the content of preaching
Admittedly, I was slightly hesitant to write on the subject of this post, as I feel like I am entering a field of thought which I may be unable to adequately do justice to. Nevertheless, it is a field of prime importance in Scripture and of personal conviction in my heart that deserves discussion. That field is the content of preaching.
An important question that deserves an answer is “Does it matter how the Bible is preached?”. In my experience, many people have never even considered the question. If God has given guidelines and examples for prayer, for church leadership, and even for worship in Scripture, should we not expect God to have given a standard for the preaching of his own precious Word? In fact, we can be glad to know that God has provided his church with a standard for preaching that we must strive to emulate. Put simply, that standard is Christ.
As we have previously seen, all of Scripture points to Christ. If all of Scripture points to Christ, it should come as no surprise that the preaching of God’s Word is also ultimately to be about Christ. We can see this affirmed in a variety of homiletical statements and Biblical examples.
Paul, in exhorting the Christians at Corinth, describes to them the content of preaching and says,
“For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” – 1 Corinthians 1:22-24
In the next chapter, Paul again exclaims to them,
“And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” – 1 Corinthians 2:1-2
We know from Acts 18 that Paul stayed in Corinth for 1.5 years. This refutes the idea that Paul was preaching Christ because he was just evangelizing. Paul spent many months ministering to the church in Corinth, and through it all he sums up his preaching in ultimately being about one person: Christ.
In the midst of exhorting the Christians at Colossae, Paul exclaims to them,
“…the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ.” – Colossians 1:27b-28
Again, Paul’s amazing testimony is that the content and goal of preaching is Christ!
In addition to the previously cited verses that establish the Biblical principle of preaching Christ, we also have numerous examples. One doesn’t have to look much farther than the book of Acts. There are numerous sermons recorded within the book, and a casual reading of them again shows that preaching’s aim is to be Christ. This was the first sermon ever given after the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the New Covenant age:
But Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them: “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words. For these people are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day. But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel:
'And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; even on my male servants and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy. And I will show wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke; the sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the day of the Lord comes, the great and magnificent day. And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.'
“Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know – this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it. For David says concerning him,
'I saw the Lord always before me, for he is at my right hand that I may not be shaken; therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced; my flesh also will dwell in hope. For you will not abandon my soul to Hades, or let your Holy One see corruption. You have made known to me the paths of life; you will make me full of gladness with your presence.’
“Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing. For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says,
“The Lord said to my Lord, 'Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.”’
Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” – Acts 2:14-36
Space doesn’t allow the listing of the other major sermons in the book of Acts, but they can be found as follows: Acts 3:11-26, 7:1-53, 10:34-43, 13:16-47, 17:22-31, 20:18-35, 22:1-21, 26:1-29. A reading of them causes one to realize that from the very beginning, sermons were about Christ. A common refutation of the examples in Acts is that many of them are evangelistic. Although many of them may be evangelistic in nature, that doesn’t invalidate the example of preaching Christ.
Perhaps a more significant example is that the only recorded sermon in all of Scripture directed towards a Christian congregation is also about Christ. In the closing verses of the book of Hebrews, the author says,
“I appeal to you, brothers, bear with my word of exhortation, for I have written to you briefly.” – Hebrews 13:22
In the extra-Biblical literature of the time, that Greek phrase translated “word of exhortation” was frequently used to refer to public readings / teachings in Jewish synagogues and to preaching in Christian churches. Consequently, that ending paragraph indicates that the entire book of Hebrews, which was written to a Christian congregation, is most likely one giant sermon. That makes the book of Hebrews the only recorded sermon to a Christian congregation in all of Scripture. When one evaluates the book, what is to be found? Hebrews is rife with exposition and redemptive historical interpretation all centered on the person and work of Jesus Christ!
As the nature of Scripture, the testimony of the apostles, and the profuse examples in God’s Word all make clear: preaching is ultimately about Christ. That much is evident. This then raises an important question, “What does it mean to preach Christ?”. Put quite simply, preaching Christ means preaching every text of Scripture showing how it is rooted in, pointing to, or fulfilled by the person and work of Jesus Christ. This may sound like an incredibly daunting task. How do I preach Christ from the genealogies, from the Levitical regulations, or from the Wisdom Literature? Those are great questions that deserve thorough answers, but unfortunately, space does not permit me the privilege of diving into those details here. I must defer you to external resources that expound on this subject far better than I ever could. In a subsequent post, I will list recommended resources that dive into the details of preaching Christ from all of Scripture.
My friends, we must affirm at this juncture what the testimony of Scripture makes resoundingly clear: preaching is about Christ. The questions now stands: Are we preaching Christ?