Like Scales and Jazz: How to Preach Christ from Psalms

How should contemporary Christ followers and Christian pastors continue walking the Emmaus Road, seeing and preaching Christ throughout the Psalms?

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Jesus came as heir not only of David’s throne but also of David’s prayers—from his distress to his deliverance, from his laments to his praises. Since God’s people in every generation will walk the same path—cross before crown—Christian pastors are wise to preach the Psalms in all seasons.”

 

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

The Christian church knows this excruciating cry from both the Gospels and also the Psalms (Matt 27:46; Mark 15:34; Ps. 22:1). But how did Jesus come to inhabit the lament of his royal ancestor, breathing David’s agonized prayer as his own?

After his resurrection, Christ taught his disciples that the Psalms—indeed, the entire Old Testament—had testified about him (Luke 24:27, 44). Christ was teaching that all of Scripture is fulfilled in him—that he walks the entire Psalter, amplifying its prayers and enriching its patterns and fulfilling its intentions so fully that his earliest followers could see his footsteps, sense his sufferings, and anticipate his kingdom throughout the psalms of Israel. The psalmists, Jesus taught, were “singing in the reign.”

But how exactly does this work? How should contemporary Christ followers and Christian pastors continue walking the Emmaus Road, seeing and preaching Christ throughout the Psalms? In Preaching Christ from Psalms: Foundations for Expository Sermons in the Christian Year, professor Sidney Greidanus applies his Old Testament preaching methodology (1999) to select psalms. The result is a helpful collection of sermons that systematically teach his method.

Handbook for Preaching the Psalms 

This latest work follows Preaching Christ from Genesis (2007), Preaching Christ from Ecclesiastes (2010), and Preaching Christ from Daniel (2012). In his introductory chapter, Greidanus equips preachers to mine a psalm for its poetic riches, identify its central message, recognize its theocentric emphases, form an accurate and communicable homiletic outline, and shape a Christ-culminating exposition. This step-by-step process makes the volume a thorough handbook for preaching a psalm.

Building on his earlier works, Greidanus briefly summarizes his seven “ways” preachers can move from a psalm to Christ. First, redemptive-historical progression calls us to evaluate how further revelation has amplified and developed the message of the psalm. Second, promise-fulfillment helps us consider how a psalm’s promises are fulfilled in Christ. Third, typology seeks to understand how the types embedded in various psalms meet their antitype in Christ. Fourth, analogy “notes the similarity between the teaching or goal of the psalmist and the teaching or goal of Christ” (35). Fifth, longitudinal themes invite the preacher to trace relevant themes in the psalm through the Old Testament and on to Christ. Sixth, New Testament references may cite or allude to a psalm, supporting the other six ways of preaching Christ. Finally, contrast forces us to reckon with distinctions between elements in the psalm and New Testament revelation.

Greidanus wisely recognizes that these seven “ways” aren’t mutually exclusive but often overlap, shape, and support each other. Due to this overlap, there is some conceptual blurring between the categories (e.g., redemptive-historical progression and longitudinal themes, or typology and analogy). But Greidanus repeatedly illustrates how each distinct “way” can lead to Christ, increasing the book’s clarity as the examples pile up.

The bulk of Preaching Christ from Psalms models the method as Greidanus interprets, outlines, and exposits 22 specific psalms or passages. His exegesis is rich and his exposition clear, with full sermons concluding each chapter, showing precisely how he moves from each psalm to Christ. He treats psalms from all five books of the Psalter, entire psalms and psalm passages, a variety of psalm genres, psalms of varying length and theme, and psalms with structures both simple and complex. He treats some psalms that are substantially cited in the New Testament such as 2, 8, 22, 32, 95, and 118, but excludes others (e.g., 110). He also includes creative ideas for liturgical readings that highlight the message and flow of each psalm.

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