22:1. Moses writes, “After these things God tested Abraham.” That’s inside information given to us and it is information given to help us make sense of what we are about to read. It is a clue to understand the story. In a short phrase, we are given a piece of the puzzle. What we are about to read is a test. God is testing Abraham.

Now, at this moment we need to make a short digression and talk about how words have meanings. Words carry a general meaning within themselves. When I say, “dog,” you all picture a dog but I doubt we are all picturing the same dog. If I say, “cold,” I doubt we are all picturing the same thing. Words have a general meaning but they also have their meaning from their context. We know this. If I say, “cold,” we think of different things. If I say, “sick,” we think of different things. But the meaning of the word “sick” does not work in a sentence like when I say, “I saw this guy jump off a building and land on his feet. It was sick!” What do I mean? Do I mean he is now physically ill? No, I mean it was an awesome trick that I couldn’t believe happened! Words have meanings but also are given meaning by their context.

I say all this because we read that God is “testing” Abraham. The danger is to read into that word our modern understanding of testing. It’s not as if God doesn’t know Abraham or how he would respond. God is not pondering, “I’m genuinely interested in how Abraham would respond to this because I just don’t know!” This is not God testing a hypothesis. Instead, it is God “testing” Abraham. Why is it significant that the narrator gives us this information? First, we see that it is a divine testing about to take place, not a demonic one.[1] Abraham is about to enter a test in which something will be proven. It is not unknown to God, but it is, in a sense, unknown to Abraham.

The author wants us to know that God is testing Abraham. This is the beginning of the story and it also starts the plot. The plot will revolve around God testing Abraham. What kind of test? What is Abraham being asked to do?

Character. In narratives, often characters are described in a certain way. Authors use circumstances and dialogue to paint the portrait of their characters. Some are obviously bad, like Haman in Esther or Jezebel in Kings. Other characters are the “good” characters. We must say that many characters are complex. They are not simply good and bad. Abraham lied. David committed murder. The “good” characters are not always so “good.” When it comes to characterization, however, there is an important principle to keep in mind. As one author writes, “When discussing individuals who are considered to have existed in the past, like those in biblical narrative, it should be emphasized that we know them only as they are presented in the narratives, and it is to this alone that we can refer.”[2] Often the character gives us clues into the mental states of characters. This leads us to our fourth tool—the plot.

Plot. Any story worth telling has a good plot. This is not true only of novels but in everyday life. You tell stories with a plot all the time. Think about when you explain something that happened and you want to keep your listener interested. You almost instinctively use a plot. The entire Bible has a plot from creation, fall, redemption, and restoration. There are many little plots throughout the Bible. Little stories of loss, of triumph, or of sacrifice.

Dialogue. Think about this for a moment. For every word of dialogue, talking, that is recorded in Scripture—how much more has been left out? There’s no way that the words of Moses we have recorded in Scripture are the only words that he has ever spoken. All the words recorded are recorded for a reason.

Literary Devices. I want to bring two types of literary devices to your attention. These are perhaps the most common. First, is repetition. I would venture to say that repetition is the most recognizable, most used way that OT narratives work. The second literary device is a form of repetition, that is, OT narratives often have bracketing features. What I mean by bracketing is that a theme, or the repetition of a word, occurs at the beginning and end of a passage. A perfect example is Genesis 39. In v. 2, the text reads, “The LORD was with Joseph.” At the end of the narrative, twice the text says, “The LORD was with Joseph” (v. 21, 23).

In a Word: Selection and Composition

If I could leave you with one parting, summarizing thought, it would be this. There are two words that summarize all these tools. They are: selection and composition. Everything we have in the OT narratives were selected to be included. If emotions or motives are not supplied to to us by the author, then we should not speculate. As much as we may want to fill in the gaps, we must realize that the author didn’t give us information for a reason. The second word is composition. These are stories, composed and structured, written to be read as stories. Read them like a novel. We must slow down and take in the beauty of the narratives.

I hope this helps you as you read Old Testament narratives!

[1] Victor P. Hamilton, The Book of Genesis: Chapter 18–50, NICOT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995), 101.

[2] Shimon Bar-Efrat, Narrative Art in the Bible (New York: T&T Clark, 2004), 47.

Resources for Preaching Leviticus

I was asked to write a blog on preaching Leviticus for another preaching website. (I will copy that blog here once it posts.) As I have researched and written, several resources were helpful. In this blog, I want to include a small but sufficient list of resources to begin research into Leviticus. Leviticus is a book you will want to read many times, read about much, and research well. The resources below are a good start. I divide the resources into the following categories: OT introductions, commentaries, books on Leviticus, OT theologies, general preaching books, and articles. The general preaching books contain sections or chapters that are relevant to Leviticus.

OT Introductions

Commentaries

  • Moseley, Allan. Leviticus. Christ-Centered Exposition Series. Edited by David Platt, Daniel L. Akin, and Tony Merida. Nashville: B&H Publishing, 2015.
  • Sklar, Jay. Leviticus. Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2014.
  • Wenham, Gordon. The Book of Leviticus. New International Commentary on the Old Testament. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1979.

Books on Leviticus

OT Theologies

General Hermeneutics/Preaching Resources

Any of these resources are worth consulting in preparation for a sermon or sermon series through Leviticus.

Holy Spirit-less Preaching?

If you have any kind of theological library then you know that some of your books are used more than others. Some books you use every week as you prepare a sermon or lesson but other books you use only when you get in a theological or exegetical bind. Then, of course, there are those books that were given to you by well-meaning people but in your heart you know you will never crack it open and use it (and even us bibliophiles cannot bring ourselves to get rid of these books).

Preachers and pastors fall on a similar spectrum when it comes to the Holy Spirit. Some pastors consistently rely on the Holy Spirit in their sermon preparation. Other preachers only appeal to the Holy Spirit when they are in a bind like when a text is difficult or when there’s some frustration in wording a certain point. Unfortunately, there are pastors who rarely depend on the Holy Spirit for anything sermon related. Instead, they rely on rhetorical ability or are more concerned with relevance.

Preaching textbooks will of course talk of the Holy Spirit’s role in sermon preparation and delivery. They encourage readers to let the Holy Spirit illuminate the text. They encourage preachers to depend on the Holy Spirit to apply the Word of God and to work through the preacher’s sermon. These books are right. We should rely on the Holy Spirit in these matters. The problem is that you cannot stop there. The problem is when these are the only matters in which the Holy Spirit in considered in sermon preparation.

What if the Holy Spirit, who he is and how he relates to the other two members of the Trinity, played a more central role in our preaching? What if instead of the Holy Spirit only aiding our preparation we let the Holy Spirit determine the very approach to the task of preaching, how handle a text of Scripture, and how we preach a passage?

Irenaeus, The Trinity, and The Word

I have been challenged in this respect from somewhere I was not expecting. I came across the following statement while reading Irenaeus’ Demonstration of Apostolic Preaching:

For as many as carry (in them) the Spirit of God are led to the Word, that is to the Son; and the Son brings them to the Father; and the Father causes them to possess incorruption. Without the Spirit it is not possible to behold the Word of God, nor without the Son can any draw near to the Father for the knowledge of the Father is the Son, and the knowledge of the Son of God is through the Holy Spirit.

Let’s unpack this quote. Irenaeus states that the Spirit of God brings people to the Word of God, and by bringing people to the Word of God, they are brought to the Son of God. Notice that he states that the Spirit leads to the Word of God, “that is to the Son.” For Irenaeus, for the Holy Spirit to bring people to the Word is to bring them to the Son of God. If we were to flip that, to bring people to the Son is to bring people to the Word.

If people are not brought to the Word then they are not brought to the Son. The severity is that if people are not brought to the Son then they are not brought to the Father. Irenaeus further says that without the Spirit it is not possible to behold the Word (the Son), nor without the Son can any draw near to the Father for the knowledge of the Father is Son, and the knowledge of the Son of God is through the Holy Spirit.”

The point here is that if the Holy Spirit does not bring people to the Word, that is, to the Son, then they are not brought to the Son. If they are not brought to the Son then they are not brought to the Father. Perhaps the Holy Spirit should play a more pivotal role in developing our approach to and theology of preaching.

The Holy Spirit and A Theology of Preaching

In formulating a theology of preaching we must remember the role of the Holy Spirit. We as preachers should not put obstacles between our people and the Holy Spirit. If putting an obstacle between people and the Word is to keep people from Christ, and to keep people from Christ is to keep them from the Father, then what does it mean to put obstacles between people and the Holy Spirit? What obstacles to the Holy Spirit do preachers put up, whether intentionally or unintentionally?

As it regards preaching, primarily we disregard the text of Scripture. When I speak of disregarding the text of Scripture I mean we pay little or no attention to the structure, substance, or spirit of the text. If the Bible is the inspired, inerrant Word of God, then this means that the words are not only inspired but the structure and spirit of a passage are as well.

That is why expository (text-driven) preaching is vital — because it is preaching that seeks to honor the substance (words), spirit (genre and tone), and structure (linguistic structure) of the Scriptures. Our sermons are to honor and to follow the structure of the text of Scripture.

So, preachers, let us not disregard the text of Scripture. Let us honor the structure. Let the main point(s) of the text be the main point(s) of our sermons. If the text is a lament, let us lament! If the text is a psalm of praise, then let us praise! If it is a teaching passage, let us teach. Let us be men who so honor the text of Scripture!

By honoring the text of Scripture, the Holy Spirit brings the hearer to the Word, that is, to Christ, and by bringing them to Christ we help them come to the Father!

Originally posted at For the Church.