To grow as preachers, I believe we need to develop several internal radars. Think of a radar as an early warning system that beeps when there is an issue in the vicinity. To be without any radar is to be dangerously naïve. This week I plan to work through five radars we can prayerfully develop in our preaching:
Radar 1. Old Testament Radar (in your text)
Sometimes Bible writers flag up their use of earlier texts, “to fulfil what was written…” Often they simply allude to, or hint at, biblical texts that are feeding into their thought. Biblical writers typically assumed that their readers would have a full Jewish familiarity with the Old Testament, but most of us do not have anything like a full Jewish familiarity with the Old Testament. Hence we need to develop the radar. Unless we do, we will miss a lot of what is sitting in the sermon text before us.
I am not suggesting that every sermon should fully develop every earlier biblical allusion in the preaching text. I am suggesting that a preacher who is unaware of how earlier texts inform and shape the preaching text will struggle to be a good steward of the preaching text. The best preachers do not say everything there is to say, and they do speak with clarity and simplicity. Please preach with clarity and simplicity, but with clarity built on the richest and most determined exegetical study already under your belt. This means lots of things, but it must include a growing awareness of earlier texts assumed by the writer of the preaching text.
For example . . . think about John 3:1-16, Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus. Nic knew his Bible, but was treated as unqualified for conversation about spiritual matters. In the course of the conversation the text is picking up on Ezekiel 36, Deuteronomy 29, Numbers 21, and perhaps the overarching backdrop – Genesis 3 . . . (is Nicodemus dead and needing a new birth, or not?)
How do we develop this radar? Two suggestions:
A. Read the whole Bible, a lot. There is no tool that can compensate for a lack of personal intimacy with the Word of God. Prayerfully and purposefully devour the Scriptures as if they are the most precious gift you have.
B. Double check you haven’t missed something with good commentators. We need the benefit of the community of God’s people and good commentators are a real blessing. At the same time, many do miss the influence of earlier texts and so shouldn’t be relied upon apart from A, above.
Tomorrow I will offer another radar I believe we all need to see developed in our lives.