Someone made a comment to me yesterday, “It was so good to hear you talk about Jesus in your sermon.”
The comment came from someone whose work for a mission agency takes him to many different countries. He described how he was in the States for an extended period recently where he heard about 25 sermons in different church contexts. He calculated that although all the sermons were biblical, only five of them spoke specifically about Jesus.
The failure of preachers to refer to Jesus in their preaching is something I am hearing more and more from people who talk about preaching.
What is going on?
There is certainly a shift here from the emphasis of the apostle Paul in his preaching. “For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” (1 Corinthians 2:2)
Paul was not saying that his only subject matter was the crucifixion of Jesus, but that all his preaching was cruciform. The cross of Jesus was the lens through which he viewed every subject.
For example, when he wants to talk to the Philippian Christians about humility and service in the church (Philippians 2:1–4), he does not merely provide a list of tips on how churches can function smoothly. Paul weaves his practical teaching about the church with some of the most exalted reflections on Jesus, his cross and exaltation, that can be found in all of Scripture (Philippians 1:5–11).
Jesus is at the heart of all the Scriptures. All Scriptural roads lead to him. Every sermon that we preach will be helpfully illuminated by a fresh, creative, and nuanced reference to him.
Even in those parts of the Bible, like the Book of Esther, where God is not specifically mentioned, it is possible to preach Jesus. For example, the willingness of Queen Esther to put her life on the line to rescue her people is an amazing pointer to the greater sacrifice of Jesus on the cross.
In teaching preachers I often turn to Paul’s words to the Colossians,
“He is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ.” (Colossians 1:28)
This means that whatever aspect we are studying on the person and work of Jesus can inform our preaching. He is the source, substance, and goal of the Christian life, so all our Christian life and experience can be related to him.
Last night I was asked to preach at Old Gertrude’s Lutheran Church in Riga. The pastor had a particular request,
“You can choose the topic of your sermon, but if I can suggest, then it would be good to hear something from you about the beauty of Christ. We have many practical sermons, including sermons about God’s love and what Christ has done for us, but we really don’t talk much about who Christ was and is.”
I spoke from John 1:1–18 about Jesus, the eternal Word who became flesh. One of the things I said about this was that because the Word became flesh, he could feel pain. Three of the people who came forward for prayer afterwards came because they saw that the beauty of a Jesus who had felt our pain.
Preach Jesus: he is the magnet that draws us to God, he is the motivation that stirs our wills, he is the magnificent abundance that meet our needs.