"Beginning with Moses and all the Prophets"
Why we should follow Jesus’ example in preaching from the Old Testament
by Olga Fabrikant-Burke, Tutor in Old Testament
At the beginning of his public ministry, Jesus unrolled the scroll of the prophet Isaiah and announced, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:16–21) On the road to Emmaus, on that first Easter morning, Jesus opened up the Old Testament for the disciples in an exegetical tour de force, “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets” (Luke 24:27). It is only against the rich backdrop of the Old Testament and the long and winding odyssey of the people of Israel that we can see Jesus clearly.
So why, then, is the Old Testament so often deprived of the attention it deserves from the pulpit? The reasons for this neglect no doubt abound.
Arguably, one explanation is that we approach the Old Testament with the wrong set of lenses, in a way that fails to inspire the preacher, let alone the congregation. We tend to encounter the Old Testament as if it was a tangled mess of disconnected instructions, disjointed stories, and disembodied ideas, to be quarried and hewn into a disengaged sermon. But human beings are, by their very nature, storytelling creatures, and the deepest hunger of the human heart is to find a story in which we can find ourselves — in fact, in which we can, at long last, be found.
At its heart, the Old Testament invites us to inhabit its story. In other words, the main purpose of the Old Testament is not so much information as it is formation — in fact, counter-formation.
The first five books of the Old Testament, known as the Pentateuch or the Torah, reorient our minds and hearts away from idols and towards God. The fiery Prophets tirelessly confront us with a different perception of the world and convert our imaginations. The vivid narratives bid us to imagine ourselves as characters within them, and our own lives of discipleship acquire richer and more vibrant hues as a result. The Psalms provide us with a grammar for worship as we make our way through “all the changes and chances of this mortal life.” Wisdom literature cultivates our ethical judgement and equips us to grapple with the complexities of human life.
From Genesis to Malachi, the Old Testament relentlessly confronts us with its transformative story, shaping and moulding us to become God’s people. As preachers, we are called to proclaim and explain this story, “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets.”
The Revd Dr Olga Fabrikant-Burke takes up the position of Tutor in Old Testament at Ridley Hall from September 2022.