Sermons are a duty and a joy. A duty that is born out of the calling of God to preach the Gospel of Christ in the power of the Spirit, which is also a joy at the same time. This strange combination and the outworking of it always amazes me, and always motivates me, it terrifies me and weighs heavy with me. But woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel.
David Hansen, in The Art of Pastoring (chapter on Preaching), compares the careful study of the Word of God with the sorting and processing of a computer chip. Just as they look like they are doing nothing, so a preacher immersed in the Scriptures, reading the thoughts and comments of those who have gone before, in a prayerful attitude of service to God’s people, may look like not much is going on, but everything is going on, salvation, heaven, hell, people, sin, healing, redemption, proclamation. Rushing through the Scriptures, Hansen insists, causes shallow sermons. Christ must be preached!
But a well prepared, well prayed, well thought out sermon will encourage people in the progress, admonish them in their sin and present Christ to sinner and saint alike. As someone else also said, a sermon should sing and sting, wound and heal. Shallow sermons can’t do that! And if preaching is the proclamation of amnesty in Christ, friendship with God, it is a reversal of the Fall, a reversal of the triumph of the snake in Genesis 3. Hansen says, preaching is stepping on the snake. This only happens when Christ is preached, that is why Christ must be preached!
In a previous post I mentioned that preaching is war waged on the human heart. Preaching is not a talk. It is not a speech. It is not a thought about something in the Bible. It is proclamation, it is war. War on the human heart for the human heart, and war against the snake, the devil, Satan, the liar and father of lies. In this sense, preaching is aggression, it is a word about Yahweh, the God of War, a Holy Warrior God who fights for the hearts of people. More, He fights to give us new hearts, and this only happens in Christ when Christ is preached.
Preaching to stubborn human hearts is offensive, to saint and sinner alike. Just as the snake is offended and humbled when he is stepped on, so a person’s heart is offended by the Word of Christ preached. If you preach and you see offense as you preach or afterwards, keep preaching, for the Word is going to work to sing and sting, but sing it must and when it stings, the heart will sing. Pride must be crucified, the snake’s head must be crushed.
Hansen continues, “It’s easy to back off from the offense. The flesh will scream, and the devil will bare his venom-dripping teeth. The human heart is the most fiercely guarded piece of ground in the universe. The fortress is built up through years and years of self justification and rationalization. The soul in sin feels alive, but it is dead. The sermon must shed light on the soul’s dire circumstances so it may turn from sin and live.” Christ must be preached!
Hansen quotes Dietrich Bonheoffer, who comments on the spiritual reality of pulpit warfare: “As a witness to Christ, the sermon is a struggle with demons. Every sermon must overcome Satan. Every sermon fights a battle. But this does not occur through the dramatic efforts of the preacher. It happens only through the proclamation of the One who has trodden upon the head of the devil. We usually do not recognize the devil anyway. We do not find him; Christ finds him. The devil departs from him. Satan waits nowhere for his prey as where the congregation gathers itself. Nothing is more important to Satan than to hinder Christ’s coming to the congregation. Therefore Christ must be preached.”
Friends, if you preach, preach the Victor who is Christ Jesus. Resist the devil and he will flee. But preach Christ. If you don’t preach, then listen. Listen to the proclaimed word of God as it comes forth and bears fruit. Come under the Word and see it go to work bearing fruit. Let this word dwell in you richly. Proclaim Christ in your lives. Either way, whether you preach or hear preaching, Christ must be preached!