Preach Christ

Oxygen 11

Sydney, Australia

By way of review, God does everything for his own glory. From beginning to end he upholds and displays and vindicates his supreme value and beauty. This is good news because God is most glorified in us when we’re most satisfied in him. God has ordained a universe in which we should never make the choice between pursuing our fullest and longest happiness, and pursuing the display of his glory. The command to glorify God and the command to be fully and eternally happy are the same. That’s good news. That’s the best of all possible worlds for those who will have it.

The only satisfaction in God that glorifies him is a satisfaction rooted in the knowledge of who he really is. And therefore, the life of the mind is very important in sustaining and purifying — that is, making sure it’s rooted in the truth — the life of the heart. They may not be separated. As soon as they’re separated, we’re moving into emotionalism that doesn’t glorify God and intellectualism that doesn’t glorify God. God didn’t give us whole souls with hearts and minds to separate them. He meant them to serve and work together.

Now, what does it mean then in view of all that to preach Christ? I’ll have five answers. The first one, I spent a bit of time this afternoon rewriting. It’s fresh because I collected text that I hadn’t assembled before. It’s dangerous to do that two hours before you talk, so I’m alerting you to be especially vigilant in testing these things.

1. All Things Exist to Display the Glory of Christ

Here we go. This is point number one or the first meaning of preaching Christ. Preaching Christ means regularly — that’s an ambiguous and undefined word, and I’m going to leave it there because I don’t want to be too sticky on this as to how explicit this becomes in your sermons — making clear that all things exist to display the glory of Jesus Christ. This is true in the reality of the trinity, whether that glory is pictured as intrinsically his or his in reflection of the Father’s.

Now, that’s complicated, and I sat over that sentence for a long time trying to find a better way to say it. Sorry, I don’t have one yet. Maybe I’ll get one. In other words, preaching Christ is going to involve making sure, regularly, that your people intend for all that you say and all their lives to display the glory of Christ — that the whole universe and all their lives, all their work, all their family, and all their desires exist to display Christ. He created the universe; it’s all for him.

Now we have a trinity to come to terms with, and lots of texts that say it differently. I’m going to give you some examples of my struggle in how to say this. So I added to that sentence. This is true in the reality of the trinity whether the glory is pictured in the Bible as intrinsically Christ’s or his in reflection of the Father’s.

I don’t think it would be wrong to say that the universe exists for the glory of God, or to say that it exists for the glory of God the Father. And it wouldn’t be wrong to say it exists for the glory of God the Son, Jesus Christ. How do you put those two together? How should we say it? How do you preach Christ theocentrically, or should you?

So let me give you some text to show you what I’m wrestling with here. We’re still on this first point that preaching Christ means regularly making sure you make known that all the universe is about him and his glory — for him and his glory. There are texts that show the glory as his and the goal is his. Here would be a few examples. Second Peter 3:18 says:

Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.

Period. In that text, it’s not through him to the Father, just to him be glory. That’s one. Second Thessalonians 1:12 says:

So that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.

The logically supreme reality in that verse is Christ glorified — that the name of our Lord Jesus Christ may be glorified in you and you and him, according to the grace of God and the Lord Jesus Christ. Or here’s another one. Hebrews 13:10–21 says:

May the God of peace…equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.

Period. There’s no mention of the Father or God in any other terms than Jesus.

The Glory of the Father and the Son

Now, here’s the second group of texts. These are texts that show his glory as reflecting the Father’s. How you say this depends on whether you’re thinking of the glory as coming from them to us, or the praise of his glory going from us to them. Here are the texts. Jude 25 says:

To the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.

Now, glory is going to God our Savior through Jesus Christ. Or in Philippians 1:11, Paul is praying that we would be filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. Romans 16:27 says:

To the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen.

One more. Philippians 2:11 says:

And every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Now we’ve had two sets of texts. In one set, glorification terminates on Jesus, and then in the other, glorification goes through Jesus to the Father.

There is a third group of texts, and I think this third group of texts shows that these two glories — the glory that goes through Jesus to the Father and terminates on Jesus — are one glory because we have a trinity, in which Jesus and the Father are one. You get this, for example, in Titus 2:13:

Waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ,

They are one. He is God. He is the Savior, and the glory goes to him and they are one. Or there is 1 Peter 4:11. This is an interesting one. It says:

Whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies — in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

The whom there, the relative pronoun, I believe is virtually certain as belonging not with the earlier noun in the sentence, but with the one just before — Jesus Christ. So let me say it again: “In order that in everything, God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belong glory and dominion forever and ever.” One more text is 2 Corinthians 4:6, which says:

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.

The glory of Christ is the glory of God. There’s one glory. I’m trying to argue then, as I tried to think, “How does God want us to preach Christ in view of this point that ultimacy of all things were created through him and for him?” Colossians 1:17 says that all things were created through him and for him. The universe is for the glory of Christ, and I think it would be helpful to say that we should preach Christ in a profoundly theocentric way, which almost sounds contradictory. Someone might say, “Well, shouldn’t we be Christocentric when we preach Christ? And you’re saying, preach Christ theocentrically?” It’s just my way of trying to keep the divinity of Christ, the majesty of Christ, and the oneness of Christ with the one for whom are all things. Romans 11:36 says:

From him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.

That’s referring to God. So preach Christ, and make known that all things exist for him. The glory of Christ and the glory of God are one glory because he is God. All the fullness of deity was pleased to dwell in him and that’s why he has the supremacy. God accomplished the display of his glory in creation (Colossians 1:17) and in redemption (Ephesians 1:6). He created through the Son, and he redeemed through the Son, so that when the glory starts to come back to him it comes through the Son.

Preaching Christ Theocentrically

Now, without that strong theocentric preaching of Christ, I think some things suffer. There’s a reason behind stressing this. Let me give you three effects. I’ll just mention them briefly. We could unpack them, and I’ve already addressed a couple of them. These are three effects that I think are good in magnifying the supremacy of Christ theocentrically — namely, that he’s in his unity with the Father and that the glory of the Godhead is the point of the universe.

First, it protects your preaching and your gospel from man-centeredness. I think the gospel is such good news that sinful men immediately interpret it with themselves as its terminating point, thinking, “I am the point of the gospel. It terminates on me. God loves me.” Of course that’s true, but we’ll talk shortly about what the love of Christ is. It isn’t terminating on me. I’m not the bottom of my joy. But what helps prevent that mistake is regularly preaching Christ as the goal, end, meaning, and purpose of all things.

Second, preaching this way makes sin intelligible. I don’t think in the modern world people know what sin is. They think sin is killing people. That’s not what sin is. That doesn’t have anything to do with God until you tell them. Sin is bad deeds in relation to God. And then you have to ask, “Well, how in relation to God?” There’s no such thing as sin apart from God. The world doesn’t know what sin is. They’ve got guilty consciences, but our job is to help them understand what’s wrong. Their problem is not that they kill each other or hate each other. The problem is that that’s rooted in hatred of God, disbelief in God.

Sin is falling short of the glory of God, and therefore, if we don’t constantly hold up the purpose of the universe as the glory of God in Christ, sin is going to constantly be deflated in value and brought down to human issues. When that’s the case, the third implication is also brought in: The cross won’t make sense.

The reason Romans 3:20–26 is structured the way it is with “we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” is because propitiation won’t make sense until we realize sin is an offense against the glory of God. So for those three reasons, I think we do our people a great service by regularly preaching Christ as the purpose of all things and his glory as the goal of all things and do it in a theocentric way.

2. The Love of Christ is Christ-Exalting Love

Preaching Christ means preaching that the love of Christ is a God-exalting, Christ-exalting love. Right at the heart of the gospel, right at the heart of preaching Christ is, love. We should preach the love of Christ. It was read earlier, wasn’t it? Maybe it was last night, but somebody read Ephesians 3:14–19, which says:

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge …

Paul pleaded with God to help the Ephesians have strength to know an unknowable life, so this should be big in our preaching. The love of Christ for sinners should be really big. The question is: What is it? The world doesn’t know what sin is, and they don’t know what love is. You can’t know what love is apart from God — that is, the love of God in Christ for sinners. What is it?

I’m going to take you to John 11, so if you want to follow with me you can go there in your Bibles. I’m going there just to give you a glimpse of the kind of thing I’m stressing. My question is: What does it mean to be loved by Jesus? One of my life verses is Galatians 2:20, which says:

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

It’s one of those sweet places where the Apostle Paul uses the singular personal pronoun — he loved me and gave himself for me. Now I want to know, in his dying for me, what did he do that I should feel love? What does it mean that he loves me? Saying he died for me it’s kind of an open ended statement. What does that get me and how is that love for me? The world inevitably, given the way the mind of the flesh works, interprets love to mean that he makes much of me, period. That’s the end of love right here. He makes much of me. The world feels loved when they are made much of. Is that what it is?

True Love

You should feel ambiguous about that. You should be saying, “Well, kind of, yes. Doesn’t he? But is that it?” Here we are in John 11:1–6. Jesus, show me from this text what love is.

Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent to him, saying, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” But when Jesus heard it he said, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.

So twice, it says that he loved them, and twice it says that this illness is about the glory of God. Now follow the logic from John 11:5–6. I hope your Bible version has the words needed.

Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was

Don Carson does not miss this in his commentary. He’s a good exegete, and you know that. He may be the best in the world. But be careful. He doesn’t miss that therefore. It says, “He loved them, therefore he let him die.” We know that from the context. He stayed until he was dead. Martha later says, “Lord, if you had been here, he wouldn’t have died” (John 11:21). Why did he do that? The answer is in John 11:4, which says:

But when Jesus heard it he said, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”

Therefore, since he loved them, he let Lazarus die so that they could see more glory. So my definition of what it is to be loved by God is this: God does whatever is necessary in my life to make sure I can see as much of his glory as possible. That’s what it means to be loved, and you can see where I’m going. I am arguing that the ultimate end of love is not me but God.

What’s at the Bottom of Love?

Now, I’m going to show you how I’ve self-corrected on a few things. I hope I’m still able to do that. I used to use this sentence in speaking a lot: “Do you feel more loved by God because he makes much of you? Or because at great cost to himself, he enables you to enjoy making much of him?” And the right answer, of course, was the second. And people over time began to send me notes and say, “It sounds like you’re saying he doesn’t make much of us, or if he does, we shouldn’t feel good about it. Is that what you’re saying?” And I can see that would be implied there. So here’s my self-correction, or clarification at least.

The final question for me is: Why does God love us so much and make so much of us? I could give you a long list and you could do it yourself of ways that he makes much of you. Let’s just say he has adopted you into his family. That’s what happens when you find a foundling on your steps, weltering in her blood (Ezekiel 16), and you pick her up and you clean her off, and you embrace her, and you take her into your family forever, and she becomes an heir of the universe, you’ve made much of her. So yes, God makes much of those whom he saves.

Now, the question is, why does he in the Bible say over and over again, that he does that for his glory? In other words, every point where I feel like I’m being made much of, God inserts for my glory, and then it’s deflected off of me. If at that moment my pleasure was resting at its bottom on the fact that he makes much of and the pleasure in being the me he makes much of, he wouldn’t like that. Why does he constantly deflect our attention on himself. He’s making much of to the glory of his own name. And here’s my answer.

God’s love for you, that makes much of you for his glory, is a greater love than if he ended by making you the greatest treasure in your life. Making himself your end is a greater love than making you your end. Here’s the reason. Romans 8:30 says that “those whom he justified, he glorified.” You will one day be glorious, which Matthew 13:43 also says: “The righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.” I won’t be able to look at you because you will be so bright, except that I will have glorified eyes. That’s how we can tolerate one another’s magnificence. That’s true. CS Lewis wrote well on that. He said, “You’ve never met an ordinary person on the street in Sydney. They will one day not be so god-like you’ll be tempted to worship them, or so demon-like you will shutter in horror. There are no ordinary people.” That’s what Lewis said.

So my point here is the reason God is making his glory, not my glorified self, the bottom of my joy is that the human heart is made for God. God loves his children infinitely. He will not let your glory, which he himself creates and delights in, replace his glory as your supreme treasure. He won’t let you. He loves you too much to let you be your treasure, even the glorified you. Heaven will not be a hall of mirrors where we stand in awe of what we see.

Here’s the last sentence on this clarification. You are precious to God, and the greatest gift he has for you is to not let your preciousness to him become your god. Doe that makes sense? Let me say it again. I think this is really important. You are precious to God. We say that. Say that to your people, and then say, “And he loves you too much to let your preciousness to him become your god. He will be your God, he will be your treasure. Heaven will be a place where, in glorious self-forgetfulness, we are constantly growing in joy in the ever new revelations of God’s infinite perfections.”

All of that is to clarify, what does it mean to preach the love of Christ? When I preach Christ, I want to preach to my people, “He loves you. God the Father loves you in the Son, which means, yes, he makes much of you. He forgives you. He propitiates his wrath against you. He justifies you and counts you as perfect in his sight. He reconciles you to himself. He sanctifies you, and one day that sanctification will be completed in such a glorious being that there will be no flaw in you at all. And he loves you so much he won’t let that be your god. Rather, all of that is designed to fit you to enjoy him forever.”

3. The Cross from Eternity to Eternity

Preaching Christ involves preaching the cross from its eternal foundation in the past to its eternal consummation in the future. Preaching Christ will have as its center its foundation in eternity to its consummation in eternity. I think the best thing I could do to unpack this point, and I have to do it quicker than I would like, is to tell you what I think it means to preach the cross that way. That is what is the gospel? I should just lay my cards on the table in Sydney. What is the gospel? I’ve chosen to say it in six points. They’ll go by quick enough. If any one of these six is pulled out, there is no gospel. That’s how I’ve chosen them.

First, the cross, or the gospel, was planned from eternity. I get that from the most important, or let’s say, the most explicit definition of the gospel in the New Testament, namely, 1 Corinthians 15:1–3, which says:

I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures …

When Paul says it was “according to the Scriptures” he means it was planned. Why would Paul bother to put that there? That seems sort of marginal. It’s not marginal. The cross was not a second thought, it wasn’t an afterthought like, “Oh, the world messed up and I’ve got to fix it. Maybe the cross?” Before creation this thing was planned, and the way we know that is that in Revelation 13:8 there’s a book. You know the name of the book in which your name is written? The book is called “the book of the Life of the Lamb that was slain.” And your name, it says, was written there before creation. Jesus Christ crucified was in the mind of God forever. The implications of this are massive. Nothing in this universe has taken God by surprise, especially the fall. I’ll stop there, though I could take a half an hour on that.

Second, the cross is an event in history because it says so in that same text. I’m trying to get most of these points from 1 Corinthians 15:3–4. Jesus Christ died under Pontius Pilate. It’s good to say that in our confessions. It’s an event — Christ died. If this were not historically true, as Islam says, there would be no gospel, which is where we should be focusing with Islam, by the way, not on the character of Allah or whatever. If Jesus Christ didn’t die and rise again for sinners, then they have no blood, no substitution, no redemption, and no gospel. We have spectacular news for Muslims. We should seek a hearing.

Accomlished and Applied

Third, the cross was, in the event, an achievement, a once for all divine achievement. If you know the book you’re hearing behind this, it’s John Murray’s book Redemption Accomplished and Applied. I could use the word it was an accomplishment. Before you were born, something was achieved in the event of the death of Jesus for you. I’ll list off three of those things. These are essential to the gospel.

Number one: The wrath of God was absorbed by Jesus Christ for his elect. I’m talking about the penal substitution here. Romans 8:3 says:

For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh …

Question: Who sinned? Tell me. There are a lot of right answers. The sin was mine and yours — ours, not Jesus. Whose flesh? Jesus. That’s substitution and it’s penal. It’s as clear as can be. N.T. Wright right nails this in his commentary, though he doesn’t nail everything. I just want to give him credit that you can read that big fat commentary, not the little one, but the big fat one on Romans 8:3. Galatians 3:13 says:

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us — for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”…

Those are two texts and you could do another one from Isaiah 53:10, which says:

Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him …

The Father bruised the Son. Those are three texts that are just massive pillars underneath the doctrine of the wrath of God landing on the Son, and that’s why it doesn’t land on us. That was achieved. You don’t make that happen when you get saved. The cross made that happen.

Number two: What happened in the achievement is that sins were covered, or you could say forgiveness was purchased. He canceled the record of debts that stood against us with their legal demands (Colossians 2:14). When Christ died, God canceled the debt of his elect. He canceled it. The debt is gone. That was an achievement.

Number three: He completed a perfect righteousness, which later at my conversion will be counted as mine through faith. But here’s the achievement — a life. I don’t know if you’ve ever thought about this. In Philippians 3:9 it says:

[That I may be] found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith …

That’s the justification that happens at conversion, but where did that righteousness get provided? If you go back to Philippians 2:5–8 it says:

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

Now, the interesting thing about that is, Paul collapses the life of Jesus into one statement. He took on human form, and being found in human form he became obedient unto death. Bang, that’s his life. That’s all. Therefore, God has highly exalted him (Philippians 2:9). So you have his incarnation and death, and what’s it defined as? It’s defined as obedience. I think that’s the setup for Philippians 3:9.

What righteousness is coming through Jesus Christ that is counted as mine and is so alien to me? Where did it come from? This is my obedience, right here. He did what I couldn’t do. So what I’m saying is that the cross is the consummation, the completion of that obedience, which is why I think in places like Romans, we are said to be justified by the blood. I don’t think it’s a contradiction to say, “We are justified by the imputation of the perfect obedience of Christ.” The blood there stands for the death, which is the consummation, the one supreme completing act of obedience was death. But Paul sees the death and the incarnation and everything in between as just one grand obedience.

So it includes those three things at least. The wrath was absorbed, sins were covered and forgiveness was purchased, and righteousness was completed. All that was achieved 2,000 years ago, and we weren’t even on the scene. That’s the achievement of the cross. There’s more. We could talk about the devil being defeated and so on, but we can’t say everything.

The Endpoint of the Gospel

Fourth, the gospel is a free offer. It’s the free offer that all of that can be yours through faith alone. I know this is a little tricky, and here I don’t think N.T. Wright gets it right in how he talks about the gospel; it’s muddy at least. I’m arguing that you may have it for faith alone. Believe is part of the gospel, even though I say believe the gospel. You see the tension?

I say believe the gospel, and I’m saying that statement is the gospel. I asked Don Carson, I said, “Do you think that’s right? Should I say that? Do you think the free offer of this achievement is part of the gospel?” He said, “Absolutely.” And the reason is that there’s no good news if it’s by works. We are saved by grace through faith and that not of ourselves. That’s part of the gospel. If the news went out from the cross that Christ died for you, so work hard and maybe you’ll have it, there’s zero gospel. So I’m going to stand by this and say that the offer to faith alone apart from works is an essential point of the gospel.

Fifth, the accomplishment of the cross is applied by the Holy Spirit to all believers, and that application through faith alone is the gospel. Here’s what I have in mind about the application. This is a redemption accomplished 2,000 years ago and applied by the Holy Spirit at the point of conversion and regeneration, through faith alone. There are four points to this application.

Reconciliation is applied to us, as Romans 5:9–10 says:

Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.

That reconciliation becomes a reality for us when we’re united to Christ through faith.

Forgiveness becomes mine, as Ephesians 1:7 says.

Justification, or the imputed righteousness of Christ, becomes mine.

And eternal life becomes mine (John 17:3). I am not yet saved because Christ purchased my salvation at the cross. I’m saved by grace through faith. That achievement becomes mine to be enjoyed forever at the point of my faith, my regeneration, and my union with Christ.

Now, that’s five points, which I think are the gospel and almost all evangelicals stop there. Maybe that’s an overstatement. My experience is that we love to bring people to that point, and then sing our lungs out about being forgiven, being reconciled, being justified, and having eternal life, and I don’t think the good news has come yet. Maybe the most provocative way I could say it is this: Who cares about being forgiven? Why would you care about being forgiven?

Now there’s a right answer to that question and a wrong answer. One honors God and the other doesn’t. There’s a lot of wrong answers, in fact. Here’s a few: “I don’t want to go to hell for goodness sakes, and if my sins are forgiven, I’m not in hell.” Or another wrong answer is this: “I hate a guilty conscience. I hate going to work with a guilty conscience. I really like having peace of conscience.” Another wrong answer would be: “If my sins are forgiven, I’d probably be a better husband. I wouldn’t be think about myself all the time. I’d be more into my wife and would be …” You know what’s missing from all that? God.

The gospel is not good news until we realize that reconciliation, forgiveness, justification, and eternal life are taking us somewhere. There is a key text, and the text is 1 Peter 3:18, which says:

For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God …

The sixth point is that these are all accomplished to bring us to God. Until that is spoken, I don’t think we’ve spoken the full gospel. We’ve left people vulnerable to go right into themselves as the end of the gospel, thinking, “It’s all about me,” until God is made the goal of the gospel. I wrote a whole book on this called God Is the Gospel. That’s a risky title, but you say risky things when you’re worked up.

Let me put it like this. This will be the end of this third point on preaching Christ. God’s glory will not be exalted as it should be unless he becomes for us both redeemer and reward, price and pearl, sacrifice offered and satisfaction enjoyed. You see those three columns? I’ll say them again because all preachers of the gospel agree with the first part of those phrases, and I’m saying that it is vulnerable to all kinds of mistakes unless we say the second part. So we say, “He is our redeemer.” Yes. but he’s redeeming us for something. And what is that? Himself as our reward. We say, “A price was paid for us.” Jesus is the price of my salvation. What did he buy? He bought fellowship with God for me. We say, “He’s our sacrifice. He was sacrificed.” But he was sacrificed to do what for me? To make me satisfied in God.

Those are my six statements of what the gospel is. So preaching Christ means preaching the cross from eternity past in its foundation in the book, in the plan, to eternity future with God Himself as our reward.

4. That Their Eyes May Be Opened

Preaching Christ involves preaching conversion as God’s opening blind eyes to see the glory of Christ in the gospel. We preach to people who are blind, and preaching Christ means communicating to them the truth, “You must be born again. You must be healed from your blindness. You must be raised from the dead, and that will mean seeing Christ for who he really is. That’s your deadness. Your deadness is that you see him as a mere man, or boring, or as an ethical teacher. You don’t see him; you’re blind and you’re dead. You must awake.” Ephesians 5:14 says:

Awake, O sleeper,
     and arise from the dead,
     and Christ will shine on you.

My text for this is 2 Corinthians 4:4–6. This is massively shaping in my understanding of what the gospel is and how it works in preaching. So let’s read verse 4:

In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.

The deadness and the lost-ness in Australia, America, New Zealand, or wherever, is blindness to glory. That’s what lost-ness means. They can’t see God as beautiful. They can’t see Jesus as compellingly, attractively beautiful; they’re blind to it. He’s just water off a duck’s back. It doesn’t land. What needs to happen? Second Corinthians 4:6 needs to happen when we preach. It says:

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.

How did you get saved? Why do any of you in this room see Christ as compelling? It’s because that happened to you. God shone in your heart to give light — the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ, which is the light of the gospel. It’s the same as verse four, which says, “the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” So we have the glory of Christ, who is the image of God in 2 Corinthians 4:4, and you have the glory of God in the face of Christ in 2 Corinthians 4:6. The reason it’s seen, loved, believed, and embraced in verse six is that God said, “Light.” It might have happened when you were four years old and you don’t even remember it. I don’t remember being saved. I know how I got saved because of this verse, not because I remember it. My guess is your memory is pretty bad anyway. For some of you, it’s gloriously clear, and you’re able to bear witness to all the circumstances around it and what God used. But for many of you who like me, grew up in a Christian home, you don’t even remember being an unbeliever, at least I don’t.

My mother told me I prayed to receive Jesus when I was six at a motel in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, after my sister witnessed to me. I don’t remember that at all. I believe her but that isn’t the basis of my understanding of my conversion. This is the basis. I believe one of my jobs as a pastor is to constantly help people understand how they got saved. Hundreds of people come to my church with not a clue how they got saved. They’re Arminian to the core; they don’t know how they got saved.

You have to help people understand what how they came alive. They don’t know how they got alive. And I’ll tell you there are beautiful, wonderful things that happen in their lives when they find out how they got saved. Their power bumps up a level, their confidence and assurance bumps up a level, and their boldness bumps up a level because preaching Christ is preaching about what conversion is. What is conversion? Conversion is the work of the Holy Spirit, opening the eyes of the blind, defeating the devil so that they see Christ in the gospel as magnificently glorious and are drawn to him irresistibly and freely. That’s point number four: Preach conversion as the opening of the eyes of the blind to glory — the glory of Christ. And base it on 2 Corinthians 4:4–6.

5. From One Degree of Glory to Another

Preaching Christ involves preaching sanctification as the effect of seeing the glory of Christ. Do you see what’s in common for all these? The common denominator in all five of these points is the glory of Christ. This one is preaching sanctification as the effect of seeing the glory of Christ. You know where I’m going to get this text. It’s just a few verses earlier than 2 Corinthians 4:4–6. Forget the chapter division. At the end of chapter three, 2 Corinthians 3:18 says:

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord …

Now this is after he’s gone back to heaven. He’s not there physically. Paul knew that. This is 2 Corinthians 4:6 he’s talking about here, which says that God shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. Here he’s talking about it in relation to its effect on us. He continues:

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.

That’s sanctification. How do your people get changed? That’s a huge question for you to answer as a pastor. How do they fall out of love with money, and fall out of love with covetousness, greed, pride, anger, and all kinds of idols. How do they fall out of love with those things, fall more in love with Jesus, and then bear the fruits of that change? And this is the answer: Beholding the glory of the Lord, we are being transformed. So you can see what preaching is. You just show them he’s glorious. Your people are not adept at seeing the glory of Jesus. This is a lifelong quest for you, and you need to be a few steps ahead of them on this and help them week after week, and then help them with some skills for their own personal Bible reading so that day after day they can feed themselves on the glory of Christ.

That question that was asked to me. Someone said, “What about sin being wonderful one day and Christ being wonderful the next day?” This is the only answer I know. Help your people look at him and look at him and look at him, and the Holy Spirit just keeps opening and opening. Sometimes our sin closes our eyes and we need them opened up again, which is why I pray. Every time I open my Bible almost, I pray, “Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things out of your word” (Psalm 119:18), because if the Holy Spirit doesn’t do that, I see blank marks on a page and nothing happens.

So preaching Christ means preaching sanctification, not as works by which you earn anything, but as the effect of seeing the glory of Christ. I think the way it works this way — and this could be a sermon in itself — is that when you see him, you become more satisfied with him, and when you’re satisfied with him, your satisfaction in sin goes down. And when you admire him, you tend to become like what you admire.

As kids when you had a rock star or sports star, you wanted to dress like them. It’s just there’s something built in. Admiration breeds imitation. So there are at least those two things functioning, probably, when we are beholding the glory of the Lord.

Preaching Christ

I close with a one minute summary. First, preaching Christ involves preaching the supremacy of Christ’s glory theocentrically.

Second, preaching Christ means preaching the love of God in Christ as the gift of himself, ultimately. Even though he makes much of us, he won’t let our preciousness to him become our god. He will be our God and our preciousness is under that, leading us to see more of him.

Third, preaching Christ means preaching the cross from its foundation in eternity to its consummation in the enjoyment of God in the future.

Fourth, preaching Christ means preaching conversion as the spiritual, miraculous gift of seeing the glory of Christ in the gospel.

And fifth, preaching Christ means preaching sanctification as the effect of seeing the glory of Christ. When we are fully purchased, converted, and sanctified in this way, in the end we will be fully satisfied in Jesus and he will be fully glorified in us.