The difference between an exposition and a meander

I believe in the importance of systematic expository preaching which means that we work through a book of a Bible passage by passage each Sunday. I believe this is the best way to feed a congregation on God’s word. It enables the church to hear and engage with the whole of Scripture. It ensures that we do not dictate the teaching agenda and focus on our own personal hobby horses.

However, there are helpful ways to attempt exposition and unhelpful ways too.  Some of these are not really expository preaching at all even though they look like it and rather than helping could hinder.  The purpose of exposition is to expose the meaning of a passage and in so doing to expose our hearts to God’s Word so that we apply it in our lives. Some approaches actually cloud its meaning and so allow us to get off the hook because our hearts are never pierced by the message.

So here is one example.  Take Matthew 2:13-22. It is possible to take a gentle meander through the passage. We can start by seeing in verse 13 that God spoke to Joseph in a dream and stop to talk about how God talks to us. Joseph then obeyed God and took the child to Egypt, this shows the importance of being quick to obey God’s Word (v14). At this stage we are not sure what to do with v15), somehow this fulfilled Hosea 11:1 though that doesn’t seem to fit comfortably with the context of Hosea 11. So we move quickly on, Herod realises he has been tricked by the wise-men and is furious. This throws up serious questions about if it is okay for Christians to be deceitful against God’s enemies.  It also challenges us about who we are more like, Herod or the wise-men and so on.

And so, like the man rummaging through the parts from an Ikea flat-pack without the instructions, picking up and puzzling over the crucial part to start with before putting it down again, we have, in my opinion passed over the crucial part of the passage. We have said lots if interesting things, many of them true but we have not really preached an expository sermon and our congregation will be none the wiser about what God is saying here.

So, on Sunday I will start with verse 15.  The verse the preachers have rejected is in fact the crucial verse in the passage. How do I know that? Well Matthew tells me. He states explicitly that the events he is describing were intended to fulfil this prophecy and the one from Jeremiah.

This passage is all about Jesus becoming the one who fulfils the statement that God brings his son out of Egypt.  All of the imagery in the Old Testament events where God allows his people to experience exile before bringing them back from the death of slavery into the good land promised them point to Jesus. He will fulfil those events by experiencing the exile of death himself before rising again from the dead in an Exodus like event. His own life will demonstrate that he has come to do this and so we will see Jesus coming out of Egypt, experiencing a Red Sea/Jordan river type crossing in his baptism, hungry for bread in the wilderness and on a mountain top giving God’s law to God’s  people. That’s the story line that Matthew wants us to see.

For us the application is clear. Christ offers us Exodus from exile with him. We died to sin with him and are raised to life with him.

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