Christ Is the Content, Center, and Key to All the Scriptures

The text for today is Luke 24:44-47:  Then [Jesus] said to them, “These are My words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.”  Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.”  This is the Word of the Lord.

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Dr. Mortimer Adler taught a class at the University of Chicago on “The Great Books of the Western World.”  On one occasion Dr. Adler turned to one of his brightest students and asked her to summarize one the books for the class.  She had just gotten a high A on her examination for that very book, but she had to sheepishly admit: “I have no idea what it was about, Dr. Adler.” 

Adler instantly realized that he had been preparing his students for the examination on a book, but he had not taught it to them.  His students could get 100 percent on an examination, yet not understand what the book was about!  He said he changed his whole approach to teaching that afternoon.  From that time on Dr. Adler had his students read a book primarily to learn what the book was about. 

Unfortunately, too many people read the Bible in the same way as Dr. Adler’s students had been reading their assigned books.  They can answer a lot of questions about it, but they can’t tell you what it is really about!  They get bogged down in the minutiae and subplots, and end up ignoring the main character and major plot. As a consequence, the Bible remains for them a closed book. 

A good example of this approach is the Jehovah’s Witness or Mormon missionary who comes knocking at your door.  In all likelihood, if you ask, they will tell you that they take a very high view of the Bible’s inspiration.  But they do not acknowledge the centrality of Christ in all of Scripture.  And, consequently they do not confess Christ crucified and risen for the justification of sinners.

But this position is not found only in cults outside of Christianity, it is unfortunately also held by many mainline liberal Christians, who treat the Scriptures as simply a collection of moral lessons for wise living, but even then, make certain to highlight their own tolerance and open-mindedness—that, of course, you’re free to pick and choose your own morality. 

And then there are the more socially conservative Christians who call themselves American evangelicals.   Unfortunately they tend to emphasize the “American” more than the evangelion, the Gospel, so the Good News of salvation in Jesus Christ takes a back seat to “reclaiming our Christian heritage.” 

As a result, much of the preaching in today’s American churches is just as Christless as the teaching of the Enlightenment deists.  The “Christ” preached in many of these congregations seems to exist in order to aid the hearer in his or her pursuit of successful living—whether that be financially, relationally, or psychologically.  And for that kind of “salvation” there really is no need for a Savior who dies on the cross, is buried, and is raised again on the third day according to Scriptures.  I suspect that is probably why Jesus just makes an obligatory cameo appearance on many Sundays in those congregations.    

What is the Bible about?  It is about Jesus Christ and His work of salvation.  Martin Luther said that Jesus Christ is the “center and circumference of the Bible,” meaning that its fundamental content is Christ—who He is and what He did for us in His death and resurrection.  To miss Him as the center and key to Scripture is to remain in darkness and ignorance. 

In taking this position, Luther was not dreaming up some novel way to read the Scriptures.  He was simply reflecting what Jesus said.  Jesus confronted the Pharisees: “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about Me, yet you refuse to come to Me that you may have life” (John 5:39-40). 

Or think of the story of the risen Lord walking with the dejected disciples on the road to Emmaus.  On that first Easter, Jesus teaches the Bible study of all time: “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, He interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself” (Luke 24:27).

Later that night, Jesus appears to His disciples as they gather together in the locked room, as recorded in our Gospel.  After assuring them that He has come in peace, and this it is truly Him risen in the flesh, Jesus reminds them: “These are My words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” 

It is evident in these and other passages that Jesus really thought He is the major subject of the Old Testament Scriptures—from Moses all the way through the prophets.  He believed that they were all writing about Him!  This is either highly inflated ego, or Jesus was giving His disciples (and us, by extension) the key to understanding what all of Scripture is about.

This seems like a “no-brainer.”  Not many Christians would object if you were to say, “I’ll tell you something really radical: the whole Bible is about Jesus Christ!”  Many would yawn as they reply, “Tell us something we don’t already know.”  But ironically many evangelical Christians treat the Bible as if it were some handbook for good living like William Bennett’s Book of Virtues or a collection of inspiring Chicken Soup stories, and they never really see Christ at all.  If we were to read any other book this way, actively ignoring the major character and the plotline, we would never come to a correct understanding of that book. 

Let me reemphasize this: The Bible is about Christ—about Him from start to finish, from Genesis through Revelation, from the Seed of the Woman promised in Eden to the Lamb of God on the throne in the New Jerusalem.  If one does not see this, he or she will inevitably have no idea what the Bible is actually saying. 

The entire Old Testament was laying the groundwork for God’s eternal plan of salvation through His Only Begotten Son… the Offspring of Abraham… the Prophet Greater than Moses…the Son of David who reigns eternally as David’s Lord … the virgin-born Immanuel and Suffering Servant of Isaiah… Job’s Redeemer who lives to bring bodily resurrection to His own… Daniel’s Ancient of Days who convenes His heavenly court.  The Bible is the record of the Mystery dwelling among us… the eternal Word by whom all things were created… the great I AM, who speaks to Moses through the burning bush and leads His people through the wilderness into the Promised Land by pillar of cloud and fire.     

Embedded in that history of Israel—all of its battles, its ups and downs, successes and failures, strengths and weaknesses—is this singular message: Jesus is the Christ.  He suffered, died and rose to save sinners.  Sinners like you and me.  Jesus shed His blood on the cross for your sin.  He rose for your justification.  The Bible is all about the proclamation of full forgiveness for sinners in Christ’s name.  And where there is forgiveness in the Name of Jesus there is life and salvation.

Of course, this knowledge and understanding do not come naturally to us.  The Scriptures tell us that one of the consequences of the Fall was that our intellects were darkened in respect to any knowledge of our Creator and His will toward us.  We do not see the centrality of Christ in the Scriptures on the basis of our own reason or strength, but solely by the grace of God.  As was the case with the disciples on the road to Emmaus, and those gathered in the locked upper room that first Easter, He must open our eyes to understand the Scriptures.  The Holy Spirit must use the Gospel to open our eyes to Christ and His work on our behalf.

Christ is the content, center, and key to all Scripture.  Our very salvation rests entirely on Christ’s person and His finished work… and that is very Good News!  You see, you and I are beggars before the Lord.  We bring absolutely nothing to the table—nothing, that is, but our sins and sinfulness.  Our sins put Jesus on the cross.  It is for our sinfulness that Christ shed His innocent blood.  It was not just the Jewish leaders and Pontius Pilate who were responsible.  You and I denied the Holy and Righteous One.  You and I killed the Author of Life!  That’s why it was necessary that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead—to fulfill God’s perfect justice and His amazing grace and mercy.

The background to this is the nature of God and His Law.  The Law demands absolute obedience—not just in outward behavior in accordance with the Ten Commandments, but inwardly as well.  We are to love God and our neighbor perfectly from the heart.  Anyone who does not measure up to this unchanging and non-negotiable standard of God’s Law stands under God’s just condemnation now and forever.  And my Christians friends, that includes me, and that includes you.  None of us measures up to God’s perfect standard of holiness, none of us is righteous, none of us is perfectly obedient or loving. 

But from the foundation of the world, God planned salvation through His Incarnate Son.  The manner in which Jesus accomplished this was to lay down His sinless life as a ransom for the sins of the world.  He was the great Substitute, the real Sacrifice prefigured in the Old Testament sacrificial system.  He was and is the great High Priest who sacrificed Himself on our behalf.  Christ died for us, bearing our sins in His body on the cross and He rose again for our justification. 

The Gospel described in the Scriptures has 100 percent to do with what Christ did and 0 percent to do with us—our hearts, our inner experience of Him, our Christian life and piety, our works of love to our neighbor, our anything! 

Not even our faith.  Contrary to most of American evangelicalism, Scripture’s emphasis is on Christ and His death, not on our faith.  Yes, we confess with Scripture that we are saved by God’s grace through faith, but this does not mean “on the basis of faith.”  The justification of the sinner is solely on the basis of Christ’s cross, Christ’s shed blood, and Christ’s resurrection for our justification.  To “preach Christ crucified” is to preach Him and His saving death, rather than to preach our faith in Him as what saves. 

This may sound like hair-splitting, but it is not.  It is the difference between a Savior who saves and human faith that does not save.  It is the difference between an objective Gospel that saves and another “gospel,” a subjective one, that is no gospel at all and that does not save.  The ground of your justification is Christ and His innocent sufferings and death.  Period. 

Your faith in Christ does not save you, Christ saves you.  Christ’s death!  Christ’s shed blood!  Christ’s three-day entombment!  Christ’s resurrection!  Christ—His person and His word—alone saves you!  Christ is the center, content and key to all Scripture.  Christ is your life and salvation.

That is the message Christ commands His disciples to continue proclaiming in His name to all nations in our Gospel lesson.  That is the message that St. Peter proclaims to the crowd gathered at Solomon’s Portico in our First Lesson.  That is the message that been written in the Law and Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms—all of Scripture throughout the ages.  By God’s grace, that is the message you hear from this pulpit each time you gather to receive Christ’s Word and Sacrament.

Therefore, this is the message proclaimed to you today: Repent and believe.  For the sake of Jesus Christ, our crucified and risen Lord, you are forgiven for all of your sins.  In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.    


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