Matthew Y. Emerson, Dickinson Associate Professor of Religion, Hobbs College of Theology and Ministry, Oklahoma Baptist University
More and more these days we hear preachers and teachers tell us that Jesus should be the focal point of our sermons and interpretations. For me, this is a welcome development; I am convinced that this is the way Luke 24:27, 44; John 5:46; and other such passages teach us how to read our Bibles. But even if you’ve been convinced that we should read Scripture with Jesus at the center, most of the time the very next question is, “how?” That is, how do we read our Bibles, and all the individual stories and passages in it, as ultimately about Jesus? Here I want to give two ways to start reading God’s Word centered on Christ.
First, Christ-centered reading begins with understanding that the Bible is one story, with one climactic moment: the person and work of Jesus of Nazareth. Second, Christ-centered reading recognizes that each smaller story within that one larger story individually points to or is fulfilled in Christ as well. In other words, when we understand how the larger story points to Jesus, we can begin to understand how each of the individual stories that make up that grand narrative also point to Jesus.
Typically, the story of the Bible is broken up into four parts: Creation, Fall, Redemption, and New Creation. Without going into too much detail here, this plotline, or drama, recognizes that God made the world as an overflow of his love to show his glory. The center of his creation is his place, and the crowns of his creation are human beings, his image bearers. God intends for them to fill the earth with more image bearers, ruling over his place, cultivating his creation, and obeying his word.
However, after the serpent questions God’s word and God’s love, Adam and Eve listen to the serpent’s voice rather than God. The effects of this Fall into sin include not just Adam and Eve’s relationship with God but also their relationship with each other and with creation itself. Sin’s effects are pervasive and cosmic in scope. But God does not leave his people without hope; he promises to send a redeemer, the Seed of Woman who will crush the serpent’s head, reverse Adam’s curse, and restore all that had been lost in the Fall. The rest of the stories in the Old Testament are a search for this Redeemer; we come to understand that the Seed of Woman will be from the line of Abraham, with whom God makes a covenant that promises to restore all that Adam lost. That Abrahamic covenant and the covenants that follow it (Sinaitic, Davidic, new) are God’s promises to his people, Israel, to save them. The story of Israel is thus the story of God’s promise to redeem the world.
These promises also tell us what to expect when God finally comes on the last day to save his people. The New Testament identifies this Seed as Jesus of Nazareth, God in the flesh come to redeem Israel, restore her from exile, and gather the nations in to be saved through repentance and faith. As we look at the bigger picture of the Bible and see that it culminates in Jesus’ person and work of redemption, then we can also see how each individual story, connected to the covenants, also finds its completion in Christ.