I remember when it was cool to see Jesus in The Matrix. When that five minutes was over, and even your father in law was reading up in 2 Kings to figure out the significance of Neo’s spaceship, the whole thing was a joke. The tide had turned from a Lewisian seeing of celestial beauty in the jungle of filth and imbecility that is Myth to a marketable spotting of Christian symbolism in every pop cultural artifact imaginable. Jesus became Waldo.
I remember when it first hit me to see Christ at the center of the Old Testament narratives. It was only a few years ago—I’m a late bloomer, so sue me—listening to a sermon by Tim Keller given at the inaugural Gospel Coalition Conference. I mean, I wasn’t so dense not to see Jesus in the story of Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice Isaac, and of course I knew about the messianic psalms and prophecies, but Keller’s address, replete with appeals to Jonathan Edwards’s non-allegorical homiletical beauty, outlining of the gospel as news not advice, and laser accurate delineation of what constitutes Gospel-Centered Ministry (the name of the sermon, actually), didn’t just blow the rockface off of my understanding. To borrow one of his own illustrations, it burrowed in, planted dynamite, and devastated me. In a good way.
In his message, Keller presented the following:
- Jesus is the true and better Adam, who passed the test in the garden and whose obedience is imputed to us.
- Jesus is the true and better Abel, who, though innocently slain, has blood now that cries out not for our condemnation, but for our acquittal.
- Jesus is the true and better Abraham who answered the call of God to leave all the comfortable and familiar, and go out into the void, not knowing whither he went, to create a new people of God.
- Jesus is the true and better Isaac, who was not just offered up by his Father on the mount,but was truly sacrificed for us. And when God said to Abraham, “now I know you love me, because you did not withhold your son, your only son whom you love from me, now we can look at God, taking his son up the mountain and sacrificing Him, and say,” now we know that you love us, because you did not withhold your son, your only son whom you love from us.”
- Jesus is the true and better Jacob who wrestled and took the blow of justice we deserve, so we, like Jacob, only receive the wounds of grace to wake us up and discipline us.
- Jesus is the true and better Joseph, who at the right hand of the king, forgives those who betrayed and sold Him, and uses His new power to save them.
- Jesus is the true and better Moses, who stands in the gap between the people and the Lord and who mediates a new covenant.
- Jesus is the true and better rock of Moses who was struck with the rod of God’s justice, and now gives us water in the desert.
- Jesus is the true and better Job, the truly innocent sufferer who then intercedes for and saves his stupid friends.
- Jesus is the true and better David, whose victory becomes his people’s victory though they never lifted a stone to accomplish it themselves.
- Jesus is the true and better Esther, who didn’t just risk losing an earthly palace, but lost the ultimate and heavenly one, who didn’t just risk his life, but gave his life to save his people.
- Jesus is the true and better Jonah, who was cast out into the storm so we could be brought in.
- He is the real passover lamb, innocent, perfect, helpless, slain so that the angel of death would pass over us
That’ll preach. And it did.
But Keller says something curious after his recitation of this list (which I’ve seen attributed to everyone from Sinclair Ferguson to Martyn Lloyd-Jones to Keller himself and to nobody) that still sticks with me: “That’s not typology,” he said, “that’s an instinct.”
Well, what’s the difference? How do you see Christ in the Old Testament—or in The Matrix or Harry Potter or the actual greats of film and literature—and in the face of a hobo or street urchin in an instinctual way, not a typological way?
My best guess is that gospel-wakefulness makes the difference. Typology is mechanical. Instinct is supernatural.
I think this is one reason why, for all my appreciation (and utilization) of good scholarship, when a blogger goes academic about the Christian life and ministry, my eyes glaze over. It is why something John Piper said at the last Gospel Coalition Conference resonated with me so strongly: “Commentaries can be sermon killers. No commentary has the word Oh! in it.”
I think that’s the difference between Christian instinct and Christian typology: the word “Oh!”