Preaching the gospel from Old Testament narrative is not a fruitless endeavor but an effort to faithful exposit the entire text of Scripture, said Ligon Duncan.
Duncan, the senior minister of First Presbyterian Church in Jackson, Miss., spoke at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary during the Adams Lectures on February 8-10. Looking first at Numbers 5:11-31, Duncan said, “In this passage, there are lots of laws, lots of sand, lots of grumbling. It doesn’t sound very hopeful does it? I want to show you, though, how applicable it is.”
Looking at the Israelites, wandering in the desert in Numbers, Duncan said it shows that an entire generation died in the wilderness as an “expensive example of how much God cares about sanctification.
“This is why we should value our Bibles. We have no idea the cost for this book to be written. This book is truth. It’s how we are sanctified.”
Duncan said the apostle Paul used the truth of Numbers in his teachings in 1 Corinthians 10:1-13, thus teaching on the “expensive example of sanctification” to another generation. “’Numbers teaches us about Christ,” Duncan said, and by teaching about Numbers, Paul is reaffirming Christ in the Old Testament and its value. “When we see Christ in the Old Testament, it’s something Jesus has taught us and Paul has taught us.”
In the Numbers passage, Duncan said, we see the foreshadowing that Christ himself bore our sins on the tree so even Old Testament ritual does not hold us. In Numbers 5:1-4 and Luke 5:12-14, we see another example of Christ in the Old Testament and a New Testament author holding the teachings up as valuable truth. This passage in Numbers, Duncan said, is concerned with ceremonial and moral purity for the sake of communion with God.
“What is the great goal of the work of Christ but our ultimate communion with him?” he said. “These passages about defilement are about to teach the children of Israel that communion (with God) is expensive. They are to learn something about God – that he is holy, present and has spoken.”
Duncan said Numbers 5 teaches about God, and Luke knew that. The stringent requirements in Numbers of how God required defilement to be dealt with would have been on the minds of the Hebrews who watched the story found in Luke 5.
“You are a Hebrew and when you see this, you are instantly horrified and captivated at the same time. You know Numbers 5, so you’re screaming, ‘Don’t touch him! You’ll be defiled!’ But Jesus was not defiled – the man was undefiled. And you say, ‘Who is this man?’
“The Savior draws up and teaches you and heals your sin.”
However, the taking-on of defilement does not come without a price in either Numbers or Luke 5. Just like the Israelites, uncleanness must go “outside the camp. The defilement cannot dwell with God, so what he’s doing on the cross is taking on your defilements. He becomes the curse for your sin. The father is treating him for your defilement.”
Understanding the drastic penalty for defilement, found in Numbers, helps people to understand the penalty Jesus paid on the cross in our place.
“Your sin deserves for you to be cast out of the camp, and Jesus does that for you on the cross,” Duncan said. “He bore your uncleanness outside the city so that by trusting him, you would have eternal communion with God.”
An understanding of the Old Testament should motivate pastors to preach about the goodness of God, as seen throughout the Bible.
“You can’t know how much he’s done for you if you don’t know the Old Testament. Read it and preach it,” he said. “Preach the gospel, even from obscure Old Testament passages. It will bless your people and edify the brethren.”
The mission of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary is to glorify the Lord Jesus Christ by equipping students to serve the church and fulfill the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20). Southeastern is an institution of higher learning and a Cooperate Program ministry of the Southern Baptist Convention.