Was Jesus an Expositor?

And there was delivered unto him the book of the prophet Isaiah. And when he had opened the book, he found the place where it was written, The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, To preach the acceptable year of the Lord.
~ Luke 4:17-19

One of the key expectations for the Messiah when he came, was that he would be a preacher. The prophecy in Isaiah 61:1-2 foretold the anointed Servant of Yahweh would “preach good tidings,” “proclaim liberty,” and “proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD.” When Jesus went to the synagogue in Nazareth in the early part of his Galilean ministry, he read those words from Isaiah (Luke 4:16-19), and then sat down and said, “This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears” (Luke 4:21). He made an open declaration he was the anointed Servant of Yahweh who was sent to preach God’s word to Israel.

Jesus’ ministry clearly focused on preaching. Mark introduced Jesus’ Galilean ministry with, “Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God” (Mark 1:14). Jesus had drawn large crowds early on as people were astounded with the authority of his preaching and words (Mark 1:22, 27). The crowds wanted him to stay in Capernaum, but Jesus told his disciples, “Let us go into the next towns, that I may preach there also: for therefore came I forth” (Mark 1:38). Jesus also performed many miracles, but he said those signs were a confirmation of his preaching (John 10:37-38). Preaching was the centerpiece of Jesus’ ministry throughout. On the eve of his crucifixion he taught his disciples in the upper room. The Upper Room Discourse is recorded in John 13-16, and is one the lengthiest passages of Jesus’ preaching, along with the Sermon on the Mount. He preached to his disciples that night, and would then be arrested, tried, and killed the next day.

There can be no question that Jesus preached, and preached a lot. So, the question we do have is: What type of preacher was Jesus? I have seen various attempts to categorize Jesus’ preaching. Some say he was a storyteller and point to his parables and illustrations. Some say he was a polemical preacher and point to his interactions with, and denunciations of, the Pharisees. Some have even attempted to make the case Jesus was a humorist in his preaching. What kind of preacher was he?

What all kinds of preaching are there?

A. J. Kirkland in his brief little book, Methods in Sermonizing, listed seven different types of sermons: topical expository, persuasive, question, analogy, synthesis, analysis, and commentary. Other homiletic books refer to three types of sermons: expository, textual, and topical. Others have different categories. Categorizing sermons could go on indefinitely, but a study of history reveals the idea of different “types” of sermons as relatively recent.

John Broadus wrote about a text, meaning a passage of Scripture as the material preached, in his book on preaching, A Treatise on the Preparation and Delivery of Sermons.

The history of the word [text], like that of homiletics, points back to the fact, which is also well known otherwise, that preaching was originally expository. The early Christian preachers commonly spoke upon passages of considerable length, and occupied themselves largely with exposition. 1

J. W. Alexander likewise points out preaching historically was the expounding of a passage of Scripture. He notes it was from the thirteenth to the fifteenth century that preaching from shorter, isolated passages developed, and also the practice of preaching on subjects without any text. 2 It is interesting that this development coincided with the dividing of Scripture books into chapters (1227) and verses (1551).

John Broadus went on to explain the meaning of taking a text to preach.

It is manifest that to take a text gives a tone of sacredness to the discourse. But more than this is true. The primary idea is that the discourse is a development of the text, an explanation, illustration, application of its teachings. 3

Broadus wrote that preaching from a text was “a development of the text, an explanation, illustration, application of its teachings.” Writing this, he described expository preaching. This does not mean a subject can’t be preached, but it does mean the subject must be preached from the text in its contextual meaning. Broadus went on to write about preaching subjects.

Our business is to teach God’s word. And although we may often discuss subjects, and aspects of subjects, which are not presented in precisely that form by any passage of Scripture, yet the fundamental conception should be habitually retained, that we are about to set forth what the text contains. When circumstances determine the subject to be treated, and we have to look for a text, one can almost always be found which will have some real, though it be a general relation to the subject. If there be rare cases in which it is otherwise, it will then be better to have no text than one with which the subject has only a fanciful or forced connection. 4

I agree with Broadus’ conclusion that it would be better for a preacher to take no text than to take one and give a talk with only a “fanciful or forced connection” with the text. Broadus described the essence of expository preaching, which was historically the only kind of preaching there was. So, having said that, was Jesus an expositor, or expository preacher?

The preaching of Jesus

I’m tempted to rest my whole case on the road to Emmaus. After Jesus upbraided the two on the road for being slow to believe the prophets, i.e., the Scriptures, he preached to them: “beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27). Jesus expounded the Scriptures. The word for expounded is a form of the Greek word, diermēneuō, which means to clarify something so as to make it understandable, explain, interpret (BDAG). We get our English word hermeneutics from the root of that Greek compound.

Jesus explained the meaning of the Scriptures and did not give a talk based on the Scriptures with “only a fanciful or forced connection.” The two later said Jesus “opened to us the scriptures” (Luke 24:32). The word there is dianoigō, which similarly means to explain, interpret (BDAG). Again, the Scriptures were the matter opened, explained, and interpreted.

Jesus’ manner of preaching on the road to Emmaus was not an isolated incident. He was continually explaining the meaning of Scripture.

  • Seven times he asked, “Have ye not read?”
  • 29 times he made reference to what was “written”
  • twelve times he specifically mentioned “scripture,” or “scriptures”
  • He quoted from 19 different Old Testament books
  • Jesus told Satan in the wilderness that man is to live “by every word that proceedeth from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4)
  • The last bodily appearance we have of him is in Revelation 1:17-18 and 3:7, where he quotes from Isaiah 44:6 and 22:22

Some may object: But what about the parables? Parables are one of the forms of prophetic judgment ministry with precedents in the ministry of the prophets. Parables themselves are spoken revelation from God. Jesus described his ministry of parables in these terms: “And when he was alone, they that were about him with the twelve asked of him the parable. And he said unto them, Unto you it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God: but unto them that are without, all these things are done in parables: That seeing they may see, and not perceive; and hearing they may hear, and not understand; lest at any time they should be converted, and their sins should be forgiven them” (Mark 4:10-12). Jesus’ parables were a special revelation from God that simultaneously concealed and revealed new covenant truth concerning the kingdom of God. Furthermore, Jesus spoke the parables without explanation to the general crowd, but “expounded” them privately to his disciples (Mark 4:33-34). So Jesus spoke revelation they did not have and then expounded the revelation to his disciples.

Jesus himself was the incarnate Word of God (John 1:1, 14). Through him was given the final revelation of God to men (Hebrews 1:1-2). Jesus clearly explained the words he spoke were not his own, but his father’s words (John 8:26, 28, 38, 40, 43, 47; 12:49; 14:10, 24). At the end of his ministry, Jesus said he had faithfully given the Father’s words (John 17:8, 14). This is the preacher’s job as well, give the words of God to the people. We do not have new revelation to give, so that means we must take the closed-canon of Scripture and preach that Scripture by developing, explaining, illustrating, and applying its contextual meaning. That is expository preaching.

Conclusion

 
Given all we have looked at thus far: Was Jesus an expositor? I would have to say, No. No he was not an expositor, he was The Expositor. Jesus is the embodiment of the revealed Word of God. He said to know him and see him was to know and see the Father (John 14:7, 9). Jesus continually explained the meaning of God’s Word and that is the task given to all God-gifted preachers (1 Timothy 3:2; 2 Timothy 2:24; 4:2; Titus 1:9).

Notes:

  1. Broadus, John. A Treatise on the Preparation and Delivery of Sermons (Kindle Locations 367-369). GLH Publishing. Kindle Edition.
  2. Alexander, J. W. Thoughts on Preaching. pp 228-234.)
  3. Broadus, John. A Treatise on the Preparation and Delivery of Sermons (Kindle Locations 379-380). GLH Publishing. Kindle Edition.
  4. Broadus, John. A Treatise on the Preparation and Delivery of Sermons (Kindle Locations 380-385). GLH Publishing. Kindle Edition.

About Jeff Short