Preaching from the Old Testament is a challenge. Two options present themselves. These can be described as the "micro" and "macro" approaches to Old Testament preaching. Let me briefly describe them. First, one may use a passage filled with spiritual truths and principles and develop a sermon from that (limited) perspective. This has the advantage of helping people become familiar with Old Testament narratives, especially some of the lesser known Old Testament events and personalities. This approach works especially well with the narrative (historical) sections of the Old Testament and is also help in preaching from the prophetic writings. Second, one can attempt "macro" preaching. This approach uses a larger text-often treating an entire book in one sermon. What is the message of the book? What is the author saying? What contribution does the book make to the message and teaching of the Old Testament? Where does the book fit in to the overall scheme? Since the number of Old Testament books would require most of a year of preaching just to preach one sermon from each book, an effective plan for preaching from the Old Testament will generally include at least some of this second approach.
To illustrate the second approach, consider how one might preach the book of Exodus in a single sermon. Careful exegetical work as the first step in sermon preparation will identify several major themes in Exodus. In this essay we will treat the book of Exodus as a book of deliverance. It is the story of the "way out" of Egypt. It is a complex story with several twists and turns. The challenge of preaching the book of Exodus is to determine how to reflect those dynamics in a single sermon. Also, the macro approach to preaching ideally provides an overview or brief survey of the book. Consider this illustration of one way to approach the book of Exodus using the theological theme of deliverance.
The book of Exodus is a book about God. It is not first about Israel in Egypt. It is not first about Moses. It is not merely the story of a journey. It is not primarily about the Law or the Ten Commandments. These are important parts of the story, but these are not the story. The story is about God, and how he protects and prepares and delivers his people. This is a story of a delivering God. Here is a possible outline of chapters 1-19.
The rest of the book of Exodus (the part that is not as much fun to read) may be characterized as a description of the new identity of Israel. Israel receives a new code of conduct (which is also a reflection of God's nature and action among them), struggles to understand the new identity based on God's nature, (naturally) rebels, and finds a (distant) relationship with God through the priesthood and Tabernacle which represent God's presence among the people, eventually replacing the cloud and fire which accompanied them on their journey.
While such a synopsis or overview is helpful to understanding the book of Exodus, and many will be excited and encouraged by such preaching, there remains one essential element in the sermon. What does all of this mean for today's listener or reader?
We too are delivered, according to God's nature and initiating action, not by our own power. Our deliverance from sin is by faith and grants us a new identity. Our new identity is reflected in different ways of acting, imitating and reflecting God, and God's presence among us. These application points can serve as a conclusion, but may also be included as applications of each point as it is made.
There are, of course, many other ways to approach the book of Exodus. This brief essay suggests only one approach to the book of Exodus, seeking a model for macro preaching. One of the joys and pioneering efforts of preaching is the continuing challenge to think about how to communicate the revelation of God in the context of the needs and experiences of a local congregation.