And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. (Luke 24:27 ESV)
This verse comes at the end of Luke’s gospel as Jesus is walking alongside the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. You know how the story goes. It’s the afternoon of the very first Easter, and two disciples are walking on the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus. As they’re walking, the resurrected Jesus appears alongside of them and strikes up a conversation. They begin talking about the events of the last couple of days, and Jesus begins to expound from the Scriptures that everything that happened occurred as a fulfillment of Scripture. In fact, Jesus gives them a crash course on Biblical theology by demonstrating that the entire OT spoke of him.
Now ponder that for a moment. The OT points to Jesus. That much is obvious. However, more than that, the OT is the promise of which Jesus is the fulfillment. The OT, by itself, is incomplete. The NT, by itself, is incomplete. Both OT and NT together tell one complete story of redemption from Genesis to Revelation. Jesus Christ of Nazareth is the focal point of the entire story.
Most Christians understand this in theory, but not so much in practice. Most lessons and sermons from the OT treat the OT as ‘timeless stories with moral implications.’ An oft-abused example is the story of David and Goliath. When that story is preached or studied, the application almost always reduces to identifying and trusting in God to defeat the ‘giants’ of your life. That’s it? David defeated Goliath to provide inspiration for Christians in the 21st century to trust God in helping them defeat the ‘giants’ of their lives? If you’ve heard that message preached to you, ignore it; it’s wrong! If you’ve preached that message, repent of it; it’s wrong!
Perhaps saying “it’s wrong” is a bit harsh. Principally God does help us get through the trials of life. However, that’s not the point of this passage, and the goal of studying the Bible is to get to the correct interpretation of the passage so we can apply it properly. The David and Goliath story is just one of many stories that are misinterpreted and misunderstood from the OT (e.g., the story of Joseph’s life in Genesis 37 – 50, or the story of Daniel’s life in Daniel 1 – 6 to name a couple). The OT is not a collection of stories from which we can glean moral principles for living a godly life, not principally. The OT is the precursor of the Christ! It sets the table for the drama of redemption. In it we learn who created the heavens and the earth, why the human race is unique and why it fell into sin. We learn why the world is so messed up. Finally, we see what God does to fix the problem. The primary interpretation of any OT passage must be redemptive first and foremost — i.e., how does this passage point to Jesus.
Note what happens when Jesus opens the Scriptures to the two disciples. They exclaim, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” (Luke 24:32). They now understood the whole point of their Scriptures! It was evident to them why Jesus did what he did — why he lived in perfect fulfillment of the law of God, why he died as the Passover Lamb, why he was raised from the dead for our justification — it all made sense now! That’s how it was for me when I began trying to understand the OT as the precursor to Christ. It made reading the OT fresh and vibrant again!
We need to move away from demanding that the Scriptures apply to us (i.e., what does this passage mean to me). Christianity is not about how God fits into our individual stories, but how we fit into God’s story! So much Christian preaching centers on trying to make the Scriptures apply to life in 21st century North America. I believe that’s a backward approach. If all you’re looking for in Christianity is tips for living a better, more fulfilled life in the “here and now,” you’re selling yourself way short. Christianity is about losing our lives in order to save them; it’s all about dying so that we can truly live! It’s all about proclaiming the glories of the Kingdom of God no matter the personal cost. That mindset only comes when we see Christ as the focal point of the Scriptures, and not our self-improvement.
Soli Deo Gloria!