The Supremacy of God in Preaching
Christian & Missionary Alliance General Council
The following is an unedited transcription of the audio.
Thank you so much for helping me engage with God already tonight. I love to speak into a worship context. I love to speak to a worshiping people and so thank you so much for engaging with God and your time of worship so energetically and what appeared to me authentically.
I value very much walking into a context like this, I feel drawn up into the presence of the Lord. Another high point tonight was and I don't think though believe me when I go home when I say that I actually spoke at the same meeting with A.W. Tozer. I mean they would want to just fall down and touch me.
So how do you arrange such a thing? This is just, I could just go home now and be so happy.
One of the great advantages of being at the same church for 17 years is that your personal life mission statement and the church's mission statement become one. Let me give you our church's mission statement and it is my life mission statement and you'll see why the request from Paul [Boument] to address these particular topics that he gave me was a request I couldn't resist.
Our mission statement says, "We exist to spread a passion for the supremacy of God and all things for the joy of all peoples." I'll say it again. We exist to spread a passion for the supremacy of God and all things for the joy of all peoples.
So when he said how about tackling the supremacy of God in preaching tonight and the supremacy of God in prayer tomorrow morning and the supremacy of God in missions tomorrow night? It didn't take me very long to say I would love to do that with your people and so I do love to do it tonight.
And I would like to pray once more just briefly and ask God to help in this incredibly important task. So let's bow and ask his help. Oh father in heaven I thank you so much for these brothers and sisters who have engaged with you tonight to glorify your name in corporate worship have extolled you by drawing attention to the value of your name in missions and are now ready to hear a word that I believe you've given me and I pray for your help to deliver it.
Protect us father from error, imbalance, pride, fear and grant that there will come the Holy Spirit upon this place with great power and that any without Christ here would be drawn into the life and that every saint with the strength and that every pastor, preacher would be made bold to make you supreme in his work. Come and help I pray in Jesus name, Amen.
My passion to make God supreme in preaching both in my own and in everybody I can influence took a tremendous leap forward several years ago when I read in a journal that you may have heard of called "First Things," a journal of political and religious comments. This quotation from a scientist, a specialist in general relativity theory named Charles Meisner about the attitude of Albert Einstein toward organized religion and preaching 50 years ago.
Albert's Einstein died in 1955, here's the quote. "I do see the design of the universe has essentially a religious question that is one should have some kind of respect and awe for the whole business. It's very magnificent and shouldn't be taken for granted. In fact, I believe that is why Einstein had so little use for organized religion although he strikes me as a basically very religious man. He must have looked at what their preachers said about God and felt that they were blaspheming. He had seen much more Majesty than they had ever imagined and they were just not talking about the real thing. My guess is that he simply felt that religions he had run across did not have a proper respect for the author of the universe..."
I was so cut and reading that, that I pledge to God to redouble my efforts not ever to have anybody be able to say that about me. And I want to so speak tonight as to the cut preachers and inspiring preachers and those who form search committees in call of preachers so as to want never to have that said of us.
And yet I believe it is a fair statement about much preaching in the American pulpit. Now I admit that my sampling is very limited, preachers have this one great advantage. They don't get to hear each other. They're depended on tapes and CDs and conferences and a few other things and so I confess that my judgment are fallible and limited and yet on my limited exposure I would say that Einstein's concern is valid.
He said four things. Preachers don't seem to have seen as much of the Majesty of God as he had staring through a telescope or studying his physics. That could mean he said preachers just don't seem to be talking about the real thing. Thirdly, there doesn't seem to be a proper respect for the author of the universe. And forth, preachers seem to be blaspheming.
Now that charge of blasphemy of courses loaded, it's meant to carry a wallop to say that the real thing just doesn't seem to be coming through. They claim to be talking about the absolutely eternal, it infinite, unchanging creator of the universe, but it doesn't feel like it. It doesn't look like it, doesn't sound like it.
For those who are stunned by the indescribable magnitude of the universe, not to mention the infinitely greater author of the universe. A steady diet of psychological soothing and practical how-to's and relational therapy gets very thin and somehow seemed very inauthentic and gives the impression are we talking about the real thing.
Well everybody here remembers perhaps from high school physics that light travels at about 5.87 trillion miles a year. We all know that right? And you may also remember that the galaxy of which our planet, solar system is apart, Milky Way, is about 100,000 light-years across, that's about 587,000 trillion miles.
It is one of 1 million such galaxies within the optical range of our strong telescopes and in our galaxy there are about 100 billion stars. The sun is one of those modest size ones with a temperature around the edges of about 6,000 degrees Celsius, it travels at about 155 miles per second and therefore will make it first orbit around the galaxy in about 200,000 years.
Now scientist know these things and they are awed by them and they conclude if there is as the Christians say a personal God, a personal God who spoke that into being and as Hebrews 1-3 says upholds it by the word of his power, then there ought to be a certain respect for him. An awe and dread and fear at not knowing, loving, trusting or obeying such a God.
And certainly there would be a constant talking about this God and certainly the manifold greatness and glory of such a God would be ever present in the life of his people and they would be stunned by the limitless things they could say about his magnificence.
You've to feel for this when you read Isaiah 40. These words from verses 25 and 26, to whom then will you compare me says the Lord. That I should be like him says the Holy one. Lift up your eyes on high and see who created these stars? He who brings out their host by number calling them all by name. By the greatness by his might, because he is strong in power not one of them is missing.
Now ponder that for a moment. Not only did he create them, but he knows their number and he knows their name. Every star in the universe has a name. Do you ever ask why that is? 005986738 or maybe Jim or John or Sally. I think the reason they have names is so that he can call them and tell them what to do. That's why their names. They obey him, the whims and the ways and the star obey him. The stars in their courses obediently, obediently shine.
Einstein felt some of this and his response was the preachers I just not talking about the real thing. If God exists, the God of the Bible, then what's wrong with our preaching? Let's put it positively, surely then the theme, the spirit, the atmosphere of our preaching should be the majesty and the glory and the supremacy of God and everything else that we talk about should be brought into relationship to this and it should be the passion of our preaching and our lives.
Now what I want to do tonight is to pose two questions about this. One is to ask why this is so. Why should the supremacy of God be the passion of our preaching? And secondly, how shall we then preach? Question number one then, why should be supremacy of God be the passion and the theme of our preaching?
A couple of years ago, I'm not sure how long it's been, it's maybe more than a couple. I was doing this interview with Preaching Today and they asked me that question on the telephone. Why do you make so much of the supremacy of God being the theme of preaching? And the answer I gave was what came to my mind as they were teaching or asking me this. I said well, it's because the supremacy of God is the theme of redemptive history. In fact if you push it all the way back the supremacy of God is the theme of God.
What is supreme to God ultimately is God? And if God is supreme in his own affections and in his own planning and in his own world and in his own word, then surely God should be supreme in our sermon planning and in our annunciation of his word.
I remember just a few years ago that was my alma mater preaching. First chance I ever had to stand in the puppet of chapel of Wheaton College. This is going to be exciting and I stood up there and the first words out of my mouth were... I got up in front of these 2000 students and said the chief end of God is to glorify God and enjoy him forever and I had friends up in the balcony and they went... Like that. And said afterwards we thought you just blew your one chance to get it right at Wheaton and you quoted the Westminster catechism wrong.
It's the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever, but having listen to the whole 25 minutes they knew it was no mistake because I meant it with all of my heart. I believe is the main point of the Bible that the chief and of God is to glorify God. I think that's what Tozer said with every book that he ever wrote. The chief end of God is to glorify God and enjoy himself forever.
Jonathan Edwards along with A.W. Tozer and a few others is a hero of mine and the book that made this point in my life and a life changing way about 25 years ago now is called "The Dissertation Concerning the End for Which God Created the World." That's the short title.
"The Dissertation Concerning the End for Which God Created the World" and in it he makes this point, I'll read you the thesis. "The great end of God's works which is so very easily expressed in scripture is indeed but one, and this one end is most properly and comprehensively called the glory of God."
Now let me read you one passage of scripture's so that you get the flavor of why I say God's supremacy is the main heartbeat of God and therefore it must be the main heartbeat of preaching about God. Isaiah 48 9-11, "God says for my name's sake I did for my anger for the sake of my praise I restrain it for you that a may not cut you off. Behold I have find you but not like silver I have tried you in the furnace of affliction for my own sake, or my own sake I do it for how should my name be profaned, my glory I will not give to another."
I think those three verses are probably the most dense, concentrated, God centered versus in the Bible. Six times for my name's sake, for my name's sake, for my glory I will not give my glory to another. Why? It's because it's his passion. God's glory is his passion. He created the world to go public with his glory. He created human minds to understand his glory, he created human hearts to delight in his glory and he gets more glory when mind and heart are engaged with thoughts and feelings that if only mind or only feeling are engaged.
Which is why we have at the bottom of our stationery that word that sums up all of my theology, God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him. This is the good news. By God's quest be glorified and your quest be satisfied are not at odds, they are one in worship.
Therefore my answer to my first question is why do we make God supreme in preaching? We do so because God is supreme in the heart of God and in redemptive history and in salvation and in the Bible and in missions and in prayer. Which we'll get to later.
Last question, how should we do this? How then shall we preach? Now pay attention to that question. What I would like to do is take you to a sermon that I think is probably the most God centered sermon in the Bible and if you have a viable and you can read it in the light that's out there for you, you can turn with me to Acts chapter 13.
It would be helpful if you look at it because instead of reading the sermon I'm going to jump from verse to verse and diverse portion to first portion and make points that draw out what you might have missed. Sometimes we read the scripture so often we fail to be stunned by the way it is written and the way the apostles preached.
So here's Paul arriving at Antioch of Pisidia. He goes into the synagogue, he's invited to address the people and he preaches a survey of redemptive history and he does it in a way that I wonder if any of us speaks. Let's start at verse 17 and I'll simply show you why I call this the most God centered, God exalting, God saturated sermon in the Bible.
Verse 17 A, it was God who chose Israel from all of the people in the earth for his purposes. Middle of verse 17, it was God who made the people great during their stay in Egypt, it wasn't natural fertility of Jews. God made them grow. The last part of verse 17, it was God who led them out of Egypt with an uplifted arm. In other words God flexed his muscles in Egypt so that people would see his strength, God meant to be seen in the Exodus.
Verse 18, it was God who bore with Israel in the wilderness for another old reading with just one letter difference and the Greek. God carried Israel like a father so he was guider and sustainer and father throughout the wilderness in his wanderings.
Verse 19, it was God who destroyed the seven nations that they encountered as they entered Canaan. Yes humans swung the sword, yes they through this spear, yes they swirled their slingshots, but as we all know from Proverbs 21. The horses made ready for the day of battle, but victory belongs to the Lord.
Second part of first 19, it was God who gave Israel the land of Canaan as an inheritance. If you give something to somebody as an inheritance, you own it. It wasn't the nations who owned the land of Canaan, Got owned the land of Canaan and he gives it to whomever he pleases Paul says. The Earth is the Lord's for you made it some .
Verse 20 in Acts 13, it was God who gave Israel judges. These rulers didn't rise up on their own Samson, Deborah, Gideon. God raise them up says.
Verse 21. It was God who gave to Israel her first King Saul. Verse 22, it was God who removed Saul just like Daniel says remember? God changes times and seasons, he removes kings and sets up kings or as Daniel 4:32 says the most high rules over the kingdom of man he gives it to whomever he will.
That's what's in Paul's mind here as he enunciates the removal of Saul and now verse 22, second half. He raises up David, the son of Jesse, a shepherd boy, a harp plucker, a slaying shooter and God against all human expectations says that's my man. He will be king.
Verse 23, it was God who brought to Israel a savior, Jesus. God brought Jesus to the earth, God brought Jesus to Israel and not by any mere, immediate, impersonal force, but you can see it at the end of the first the phrase as he promised. Which means this thing had been planned. This thing had been thought through centuries before God looked to see what he would do at the fullness of time and he's spoke it through promises and profits that he would do it this way.
Versus 24 and 25, we meet of all people to choose to speak about in Antioch of Pisidia, John the Baptist. And what does he choose out of all of the things he could say about John the Baptist and of all the quotations he could quote of John the Baptist in the sermon he chooses to quote these words. I am not he, no. But after me one is coming, the sandals of whose feet I am not worthy to untie.
Now Jesus said nobody is greater, born a woman than John the Baptist. Remember that? And John the Baptist says I'm not worthy to untie the shoes of Jesus Christ. In other words Paul selects a word from John the Baptist that controls all relief or all attention to Jesus, the son of the living God. The whole story is about Jesus.
Verse 26, Paul says to us now he's drawing the people of Pisidia, Antioch to us has been sent the message of salvation. Why this passive verb? Who is this sender? And the answer is God. So God planned it long ago, God promised it through the prophet, God sent and brought his son Jesus and now God is sending to the nations.
Verse 27, those who live in Jerusalem and their rulers because they did not recognize him, nor understand the utterance of the profits which are read every Sabbath fulfilled these by condemning him.
Now that's an incredible sentence. If you said to me or to the people in Pisidia, Antioch God promised these things, people read them and the word and therefore and harmony with God did them. It wouldn't be as incredible. That's not what is said.
Let me read it very carefully for you. It says those who live in Jerusalem and their rulers because they did not recognize Jesus, nor understand the utterance of the profits fulfilled them. What in the world does that mean? That means God did it, they didn't do it.
Every hammer blow on the nails through his wrists was the work of his father in fulfillment of his promises to vindicate his glory and save the nations. In other words Paul chose words here, Paul chose words in the sermon that would get all attention and all authority and also premises and all centrality for the one main actor in the universe, God.
This is an amazing sermon. Paul's on a mission for the sake of the supremacy of his God.
Verse 29, and when they had fulfilled all that was written of him, they took him down from the tree and laid him in a tomb. So right to the end it's all fulfilling of God's word and God's plan.
Finally verse 30, it was God who raised Jesus from the dead. God raised him from the dead. Now it is true that Jesus said nobody takes my life from me, I lay it down on my own accord and if I laid it down I will take it again. Jesus raised Jesus from the dead.
But the point of Paul's sermon is to get all attention for the father through the son. If it ever came to the end of Philippians 2 and every tongue will confess, every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord to the glory of God the father. It's all going to terminate on God the father, Jesus is God and he will reflect all glory to his father.
Well I ask you preachers do you preach like that? I ask you lay people do you talk like that? When you talk about the world do you say God did this and God did that and God did this and God did this and God did that and God raised up this president and got but this president down and God raised up the senator and output that senator down and got put this man in placing God put that down and God ordained this simple strategy and God...Cut that thing. When its purpose was done and God did this and God did that and God reigns over the nations.
Do you talk like that? Do you make Him supreme? Paul's was there was a great, there is a great, glorious, supreme God. Now what are we going to do with this? We'll close with just a practical illustration of how we will weave such a thing into all of our preaching.
Here are the thoughts that come to my mind as I apply this to my life as a preacher and into yours. We live in an unbelievably, naive and superficial age and it's the last thing most people will think to say about it. But it's not the last thing A.W. Tozer thought to say about it.
What I mean by superficial is something you superficial when the treatment of it involves everything you can say about it except the main things? Now as a scholar you can say many things intelligently about many things and if you leave out the main connections in reality, you're treating it superficially.
Therefore I conclude that the communication media in America are all superficial. I conclude that the educational enterprises in our universities are all superficial. I conclude that virtually all news reports are superficial, virtually all history books are superficial, virtually all public education is superficial, virtually all editorial and news, commentary is superficial for one very simple reason that a child can understand. It's because of the incredible, unspeakable, unimaginable disregard for God in it all.
God is the main reality in the universe and is the main connection, purpose, ground and sustaining power of everything that is and therefore anytime you treat anything without relation to God you are superficial. And the fact that that sounds odd to us shows how infected the CMA, the Baptist General Conference and all American evangelicals are with our God neglecting, God belittling and increasingly God despising age.
If you watch enough TV you cannot help but forget God. He isn't there and the sheer absence of God is blasphemy. Therefore I plead with few pastors to make him supreme in your preaching.
I pray for my sons and my daughter, I have five kids and two of my boys are out of school now. One is in college and one is in high school and my little girl hasn't started school yet and I pray oh God. And all of their learning grant that they would seek God, that they would seek you. Maybe see you in geometry, that they see you in history, may they see you in philosophy, maybe see you in English, made a see you in physical education, maybe see you in spelling.
Spelling, and I can hear the cynics right a Christian spelling. There are Christian ways to spell words. Give me a break Pastor John. Now that's the way a cynic, a superficial, 20th century saturated God neglecting cynic response to talking about God centered spelling.
I've had two kinds of sons. Academic and nonacademic and they fit the pattern perfectly, son number one the scholar, son number two the athlete, the jock. As soon as he can get out of high school he was done, he was gone. And he's red hot for Jesus by the way.
Well I remember the day when this dyslexic, non-speller said to me why should I care about spelling the way everybody's spells? And he meant it because it hurts so bad. And I said well, you won't be able to communicate as well if you don't learn how to spell the way everybody else spells. I don't care about communicating well, why should I care about communicating well?
Now here we are, public school teachers. You've got this kid in your class and he raises his hand after flunking his second spelling test. Why should I care about communicating? Not right here we're about a millimeter beneath superficiality, not pretty far and the ways are going to divide right here teacher. What are you going to tell him?
Here's one answer. This is the blasphemous answer, the standard answer, the 20th century answer, the public school answer. Well if you don't learn how to spell or you don't learn how to communicate well, you won't succeed in business and you won't make as much money and you won't advance in the community. And here's the real clincher, it's the bottom-line gospel. You won't have as high self-esteem. So get to work and we'll help you. Godless, Godless answers all.
And here's another answer, my answer to my son and to anybody who'll listen. Ben, you should care about communicating and learning how to spell because they were created in the image of God and God's a great communicator. You're in his image son, you're in his image and to be a human being is no small thing. And he's a great communicator, you should want to communicate and not be indifferent to putting obstacles in the way.
Number two, you've got something infinitely important to communicate Ben. You've got God to communicate, you've got love to communicate, you got salvation to communicate, you've got Jesus to communicate, you've got the gospel to communicate, you've got eternal life to communicate, you've got purpose to communicate, you can't be indifferent son to whether you communicate and put obstacles in the way of your communication.
Third, Ben, God is love and his love is scorned when we treat as a matter of indifference whether or not we communicate good things for other people that they desperately need to hear from us.
And finally they need to communicate and care about communicating and not putting spelling stumbling blocks in the way of your communication because language is God's idea from the beginning. In the beginning it was the word, that word was with God. It's God's idea, he is not a God of Chaos and confusion. He's a kind of beauty and a God of order, he's not a God of anarchy even spelling anarchy.
Not a God of spelling anarchy and you know if you're sitting out there now and you don't care about supremacy of God in spelling, thing you won't get my plea tonight. You just won't get it.
As my closing plea is this, preachers especially and all of us if we preachers don't lift up the supremacy of God week in week out and show a passion for the supremacy of God in all things including spelling, boating, sex, eating, leisure, stock market. If we don't show the supremacy of God and how the glory of God has a bearing on everything who's going to do it?
There are no influences regularly and the lives of my people calling them away from the God belittling, God neglecting, God despising, television and culture that they are immersed in besides me because most of them don't tune in to regular radio and most radio don't get it anyway. Most of them are reading books and most of your people aren't either but one hour a week, maybe two, maybe three, they'll listen to you and if you don't lift up the glory of God and try to wean them off their breast of God neglecting America, who's going to do it?
Let's pray. Oh mighty God our hearts desire in this room right now I believe is that you would be magnified in our pulpits and in our Sunday school classes and in our personal witnessing and in our living in such a way that America would awaken to the glory and the majesty and the supremacy of the God who made the world and is redeeming the world through Jesus Christ. Oh father drawn here by your spirit here and feel these things to our hearts and apply them in our churches and in our world and in the mission of the Christian missionary alliance movement I pray in Jesus name.