Why Do Christians Preach and Sing?

Spectacular News and the Beauty of Christ

Passion 2015 | Atlanta


I wonder if you have paused to ponder how simple and strange these Passion events are. Year after year — almost now decade after decade — what do they boil down to? It seems to me that they boil down to preaching and singing. Preaching and singing. Message and music. Message and music. Somebody speaks and everybody sings. Somebody else speaks and everybody sings again. There are some other pieces: community groups, earnest prayer holding everything up. Enormous amounts of planning and logistics. But the basic structure seems to be the same year after year: Preach and sing. Preach and sing.

Let that sink in, because there is not another religion or another movement on planet earth that does this — gathers together to hear preaching and respond with singing. Preach and sing. Preach and sing. Muslims don’t do this. Hindus don’t do this. Buddhists don’t do this. Sikhs don’t do this. Judaism doesn’t do this. Confucianism doesn’t do this. When Apple unveils a new image of techno-religion, Tim Cook may preach. But the audience doesn’t sing. Only Christianity does this.

So don’t miss the fact that what we are doing here is strange. It cries out for an explanation. Why do Christians do this? Why do we gather for preaching and singing, preaching and signing? Message and music. Message and music.

Why Do We Do This?

That’s what I want to talk about. Why do we do this? I don’t like to do things without a reason. I don’t like to do things just because they’ve always been done. I don’t like to do things just because other people are doing them. I don’t like to do things just because they’re fun. I like to do things that make sense in connection with ultimate reality. Because there’s a reason to do it that has roots in the deepest reality. There’s a reason to do it that has a goal that reaches up and attaches to the highest reality. I like to do things because I can see how they come from and lead to the biggest and best things — ultimate things. They get their meaning from their attachment to the bottom and the top of reality.

To which some of you may respond: Good grief, lighten up. Do you have to have a reason for everything? Can’t we just do stuff? Well, yes you can. And there’s a name for living that way. It’s call instinct. You just do what you do. Eagles live that way. And sea turtles live that way. Elephants and frogs and butterflies and beavers. They just do stuff. And they do some pretty amazing stuff. But it’s just instinct.

But when I think about how very, very short this life is, and how long eternity is with God in everlasting, ever-increasing joy, or without him in everlasting misery, the thought using this life to just do stuff seems to me to be insane. You and I are not mere animals. We are created in the image of God. God did not make us to live by instinct. He made the animals to live by instinct — amazing instinct. And oh yes, what they do does indeed fit in to the deepest reasons for existence, and the highest purposes of ultimate reality. The heavens are telling the glory of God, and so are the hawk and the hyena and the hippopotamus. They just don’t know it.

But God made you to know it. God made you to be like him, and to do things because they make sense in the light of God and his ultimate purposes. Because they have roots of that reach to the bottom of God’s eternal being, and branches that reach up to the ultimate goals of God for all things. He made you to know why you do things, and to do them for the greatest reasons in the world.

So, preaching and singing. Preaching and singing. Message and music. Only Christians do this. Why? Why do we do this?

I want to give you two answers. One is the broad, general answer, which accounts for why Christians do this kind of thing all over the world. And the other is a more particular answer to why Passion does this. I’m not part of the leadership of Passion. I’m just an invited guest. One of the highest privileges of my life. So my answer to why Passion does this is not based on my participation in designing what Passion does. I’m not part of that.

My answer is based on almost twenty years of listening to what makes this leadership and this movement tick. So we’ll come back to that in a minute. And try to see some of the massive implications for your life.

So first, what is the broad general answer to why Christians do this kind of thing all over the world? Preach and sing. Message and music.

Rooted in News

One of the main reasons is that Christianity — with its roots in true Old Testament promises — is the only religion in the world that was created by and sustained by news. News. In other words, before Christianity is a philosophy, before it’s a theology, before it’s an ethic or a way of life, Christianity is news. Staggeringly good news for weak and helpless and undeserving sinners.

“Go on up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good news; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good news; lift it up, fear not; say to the cities of Judah, ‘Behold your God!’” (Isaiah 40:9).

“How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns’” (Isaiah 52:7).

“And the angel said to them, ‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:10–11).

Christianity has a news character about it. Something has happened. Something happened at a place. At a time. Something that we had no hand in. We didn’t cause it. We didn’t shape it. God simply acted unilaterally, singlehandedly, to save his people. In the fullness of time God broke in to his history in the virgin-conceived, God-Man, Jesus Christ.

  • He lived the perfection his people lacked.

  • He suffered the punishment his people deserved.

  • He rose with indestructible life which his people share.

  • He poured out his Holy Spirit which his people enjoy.

  • And he is coming again to complete the redemption of this world where his people will live in overflowing joy forever.

God has done this. It happened. Singlehandedly. There was no congress. No convention. No consultation. There was a sudden, unstoppable, unilateral thunderclap of divine action in history. And suddenly, as never before, there was news.

News of such scope (as wide as the universe), news of such duration (establishing an eternal kingdom), news of such global relevance (for every people and tongue and tribe and nation), news of such great joy, that it must be preached and sung. For two thousand years the church has proven over and over again that the truth of Christianity cannot simply be taught, or lectured, or analyzed, or explored, or discussed or debated or shared — it must be heralded. It must be preached. It creates its own unique form of expository exultation because it is first and foremost spectacular news.

It creates spirit-filled servants of the word who take a portion of God’s news in their hands and as they lift it up the people to see find that it is so sweet and so spectacular they dare not, they cannot merely explain it, exposit it. They must exult over it. And this expository exultation is preaching. And when it happens. People sing.

Preaching and singing. Preaching and singing. All over the world for 2,000 years. Why? Because Christianity is not first a philosophy, not first a theology, not first a moral code, not first pattern of devotion. It is first news. Behold, I bring you good news of great joy. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the King of kings, and Lord of lords.

Not other religion is created and sustained by news: God has acted unilaterally, singlehandedly, to save sinners. Trust him, treasure him. And it is all yours. All other religions are summed up in this: Do your best for God. Name your prophet, pray your prayers, give your alms, keep your fast, make your pilgrimage. And God may look with favor on you. That is not good news. And it is not true.

And therefore only in Christianity is there this strange and simple thing you see all around you: Preaching and singing. Preaching and singing. That’s why we do it. That’s the first answer: The broad one. The general one.

God Is Our Greatest Gift

Now for the narrower answer. Not just, Why does Christianity do this all over the world — preach and sing, preach and sing? But why does Passion do this? And keep in mind, I don’t write this answer into the creation of Passion. I read this answer out of the history of Passion. Out of 18 years of Passion emphases, and Passion preaching, and Passion music.

Passion is built around preaching and singing for all the reasons given so far, and because the leadership believes that the greatest good of the Good News is God’s gift of the beauty of God himself in Jesus Christ. I’ll say it again, We preach and we sing, we preach and we sing, because the greatest good of the Good News is God’s gift of the beauty of God himself in Jesus Christ.

I wrote to Louie Giglio on Monday and asked if God had given him sense of where we were going at Passion 2015. And among the things that he wrote back was a three word parenthesis, that probably did more to shape this message than anything else he said. Just before the parenthesis he said, “How does the Passion message . . .” and then, to capture the essence of that message, he inserted this three-word parenthesis, “(God’s beauty unmatched).”

Year after year, for 18 years, the central note that has been struck in preaching and singing is that the greatest gift of God’s love is the gift of God’s beauty. The final, all-satisfying joy in “the Good News of Great Joy” is the joy of seeing and savoring the beauty of God himself in Jesus Christ. So to put all that together, the reason we preach and sing and preach and sing at Passion is because greatest good of the Good News is God’s gift of the beauty of God himself in Jesus Christ for everlasting enjoyment.

Now here’s the question: Is that a biblical way of viewing the good news? And if it is, what difference would it make for you to view it that way? My guess that for many of you this is a new way of talking about your faith in Christ. You may not grown up in a church where you ever heard anything like “the greatest gift of God’s love is the gift of God’s beauty.” And you would be hard put to think of your experience in these terms.

Let me see if I can help. I invite you to look with me at 2 Corinthians 4:3–4. Paul writes,

Even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.”

Focus on the phrase in the middle of verse 4: “the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ.” Most of you probably know that the word gospel means “good news.” So this links the text to our theme that at the heart of Christianity is news — spectacular news. So let’s read the phrase like this: “the light of the good news of the glory of Christ.”

Next notice how Paul defines the content of the good news. It is the good news of “the glory of Christ.” If you have a paraphrase like the New Living Bible yours may read, “ the glorious light of the Good News” (NLT) or “the light of the glorious gospel of Christ” (NET). That’s a paraphrase. The ESV, NASB, NIV, HCSB, NKJV all agree in translating it more precisely, “the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ.” In other words, one way to express the supreme good of the good news is to call it the “the good news of the glory of Christ.”

And the biblical word “glory” is inextricably interwoven with the word “beauty.” So we could translate: “the light of the good news of the beauty of Christ.” In other words Paul is saying, in news of God’s unilateral, singlehanded triumph over sin and wrath and death and hell in Jesus Christ the beauty of Christ shines more brightly than anywhere else.

Now look at verse 6 where Paul uses the same language with a just a few changes.

For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

Notice the parallels. In verse 4 we have “the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ.” And in verse 6 we have “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God.” Are these two different glories? “Gospel of the glory of Christ.” “Knowledge of the glory of God.” Probably not. Because look how Paul immediately qualifies each of them to show us that they are deeply one.

In verse four he says, “the glory of Christ” and adds, “who is the image of God.” And in verse 6 he says, “the glory of God” and adds “in the face of Jesus Christ.” It is God’s glory shining in the face — the incarnate person of Christ. It is Christ’s glory because he is thee very image of God.

So the gospel is the good news of the beauty of Christ because Christ is the very image of God. And the gospel is the good news of the beauty of God because God himself shines forth in face of Jesus Christ. These are not two glories but one glory. Not two beauties but one beauty.

And I conclude that, if Paul were to hear us say at Passion that the greatest good of the Good News is God’s gift of the beauty of God himself in Jesus Christ, he would smile and say, “I think you’ve been reading 2 Corinthians. So my answer to the question: is this a biblical way of viewing the good news, is yes. Of all the good things that the gospel offers, the sum and essence and apex of them all is the gift of the beauty of God himself in Jesus Christ for our everlasting enjoyment. Or, as Paul says it in verse 4: “The gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.”

Will This Change Your Life?

Now, finally, I ask, If you view the gospel this way, What difference will it make for your faith and your life? Or let’s ask it like this: What does it mean for your life that the greatest good of the good news is the gift of the beauty of God?

I’ll give three answers.

1. First, it means that saving faith in the gospel of Jesus is not at the root a decision about his truth, but sight of his beauty. Faith, at its root, is not deciding, but seeing — seeing beauty Christ in the gospel as beautiful.

When you are confronted with infinite, all-satisfying beauty, the question is not: What’s your decision? The question is: What do you see? Do you see Christ in the gospel as beautiful — more beautiful, more glorious, more satisfying than anything else?

If someone shows you a beautiful painting, and you find it boring, what will you do if they say to you, “Well, what’s your decision? Beautiful or boring? You will say to them, “It doesn’t work like that. Seeing something as beautiful is not a decision. To say that you see something is beautiful when you don’t, is called hypocrisy. It’s called lying. You either see it as beautiful or you don’t. I can’t decide to see something as beautiful that I see as boring. I can decide to study art. And maybe someday I’ll see this painting as beautiful. But I can’t just decide to see it as beautiful, if I don’t see it as beautiful.”

And you would be right to respond like that. Whether you see beauty as beauty has to do with the condition of your eyes and your soul. Do you have the eyes and the soul to detect — to sense, to perceive, to taste — the presence of beauty, when you are presented with infinite, all-satisfying beauty? If you do, you will sense it, see it, and savor it for the beauty that it is. If you don’t, you won’t. Deciding isn’t what gets you there. You can decide all kinds of things about your life, once you see. But deciding doesn’t make you see. But once you do, from that day on the beauty of Christ in the gospel will be the supreme treasure of your life.

When I was your age we sang, “I have decided to follow Jesus, I have decided to follow Jesus, I have decided to follow Jesus, no turning back, no turning back.” I sang it. I meant it. I loved it. And I would sing it today. But here’s what I’ve learned. Before, and beneath that decision something far deeper happened in me. At the root of that faith there was first a seeing. And if there had been no seeing, there would have been no deciding. With the eyes of my heart I saw him as beautiful, all-satisfyingly beautiful. And that is why I said, “I will follow this Jesus anywhere. I will die for him.” But first there was a seeing.

That’s the first difference it makes for your life, if you believe that the greatest good of the good news is the gift of the beauty of God in Christ? It confronts you with the question: Do you have saving faith in the gospel of the glory of Christ? That is, at root, have you seen him as more beautiful than anything?

2. Second, it means that the deepest problem every human has is that our bentness against God is also a blindness to his glory.

In other words, what makes sin so hopeless — and makes us so helpless — is that sin is not only rebellion, but blindness. We are not only stubborn in in exalting self over God, our stubbornness creates a stupor. A blankness. A daze, that cannot see beauty in the gospel. Look at 2 Corinthians 4:4 again:

The God of this world has blinded [this is crucial] the minds [notice, it's the mind that’s blind. You still have eyes to look at the facts of the gospel, but something has gone wrong with the mind so that the facts don’t shine with the truth of Christ’s glory] of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.

What makes our sinful condition so devastating is that we are blind to divine glory — blind to the beauty of Christ in the gospel. We can look right at it when reading it in the Bible, or hearing it preached, or singing it, and we see nothing glorious.

What kind of blindness is this? It’s not a blindness that keeps you from seeing objective facts — the facts of the gospel, the facts of the life and death of Christ — the facts that the devil can see with great clarity. It’s not a blindness that keeps you from thinking, maybe even thinking so impressively you write books about the facts that you see. No. It’s blindness, Paul says, to the light of glory of Christ, the image of God. You can still see the gospel. You can see the facts. You can see Christ in the gospel. But you cannot see him as compellingly glorious, beautiful, all-satisfying. It’s a blindness to the infinite beauty and value of divine glory.

And the reason for the blindness not that we helpless pawns in the hands of Satan, but that we have joined Satan in hating the light. Our blindness is rooted in our rebellion. Here’s what Jesus said in John 3:19-20 about his coming into the world:

Light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed.

The root of our blindness is not that we are victims of darkness but lovers of darkness. The root of our blindness is not that we are hindered from the light, but that we are haters of the light. We love the darkness of doing things our way, and we hate the light of the surpassing beauty of the all-authoritative, all-satisfying, sovereign Christ. And therefore our blindness is blameworthy, not, as the lawyers say, exculpatory. It does not remove our guilt. It is our guilt.

That’s the second implication of the truth that the greatest good of the good news is the gift of the beauty of God in Christ? It confronts you with the reality that the deepest problem every human has is not just rebellion against the authority of God, but blindness to the beauty of God.

3. Third, and finally, believing that the greatest good of the good news is the gift of the beauty of God in Christ means that your conversion to Christ is a miracle of God’s gift of spiritual sight — God opened the eyes of your heart to see the all-surpassing, all-satisfying, self-authenticating, all-compelling beauty of Christ in the gospel. That’s how you were saved — if you are saved.

Here’s the description of it in 2 Corinthians 4:6.

God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

This is the remedy God has provided to the blindness of verse 4. Paul portrays God as doing the same kind of thing he did when the world began in bringing light out of darkness: “The God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness.’” The light-creating God has done it again in our hearts. He has “shone in our hearts to give the light.” We were in darkness. We could not see God as glorious or Christ as beautiful. And God said, “Let there be light.”

And beyond all comprehension, to our amazement, God, in face Christ appeared beautiful to us. God did a miracle. He “gave the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ in our hearts.” And the matter was settled. Because this kind of seeing is a savoring. Seeing Christ as supremely beautiful is to be enthralled by Christ. Nothing will ever lure you away from this. The glory of God — the beauty of God — in the face of Christ, has become your everlasting, all-satisfying Treasure.

That’s what it means to be saved.

Do you recall the time Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” You can be sure Judas didn’t answer. Judas never saw Jesus as beautiful. He was a thief. He loved money and power. Jesus was beautiful to Judas, he was useful. But Peter, for all his impetuosity, was a great lover of the beauty of Christ, even when he didn’t fully understand it.

So Peter answered (in Matthew 16:16), “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” When Jesus heard those words he didn’t hear them merely as information that Peter had in common with Satan. Satan knows that Jesus is the Christ. Satan knows that he is the Son. Satan knows that God is the living God. No. What Jesus heard in these words, your words, I pray, was, “You are the one we have been waiting for all these years. You fulfill our hopes. You are like no others in wisdom and power and grace and beauty. We love you and will follow you anywhere. Your beauty has mastered us.”

To which Jesus responded like this: “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.” Simon Peter, nothing in your fallen, rebellious, blind soul brought this to light. God did. “Flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.” “The God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in your heart, Peter, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”

The Miracle That You See

So the third implication of believing that the greatest good of the good news is the gift of the beauty of God in Christ is that your conversion is a miracle of God’s gift of spiritual sight. Once you were blind. But now you see.

So here we are at Passion preaching and signing, preaching and singing. Why? Because Christianity alone among all the religions and philosophical movements of the world is created and sustained by news. Spectacular news, “Behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:10–11). A News so great, so joyful, so unique that it creates his own kind of celebration — preaching and singing, preaching and singing.

A news whose greatest good is the gift of the beauty of God in Christ? Which means that our faith, at its root, is not a decision, but sight of Christ in the gospel as beautiful, our lostness, at root, is not just rebellion but blindness to beauty, and our conversion, at root, is the miracle of God’s gift that can see the all-satisfying glory of God in Christ.

And if you head back to your campuses asking, “If people are blind and conversion is a miracle of God, what do I do?” the answer is found in 2 Corinthians 4:5 (wedged between the blindness of verse 4 and the miracle of verse 6: “What we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.” Christ as Lord, we are servants.

Paul’s answer is this: You are walking miracles of divine illumination. You were blind to the beauty of Christ. And now you see. Therefore, God has ordained that when walking miracles of sight proclaim Christ as Lord and humble themselves as servants, blind people see. Your campuses are covered with brilliant blind people. So I commission with the words of Jesus to the apostle Paul in Acts 26:17,

I am sending you to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins.

Amen.