Must Every Sermon Get to Christ? Luke 24

Learning from Jesus Along the Emmaus Road

Luke 24:25-27

The account of Luke 24:13-35 may be summarized as follows: On the day of Jesus’ resurrection Cleopas and one other person were traveling from Jerusalem to Emmaus, a village located about 7 miles from Jerusalem. As they conversed about the crucifixion and empty tomb events, Jesus joined them on their journey; however, the two travelers did not recognize him. When this stranger asked what they were talking about, they recounted the Jerusalem events including their confusion and dashed hope that Jesus was the promised Messiah as well as the perplexing report that Jesus was alive. Jesus responded to them by rebuking them for failing to believe the Scriptures regarding the Christ and then instructing them regarding these Scriptures as they continued their journey. When they arrived at Emmaus, Jesus stayed with them briefly before suddenly vanishing.  Only then did they realize that the stranger was Jesus. The two disciples were so excited that they immediately returned to Jerusalem to share their experience with the other disciples.

I offer a few observations about this passage.

Verses 25-26 record Jesus’ declaration that the Old Testament prophets taught that the coming Messiah would suffer and that this should be commonly known by those familiar with the Old Testament. Apparently Jesus had in mind more than one specific writing. 

Jesus’ teaching is then described in verse 27. “Then beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures.” (NAU). Does this description mean that Jesus interpreted the entire Pentateuch and all the Prophets on the trip to Emmaus? Does this further mean that Jesus taught that every Scripture was about him? Or, is this description saying that Jesus interpreted only the Scriptures that were directly about him? And, does this further mean that not every Scripture is about him? Several factors might be helpful in answering these questions.

A translation of verses 25-27 might be as follows:

25 And he said toward them, oh foolish and slow of heart to believe on the basis of all things spoken (by) the prophets 26 was it not necessary for the Christ to suffer and to come into his glory? 27 And, after having began from Moses and from all of the prophets he explained to them in all the writings the things concerning himself.

Clearly, the movement in v 27 from “Moses” to “the prophets” to “the Scriptures” suggests that the panorama of Jesus’ teaching extended to every category of the Old Testament. “ After beginning” (aorist participle) with Moses he included other Scriptures in his interpretation. 

The verb “explained” (διερμηνεύω) is used 6 times in New Testament meaning to explain, interpret, or translate (Gingrich 49).  The object of “explained” is clearly “the things” (accusative). These “things” are identified as those “concerning himself”, and they are located “in all the Scriptures.”  So, Luke informs us that Jesus explained the things concerning himself that were found in all the Scriptures. Thus, Jesus explained statements about himself that were located throughout every category of the Old Testament writings. Luke is not suggesting that every Scripture refers to Jesus and thus that Jesus explained every Scripture. The object is the “things” not the “Scriptures”. The verse does not read, “he interpreted all Scriptures.” Consequently, Marshall concludes that Jesus “…chose out those passages which might be regarded as “messianic” and then proceeded to show how they should be understood, so that they could now “speak” to the disciples.” (New International Greek Testament Commentary, Luke p 897). 

Further, It is unreasonable to conclude that Jesus explained every Scripture in the time he was with the disciples on the road. However, he could have easily explained selected Scriptures. Indeed, Luke uses the aorist of “explained” likely indicating that he finished explaining. If he wanted to indicate that Jesus stopped without finishing he could have used the  imperfect, “he was explaining” (see Lenski, The Gospel of Luke  p 1190). So for instance, Luke uses imperfects to record the recollections of the two persons who walked with Jesus (v 32). Regardless, not every passage was explained. 

An interesting alternative suggested by Alford is that v 27 must be talking about the Old Testament taken as a whole rather than individual passages. Jesus did not teach specific passages but explained that the Old Testament generally refers to him (Alford, The Greek New Testament, vol 1, p 670).  This may be what Poythress has in mind in the article Overview of the Bible: a Survey of the History of Salvation p 23 in the ESV Study Bible. This goes a step beyond Geldenhuys’ statement that Jesus “expounded to them in broad outline form all the Scriptures that referred to Him.” (Geldenhuys NICNT Luke p 634). 

So also, the “all things” of v 44 pertain to specific things (accusative) written about (περὶ) Jesus located in the three categories of Old Testament writings rather than to every Old Testament Scripture (see Marshall 904-905 NIGTC and Godet in Luke vol 2 p 359).  

Further, the immediate context (24:44-47) clearly narrows Jesus’ explanation to Scriptures that dealt with his suffering/death (v 46-47). So, Jesus may have referenced texts from each of the Old Testament categories addressing his suffering (see Geldenhuys p 637 and Nicole p 650). 

These factors not withstanding, some interpreters have posited, based on the Emmas Road account, that every Old Testament passage has Christ as the subject, and further, that every sermon given by a Christian preacher ultimately must be about Christ. I confess that I am puzzled, if not troubled, by statements made by evangelical writers such as:

“But most importantly, expository preaching fails if it does not tie every text, even the most discursive, into the great story of the gospel and mission of Jesus Christ.” (DA Carson and Timothy Keller, The Gospel As Center p 15)

Regarding Luke 24:44-45, Mike Bullmore declares, “What is clear from this passage is that Jesus understood the entire Old Testament as speaking in some real way of him.” After also citing John 5:39, he further states that the Bible is all about Jesus in some specific and God-intended way.” (Mike Bullmore, The Gospel As Center p 48-49)

Bryan Chapell avers that every text of Scripture, “is predictive of the work of Christ, preparatory for the work of Christ, selective of the work of Christ, and/or resultant of the work of Christ.” (Bryan Chapell, Christ Centered Preaching: Redeeming the Expository Sermon, p 275 as quoted by Mike Bullmore in The Gospel As Center, p 49.) Compare Chapell’s similar statements in the Introduction to the Transformation Bible, p ix.

Although I understand that legitimate debate exists regarding what Jesus taught the disciples on the journey to Emmas, I think it is a stretch to conclude that Jesus explained every Scripture and that he taught that every Scripture referred to him. Indeed, I think Luke 24 proves just the opposite of this thesis of Christo-centric preaching. Also, I conclude that preachers who attempt to “get to Christ” in every sermon will invariably at some point fall into the ditch of eisegesis, even if unintentionally. 

Thus, I deny the homiletic notion that every sermon must get to Christ. 

I affirm that there is “redemption history” woven throughout the Bible or “along” the Bible that focuses on Christ and culminates in Christ. I also affirm that biblical covenants are fulfilled in Christ. However, I deny that this proves that every passage is about Christ and requires that every sermon must be about Christ. 

I also affirm that context is essential to cutting Scripture straight. But I deny the claim that contextual consideration is the exclusive domain of a multi-tiered hermeneutic. I also affirm that contextual consideration is integral to the grammatical historical hermeneutic. I further affirm that grammatical historical hermeneutic is sufficient for accurate exegetical exposition. Thus, I deny that devising a new layered hermeneutic is necessary or helpful.

I certainly have not addressed this underlying hermeneutic issue which undoubtedly is the wellspring of differences with my brothers regarding Christo-centric preaching.  But I do hope I may have caused my brothers to reconsider the appropriateness of using Luke 24 as support for finding Christ in every Scripture and also as justification for getting to Christ in every expository sermon. In my view, such claims are an overreach, albeit noble.  

© Copyright. Joseph Flatt. 2018. All rights reserved. May be used for educational purposes without written permission but with a citation to this source.