So far we have thought about the need to read the Old Testament and to go back to study the source of a quotation. We looked at a specific example (Psalm 82:6 in John 10:34). What do we do when we have limited time in the sermon?
1. Do the study yourself, even if you don’t plan to preach about it. Taking the time to study an OT quote, reference, allusion or whatever will always benefit you. You need to be studying the Bible at a deeper level than you are communicating it to others. Too many preachers try to sound more informed than they are – that is dangerously thin ice to skate on. Study deeper than you preach.
2. Evaluate how significant a full explanation of the quote will be in communicating the main idea of your preaching passage. Perhaps you have a passage that is built on a single Old Testament quote and it would be worth taking the listeners back to the quote (you could project it so they don’t get lost flipping pages). It may be worth taking them through a simplified process of pondering the context, the meaning back there, how that carries over and informs the NT passage, etc. It may be appropriate to be interactive in this process, inviting them to think out loud with you. There are lots of possibilities, however, this will not be possible or helpful with every OT quote you preach.
3. Recognize that there are multiple levels of explanation. Sometimes it is possible and helpful to go back and look at the quote in its context. Sometimes that would take too much time, or it would take away too much focus from the passage you are preaching. It is possible to explain an Old Testament quote verbally in 10 seconds, or 30 seconds, or two minutes, etc. It is possible to give the bottom line of your study, such as, “if we were to take the time to go back and look at that quote, we would see that the whole section in Ezekiel is a rebuke of Israel’s failed leadership . . . which is what Jesus is critiquing here as he points to himself as the Good Shepherd, etc.” (This is thinking more of early John 10 and the Ezekiel 34 background.) You have lots of options, from not even noticing it is a quote or allusion, to doing the full process with your listeners. Choose appropriately.
4. Remember that your listeners need encouragement to enjoy the Bible for themselves. While you may not have the time to go back and look, it doesn’t hurt to suggest that people do that themselves. Too often listeners feel the Bible is out of their reach and only the preacher can dispense the goods. Too often listeners feel there is some kind of subjectivity and magic worked when preachers explain passages. Encourage your listeners to go digging. Encouragement combined with some good examples may motivate them to go back into the Old Testament for themselves!