How to Preach from the Old Testament

Preachers struggle to preach from the Old Testament and relate it to our lives. The fact that we are Christians living under the new covenant makes it seem irrelevant. Some of its books and passages seem to have no lasting value for us. As a result, it is neglected or assigned a minimal role in many preaching calendars.

But it is imperative that we learn how to preach from the Old Testament. It is the source of New Testament theology and Christian instruction. Although we are no longer under its regulations, it remains the Word of God and has lasting value for the people of God today.

How to Not Preach from the Old Testament
We typically use a self-focused approach to preach from the Old Testament. This approach looks like this:

Old Testament -> My life

We compare its characters to ourselves and try to find the moral of its stories. But this approach is unsatisfying because it has no power to change our lives. We must strive to preach from the Old Testament as the New Testament does – with a Jesus-centered approach.

How to Preach from the Old Testament
Here are a few ways to preach the Old Testament using a Jesus-centered approach:

  • Major Characters. The New Testament compares major characters from the Old Testament to Jesus. God often makes promises about Jesus to and through these characters. Their lives and careers also serve as previews of His life and ministry. When we preach about Adam, Noah, Abraham, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, Samuel, David, Solomon, Elijah, Ezra, or Nehemiah, we must compare them to Jesus rather than ourselves.
  • Patterns & Themes. The New Testament also draws upon Old Testament concepts and finds their fulfillment in Jesus. When a comparison between Jesus and a major character is unavailable, find a pattern or theme that continues into the New Testament. See how it runs through and relates to His life and ministry. When we preach about sacrifice, covenant, kingdom, worship, or deliverance, we must consider how He fulfills and redefines them.
  • Nation of Israel. Since the New Testament compares Israel’s leaders to Jesus, we must also compare the nation of Israel to the church. Just as the Israelites are God’s people under the old covenant, so Christians are His people under the new covenant. Jesus ministers to us in many of the ways that Israel’s leaders ministered to them. And the lessons Israel learned while following their leaders are instructive for us as we follow Jesus.
  • Big Picture. We tend to divide Old Testament books into separate stories and find unrelated lessons from each one. But the New Testament gives meaning to whole books and entire periods of history. We must gain this perspective before applying it to ourselves individually. We must submit our understanding of each story to the New Testament’s understanding of the entire book. And we must submit our individual identity as persons of God to our corporate identity as the people of God.

So a proper, Jesus-centered approach to preaching from the Old Testament looks like this:

Old Testament -> Jesus’ life -> My life

Do you think we should preach from the Old Testament? Why or why not? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment below!

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