Home > Biblical Theology, Preaching > Redemptive-Historical Preaching and Application, Part 3

Redemptive-Historical Preaching and Application, Part 3

In my second post I laid out some points about how we should tie biblical theology and application together.  I also discussed how the doctrine and application of the Bible are tied together and how both are relevant for us today.  In this post I will provide a few examples of how the New Testament writers understood the Scriptures in a redemptive-historical way and  make relevant applications for their hearers, including us.   

1.) The Second Commandment (Exo 20:4; Deut 5:8).  I have heard numerous sermons on this topic and the typical application for the congregation is asking what idols they have in their lives (e.g., television, sports, your kids, job, etc.)?  However, this kind of application does not consider the command in light of the rest of Scripture, specifically how Jesus fulfills it.  The reason why Israel was commanded not to make a graven image of the Lord is because nothing can accurately replicate God.  Beyond this point is the fact that only one accurately represents God.  Jesus is the only one who can show who God is and what God is like.  Jesus is the image of the invisible God, the radiance of his glory and the exact representation of his nature (Heb 1:3).  Jesus clearly states that to see him is to see the Father (John 14:7-14).  The application is not to challenge people to forsake the idols in their life, but to remind people to see Jesus (John 12:20-26) and to behold him in the pages of Scripture.  The application is to call people to see that what Moses, the great law-giver, could only see in part, we now behold in full glory (Exo 33:12-23; John 1:14-18).  God, who is full of lovingkindness and truth, has now been revealed through Jesus who is lovingkindness and truth.  What a tremendous privilege we have as believers living in a post-resurrection world where we have been given the full revelation of God.  As there was judgment under the old covenant for breaking God’s commandments (in this case the second commandment), how much more judgment awaits those who reject God’s perfect image, Jesus (cf., Heb 2:1-4)?

2.) The Unity of the Church (Amos 9:11-12; Acts 15:1-29).  When I was in seminary I heard a professor take this text in Acts and use it to encourage people to settle their differences over music styles just like the early church settled their differences over the Jew and Gentile relationship.  That sermon was horrible and completely off base.  The entire context of this passage is the difficulty the early church had understanding the place of the Gentiles in God’s plan.  Peter stepped forward and recalled his meeting with Cornelius and related how the Gentiles are now on equal footing with the Jews (cf., Acts 10:34-48).  James stood among the other apostles, the elders, and the saints and stated that the inclusion of the Gentiles was according to Scripture.  The inclusion of the Gentiles means the rebuilding of the house of David.  In other words, the promise in the Old Testament of a house (or temple) for God is not one made of brick and motor, but of people (cf., 2 Sam 7; Hagg 2; Acts 7).  These people who comprise this new temple are both believing Jews and Gentiles (2 Cor 6:14-7:1; Eph 2:17-22; 1 Pet 2:4-10).  The application is not to show how we can settle our differences over music, or the type of carpet a church should buy, or even how we should behave during business meetings.  While it can be difficult to responsibly apply narrative texts, I think we do see that without looking at the entirety of Scripture we cannot properly understand or appreciate what is taking place at the Jerusalem council.  The proper application is to understand what took place at the Jerusalem Council and then develop it further in books like Galatians and Ephesians and point out the tremendous promises we have in Jesus and the great reality of God’s presence with his people.  We, as Gentiles who had no hope, have now been brought near to God by the blood of Jesus.  In response to these magnificent promises let us press on and grow up in Christ because God has given us all things pertaining to life and godliness (2 Pet 1:2-4).  I think we can see a running theme in these first two examples that there is a greatness to the new covenant and what we have in Christ as opposed to those who lived under the old covenant.  The writer of Hebrews is quite clear about the danger and judgment that awaits those who shrink back to the old system and fail to realize that Jesus is the end of the Old Testament.  If we fail to understand the Old Testament, then the promises realized in the New Testament will always seem minuscule.  In other words, we will never rightly understand and apply the Scriptures unless we recognize the hope of those under the old covenant and realize that Jesus has fulfilled this hope and made us who were once strangers and aliens to these promises fellow heirs, fellow members, and fellow partakers of the promise found in him through the gospel (Eph 2:11-3:12).  May we truly savor and meditate on these precious promises found in Jesus. 

3.) Speaking Truth (Zech 8:16; Eph 4:25).  In Zechariah 8:1-17 God is declaring the restoration of his people; a remnant of people who will be blessed by the Lord and never again face his judgment.  As the redeemed people of God this remnant must not devise evil, but hate falsehood and speak truth (Zech 8:16-17).  Although these promises and commands were originally for ethnic Israel, Paul understood that the recipient of these promises and commands is the church (Eph 2-3).  With the dawning of a new age the redeemed remnant of God, which comprises both the Jews and Gentiles, are to reflect their renewed state.  Paul’s quotation of Zechariah 8:16 found in Ephesians 4:25 is not a proof text to support his list of ethical injunctions but much more.  In essence Paul was stating that the church is the true people of God and the recipients of the promises of restoration and renewal (Eph 2-3).  If the church is the recipient of these magnificent promises then the church must also reflect what was foretold about this redeemed eschatological community in the book of Zechariah, which is laying aside falsehood and speaking truth to each other.  The application is not an abstract command to simply speak truth, but there is an entire redemptive-historical context to Paul’s command.  Paul was calling these Ephesian Christians to live as the redeemed people of God.  Paul was calling these Ephesian Christians to live a life that reflected their fellowship in the Old Testament promises.  As we share the same eschatological plane as these Ephesian Christians, we, too, are to live in the present reality of what it means to be God’s new people.  As God’s new people we now have the ability to speak truth and hate falsehood.  As God’s new people we need to put on the new self, which is the likeness of God created in righteousness and holiness of the truth (Eph 4:24).  The application is already made for us by Paul; we just have to be responsible to understand the context of his argument and the basis for his ethical injunction in light of the grander scheme of redemptive-history.

4.) Marriage (Gen 2:24; Eph 5:22-32).  In this final example I want to be very sensitive to people reading this post.  The Bible has a lot to say about marriage, so preaching on marriage is not wrong.  A lot of my concern involves Christian radio, television, and literature that focus only on family and marriage issues at the expense of teaching the Bible and the gospel.  The number one Christian radio show in America is Focus on the Family.  It is not that discussing matters of family and marriage are inherently wrong, but the title itself “Focus on the Family” is problematic because the focus is on something other than Jesus and the Gospel.  Ephesians 5:22-32 is the classic text to discuss marriage and family issues.  I have heard a plethora of sermons through the years on this text and how husbands should love their wives and how wives should submit to their husbands.  Again, there is nothing untrue here, but Ephesians 5:22-32 is first and foremost a text about Christ and his church, not marriage.  In Ephesians Paul has been establishing the great salvation God has accomplished in Jesus and how that salvation and the promises associated with it are for both Jews and Gentiles equally (Eph 1-3).  Paul’s prayer is that the church may understand the depth of God’s love and grasp the full knowledge of Christ (Eph 3:14-21).  Paul lays out how God has given gifts to men for the building up and growth of the church so that it will grow up in all aspects of Christ (Eph 4:1-16).  As I mentioned in the last post many people view Paul’s letters as providing the theology first and then application second.  It would be easy to make this assertion with Ephesians.  It appears that Paul gives all the theology in chapters one through three and then gives the application in chapters four through six.  However, Paul’s application is never divorced from his theology.  All of Ephesians is a theological discourse about Christ and his church.  Paul is not discussing the relationship between a husband and wife and then hopes to find a good illustration to make his point, which is Christ and his church.  Rather, marriage is the illustration of Christ and his church, not the other way around.  The first marriage (Gen 2:24) was always a type of the way Christ would relate to his church.  Paul makes it very clear that Ephesians 5:22-32 is about Christ and his church when he calls this relationship a great mystery.  The mystery is not a man and a woman coming together in marriage, but the profound mystery is that marriage represented, even from the beginning of time, the relationship between Christ and the church.  This mystery has now been revealed in the fullness of time (Eph 5:32).  Is it wrong to preach on marriage? Of course not.  However, if we do not understand marriage as the Bible understands marriage (the relationship between Christ and his church) and if we do not set marriage within the larger context of God’s redemptive purposes, then our applications about marriage will be ordinary and insufficient.

My desire with these series of posts has been to show that preaching in a redemptive-historical fashion is not devoid of or antithetical to application.  It is my belief that a redemptive-historical perspective draws out proper applications that are concerned with the truth of the gospel and its work in the life of a believer.  We don’t need to create other applications because the Scriptures are sufficient and deal with our most basic problems.  The doctrines and applications revealed in the New Testament are the same for us today.   Therefore, we should be faithful to teach the Scriptures, nothing more and nothing less and pray that the Spirit apply these truths to our hearts and minds. 

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  1. Jason Jolly
    May 8, 2007 at 9:00 am

    I just finished reading this 3-part series. Thank you for posting these. As you know, I am in agreement with you in your understanding of Redemptive-History and the need for a solid Biblical-Theological hermeneutic. I appreciate your thoughts on Preaching and Application. Once we know the meaning of the passage in its own redemptive-historical context, only then can we rightly draw meaningful conclusions (applications)for us. The Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ is the underlying perspective of Scripture and rightly understanding any passage of Scripture in light of its overall purpose (to show us Christ and the summing up of all things in Him!) is the foundation for meaningful application to our own souls. We must not divorce our “application” from the Gospel. Thanks for taking the time to post. I enjoy the reading very much!

  2. Chad
    May 8, 2007 at 8:38 pm

    Jason,

    I am glad you enjoyed the posts. I hope they prove helpful to many others.

    Chad

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