Is Jesus Really the Hero of Every Text?

by Mike Leake on January 27, 2014 · 19 comments

The inquisitive lads look at me like a little dog when he knows you are getting ready to drop treats in his bowl. I’m so happy that they are this hungry. We’re learning how to study the Bible better and they are soaking it up.

“Jesus is the hero of every text”, I inform them. Then I go about showing how this is the case and how to find Jesus in texts of the Old Testament.

Then one of our guys goes home and decides he wants to apply what he has been learning to 1 Chronicles 16:4-7:

Then he appointed some of the Levites as ministers before the ark of the Lord, to invoke, to thank, and to praise the Lord, the God of Israel.Asaph was the chief, and second to him were Zechariah, Jeiel, Shemiramoth, Jehiel, Mattithiah, Eliab, Benaiah, Obed-edom, and Jeiel, who were to play harps and lyres; Asaph was to sound the cymbals, and Benaiah and Jahaziel the priests were to blow trumpets regularly before the ark of the covenant of God. Then on that day David first appointed that thanksgiving be sung to the Lord by Asaph and his brothers.

“Uhhh, I think I’m doing something wrong”

This poor chap poured over this passage of Scripture for a good length of time trying to find Jesus. I think he eventually settled on something about thanksgiving and Jesus being the reason why we are thankful. Not too shabby—but certainly not the point of the text.

With a hint of frustration he came to me for an answer. Mike, I think I’m doing something wrong. Where in the world is Jesus here in 1 Chronicles? How is He the hero of this text…?

I stuttered and stammered. “Well…bud…He is….but not quite here…but He is…uhhhh, I think I’m doing something wrong”.

The Peril of Versification

I am so thankful that our Bibles have verses. For one, it’d make it really tough for athletes like Tim Tebow to write out whole verses in eye-black. Secondly, it’s handy for memorization and to get people on the same page. But the versification of the Bible is terrible for doing biblical theology.

You can’t see how Jesus is the hero of 1 Chronicles 16:4-7 because you are missing the story. Consider this:

The pharmacy of the hospital, a small building which had been added to the house, and abutted on the garden, had been transformed into a kitchen and cellar. In addition to this, there was in the garden a stable, which had formerly been the kitchen of the hospital, and in which the Bishop kept two cows. No matter what the quantity of milk they gave, he invariably sent half of it every morning to the sick people in the hospital. “I am paying my tithes,” he said.

You probably didn’t even read all of that. You got bored. Why? For one, it’s divorced from the larger story. (Care to admit that you feel that way in 1 Chronicles as well?) Now, let me ask you who is the hero of that text?

It’s from Les Miserables. Jean Valjean is the hero of that story. (Or is it the priest that taught him grace?) If I were to pull this paragraph out of Les Mis, and have you identify how Jean Valjean is the hero, you’d be confused. You need the whole story not just a snippet. The same is true of Scripture.

How My Approach Has Changed

I’ve changed the way that I teach people to study the Scriptures. I’ve found that saying things like “Jesus is the hero of every text” isn’t helpful. It causes people to miss the forest for the trees. Instead we ought to read as much of a textual unit that we can and try to understand the main point.

First and foremost we need to ask, “Why did the author of 1 Chronicles include this”? When we get an idea of the answer to that question we are better prepared to answer the question of how it relates to Jesus.

The author of 1 Chronicles includes this passage because he wants to root Israelite worship in history. It’s written to post-exilic Israel. They need to be reminded of how the people of God are to worship. Ultimately, we will see this question answered in Jesus Christ. It is through him that all nations will worship, and not on a mountain, but in spirit and truth.

Is Jesus the hero of every text? In a roundabout way, yes. But perhaps it’s better to say that Jesus is the hero of the story of the Bible. Maybe you could even say that Jesus is the hero of every textual unit. But it’s probably not as helpful to simply say that he is the hero of every text. Otherwise you get people staring at 1 Chronicles 16:4-7 for two hours trying to find Jesus.

{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

1 David R. Brumbelow January 27, 2014 at 6:05 pm

How about,
The Old Testament points toward Jesus.
The Gospels reveal Him.
Acts and the Epistles point back to Him.
Jesus is the central theme of the Bible.

I agree that forcing Jesus into every text or verse is going a little too far.
But we can always conclude with Jesus and the Gospel, with the preaching of most any text.
David R. Brumbelow

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2 Rick Patrick January 27, 2014 at 6:18 pm

Amen and Amen. Thank you, Mike. Redemptive-Historical preaching is a helpful tool in the box, but does not always contribute to preaching the entirety of Scripture. Find Jesus in Genesis 34 when Shechem rapes Dinah and Jacob’s sons deceive all the Shechemites into being circumcised so they are writhing in pain when Simeon and Levi kill every last one and take their possessions as plunder. Thanks for bringing balance and perspective.

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3 Jeff January 27, 2014 at 9:19 pm

The massacre at Shechem results in the second-born and third-born Simeon and Levi being disinherited (Genesis 49:5-7). Since the first-born Reuben will be disinherited for what he does in Genesis 35 (49:3-4), then the fourth-born Judah will receive the blessing (49:8-12), and ultimately this blessing would find its fulfillment in Jesus. The deprivation of an inheritance would enable the Levites to serve as priests scattered throughout the land of Israel. The Levites would teach the law of God which would cause people to see their need for a Redeemer to save them from their sins, and the Levites would perform the sacrifices that pointed towards the death of this Redeemer for all who would repent of their sins and trust in him.

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4 Rick Patrick January 27, 2014 at 10:05 pm

A very intelligent tracing of history, Jeff. That was certainly well done.

And yet, while I do not mean to diminish your observations in any way, they strike me as more of a footnote, albeit one worth mentioning, than the primary thrust of the narrative.

It’s really asking a lot of a reader to expect them to digest a story about rape, lies, massacre and plunder, and come away with, “This forfeiture by Levi of his inheritance paved the way for his descendants to teach the law, sacrifice animals and prepare the world for the coming of the Messiah. It’s all about Jesus.”

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5 Randy McLendon January 27, 2014 at 10:24 pm

Rick, I’m curious as to what you might say would be the primary thrust of the narrative.

Thanks,

randy

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6 Rick Patrick January 27, 2014 at 11:30 pm

In an appropriate adult setting, I might address the issues as they appear in the context of this Bible book–lust, rape, sex crimes, greed, lying, selfishness, revenge, vigilante justice, theft, the law of non-retaliation and possibly conflict escalation. These issues have not gone anywhere and are still relevant in our day, requiring the application of biblical wisdom.

I would, of course, try to mention some of the ramifications Jeff so eloquently discussed, and I would certainly present Jesus as the One who gives us the power to forgive others since He has forgiven us, and who delivers us from executing justice ourselves because He is the One True Judge. Rest assured, there would be plenty of Jesus in my sermon, particularly as I transitioned into the invitation–I just would not view this specific passage as being primarily about Jesus. He does not seem to be the hero in this tragic, non-heroic passage, which frankly does not seem to have one.

7 Mike Leake January 27, 2014 at 10:56 pm

I’d likely do something similar to what I’d do say about Judges 19. http://www.mikeleake.net/2012/10/where-is-jesus-in-judges-19.html

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8 Christiane January 27, 2014 at 6:23 pm

” The New Testament lies hidden in the Old
and the Old Testament is unveiled in the New”

(St. Augustine)

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9 Dee Stover January 28, 2014 at 1:11 pm

Augustine is on to something. Jesus is hidden and it is our job to ask the Lord to show us where He is. It is the glory of God to conceal a thing and the glory of kings to search it out (Pr. 25:2). The Bereans obviously found Jesus and all the apostle’s teachings all over the Old Testament otherwise they would not have followed at all. It is on us to find it there…or reject it. I believe the Bible has as many layers as the creation if it was truly inspired by the Creator. Let us start peeling and letting God reveal it to us. Clue #1 Numbers mean more in Hebrew than in English. #2 Names really meant something in Hebrew and every list of names or places tells a story we are to know. #3 Every letter was a picture and had meaning alone and as a building block for a word. #4 Hebrew has unique literary structures which mnemonic devices (chiastic structures and parallelisms, etc.) and which were also used to link different stories together to let us know they should be given consideration together as a unit even when in different parts of the Bible such as chiastic structures. These may include all the ‘say you are my sister’ stories, all the stories where a child dies or appears to die or would have died and is raised or saved from death or as in Japheth’s daughter it is ambiguous, etc. #5 Different people and structures in the Old Testament are ‘types’ of Messiah…Adam, Joseph, Joshua, DAVID, the Tabernacle itself, etc.

These are just off the top of my head. I’m sure there are more. Have at it. Jesus IS there. Question is actually how many layers is He in and can a human exhaust the possibilities? I don’t think this is something to do just to see how much we can know. But when you have a question ask God and be willing to allow Him to use all the layers He has put there.

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10 Todd Benkert January 27, 2014 at 8:45 pm

Thanks, Mike! This is a helpful post.

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11 Dave Miller January 28, 2014 at 12:54 am

I’ve worked through this issue quite a bit. I find this comment from Mike to be perhaps the most helpful summary of the subject.

“But perhaps it’s better to say that Jesus is the hero of the story of the Bible. Maybe you could even say that Jesus is the hero of every textual unit. But it’s probably not as helpful to simply say that he is the hero of every text.”

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12 cb scott January 28, 2014 at 12:55 am

Yep.

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13 Todd Benkert January 28, 2014 at 8:46 am

While the “Jesus is the hero” standard may be difficult to maintain in preaching, I do look for the bridge to the gospel in every text and never preach a sermon without a clear presentation of the message of Christ (and not just disjointedly tagged on at the end).

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14 Mike Leake January 28, 2014 at 10:03 am

Absolutely. I’m still exploring this but I believe there is a little different approach that we would take in a sermon than what we would take in training people in personal Bible study. Perhaps a different emphasis.

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15 Bill Mac January 28, 2014 at 10:29 am

Jesus is not, and does not need to be the hero of every text. But as Rick said, no sermon should end with anything but Jesus. Jesus is not the point of every text but he should be the point of every sermon.

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16 Mike Leake January 28, 2014 at 10:38 am

Wouldn’t that mean that we aren’t preaching the point of the text as the point of our sermon?

I doubt we disagree, I’m just curious as to how you’d answer that question.

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17 Bill Mac January 28, 2014 at 12:01 pm

Mike,

I think you hit on it in your comment to Todd. The point of the text can be a point in the sermon, but not the main point. If you preach about the badness of rape and leave it at that, well then I don’t think you’ve preached a sermon at all, just given a lesson on morality, kind of like a human veggie tale.

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18 Tarheel January 28, 2014 at 1:15 pm

I see the points being made, and I largely agree. Force feeding “hero Jesus” into every verse without proper context is not helpful and at least potentially confusing. I agree with the comment in the opening post that it might be better said that “Jesus is the hero of every textual unit’ might be more accurate and helpful.

However, we also need to be diligent to not ignore that all of scripture’s focal point is in fact Christ (Let me be clear; I do not think that is the intent of the original post) and the coming reconciliation of all things to the Father, through Him….that ‘gospel thrust’ has to the be the focal point of all preaching and teaching, I think.

Otherwise, maybe most often with OT narratives, we can end up with moralistic messages, as aptly described above as veggie tales, and lacking in faithful biblical exposition of the whole counsel of God.

Nothing wrong with veggie tales, as long as we understand what they are…moralistic teachings…they have their place. However, IMO there is something greatly wrong and inappropriate with moralistic preaching and teaching within the church.

Example…a friend and I often laugh (maybe to keep from crying and getting angry) at much the teaching material for children and students that is on the market today…there are various reasons that we do this…but one example I think is especially appropriate here…

One such student material spent an entire lesson explaining that the narrative of Joseph and his brothers was focused on Joseph being “thrifty” because he stored up grains and was able to turn around and help people later because he was ‘faithfully thrifty”. The application was that we all need to be ‘thrifty”. I think we all agree that this ‘teaching’ missed the overarching point of the passage entirely and leaves kids with a shallow and deeply flawed concept of scripture. That these stories in the OT are disjointed tales of morality or even God’s faithfulness but not really connected with the NT, or more specifically Jesus and His work.

I could give examples of moralistically based teachings associated with the scriptural narratives of Noah, Abraham, Lot, Rahab, David, Esther, Ruth and others…

I also know that there is lots of adult material on the market doing the same things.

Nothing wrong with teaching morals, we should do that obviously…but if morals is all that we are teaching (like the “thrifty Joseph” mentioned above) then I feel that we have missed the preaching of the gospel boat altogether.

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