In the New Testament, there are primarily two words that are typically translated as “preach.”
The first of those terms is εὐαγγελίζω (euangelidzo), which means to evangelize or to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ. The emphasis here is very clearly on that of pointing lost souls to Jesus Christ and to call them to faith and repentance.
The second of these terms is the word κηρύσσω (kerusso). Similar to εὐαγγελίζω (euangelidzo), this term means to declare or to proclaim aloud some information, though the terminology is a little more general and does not necessitate that the Gospel is being declared. For instance, that is the language used by the Apostles in Acts 15:21, when speaking about people in every city “proclaiming” or “preaching” Moses.
There is a great deal of debate as to what the goal of preaching ought to be. On one side, there are those who say that the sermon ought to be evangelistic in nature. In this worldview, evangelism is primarily a practice of inviting people to attend church with you so they hear the Gospel and come to faith in Jesus Christ. For indeed, how are they to believe of those they have never heard and how are they to hear without someone preaching? (Romans 10:14-17) — κηρύσσω (kerusso).
On the other side of the debate, there are others who believe that the purpose of the sermon is to be a matter of discipleship — namely, that of teaching believers to obey everything that Jesus has taught them to do (Matthew 28:18-20). In the great commission, the word for “preaching” never even shows up. Jesus does not say that we are to preach to the nations, but to disciple them unto obedience. In this worldview, evangelism is the work of the church during the rest of the week — sharing the Gospel with those they meet along the way. In turn, the role of the gathered church is discipleship — a place where learning and growing in faith takes place.
In the first model, preaching tends to “lower the bar” so as to reach everyone in the room, believer and unbeliever. In the second model, preaching tends to aim at “raising the bar” for all who are present because those present now have a commitment to Christ. True, there will be varying degrees of commitment reflected in the church body, but there is at least a basic assumption that those who are present desire to learn and grow from where they happen to be.
The question, then, has to do with how the New Testament uses this terminology, particularly in those areas that are descriptive and do not just presume we, the reader, understand of what is being spoken. In my seminary years, I had a dear friend who used to remind me that “preacher” is never spoken of as an office in the church nor is it one of God’s gifts to the church — “shepherds and teachers” are, though.
Because the term εὐαγγελίζω (euangelidzo) is primarily used in the context of evangelism — declaring the Gospel, it seems to make more sense to focus on the term, κηρύσσω (kerusso). Also, we will not be looking at all of the uses of this term in the Greek New Testament, but will instead simply focus on those places where definition is given to the purpose or content of the preaching.
Matthew 3:1 and 4:17 — here we find both John the Baptist and Jesus spoken of as preaching. In both cases, the message is also the same: “Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” Clearly, in both cases, the message is evangelistic in nature and the message is spoken out of doors — or at least apart from the traditional synagogue setting.
Matthew 4:23 is a key verse to wed to the previous ones, for in this case, wed to preaching is the idea of teaching (διδάσκω — didasko — which is the root word from which “disciple” is formed in the Greek). Here, we see Jesus spoken as teaching and preaching in the synagogues. Still, the message of the Kingdom is being proclaimed, but there is a teaching/discipleship element that is present.
Matthew 24:14 — “The Gospel of the Kingdom will be proclaimed in the whole world…” This seems to tie in nicely with the Great Commission, especially when we realize if there is a kingdom, there are laws and commandments that go along with the kingdom and which will be impressed on those who are members of it. Thus one should recognize that even though the word, “teach,” is not included in the text, it is implied.
Mark 1:4 — What was the content of John’s preaching? “a baptism of repentance and the forgiveness of sins.” Herein is the first part of discipleship as is stated in the Great Commission.
Mark 1:45 — While some translations say he was talking about what Jesus had done, the Greek term is κηρύσσω. Thus, the Leper is preaching as he shares the good news of Christ.
Mark 5:20 — We find the former Gerasene demoniac going about and preaching through Decapolis. When we compare this with the parallel in Luke 8:39, we see Jesus commanding the man to go and tell but instead, he goes and preaches.
Mark 13:10 — Before the return of Christ, the Gospel will be preached to the ends of the earth.
Luke 24:47 — Repentance and the forgiveness of sins in Jesus’ name will be preached to the whole world, starting with Jerusalem.
Acts 8:5 — Philip preaching in Samaria.
Acts 9:20 — Saul/Paul preaching in the synagogues that Jesus was the Son of God. Here we see both the evangelistic side and the teaching side as Paul’s approach is often described as him “reasoning with” the Jews that Jesus is the Christ (e.g. Acts 17:2,17; 18:4,19).
Acts 10:42 — Peter speaks of Jesus’ command to preach to all of the people and to solemnly declare that Jesus is the judge over the living and the dead.
Romans 2:21 — here we have a context where preaching is used in the context of discipleship, for preaching and teaching are found in parallel.
1 Corinthians 1:23 — Paul preaches Christ crucified. This is immediately pointed toward evangelism, though with ramifications that extend into discipleship. For, if Christ is crucified, how now must we live?
1 Corinthians 9:27 — Paul disciplines himself so that by his actions (discipleship) he does not undermine his preaching.
1 Corinthians 15:12 — Christ is preached as raised from the dead.
1 Timothy 3:16 — This is one of the earliest Christian creeds, one that speaks of Jesus being preached in all the nations.
2 Timothy 4:2 — Perhaps this is the most important passage when it comes to defining what preaching is: reprove, rebuke, exhort with patience and teaching. While this does not rule out evangelism, it does carry with it a notion that teaching is an important part, for how can you reprove, rebuke, and exhort if you do not first teach others what God expects of us first?
The next part of this word study needs to address the role of teaching in the church and how the two fit together. We’ll leave that for next week. What we can say with certainty is that preaching is evangelistic in nature, though that evangelism seems to largely take place outside of the boundaries of the organized church. It should also be noted, as we have seen here, that teaching and preaching are not mutually exclusive ideas.
Next…teaching in the context of the church…
I am not a biologist by training, but I am amazed at the ability of a chameleon to mimic the colors of its surroundings, creating a form of natural camouflage. I’m sure that someone who specializes in the biology of lizards could give an answer as to how the animal does that, but I am content to marvel not only at the remarkable little creature but also at the God who would design and create this creature to do such a wonderful thing…mutations and random chance my foot.
There is another kind of chameleon, though, that is far less marvelous and needs almost no scientific explanation. This kind of chameleon is the person who essentially tells people whatever they want to hear and who takes no firm positions on anything that matters. This is sometimes done to win supporters and “friends” and sometimes it is done to avoid conflict. Nevertheless, it is a form of camouflage that many people practice in our society.
I suppose that we most commonly associate this behavior with politicians. This is not an insult against all politicians, I have known a number of them over the years who have had a great deal of integrity and who will stand against popular opinion if it is the right thing to do. At the same time, there is often a reason behind the development of a stereotype. My son and I have been watching the various presidential debates over this past year and sadly it seems that these folks largely fit the stereotype to a tee. It is sad to me that politics in America has more to do with rhetoric and campaign finances than with real ideas about real issues. Our nation is poorer because of it.
Yet, though I grieve over the death of politics in America, what grieves me even more deeply is the death of the pulpit in our nation (and beyond!). If there is someone who is not called to be a chameleon, it is the preacher. His calling is to pronounce absolute right from absolute wrong to the people, reproving them in their sins, and teaching them the way they should go. My grandfather, who was a Methodist minister, used to say, “If you aren’t stepping on toes, you aren’t preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ.” Sadly, preachers in our country rarely step on toes and have sought to be liked rather than to be respected as a man set apart to proclaim the truth.
I am no Wesleyan in my theology, but I do heartily concur with his statement that we are to be men “of one book.” That does not mean we do not read widely and study well; we are to be pastor-scholars as both Calvin and Wesley would have agreed. We are called, though to lift one book high above all of the others. It is the source of all truth and is the absolute guide for our lives. Telling stories may be interesting and telling the occasional joke may endear a congregation to their pastor, but the Bible convicts. And preaching is to be about convicting the heart, not entertaining it.
But, as politicians who do not wish to ruffle the feathers of their political base, so too, pastors often seek not to ruffle the feathers of their churches as well — and in fearing offense or seeking to avoid conflict, they fail to do what they have been called to do. Let the entertainer entertain, but let the man of God proclaim. He who is called to preach must do so even at the expense of offending those closest to him for Truth compromises for no one and God will hold those called to teach it doubly accountable.
Be warned, ye chameleons who stand in pulpits, you are nothing to marvel at.
“A Psalm of Asaph.
God, the Great God, Yahweh! He commands and proclaims to the earth from the rising sun unto its setting.”
What an amazing beginning to this psalm. Literally it reads: אֵל אֱלֹהִים יהוח (El, Elohim, Yahweh) — three names of God, each getting more specific as it leads to the Covenant name of our almighty God. Only one other time in the Scriptures does such a phrase arise, and in that case, it is found in the context of an oath that the Tribe of Reuben makes to demonstrate the sincerity of their worship of God (Joshua 22:22) after having set up an altar of witness in the eastern territories, something seen as a form of idol worship. And so, in this way Asaph, who was one of the Levitical singers that was placed over the worship in the Tabernacle by David (see 1 Chronicles 6:31-32,39), begins his psalm of praise and glory to the Lord.
What is it that he speaks of God doing? God is preaching. He is proclaiming to the earth his majesty and glory from the rising until the setting of the sun. And so, here, we are reminded by Asaph, as the author of Hebrews again reminds us, that as long as it is day, we are to sing praises to God that we might not become hardened by the deceitfulness of sin (Hebrews 3:13). Indeed, sin says to us that it will satisfy, yet it cannot deliver on its promise. Satisfaction can only be found in Jesus Christ who is Lord and master of all.
The idea of God preaching is one that looks both backwards and forwards. God essentially preaches creation into being in the beginning and he preaches a sermon on the greatness of his name to Moses on Mount Sinai. And, as we move through the Scriptures, we find God declaring the glories of his name to us that we might not only worship him but also so that we might declare that truth to others. Indeed, we are not always faithful at that task, nevertheless, it is our responsibility to do so and Asaph gives us an inspired model for doing just that.
If you spend much time on this blog, you know that one of my concerns is for the Truth of God’s word to be triumphed in a world that throws so much chaff at you that sometimes you feel lost in information overload and don’t know who to believe. As a preacher, this has often led me to naming names from the pulpit of those in our society that are “wolves in sheep’s clothing” as it were. The even more challenging aspect of this is that the word “Christian” has been so misused and abused that society uses it to refer to anything so long as Jesus is mentioned within it…no mind whether it is Biblical or not. Of course, our society today is so Biblically illiterate, most people cannot distinguish between that which is Biblical and that which is preferential.
Sometimes, when names are named, people feel uncomfortable. Many people have perhaps attended an event down at the prosperity gospel megachurch down the street or have read “The Shack” or a Joyce Meyer book. Many people either secretly (or not secretly) prefer listing to Joel Osteen rather than the careful exposition of the Word, and when names are named, that makes people nervous. It forces them to repent of their own sloppy theology or perhaps troubles them because they often have friends who attend churches that teach a false theology and they don’t want ruffle feathers. They also tend to think that the pastor is just on another one of his grouchy tirades against the bigger church down the street (by the way, since when did the number of people in attendance become a measure of a pastor’s ministry?).
The question, then arises, why bother? Isn’t it more polite in today’s society to avoid naming names? Can’t we be nice to the other churches and give them the benefit of the doubt? Of course, “nice” is a word that we ought not apply to any Christian. Why? See here. Here’s the thing, we are not talking about matters of preference or neighborliness. You might not like that your neighbor has planted gum trees along the border of your property line, but you don’t make a ruckus about it because that would not be neighborly. But here we are talking eternal truth and eternal error, life and death, matters of heaven and hell! If your neighbors, your friends, your co-workers, or your family members are blissfully marching down the wide road to hell, it is not a nice thing, a kind thing, or a loving thing to remain silent while they perish. It is wicked and cruel.
And be clear, when I am speaking about naming names, I am not speaking about disagreements within the body of Christ. Some of my closest friends, for example, happen to be baptists and we disagree strongly about whether or not an infant should be baptized and how that baptism should be carried out. Given my German Reformed/Presbyterian background, one would expect no less. Yet, we disagree as brothers in the faith. I have several dear Lutheran friends as well, with whom I would strongly disagree as to what baptism does for the one baptized and over what takes place at the Lord’s Table, but again, these are “in house” debates in the Christian church. We ought to debate these things, yes, and debate them passionately. But we can do so all the while not breaking fellowship.
While modes of baptism, what takes place at the Lord’s Table, the music we sing, the kind of Bible we use, etc… are disagreements, they are secondary things. Differences here (in most cases) do not separate you from the body of Christ. But some differences do. When someone denies the Trinity, they can call themselves many things, but they cannot call themselves, “Christian.” When someone denies the dual nature of Christ, the substitutionary nature of Christ’s work, the authority of the Scriptures, the role of man being submissive to God, justification by grace alone worked through faith alone, the physical Resurrection on the third day, etc… one no longer is able to call oneself a Christian. They may still be an American, they may still be moral in a societal sense, they may still be a good laborer in a volunteer organization, they may still be a good neighbor, but Christian they are not. And, if there are those who are playacting at being Christian and are teaching otherwise, they need to be warned against.
Jesus warns us of false prophets (Matthew 7:15) as does the Apostle John (1 John 2:18-19 — here he calls them “antichrists”). And thus, we are called to test every tree — every spirit — by its fruit. As we look at Biblical tests of orthodoxy, some of that fruit is visible in the way we live — the Apostle Paul’s famed “Fruit of the Spirit” in Galatians 5:22-23 — but it is also found in the things that are taught. Thus, earlier in Galatians, Paul very clearly warns the Galatians that if anyone, even an angel from heaven, were to teach them “another Gospel” — a Gospel different than the one Paul consistently taught (something preserved in the Word) — then he should be cursed. Notice that Paul does not say, “let the teaching be accursed,” but he says, “let him be accursed.”
In Titus 1:9, Paul even expands on this idea. He says that Elders (by the way, this is one of those passages where Paul speaks of Presbyters and Overseers as one in the same office) must be taught to do two things: 1) give instruction in sound doctrine and 2) rebel those who contradict sound doctrine. Do you notice how there are two sides to the same coin. Not only must there be teaching what is right but there must be a rebuke of that which is not sound teaching (recognizing that the Greek word used here refers to a public oral attack on a person, a thought, or an idea). In other words, calling out the heretic as such and then teaching the people of God how to think Biblically is one of the primary roles of the Elder in the Christian church.
One might then ask, is it really appropriate to name names? Wouldn’t it be easier to teach specifically against a bad idea without naming those who hold to that idea? The problem with that model is, if the pastor has not told you, “Do not read books by T.D. Jakes, he is a prosperity preacher who is part of the Word Faith movement and denies the orthodox understanding of the Trinity — he is a heretic.” How will you know not to buy a book by T.D. Jakes when you see it on the shelves of your local Christian bookstore — a store that has no qualms about selling you anything for their profit, though it will not profit your soul?
Further, the model we have in the Bible is to be very clear about who those are who have denied the faith. For example, Peter singles out Simon Magus and publicly rebukes him for trying to purchase the power of the Apostles (an error later called “Simony” in remembrance of this event — see Acts 8:9-24). Paul tells Timothy how he handed Hymenaeus and Alexander to Satan for blasphemy (1 Timothy 1:20), he speaks of Phygelus and Hermogenes who abandoned him when he was arrested (2 Timothy 1:15), he rebukes Demas for being in love with this world (2 Timothy 4:10), and he speaks about the Lord taking out his vengeance on Alexander the Coppersmith for the harm he had done to Paul (2 Timothy 4:14). The Apostle John warns his friend, Gaius, against Diotrephes who is subverting the power of the Apostles and calls his actions evil (3 John 9-11). Finally, even Jesus speaks this way, not just to various Pharisees, Sadducees, and teachers of the Law during his earthly ministry, but also he calls out Jezebel in the city of Thyatira for her immorality (Revelation 2:20). And, while many scholars would suggest that Jezebel is a kind of “nick-name” given to this woman based on the wickedness of her namesake, you can be sure that everyone in that church knew exactly who that woman was.
As a shepherd of Christ’s flock, I am responsible to Christ my King first and foremost, and not to the sensibilities of the culture around me. In addition, in todays pluralistic society, we are surrounded by people of many different religious affiliations as well as those who claim to be Christian but who teach what Paul would call “another gospel.” This last group is the one that I feel poses the greatest threat. I do not expect those who grew up in our congregation to be tempted to practice Wicca or Buddhism, but many are quick to attend churches that claim to be Christian but do not offer a Christian message. We are surrounded by Word of Faith churches, Mormons, Roman Catholics, Prosperity Gospel Churches, and the writings and television programs of many false teachers. The “Pop Christian” culture has embraced ideas from Hillsong, Elevation Church, and others who distort the Word of God. How shall I justify remaining silent?
A final illustration. If the devil wanted to infiltrate your church, how would he do so? Would he don a tail and carry a pitchfork? Or, would he look like everybody else and nuance the truth just enough to lead you astray? It was the latter he did with Eve in the garden and it is the latter that he does through many of these false teachings. On the surface, a lot of what they teach “sounds right,” but if you look deeply, it is subversive. Remember, as Christians, this world is not our home. We are soldiers in an outpost in enemy territory and our command is to take ground and tear down the strongholds of the devil. Shall we not call out the enemy for who he is and pray that by doing so, he or she may repent and believers may not be swayed by their untruths?
“I, the Preacher, am king over Israel in Jerusalem and I put my heart to investigate and to discover through wisdom all that is done under the sun. It is an evil undertaking that God gives to the children of man to undertake.”
We have already discussed the identification of Solomon as Qoheleth — “The Preacher.” The initial “to be” verb, היה (hyh) is a basic Qal stem in the perfect tense, leading many translators to render this phrase: “I, the Preacher, was king over Israel…” And while that is a perfectly legitimate translation, it implies that Solomon is looking back from a point of view where he is no longer a king — the nature of a completed action. In Hebrew, though, the Perfect can also communicate a state of being, which seems to be more consistent with the historical records that do not see Rehoboam as king until after his father’s death. It is still reasonable to see this book as something Solomon wrote later in life as he looks back at his failures, but he is still doing so as king over Israel in Jerusalem.
With this pronouncement of him being King, we now see the basis from which he observes the world — “everything under the sun.” And his approach is to use wisdom to discern the ways of man. His conclusion is that this is an evil (רַא — “ra”) undertaking. Now, do not let Solomon’s answer rattle you, instead remember his context. Here he is king, raised as a king in a household full of “court intrigue.” He has also been surrounded by wealth all of his life and now he rules over people with whom he could never have begun to relate to their experience…yet, he is called upon to rule over them and judge their affairs — debates between prostitutes over whose baby is theirs and the like.
I have heard that sometimes Judges get weary over judging the same sorts of cases and crimes over and over and over again. Why can’t people just live alongside of one another with a degree of modest civility? I know that as a pastor, I feel much the same way at times, wanting to throw up my hands in exasperation, thinking, “why can’t these people just act like Christians!”
And that is exactly the point, isn’t it. People don’t always behave like Christians and they don’t always act with civility toward one another. People are sinners and make a mess of things and that is why God saves his own by Grace, not by our works (even the “best” of us would fail miserably!). That’s why we cannot just live under the sun with the wisdom of men. We need the Gospel. Perhaps this is why Solomon chose the term “Preacher” to describe himself…a realization that the preaching of God’s Word is what we most need. We need it taught, yes. We need it applied, yes. But we need more. We need God’s word pronounced with authority over us to condemn our sins and then offer us the hope of grace that comes through faith. This is so much more than what a teacher or a judge might happen to do.
In today’s world, preaching is not popular. Churches are shortening the time allotted to it, bringing it down to the level of the people rather than elevating it, they are ignoring law in favor of a spineless grace, and some are eliminating it altogether, replacing it will small-group discussions and teaching time focused only on the basics. While this is surely what people want because they flock to it, it is not what we most need. And people are starving spiritually and they don’t even know it. Sad…no, it is an evil undertaking because it is done “under the sun” rather than commanding people to turn their eyes to the Transcendent Son.
“But may it not be for me to boast if it is not in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.”—Galatians 6:14
“Once a man sees himself in the light of the cross, he sees the horror of that self-centered view in its every aspect.” -DM Lloyd-Jones
“God’s chief end is to glorify himself with a view to bringing man to enjoy him forever”
How often when asked to witness our faith to others do we begin with “this is what God did for me.” What a sad statement it is, when our view of salvation is centered on ourselves. I am not the object of redemptive history; God is. What a skewed view we have in the church.
Part of the power of the cross, when brought to bear on the lives of God’s people, is to break this idea that there is anything about the process of salvation that we deserve. We are but wretches before God, our righteousness, as Paul put it, is nothing more than a filthy rag (and we won’t discuss that imagery). We are nothing more than desperate beggars brought into the house before the storm. Yet, somehow, once we are in the house, we begin to think ourselves the master of the place. We see the meal that is brought to us as something that is deserved and we see the comforts within as our rightful place to recline.
When I was in High School, I worked for a wealthy couple tending their property. They had sixty acres of land and it was my job to keep it up and to do whatever odd jobs they had for me. Each year at Christmas, the St. Clair family had a huge and wonderful party for all of their friends. They often had as many as 70 people in their home for these parties. One year, they hired me to help direct traffic with people coming and going. Maryland winters are often quite cold, and I stood outside the festive home, all bundled up, directing people where to park.
After the party was well underway and the guests had all arrived, Mr. St. Clair came outside and invited me into their home to enjoy the festivities. Once inside, he introduced me as if he were introducing an honored guest and instructed me to eat my fill from the buffet table.
I did eat and was welcomed warmly by the guests, but at the same time, I had an overwhelming feeling of being out of place. Here I was, a high school student from a modest family, dressed in jeans and a sweat shirt, with mussed up hair from being under a stocking cap all night, mingling with some of the most wealthy people of the region who were dressed to the nines. I enjoyed myself on that evening immensely, but never once did I begin to feel that I deserved to be a part of these festivities. My presence was solely due to the grace of the host.
Our attitude toward our salvation ought to be the same as mine was at that party. How we don’t deserve to be present in the master’s house, but God has brought us in out of the cold, introduced us as an honored guest, and sat us at his table as his child. And why does he do this? Because of the work of his son on the cross. Oh, how we ought to cherish that cross! We are the recipients of God’s wonderful grace. It is something that we must never take for granted!
“But may it not be for me to boast if it is not in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.”—Galatians 6:14
Oh how often we take this casually. We are made new in Christ, but so often we daydream back toward the sinful days of our past and forget the wretchedness of our life apart from Christ. I was reading the biography of John Paton recently. Paton was a missionary to the cannibals of the New Hebrides islands (and a minister in the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Scotland, I might add). One of the things that he described in his journals was the insatiable craving for human flesh that these cannibals had. The small island where he served housed no less than 10 warring tribes. These tribes would roast the bodies of the enemy warriors they had killed in battle. Their lust for flesh was so strong, though, that when fresh bodies were scarce and they had no enemies to eat, they would dig up the corpses of recently buried people to feast on their remains. Depravity begets depravity.
Yet, I would argue that we are not all that different. We might not be in the habit of digging up dead bodies to eat, but drug addicts often sink to that same level of desperation to get their next high. Gambling addicts mortgage their homes and steal from their businesses to feed their craving. Sex addicts will risk ruining their marriages and the lives of their children for one more night of illicit ecstasy. Work-aholics will miss every important events in the life of their family for the opportunity to make another dollar even when the things that money can buy can never match the value of a presence in the life of a child. Depravity begets depravity.
But we, by virtue of the work of Christ on the cross, are made new. We are no longer bound by the downward cycle of sin. Yes, we will still sin, but there is forgiveness in Christ and there is strength through his Holy Spirit so we can resist temptation. Light has been shined in the darkness of our sinful lives and for the first time we can begin to see the path that we are on, albeit dimly. Let us not look back, then, at the way our lives used to be. The Christian has no use for the depravity of his old man for depravity begets depravity. We are called to be Holy as God is Holy. The contrast could not be more drastic.
“But may it not be for me to boast if it is not in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.”—Galatians 6:14
“Today, missed some fine opportunity of speaking a word for Christ. The Lord saw that I would have spoken as much for my honor as for his, and therefore, he shut my mouth. I see that a man cannot be a faithful, fervent minister until he preaches just for Christ’s sake, until he gives up trying to attract people to himself, and seeks to attract them to Christ. Lord, give me this.” -R.M. McCheyne
Spurgeon once likened the Bible to a road map of England. He pointed out on the map that every road, even if through a circuitous route, led into London. So too, he argued, did every verse, lead to Christ. And no matter how good your skill as an orator, no matter how well you have mastered the ancient languages, and no matter how apt your sermon illustrations are, if you do not point people to Christ, your preaching has wasted everyone’s time. We must ask ourselves of our preaching what Dr. Lloyd-Jones asked of our living, “Is God the chief end and object of your life?”
This is the model that I have tried to adopt within my own preaching. If I am to preach, I must become a beacon that points clearly to Christ and the cross. Exegesis and structure and illustrations and everything else that goes into writing a sermon is terribly important, but just like that road map, it does not matter how detailed and in-depth my directions are, if they lead the listener to any place but to Christ, then all my time and preparation are wasted and I might as well have said nothing.
In turn, this is the model that is set before us in living. We must constantly be asking ourselves if what we are doing is pointing people to Christ. Peter reminds us in his first letter that it is by our humble and submissive faithfulness to our Lord and Savior that people will be drawn to Christ. Too often we treat winning souls as a conquest. We hold revivals thinking that the Spirit of God somehow follows our lead when it comes to changing the hearts of man. This model could not be further from the truth. It is true that the Holy Spirit has moved at times to bring revival to a community through the preaching of one of his servants, yet for us to walk in with the expectation that we will be the next Whitefield or Wesley is sheer vanity. If you want to see true revival in our land, then it will come most reliably through Christians living faithful and humble lives in the sight of an unbelieving world. Our lives should be as street signs pointing to Christ, saying, “don’t look at me, but look at my Lord; I am merely a pointer so that He might be glorified.”
Is this how we approach the day? Is this how we approach witnessing? I suggest that it usually isn’t. So often, like Robert Murray McCheyne, we miss the opportunity to faithfully witness because our directions revolve around ourselves and do not point clearly to Christ and him crucified. Let us be deliberate in our lifestyle with Christ as the goal of every direction we give.
“The wall in Berlin, you see, is not the first wall that has been built in this world to separate people from one another. The World has always had its iron curtains. We change the terminology but the fact has always been there: the middle wall of partition, Jews on one side, Gentiles on the other side, and between them, a bitter hatred and animosity, which we can scarcely even imagine.” -D.M. Lloyd-Jones
What I find to be interesting about walls is that we are so careless about how and where we put them up. Walls do not have to be bad things. A good, stout wall can provide a defense against the attacks of enemy armies. It can bring comfort to all who are within it when the guardsmen are alert on the ramparts. I have endeavored to make my home that kind of place. My desire is that the sin and foolishness of the world not be able to encroach upon those who live within the walls of my home. This carries over to how I treat my wife and son and it carries over to the expectations that I place on them. Our home, I intend, is to be a place of building up, not a place of tearing down.
Likewise, our churches should reflect the same thing. Like shepherds, pastors must protect and build up the flock that God has given them. The church needs to be a refuge from the infighting and the frantic pace of the world. The walls that we build around the church are not to keep people out, rather they are to keep the seeds of the serpent that inundate our culture out. In a very real way, the church within should look very different than the world without.
Yet, sin muddles things up, doesn’t it? Sin causes us to build walls inside of our homes and within our church. No longer are the walls a sign of defense, but they become a thing of separation. We have a long tradition of building these kinds of walls, built with stones of pride and ignorance. The first of these human walls was built as far back as Eden, when Adam and Eve chose to break covenant with God and eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. While we don’t talk about it much, the thing that I think is amazing is that neither Adam nor Eve was repentant when confronted by God; they just played the blame-game. In that act, a wall was created between creation and God that could never be breached from our side.
But what a gracious God we serve. God paid the price of his only son on the cross, breaching the wall from the other side. Like prisoners of war that have been broken from our dark and filthy cells and brought out into the light, we who have been saved from our sin are indebted beyond comprehension to our Savior! We put up a wall that we could never hope to break down, but Christ shattered it!
To those who would accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, believing in their heart and confessing with their lips, God has given them eternal life. And he builds another wall around them, and what a wall it is! For this wall is one that does not separate one from God, but is a wall that joins them together in covenant permanently, for God will permit none of his chosen to slip from his hand (John 10:29).
We must take the time to survey the walls that we have constructed in our lives. We must look for cracks in those meant to defend against the attacks of the evil one and we must seek to tear down the ones that separate us from our families, our neighbors, and others around us. Christ has torn down the wall between us and God, let us tear down the walls between us and man that we might take the gospel to every corner of the world and apply it to every corner of our life.
“The power of the devil, the power of evil, is so great that every human being ever born into the world has been defeated by it.” -D.M. Lloyd-Jones
I am sure that you have rented or watched movies before that were recommended to you by a friend, but once you watched them, you sat aghast, wondering why ever this friend would have suggested such a film. A few years ago, my wife and I rented one of “these” kinds of films. I don’t recall the title but the movie was basically a modern rendition of the Faust story, where a Lawyer makes a pact with the devil to get to the top of his profession. Sadly, as is the way with most contemporary films, the Devil was portrayed in a good light and the lawyer’s decision was shown as a noble one. There was one redeeming line within this movie. The main character and the Devil were discussing “means” and the Devil made this comment. “The best thing that I ever did was to convince mankind that I do not exist.” How true this statement is.
In The Screwtape Letters, by C.S. Lewis, Lewis develops much of the same idea. Wormwood is constantly urged by his Uncle Screwtape to manipulate things from the background. I know that as I read that book, I was convicted of many sins that I had never even thought were within my life. In his book, Out of the Silent Planet, Lewis describes fallen earth as a darkened place. The people in Malecandra (Mars) cannot peer into the affairs of men. Oh how we can say with the Apostle Paul that we see through a glass darkly in this world. Even the humanist, Mark Twain, understood this idea that our eyes are clouded to the truth when he misquoted Paul by saying, “we see through a glass eye darkly.” Of course, one sees nothing through a glass eye at all!
We are born into a mess of sin in our lives. There is nothing we can do about it. It is all around us and it is within us. It does not take very long before you realize, as a parent, that your little baby is quite sinful. In fact, I would argue that anyone who denies the doctrine of Original Sin could never have had children. We are born spiritually dead on arrival. Not only can we not get away from it on our own, but we cannot understand why we ought to get away from it on our own. Pelagius argued that if you ought to do something you are capable of doing it. Yet, sin blinds us even from understanding what we ought do. One of the themes of the Epistle of James is being a hearer and a doer of the word. You cannot be a doer if you have not heard, but you cannot even really hear without a movement of the Holy Spirit in your life enabling you to hear it and internalize it. Without the work of the Holy Spirit you can no more expect someone to act upon the preached Word of God than you can expect the stones of the Church’s foundation to act upon it.
And here is the triumph of the Cross! Satan may ”own” us at birth, but we, the elect, are more like prisoners of war that God will send, in his time, the special forces to rescue through the power of the Holy Spirit. We often do not think of ourselves as soldiers or that we are at war; this is Satan convincing us that he is not at work. But the teachers and preachers of the Word of God are in a sense the Special Operations team of the church. We are fully equipped through the power of the Holy Spirit, but we are operating deep in enemy territory to seek and save those captive souls for the Lord Jesus Christ. If that is the case, we, like the Special Forces, need to be about rigorous training throughout life. Our weapons are the sword of scripture and the rifle of prayer.
But the victory is not ours to claim. We are simply instruments, servants, working in our master’s household and for his glory. Christ was the ultimate Special Force, for it is he that faced the very wrath of God for the sins of his people. When we meditate on that it ought to make us rejoice and weep at the same time. It ought to make us rejoice for that battle has been won and we, who are believers in and on the Lord Jesus Christ have been saved. And it ought to make us weep, for it is because of our sin that the Lord Jesus had to suffer so. We ought to reflect on this always.
The cross of Christ is not a simple stop on the road of life, but it is the very road to life. Jesus did not stop at telling the Christian simply to take up their cross, but he commanded that they follow. Too many people think that the “taking up” is the most important thing. They might struggle to lift the burden, but once it is squarely upon their shoulders, they say, “enough of that,” and promptly drop the burden on the dirt. This is not the way that Christ has set before us. Yes, we must heft the cross that the Lord calls us to bear, but we must carry that cross, following Jesus. It will not be a pleasant load, for sure. There will be times when the splinters and the knots of the wood will dig deeply into your exposed back. You will be made to carry it across rough fields, potholes, dense brush, and the like. But even in the most difficult, painful, and unpleasant times, it will be a sweet load to bear, for it is the load of your savior.
Before I became a Christian, I gloried in the world. In fact, I went out of my way to draw attention to myself. I would do wilder and wilder stunts and gimmicks as if to say “look at me!” Some of these things were quite silly and foolish, but many were downright shameful. Not only was there no good within me, but I paraded and gloried in that which was detestable. The problem that arose when I became a believer was not one of grieving over my past wicked ways, but of putting those ways behind me, and not looking back.
This is the way of all believers. It is not good enough to simply confess that you have sinned and then go on living like a pagan; repentance means to turn around. Sadly, in my own life, there have been many when I have stumbled under the weight of trial and temptation. My heart has followed the example of Lot’s wife, looking back and longing for what I cannot have.
A pastor friend of mine once argued that the reason that Christians hold onto their sins so long is that human nature makes us hold on to things until they are too painful to grasp. We are like children reaching for the stove. At first we might receive a simple, “no” or a hand slap. But as we persist in trying to reach for the stove, the discipline becomes much more severe. This is not because our parents take joy in disciplining us, but it is because they want to prevent us from being burned severely. Sometimes the Holy Spirit’s fire of sanctification may seem too much to bear, but the sting of spiritual discipline will mature us where the fire of sin will consume.
So often, we find we are greatly tempted to look back fondly at the life God has saved us from. When that happens, let us remember well that the life God saved us from may seem sweet to the memory, but was only filled with bitterness once it passed the tongue. Let us be a people who live for their Lord; who keep eyes focused on the finish-line of heaven; and who never look back at our forsaken sins.
“I know of nothing so wonderful in the whole world today [than the cross]. That is why I do not preach topical sermons, I have something to tell you that is worth listening to!”
I am going to gripe just a bit to get it out of my system—accept my apologies in advance. The question that I have is this. How many preachers can claim, with Dr. Lloyd-Jones, that they have something to say that is worth listening to? And if they do, why are so many of them being silent about it? When there is a report of an incoming tornado, the radios buzz with noise. When a major event happens in our community, not only is the grapevine buzzing, but it is announced in the streets with excitement. But what greater thing is there to announce or to hear than the news of the cross?
Why is this? Do we as Christians not have an urgent message to proclaim? Do we consider ministry something that is only done by trained professionals? Does the message of the cross of Christ weary us? Is it too inconvenient to take the time to share the Gospel with someone you have met? If this is the case, I say shame on you. We ought to leap with joy at the opportunity to share the good news of Jesus Christ!
I do not mean to disparage my brothers in ministry or in the church. I love them and I love you dearly. And there are many who are going out of their way to serve God both locally and elsewhere. It is not these that I gripe about, but it is those who wish to see the fruit of God’s blessing without being willing to plant in the spring. Yes, this is one of my soap-boxes. My wife tries to hide them from me, but I usually find them without difficulty. Some may think that I am a bit off my rocker, wanting the Gospel preached to every person in the city which I live and in the world which God has set me in. But, the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the life-blood of the church. Without it, she dies. My prayer is that each of us would take the standard of the cross and raise it high in our lives. May it be seen from Jackson to Matherville, from Mississippi to Maryland, and from America to every corner of the earth! Yet, as far as it may reach, it needs to start with our own lives as Christians. We have a message to tell, and it is a wonderful one. The question that we must ask ourselves is whether or not we believe it is wonderful enough to step out and share.
“The cross of our Lord Jesus Christ is either an offence to us or else it is a thing above everything else in which we glory… These are the only two positions—offence, or glory.” D.M. Lloyd-Jones
Sadly, the cross in our society has become more of an ornament than it is a symbol of our Lord’s passion and our redemption. People have taken that old rugged cross, sanded out all of the burs and splinters, added some decorative beveling to the corners, stained it, and coated it with eight careful coats of polyurethane. The resultant cross is something beautiful to behold with the eye but has lost all traces of the savior who had hung there. The resultant cross is something that can be casually dangled from the neck for good luck but does little to remind us just what our salvation cost.
While many Christians do not wear a cross for this reason, which is ultimately idolatry, I prefer to wear, a cross. Yet, when I wear a cross around my neck, I see it as a brand of ownership, always reminding me to whom I belong. According to Levitical Law, when a slave is freed, if he chooses to remain a slave in the service of his master, his master is to take him into a doorpost and drive an awl through his ear (presumably to add a stud or ring) as a sign of that permanent ownership (Deuteronomy 15). While I do not suggest that all Christians to enlist their pastors to start driving awls through their ears, the principle is the same. I see the cross as a sign of ownership. My slavery to Christ cannot and will not be rescinded.
The bottom line is, though, that there is no middle ground when it comes to your understanding of the cross. You either glory in it–as it is and for what it is–or you hate it and all that it stands for. When you hate it, you are prone to cover it up and smooth it over, making it more acceptable to your sensibilities. The problem is that God is not concerned about our sensibilities. We must conform our lives to the image of God, not attempt to conform God to our image.
Before I came to seminary, I served as an interim pastor of two small Methodist churches in the country. One of those churches, in their sanctuary, had what I considered to be the most elegant cross that I have ever seen. It was made from rough-cut fence-post lumber and lashed together. The cross was rough, full of splinters, the beams were not symmetrical or completely straight, and it looked as if it had weathered a thousand storms. To me, it was a thing of beauty. Why? Because it was a constant reminder of the cost my savior paid for my soul. The cross will be either our lifeline or our lodestone in this sea of the world; there is no “neutral buoyancy” anywhere within it.
“The Cross is the strength of the minister. I, for one, would not be without it for the world. I should feel like a soldier without weapons, like an artist without his pencil, like a pilot without his compass, like a laborer without his tools. Let others, if they will, preach the law and morality. Let others hold forth the terrors of hell and the joys of heaven. Let others drench their congregations with teachings about the sacraments and the church. Give me the cross of Christ. This is the only lever which has ever turned the world upside down hitherto and made men forsake their sins. And if this will not do it, nothing will. A man may begin preaching with a perfect knowledge of Latin, Greek, and Hebrew; but he will do little or no good among his hearers unless he knows something of the cross. Never was there a minister who did much for the conversion of souls who did not dwell much on Christ crucified. Luther, Rutherford, Whitefield, M’Cheyne were all most eminent preachers of the cross. This is the preaching that the Holy Ghost delights to bless. He loves to honor those who honor the cross.” -J.C. Ryle
After preaching at the homeless shelter regularly for about three or four months I began to become frustrated. I was constantly facing the same kind of issues and failures in the lives of the men. I felt as if we had dealt with this or that issue in a previous sermon and now we should be able to move on. To be fair, there is a lot of turnover at the shelter, so we dealt with many new people all of the time, but the real problem was not in the men, the real problem was with me. My pride was telling me many things, but ultimately my pride was telling me that my preaching was about what I was interested in and not about what these men needed. When pride finds its way into preaching, the cross is the first thing that gets left out.
If the cross is not at the center of my life and my message, it means that I have forgotten how truly wonderful a gift and message the cross is. As Paul, we ought to revel in the cross. We are not to minimize it, spiritualize it, turn it into a decoration, or to apologize for it. The cross is our hope! As ugly and wretched as that cross was, it is the center for the most magnificent and wondrous gift that could ever be given, and was given for me. Without the cross, it is only judgment and condemnation that lies in my path.
As I struggled with this idea and with my pride, I ran into a quote from Charles Spurgeon. Spurgeon described the Bible as a roadmap of the area around London. He challenged someone to show him a road that did not lead, even if the path were circuitous, into the heart of London. The man could find none. “The Bible, too,” Spurgeon said, “is like that map. Every verse in scripture either points to or is a direct result of the work of Jesus Christ. And if in your preaching you do not point clearly toward Christ, directing your congregation to follow the map, then you have wasted everyone’s time.” Christ is not only to be at the heart of our preaching, he is what motivates preaching, drives our preaching home in the hearts of our congregation, and he is the very reason that our congregation is drawn to worship in the first place.
And for the cross of Christ to be the center of a preacher’s message, the cross must be the center of his life. And while this message is essential for the preacher to learn, it is also a message that is essential for the life of every Christian. The cross is our only source of hope; it is the bridge through which sinful man can be brought into relationship with a holy God; it is the roadmap through which eternal life may be found; and it is the standard for the church today—a church in the wilderness, looking to it to be spared death. The cross of Christ means salvation and if it is not the center of the life of the Christian, then whatever is will likely lead him astray.
We sing of the “Wondrous Cross” of Christ in worship, but do we take the time to ponder the wonder of the cross and what happened on that day, nearly 2000 years ago. Do we simply see the cross at a point in history or do we glory in it as the apostle did? My fear is that we don’t. As we ponder the cross of Christ, let us remember that God did not have to do what he did for us, yet he chose to send his son to die on the cross that those who would call on the name of Jesus would be saved from eternal damnation. We do not deserve what he did on that frightful day, but let us proclaim God’s glory that he did.
When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of Glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride.