Preach Christ (with Russian Interpretation)

Samara Preachers Conference | Samara, Russia

What we saw in session number one was that what glorifies God most is when we are most satisfied in him. And I observed that this is especially true during times of hardship and suffering. Because in times of suffering, if your satisfaction in God endures, he clearly is seen to be a treasure above all the things that you are losing. In session number two, we saw that the only satisfaction in God that glorifies God is a satisfaction that is based upon right thinking about God. So if you are committed to living for the glory of God above all things, you will pursue your satisfaction and right thinking with all your might. Now, in this third session, what I want to do is talk about what it means to preach Christ in view of those first two sessions.

The Form of Preaching

I could go in two different directions at this point. I could talk about the form of preaching or I could talk about the content of preaching. Let me just say a brief word about the implications for the form of preaching. And then we’ll spend the rest of our time on the content of preaching.

If it’s important for people to be satisfied in God for his glory and their minds to think correctly about God for his glory, preaching will move in those two directions. The side of right thinking calls us to do exposition. That is, we use our minds and explain to people in our sermons what the Bible means. We want our people to understand with their minds what the Bible says. So there is a strong intellectual component to our preaching.

On the other hand, we want our people to have hearts that are aflame with love to God, so there is another component to our preaching, namely, an exultation component. The phrase that I use to describe this kind of preaching is expository exultation. So I don’t think it is faithful preaching merely to academically explain verse after verse. And I don’t think it is biblically faithful preaching simply to work up people’s emotions. It’s both an exposition with our minds and exultation with our hearts. So here’s one of the implications of understanding preaching this way.

Sometimes people will say, “We worship in our services for a half an hour and then there is preaching.” I don’t think we should ever talk that way. We worship maybe for a half an hour in singing and music and then we worship in and through preaching. So for me, preaching is a form of worship. What I am doing with the Bible in my hand is worshiping over the word of God. My people are watching me worship God over the word and I’m trying to draw them into my experience of God in the Word. That’s what I mean by the implications for the form of preaching. But I want to spend the rest of our time talking about the implications of our first two sessions on the content of preaching.

The Glory of God in Preaching

The question I’m asking is, what is involved in preaching Christ? I have five answers. First, preaching Christ involves preaching the truth that God’s highest goal in history is the display of his own glory. The main thing God created the universe to do and the main thing he’s doing in all of history is to put his glory on display. There are three reasons why I think this needs to be part of preaching Christ.

When the glory of God is made central in the universe, we are better protected from changing the gospel into something man-centered. We want to protect ourselves from a man-centered gospel. I think the church is always drifting toward making ourselves the center of the gospel. But if we say what God is mainly doing in history, in the gospel, and in the church is to display his glory, that will protect us from turning the gospel into a man-centered gospel.

The second reason why it’s important to emphasize the glory of God as the center of God’s purpose is this: It makes sin intelligible for people when they hear about it. When Romans 3:23 says “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” people need to have some sense of the importance of the glory of God in order to understand what sin is. In Romans 3:23, Paul is saying that sin is a falling short of the glory of God. Now here’s what I think that means.

I think Romans 3:23 is best explained by Romans 1:23. Back in Romans 1:23 the problem was that people were exchanging the glory of God for the glory of created things. So if we value any created thing above God, we’re sinning. The reason people do wrong things is because they have wrong values. They are not prizing or treasuring the glory of God to the degree that they should. Now, most of the people in the world do not understand sin that way. If you preach against sin in public, most people will think you’re just telling people to treat each other better. But what makes sin so evil is that sin is against God. It demeans God. It dishonors God’s glory. So if we’re going to preach Christ as the remedy for our sin, we have to make known the glory of God and its infinite value in God’s purposes.

The third reason why the centrality of God’s glory is crucial is this: I don’t think we can understand what happened at the cross if we don’t sense the glory of God as the supreme value of the universe.

The Display of God’s Righteousness

Let’s turn to Romans 3:25–26. Notice the emphasis that God put Christ forward to show his righteousness. So the purpose of God in the cross of Christ is to vindicate, to magnify, to display his own righteousness. This is a very God-centered understanding of the cross. Now, why did God feel it to be necessary to show his righteousness in the death of his Son? The reason is given at the end of Romans 3:25, which says, “Because in his divine forbearance or patience he had passed over former sins.”

Now, why does God’s passing over former sins make it look like God is unrighteous? My guess is if you went up to somebody on the street here in Samara and you said to them, “God has passed over your sins,” they wouldn’t say, “Oh, he must be unrighteous then.” But that’s exactly the problem that Paul felt like he needed to solve: passing over sins makes God look unrighteous.

Now why is that? Because the righteousness of God means he must do what is right. What is right for God to do? Who decides what is right for God to do? God decides what is right for God to do. How does he decide? There’s no Bible for him to read. He wrote the Bible. There’s nothing outside of God that decides for him what is right for him to do. God decides what is right to do by what agrees with the value of his glory.

The supreme value in the universe is the glory of God. Therefore, the definition of what is right for God to do is anything and everything that displays and magnifies that glory. But we’ve already seen that sin is a diminishing or a belittling of the glory of God. And now Romans 3:25 says God is just passing over sins. He’s not punishing them. So it looks like God doesn’t value his glory because he’s not punishing the sins that are belittling his glory. The forgiveness of sins and the justification of the ungodly make God look like he doesn’t value his glory. So what does God do to uphold his glory and uphold his righteousness? He sends his Son into the world to bear his wrath against our sin.

What happens on the cross is that the whole world sees God hates sin that much. Or another way to say it is that God loves his glory that much. He will not let his glory be trampled in the mud without a vindication. So I don’t think it’s possible to preach Christ without somehow setting the stage with the centrality of the value of the glory of God. Human beings will always look at the cross and if they are not transformed into God-centered people, they will make their own value the meaning of the cross. Many times in America I have heard evangelicals say, “Oh, look at the cross; that’s how valuable I am to God,” instead of saying, “Look at the cross, that’s how wicked I am and how valuable the glory of God is.” In spite of all of that, he loved me and his love is not a reflection or an echo of my value, but an expression of upholding his value.

The Main Purpose of History

Now on this first point about the centrality of the glory of God, I have just been assuming with you that it’s biblical. So let me just show you a few verses from Isaiah where I’m getting the idea that upholding God’s glory is the main purpose of God in history. For example, let’s start in Isaiah 43:6–7:

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.

So everything, including you, was made to display the glory of God. And in Isaiah 43:21, he says:

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

And then at the end of Isaiah 44:23, he says:

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

Then in Isaiah 46:13, at the end of the verse, he says:

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

And then, Isaiah 48:9–11 is probably the most God-centered three verses in all the Bible. Over and over, it says, “For my name’s sake.” In Isaiah 48:11, he says:

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.

In other words, God is the most God-centered person in the universe. God’s highest passion and highest goal is to display his own glory. This keeps the gospel from being man-centered, this makes sin understandable as an offense against God, and it makes the cross intelligible as a vindication of the righteousness of God.

The Love of God in Preaching

Now, here’s the second observation to make about what’s involved in preaching Christ: This emphasis upon God’s display of his own glory is what love is. There are many people who, when I talk about God’s own display of his own glory, don’t feel like that’s the love of God. My argument is that the most loving thing that God can do for blind, dead sinners is at whatever cost to himself enable us to see and enjoy his glory.

Let’s look at John 11 for just a moment. John 11:1–6 is the story about Jesus getting ready to go raise Lazarus from the dead. I’ll read this a verse at a time with the translation. You look for the relationship between the love of Jesus and the glory of God:

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” (John 11:1–3).

So John is drawing attention to the fact that Jesus loves Mary, Marth, and Lazarus. The passages continues:

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 (John 11:4–5).

Now, here comes a verse that shocks a lot of people because a literal translation makes John 11:6 begin with “therefore” or “so.” Let’s start over and read John 11:5–6:

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.

Because he loved them, he let Lazarus die. Why is it loving for Jesus to wait two days longer and make sure that Lazarus is really dead? This caused a huge amount of pain in the lives of Martha and Mary and Lazarus. Is that the way you think love behaves? Does love let people die when he could save them? Now the answer to why that is loving for Jesus to do is given 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.”

So how would you define love on the basis of that issue, those set of verses? Love does whatever it must do, even if it’s painful, in order to display the glory of God. It is more loving for Martha and Mary to see the glory of Christ than to have their brother not die.

So my second point is that in preaching Christ, we want to preach the love of God and the love of Christ. But if you don’t put the glory of God at the center of your proclamation, do you know what your worldly hearers are going to hear when you preach the love of God? When you tell the world that God loves them, they will take you to mean that he makes them central. He makes much of them. They’re the most important thing. But what the love of God really is, is that God is at work to enable those people to enjoy making much of him. That’s the second point. The love of God must be put within the context of the supreme value of the glory of God; otherwise, we will distort the love of God into something man-centered.

The Cross of Christ in Preaching

The third point about preaching Christ is this: We need to preach the cross, the cross of Christ in its fullness from eternal foundation to eternal consummation. So let me take a few minutes and open for you the meaning of the cross and the meaning of the gospel. Let’s go to 1 Corinthians 15:1–4. This is the clearest definition of the center of the gospel I think there is. It says:

Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you (1 Corinthians 15:1) . . . 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 . . .

Now, let me mention six aspects of the gospel, and if you leave any one of them out, you don’t have good news.

The Cross Was Planned

Number one: The cross of Christ was planned. I see that in the phrase “according to Scripture” in 1 Corinthians 15:3. In other words, already in the Old Testament, the cross, the gospel was planned. And we know from the Book of Revelation 13:8, it was planned from before the foundation of the world. So the first thing we need to know about the gospel is that it is not plan B, but was the original plan. God did not make up the gospel plan after Adam fell. Before the foundation of the world, there is a book and in it are written the names of his people and it’s called “the book of the life of the Lamb who was slain.” So in the mind of God, the slaying of the Son of God had already happened before the world was created.

The Cross Was a Historical Event

Number two: It was a historical event. I get that from the words “Christ died” in 1 Corinthians 15:3). That was a moment in history, an event in history. If Christ did not die, there would be no gospel.

The Cross Was an Achievement

Number three: The cross was an achievement. Something was achieved in the death of Christ. And I see that in the words “for our sins” in 1 Corinthians 15:3. He died for our sins. So God achieved something, he accomplished something when Christ died. Let me mention three things that he did.

First, Christ absorbed and took away the wrath of God from his people. We know that from Galatians 3:13 where Christ became a curse for us. The second achievement was that sins were taken away. Colossians 2:14 says that our sins were nailed to the cross. And the third thing that happened on the cross is that the righteousness of Christ was consummated or completed. Those three things at least were accomplished or achieved for us on the cross in history before we ever existed.

The Cross Is Freely Offered

Number three: The accomplishment of the cross is freely offered to all people in the world. The achievements of the cross are offered freely for faith alone, not faith plus works. We are saved by grace through faith, not by works.

The Cross Is Applied

Number five: When a person believes, that achievement is applied to them, and that can be described in four different ways. First, we are reconciled to God (Romans 5:10). Second, we are forgiven for our sins (Ephesians 1:7). Third, we are justified and declared righteous in the presence of God (Romans 5:1). And fourth, we are given eternal life. All four of those come through faith in the achievement of Christ.

The Cross Is a Means to Getting to God

Now, most evangelical pastors, I think, tend to stop preaching the gospel right there and offer those achievements and those applications to people for faith. And they are glorious achievements and glorious applications. They are good news. But here’s my question: “What makes reconciliation, forgiveness, and justification good news?” There are wrong answers to that question. A person might say, “I get out of hell.” Or a person might say, “I get to go to heaven where my beloved relatives are.” Or a person might say, “My conscience is clear and I don’t have guilty feelings anymore.” Now, I don’t think any of those answers are false, they’re just not God-centered. The reason God forgives our sins is to remove the obstacles so that we can see and enjoy him.

What I’m arguing here on this sixth point is that God himself, given to us for our enjoyment, is the ultimate good news. I wrote a book called God is the Gospel. In my own personal opinion, this is one of the most important things I’ve ever written. I think all over the world, people are changing the gospel into kinds of messages that don’t make God the ultimate good of the gospel. We think the forgiveness of our sins is the ultimate good, or we think that being declared righteous before God is the ultimate good, or we think that the benefits of an improved marriage and obedient children are the ultimate good, or we think the transformation of our city and its culture are the ultimate good, or we think the new heavens and the new earth is the ultimate good. None of those is the ultimate good of the gospel; God is the ultimate good of the gospel.

For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God . . . (1 Peter 3:18).

Jesus died for you in order to make God look great to you. The gospel is God doing everything he must do so that sinners could stop making much of themselves and enjoy making much of him forever. That’s number three.

The New Birth in Preaching

Now, the fourth observation about what is involved in preaching Christ is this: Preaching Christ involves preaching conversion as the opening of blind eyes to see the glory of God. So I’m asking you now, what do you think conversion to Christ involves? Would you turn with me to 2 Corinthians 4:4? It says:

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 for a lost person who is blind to the glory of God? He can’t see the glory of Christ who is the image of God? What needs to happen 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.

So what is conversion? A person is spiritually blind and when he hears the gospel and looks at Jesus, he’s bored and sees nothing interesting and nothing true. And then one day, as the gospel is being read or heard, God Almighty says, “Let there be light.” This happened to all of you who are born again. You may have been 6 years old or 36 years old. A time goes by when the gospel is of no interest and you see nothing beautiful in it at all. And then one day, something happens and your heart opens and now you see beauty. Christ becomes beautiful to you. He becomes compelling. You must have him. He is now Savior and Lord and treasure of your life.

This is what we should be praying for every day in our churches. We should pray, “Oh God, come down with 2 Corinthians 4:6 power. Come down and open the hearts of our people to see your glory.” So my point on number four is that unless you have made the centrality of the glory of God prominent in your preaching, the meaning of conversion won’t make sense because conversion is the opening of the eyes of the heart to see and be satisfied with the glory of God in Christ.

The Place of Sanctification in Preaching

My last observation, number five, is this: Preaching Christ involves preaching sanctification as the effect of seeing the glory of Christ. I don’t think it’s possible to understand what happens in sanctification if you have not made the glory of Christ prominent in your preaching. Stay in 2 Corinthians and just go a little bit earlier to 2 Corinthians 3:18. Let’s look at this:

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.

This verse is the most important verse in my life in understanding how my people are transformed into the image of Christ. Nothing will have a greater impact on the way you preach for transformation than this verse. Do you want your people to be as loving as Christ and as bold as Christ and as wise as Christ? How are you going to help your people become more and more like Jesus? The answer is so clear in 2 Corinthians 3:18. It says, “Beholding the glory of the Lord, we are being changed.”

People are changed by seeing the radiant, magnificent, compelling beauty of the glory of Jesus. So Brothers, what’s your job? Show them Christ. And when they see Christ in your preaching, they will be changed. It won’t work to just hammer on them and say, “Change, change, change!” It won’t work. Sunday after Sunday, you put Jesus on display for them. You show them the whole panorama of his magnificent greatness. And according to God’s word, they will be changed.

In summary, let’s conclude. Preaching Christ involves, number one, preaching that God’s ultimate purpose in the universe is to display his glory. Point number two is that this display of his glory is what love mainly does. Number three, the cross is the price that God paid so that you and your people could see and enjoy the glory of God. Number four, conversion is the work of God to open the eyes of the blind to see and enjoy the glory of God in Christ. And number five, sanctification is the effect of your people faithfully seeing in your preaching and in the word the compelling value of the glory of God in Christ. And when we and our people see the glory of Christ, we are satisfied in him. And when we’re satisfied in him, he is most glorified in us.

As I pray for you, let me just thank you again for your amazing attentiveness to me. I really deeply appreciate what you have given me. It has felt to me like a very great honor to be among so many faithful pastors and young men moving toward the pastorate. I want to feel like our arms are linked in a great global cause between Russia here and us in America. God is at work in the world today, all over the world, in ways that make me and you very small. And the thrilling thing is that we in America and you here can be a part of something so vastly greater than our two nations. If Jesus waits to come back, America will pass away and Russia will pass away, but the word of God will never pass away. So I look forward to the day in heaven when I will see you all again if I don’t see you sooner.