Bible, Gospel Spirituality, Jesus, Preaching

The Prophets, Jesus, and Justice

How does Jesus relate to justice? Two extremes should be avoided when answering this question. One extreme argues that Jesus has nothing to do with justice. Another extreme answer is that Jesus is primarily about justice.


Of course, the terms should be defined. What is justice? Today the term “social justice” is thrown around. Technically, social justice is about the unfair distribution of wealth or opportunity or privilege in a society. Did Jesus care about the fair distribution of wealth? Was he a revolutionary who came to bring about a classless society? Does he have anything to say regarding topics like white privilege?

Again, one extreme would argue that if this is the meaning of justice then Jesus has nothing to do with justice. However, again, another extreme would argue that Jesus was primarily concerned with bringing about a more just society.

Preachers have long turned to the prophets in order to speak to justice. For example, the great civil rights preacher Martin Luther King Jr. regularly turned to the prophets for images in his sermons. He quoted Amos 5:24 in his “I Have a Dream” speech when he said he would not be satisfied until “justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.” In the same speech he referenced Isaiah 40:4-5 when he spoke of a dream where “every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.” In his “Letter From a Birmingham Jail” he wrote, “I am in Birmingham because injustice is here. Just as the eighth-century prophets left their little villages and carried their ‘thus saith the Lord’ far beyond the boundaries of their hometowns.” Further, the night before he died, he preached at Memphis’ Masonic Temple and said, “But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And he’s allowed me to go to the mountain, and I’ve looked over. And I have seen the Promised Land.”

It is natural and right for Christians to go to those images and to the prophets when advocating for justice. After all, the prophets did more forthtelling than foretelling. Their voices still ring in the face of contemporary injustices. Following the example of Martin Luther King Jr., preachers should use their voices to advocate for a more just society. But it matters how we use those passages. Sound hermeneutical principles and biblical theology still apply when preaching the prophets. Contemporary preachers must demonstrate how they get from a verse like Amos 5:24 to tax policy.

For example, Micah 6:8 reads, “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” The social justice warriors love the “do justice” part of this verse. They are right that this verse has something to say regarding tort reform and length of jail sentences. However, do social justice warriors have the same love for the “love kindness” and “walk humbly with your God” parts? Further, what does it mean to “walk humbly with your God?” Even further still, how does walking humbly with God relate to doing justice? Sound hermeneutical principles and biblical theology help answer those questions.

You see, the way Jesus relates to justice is through a Christocentric interpretation and application of the prophets. When Jesus was given the chance to interpret “all the Prophets” (Luke 24:27) he interpreted them according to himself and his works. Luke 24:27 says he interpreted the prophets “concerning himself.” He did not interpret the prophets disconnected from himself and his gospel works.

Likewise, when contemporary preachers try to jump from Micah 6:8 to marginal tax rates, they must first connect Micah 6:8 to Jesus and the gospel. For example, what does it mean to “walk humbly with your God?” Romans 6:4 says, “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised form the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” A preacher cannot go straight from Micah 6:8 to tax codes without first addressing our new life in Christ. The interpretation and application are more profound than just voting a certain way. Faithful preaching on justice must include clarity on how someone is born again through faith in Christ and then how they live new lives united to Christ.

Does Jesus have something to say about injustices? Yes, but it is more profound than a political rant to vote a particular issue. Jesus’ ethics are connected to his person and works. He wants us to work for justice, but according to our new life in him. Further, true humility toward God recognizes that he is the only one to really bring about perfect lasting justice. Eternal justice will not ultimately come until he returns. However, the call is to work for it here while we are here. But, when preaching the prophets, never forget that something glorious happened after the prophets that gives new illumination to the prophets. Jesus does speak to injustice, but his sermon is more beautiful radical and profound than any politician’s speech.

Bible, Jesus, Preaching

Preach Jesus from the Old Testament

Sight is a clear literary theme in the Road to Emmaus story (Luke 24:13-35). Cleopas and his buddies saw Jesus, but don’t really see him. They saw a man coming down the road. They had an in-depth conversation with him as they walked together. However, they don’t perceive that the man was Jesus. They don’t see Jesus, even though they most likely knew him before Jesus’ death and resurrection. They had certainly seen him teach and knew what he looked like. Their lack of perception that the man was Jesus is connected to their lack of spiritual perception. They physically didn’t recognize him, and they also spiritually didn’t recognize him. What is so terrifying about the Road to Emmaus account is that these men claimed to be followers of Christ! The Road to Emmaus story teaches us that even Christians might now fully perceive Jesus.


This reality is no truer than when we are studying and preaching the Old Testament. It is easy to see Jesus in the Gospel narratives. It is red meat for a pastor to preach Christ from an epistle like Galatians. However, Jesus is harder to see in books like Joel or Haggai. However, the command to “preach the Word” (2 Timothy 4:2) and Jesus’ example on the Road to Emmaus call us to preach Christ from the Old Testament.

Paul famously told his younger disciple to “preach the Word” (2 Timothy 4:2). Every pastor should heed this command. Every pastor has a call on his life to preach or proclaim the Word. Of course, that begs the question, “what is the Word?” John 1:1 calls Jesus the Word. All of Scripture can be understood as God’s communication or Word (2 Timothy 3:16). The Word can be understood as the good news or the gospel. However, all three of these aspects of the meaning of the Word are intertwined. Jesus cannot be rightly understood separate from the whole counsel of God or the gospel. The Bible as a whole must be understood according to the person and work of Christ, specifically the good news of salvation through faith in his atoning work on the cross. The gospel is only good news unless it is linked to both the Old and New Testaments. As a result, Timothy (and contemporary pastors) are to preach the Bible, the gospel, and Jesus. Further, we are to intertwine them in our preaching.

Jesus models this approach on the Road to Emmaus. Luke 24:27 says, “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” Of course, this verse cannot mean a couple of obvious things. First, Jesus did not read the entire Old Testament and show how each verse concerned him. He simply would not have had the time to it. Second, clearly not every verse in the Old Testament was some sort of direct reference or foretelling prophecy about Jesus. However, Luke 24:27 does provide a broad interpretive grid by which Jesus understood each genre of the Old Testament. At some level, and maybe it was a broad macro level, every passage points to Jesus. Every passage from Genesis to Malachi says something concerning Jesus. At least that is how Jesus saw it!

The fun twist to the Road to Emmaus story is that when Jesus showed them how to see Jesus in the Old Testament, the men were then able to see Jesus physically. In other words, interpreting Christ from the books of Moses and the Prophets is how we actually perceive Christ. Tomes are written on how to preach like Jesus and interpret Christ from the Old Testament. There are certainly appropriate ways to do it and inappropriate ways to do it. However, the general principle is that when pastors preach the Old Testament, they are to preach Jesus.

Bible, Gospel Spirituality, Preaching

Preach Hard Books

Brothers, preach hard books. During our church’s new members class our pastors make the case for expository preaching. It is one of our church’s deepest convictions. During the class we explain our strategy of preaching from both Old Testament and New Testament books. We talk about the importance we place on preaching the Psalms and the Gospels. I always add we want to be experts on Jesus and we want to be a worshipping people. But we also explain that expository preaching actually protects the church from the pastor. Eyes usually get big at the thought. However, we explain how every pastor has soap boxes. Further, every pastor has texts and truths he tends to avoid. Therefore, preaching the whole counsel of God protects the church from a pastor’s soap boxes as well as forces him into truths he might otherwise avoid.


That is how expository preaching should work in an ideal world. However, that is not always the case. For example, I attended a seminary that had an amazing class that was an in-depth exegesis of the book of Ephesians. We all joked how pastors from that seminary taught heavily from Ephesians at their first pastorate. However, many times, hard books are overlooked. For example, book like Ephesians is profound but also linear in its logic, but what about Isaiah? I assume many pastors prefer to preach an easier to understand book like Ephesians over the swirling imagery of Isaiah. Calvinists love Romans, but might be tempted to preach less from the warning passages in Hebrews. Arminian leaning brothers might love the Gospel of John, but find it more difficult to preach Romans or Ephesians. It is a mark of a mature pastor and a healthy church if sermons are preached from hard books. This claim is true for a number of reasons.

First, preaching hard books demonstrates a commitment to the authority and power of the Word. Malachi is “God breathed” (2 Timothy 3:16) just like Luke. Isaiah is “living and active” (Hebrews 4:12) just like Galatians. When pastors preach hard books, it demonstrates the authority of God’s Word to the church. It helps people understand how to apply those texts to their lives. By preaching hard passages I have seen our people embrace all of God’s Word and not just cherry pick well known texts. When God’s people understand and apply God’s Word, they also unleash its power. By preaching difficult books like Micah, it opens the flood gates of God’s power. I have seen God do powerful things in the lives of his people when they reflect on rarely studied texts.

Second, preaching hard books spiritually grows the pastor and the congregation. I’m reformed and preaching the warning passages from Hebrews has forced me to do the hard work of clarifying my theology in light of God’s Word. By preaching those passages I grew by creating in my spiritual life a place for genuine warning. I emphasize God’s grace, but I also shouldn’t avoid a genuine call to fear the Lord. Our church was greatly challenged by our study of the book of Micah. The paradoxical Day of the Lord is a consistent theme in Micah’s book. The Day of the Lord became a hope and a motivation for our church. Personally, I have benefited from doing the challenging work of wadding into hard passages, but more importantly our church has also spiritually matured.

Third, preaching hard books illumines a beautiful and lofty gospel. Brothers, I’m with you in having soap boxes. Particular themes and passages stir my soul over and over again. However, if I stick to my tried-and-true texts I limit the beauty of the gospel for myself and our church. For example, diving into the prophet’s foreshadowing prophecies about Jesus was like holding up a diamond to the light and examining its beauty from multiple angles. We might have head knowledge of certain truths, but preaching even the hard texts helps us ponder afresh stirring of the gospel. Further, I’ve found hard texts broaden my understanding in a way that makes the gospel loftier and God more glorious. For example, OT narratives can provide layers of meaning that protect us from putting God in a box.

Years ago, I heard an older pastor say that he tries to bounce back and forth from the Old Testament to the New Testament in his expositional series. Initially his approach seemed too formulaic to me. However, as years have passed, I have found that pattern helps me into difficult Old Testament books that I might naturally avoid. Preaching those hard texts have helped me see how God’s Word is truly powerful to save and sanctify. Preaching those hard texts have matured me and our church. Preaching those hard texts have given us a delight in the God of the gospel.