Holding Back the Obvious

Sometimes a passage very obviously points beyond itself.  For instance a passage with an obvious parallel to today, or a passage that points forward to Christ.  Psalm 22 is a classic example of the latter, or Genesis 22.  It is natural to make the obvious connection from the start and repeat it throughout.  Sometimes this is very worthwhile – especially when the parallel is to today.  Highlighting and emphasizing the applicational relevance of a passage is usually very helpful (rather than holding out until a few brief applications at the end).  However, if the application is obvious, it may be worth holding back before you state it.  Certainly when your passage obviously pre-figures Christ in some way, it is worth considering holding back on the mention of Christ.

Why?  Three reasons.

First, it is good for the congregation to see that a passage has value in its own right, without having to overtly read it through New Testament glasses that were not available to the original readers.

Second, it is good for the sermon because if the connection is clear, then the listeners will be thinking about that as you go, perhaps wondering if you are missing the obvious.  This added tension can really maintain interest in the sermon.

Third, it is good for you as a preacher, because it allows you to “pack a punch” when that tension is finally resolved.  References throughout the message will add explanation, but will reduce the impact.

For the sake of demonstrating the value of a passage in its own right, for added tension and for added impact, it is often worth holding back the obvious, especially when the obvious is Jesus.

One thought on “Holding Back the Obvious

  1. I’d suggest another reason: sometimes we miss the bigger message of the passage because we’re focussed on the “obvious” reference beyond itself.

    I heard a great sermon this year by someone in my year. They preached on Psalm 8 and found a number of New Testament fulfilments—but never went to Psalm 22. It felt wrong initially, but when we reflected further, it was the right thing to do because Psalm 8 emphasised God’s surprising rule through the weak, whereas Hebrews 2 focuses mainly on the rulership aspect. By not going there, I was forced to see more in the passage than I had realised was there.

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