Preach Christ (with German Interpretation)

German Shepherds' Conference | Bonn, Germany

I want to say thank you to the leaders of this conference for trusting me with the pulpit and with the word of God. It has been very encouraging to me to look out at your receptive faces and to be a part of this conference. So thank you very much for your attention and for being a part of this. It is a very great encouragement to me to see what God is doing among you in Europe.

In session one what we saw is that what glorifies Christ most is being so satisfied in him that we can look at everything that is lost and still say “gain”. That means that suffering is the context where Christ can be most glorified, because it’s very easy to be satisfied and feel good when everything is going well. But when things are hard in the church and hard in the world and hard in our families, then to be satisfied in Christ shows how valuable he is.

So please don’t go away and think that my emphasis on being satisfied in Christ means that Christians don’t know suffering. Christ is most glorified in our satisfaction when our satisfaction endures through suffering. Then in the second session we saw that the only kind of satisfaction in God that glorifies him is the satisfaction that is based on right-thinking and right knowing about God. So the glory of God is a call to us both to be satisfied in him and to think deeply about him.

Preaching Christ for the Glory of Christ

Now today we turn our attention from satisfaction in God and thinking about God to preaching Christ. I hope to treat the subject of preaching Christ in a way that will help you see how it flows from those first two sessions. I have five observations to make about preaching Christ. There are many other observations besides the five that I’m going to give that could be made.

The Display of God’s glory

Number one, preaching Christ involves preaching the truth that God’s highest goal in history is the display of his own glory. Let me give you three reasons why preaching Christ clearly and accurately depends on making clear that God’s ultimate goal is the display of his own glory. Making sure that people realize God’s ultimate goal is the display of his glory protects the gospel from man-centered distortions. We are constantly drifting into a view of the gospel that makes us the center rather than God. So we need to lay the foundation that God’s main goal in history is the display of his own glory.

The second reason this is important is that it makes sin intelligible. The most familiar text about sin is Romans 3:23, which says, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” If you haven’t laid a foundation about the supreme importance of the glory of God, that verse won’t make any sense. Most people will hear the word “sin” and if it has any meaning for them, they will think it means hurting other people. But Paul’s definition of sin is that it is a falling short of the glory of God. You can’t understand sin unless you understand it in relation to God. And you can’t understand the gospel and preach Christ if you don’t make sin understandable. We have to lift up the glory of God as the supreme value in the universe in order to make the horror of sin understandable.

So what does Paul mean when he says sin is a falling short of the glory of God? I think Romans 1:23 is the best explanation of Romans 3:23. Because in Romans 1:23 he talks about exchanging the glory of God for any other glory. That means we are finding in human glories something that we prefer to God’s glory. And that is the meaning of sin. Sin is preferring anything above God. So we’re beginning with this first point about stressing the supreme value of God’s glory because without it sin is unintelligible. The average person does not know what trouble they are in with God. Because they do not view the glory of God as the supreme value of the universe. So if they hear good news, the first thing they think is, “I’m being made central here.”

Upholding God’s Righteousness

Now the third reason why this stress on the glory of God is essential for preaching Christ is that the cross is unintelligible without God-centeredness. Let’s go to Romans 3:25–26:

Whom God put forward as a propitiation (an appeasement of his wrath) by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time . . .

This text will make no sense if you do not have God’s glory as the supreme value in your universe. Because what this text is all about is vindicating and upholding God’s righteousness in forgiving sinners. Paul is dealing with a problem here that the world does not even feel. The world does not think it’s a problem for God to forgive their sins. They think, “We should be forgiven. That’s a natural thing. That’s what love does. We should be forgiven.” So what is Paul concerned about in Romans 3:25–26? What problem is he trying to solve? For Paul, passing over sins — which is what it says there in Romans 3:25 — is a problem for Paul. It’s not a problem for most of the people in your church. Why is it not a problem for them? Because they don’t understand the meaning of sin and the centrality of the glory of God.

Here’s the problem. When God passed over sin, it looked as though sin were of no great consequence. He’s just passing over it. And since sin is a trampling of the glory of God in the dirt, it looks as though God doesn’t put any great value on his glory. And if God doesn’t put supreme value on his glory, God is unrighteous. What is the righteousness of God? It’s God doing what is right. Now who decides what is right for God to do? God decides. There’s no book that he reads to decide what is the right thing for him to do. So how does God decide what is right? What is right for God is what accords with the infinite value of his glory.

Therefore, if he acts in a way that looks like he’s putting a low value on his glory, he is not right. And when he passes over your sins that looks like he does not put a high value on his glory. This is the problem Christ died to solve. And now Romans 3:25–26 makes sense. Sometimes I ask audiences, did Christ die for us or for God? And the answer is that he died for God’s glory first, and because he vindicated God’s glory, then it counts for me.

So I hope you can feel why beginning with the supreme value of the glory of God to God is essential for preaching Christ. We don’t live in a world where the preconditions in the mind are there for understanding the cross. They’re not there. We have to rebuild some biblical foundations in people’s minds so that the cross and sin and righteousness and glory are categories in their heads.

God’s Highest Value

Now still on this first point of the glory of God being God’s highest value, let me give you a few passages to support that. I invite you to go to the prophet Isaiah with me for a moment. I find in audiences in America that the stress upon God valuing God’s glory lands on them strange. The truth is all over the Bible that God is very God-centered. So let’s look at just a few passages from Isaiah. Isaiah 43:6–7 says:

I will say to the north, Give up,
     and to the south, Do not withhold;
bring my sons from afar
     and my daughters from the end of the earth,
everyone who is called by my name,
     whom I created for my glory,
     whom I formed and made.

Isaiah 43:21 says:

the people whom I formed for myself
     that they might declare my praise.

Isaiah 44:23 says:

For the LORD has redeemed Jacob,
     and will be glorified in Israel.

Isaiah 46:13 says:

I will put salvation in Zion,
     for Israel my glory.

Isaiah 48:9–11 says:

For my name’s sake I defer my anger;
     for the sake of my praise I restrain it for you,
     that I may not cut you off.
Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver;
     I have tried you in the furnace of affliction.
For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it,
     for how should my name be profaned?
     My glory I will not give to another.

Those verses all point to the truth that God’s supreme value, God’s main goal in the universe, is the display of his glory. And my first point about preaching Christ is that in order to make the gospel intelligible, in order to make the cross and sin intelligible, we have to show people that the supreme value in the universe is the glory of God.

The Love of God and the Glory of God

Now the second observation about preaching Christ is that this truth — that God’s main value is displaying his glory — is God’s love. Most people in the 21st century do not hear that truth that way. Our assumption is that we are loved if we are made central, if we are made much of. And I’m arguing that we are loved by God when God displays his glory for us to enjoy. This will make no sense until people believe and feel that the glory of God is the supreme value in the universe. So we need to find ways in our preaching to show that the love of Christ is probably not what people think it is.

Go with me to the Gospel of John 11. I want to illustrate for you what the love of Christ really means. I’ll read John 11:1–6:

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

Here we are thinking. We’re going to think, we’re going to apply some logic here. You will ask your people, what is the relationship between John 11:6 and John 11:5? What’s the logical relationship between those verses? And then you’ll read it to them and you will say, “Jesus loved them, he loved them. He loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus (John 11:5). Therefore, he stayed two days longer and let him die. So that he would be dead for four days when he got there.”

Now my question is, why is that love? It’s hugely painful. You could have kept him from dying. Do you think it’s love to Martha and Mary and Lazarus to let their brother die? Not the answer to that question is John 11:4. It says:

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.

Jesus says, “It’s all about my glory.” So what is the love of Christ? It is not sparing us pain. The love of Christ is doing what he must do in our lives to make the glory of God and the glory of Christ plain to us. Most people do not understand love that way. People get angry at God if he doesn’t heal their diseases or keep their loved ones alive. We have to turn their world upside down, so that what they value above everything, including life, is the glory of God. You simply cannot know what it means to be loved if your own value is central rather than God’s value.

The Alps of God’s Glory

It might help to use an illustration. Why do people, I suppose in Europe, go to the Alps? In America I would say, “Why do people go to the Grand Canyon?” If you go to the Alps, you feel small. If you go to the Grand Canyon and look over the edge one-mile deep, you feel small and vulnerable. So people pay money to go to places where they are made to feel small. This is very profound. You can preach this. It’s because what is written on their hearts is not mainly the truth, “When I am big, I am most happy.” That’s what sin does. Sin makes us think that when we are made much of, when we feel big, that’s real happiness.

But even though we are sinful and fallen, there remains this truth written on our hearts that what we are really made for are the Alps and the Grand Canyon. Admiration of a glory outside of us is the joy that we were made for. So even the unbelievers in the post-Christian, totally secular world of Europe know this. If God would give you help, you can show them that when they build the whole world around themselves and their money and their career and try to be great, they are not finding the greatest happiness. They were made to know God, to see God, and to enjoy God, and their hearts will never be satisfied until they stand at the Alps of God’s glory. And my second point, therefore, is that it is loving. It is loving for God to do what he has to do in order to open our eyes to see the glory of God.

From Eternity to Eternity

Here’s the third observation about preaching Christ. Preaching Christ involves preaching the cross from eternal foundation in the past to eternal consummation in the future. Let’s go to 1 Corinthians 15:3. This is the clearest definition of the gospel in the Bible. Paul says:

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures . . .

Now that is the gospel according to 1 Corinthians 15:1. He says, “I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel that I preached to you . . .” There is a huge controversy in the world today concerning the essence, the nature, the core of what the gospel message really is. So let me take a few minutes and unpack for you six aspects of the gospel in these verses and beyond.

The first aspect is that the cross was planned. I see that in the phrase in 1 Corinthians 15:3, which says, “in accordance with the Scriptures.” Already in the Old Testament, hundreds of years before the cross happened, it was planned. It’s recorded in the Old Testament. In fact, it was planned from all eternity.

The second aspect of the gospel is that the gospel is a historical event. I get that from 1 Corinthians 15:3, where it says, “Christ died.”If Christ had not died, there would be no good news.

The third aspect is that the cross, the death of Christ, achieved something. What did it achieve? All of that is contained in the words “for our sins.” Here are three things that were achieved on the cross for those who would believe before we ever existed. First, the wrath of God against us was absorbed by Jesus Christ. Galatians 3:13 says, “He became a curse for us.” The curse that was upon me because of my sin fell upon Jesus Christ. That happened in history. I didn’t make that happen. Second, my sins were covered when his blood was shed. And third, his righteousness was completed and secured for me.

The fourth aspect of the cross is that this achievement is freely offered to everybody in the world for faith alone. If that achievement were offered to me on the basis of my performance (my works in any measure), there would be no gospel. So what makes the good news of the achievement good news for me is that I may have it simply by receiving it, not by working for it.

And the fifth aspect of the gospel is that when I do receive it, when I believe in Jesus Christ and am by this faith united to him, the achievement is applied to me. And here is what happens to me. I am reconciled to God. I am forgiven for my sins. I am justified and counted as perfectly righteous in his presence. And I have eternal life. Those things come to me through faith. And they were objectively achieved 2,000 years ago by Christ’s death and resurrection.

Stopping Short of the Gospel’s Greatest News

Now most evangelists and pastors stop right there in unpacking the gospel. And it is glorious. It’s a wonderful thing to be reconciled, forgiven, justified, and have eternal life. It’s wonderful. But if you are driven by the centrality and the worth of the glory of God, you can’t stop there. What difference does it make to you that your sins are forgiven? What if I ask you, “Who cares if my sins are forgiven?” You might say, “Well, I won’t go to hell, my conscience is clear, and I can have better relationships with people because I don’t feel guilty.” That’s not the main reason you were forgiven.

I’ll give you a verse that gives you the main reason why you were forgiven. First Peter 3:18 says:

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

Unless God is our highest treasure, that will not be felt as good news. But if the glory of God is the supreme value, if it’s the Alps and the Grand Canyon of the universe, then the end of the gospel is to see and enjoy the glory of God. I wrote a whole book called God is the Gospel because I am deeply concerned that even among evangelical, orthodox, Reformed people, we stop giving the good news at the point of justification and forgiveness. It’s so easy for 21st century people to hear a message about forgiveness and justification and still keep themselves as the center of focus. So in order to preach Christ fully, completely, and for his glory, we must continually lift up the glory of God and the glory of Christ as the supreme value in the universe and the supreme basis of our joy.

The Opening of Blind Eyes

The fourth observation about preaching Christ is that preaching Christ involves preaching conversion as the opening of blind eyes to see the glory of Christ. Now I can deal with this briefly because Steve already dealt with it so well the first evening we were together. Let’s just go briefly to 2 Corinthians 4:4–6. Here we get a description of what needs to happen in conversion. Second Corinthians 4:4 says, “In their case, the God of this world has blinded the minds of unbelievers . . .” So the first main problem of unbelievers is that they are blind to something. Now what can’t they see? When you preach the gospel and you display Jesus crucified and risen and glorious, what can’t they see? The verse continues:

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.

So what needs to happen? They cannot see beauty or glory in the cross and in the story of the gospel. It’s boring to them. Have you ever felt absolutely helpless when trying to open the eye of someone you love to the glory of Christ? One of my sons, at age 19, walked away from everything I believe. He just walked away and for four years tried to make rock music and did not believe anymore. And he would come to town every now and then and we would go out to have pizza together. He always maintained a respect for me, but I would sit across from him and I would ask him, “Is anything happening spiritually?” And the look on his face was just blank. He was seeing nothing beautiful, attractive, or compelling in the gospel. I felt utterly helpless. I was helpless.

Now what needed to happen was that God touched my son. And in fact, it was October 4, 2002, and we just celebrated it last Sunday. I got an email that morning that began with the sentence, “I’m saved.” What happened? Second Corinthians 4:6 tells you what happened:

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.

We pastors are totally dependent on God’s sovereign work of doing 2 Corinthians 4:6 through our preaching. We do not make conversion happen. Conversion and the new birth, which is what’s being described, happens through the preaching of the gospel. But it depends wholly on the power of God through the Word, by the Spirit opening the eyes of the blind to see that the gospel is glorious. So in order to preach Christ, we have to preach conversion as a supernatural work of the Holy Spirit, the opening of the eyes of the blind to see the glory of Christ.

Sanctification as Seeing the Glory of Christ

Here’s one final observation, number five. In order to preach Christ, we need to preach sanctification as the effect of seeing the glory of Christ. And you can see that in 2 Corinthians 3:18. For me, this is the most important verse in the Bible about sanctification.

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. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

Our people will be made radically holy and loving and strong and pure and courageous — all the things we want them to be — to the degree that we help them see Christ. I just long for all of your churches to grasp this. And you have to grasp this first, pastors. If you constantly tell people, “Change, change, change,” they won’t change. Or they will change and it will be totally external. But if Sunday, after Sunday, after Sunday, you are opening for them the glories of Christ so that 2 Corinthians 3:18 can happen, it will happen. Because when we see the glory of Christ, we are satisfied in him. When we’re satisfied in Christ, the power of the sin of fear and greed is broken. Instead of fear comes courage, and instead of greed comes generosity. And we become loving people in the world.

So let me close with a brief summary of where we’ve been. Preaching Christ involves five things. First, God’s ultimate purpose is to display the glory of Christ. Second, this revelation of the glory of Christ is what love means because that glory is the greatest treasure we could have. Third, the cross is the infinite price that God pays that we might see the glory of Christ. Fourth, conversion is the gift of opening our eyes to see the glory of Christ. Fifth, sanctification is the effect of seeing the glory of Christ. So when we are fully and finally purchased and converted and sanctified in this way, then we will be fully satisfied in God and God will be fully glorified in us. And that’s why the universe was created and exists.