The following is a lightly edited transcript
Thank you, Bruce. I thank all of you for coming. It’s really quite an honor to be with you and to mark 100 years. That’s a remarkable thing. We just started a little school at our church, and I’ve prayed for 140 years out because our church is 140 years old this year. I thought, “Lord, was anybody praying for me 140 years ago?” I wonder. I bet they were. So, I’ve been praying for our little school 140 years from now, if God doesn’t send the Lord Jesus before then. Perhaps you’ll have another 100 years as well, but it’s awesome to me to be a part of marking 100 years of God’s faithfulness in an institution. Let me pray with you and ask the Lord’s help before we move forward.
It Is the Spirit Who Gives Life
I’m going to invite you, if you have a Bible, to turn to Galatians 3:1–5. But before I read you the first five verses, let me tell you why I’m reading them and where we’re going. This is a message about proclaiming Christ, and I’ll have five points — (1) the aim of that preaching or proclamation, (2) the content of it, (3) the manner of it, (4) the preparation for it, and (5) the act of doing it. Those are the five steps that we’ll take.
But before we get to those five steps, as I was pondering yesterday, I really want to make clear that all the Bible and all my experience makes plain that proclaiming Christ without the Holy Spirit is in vain. I don’t awaken faith in unbelievers, I don’t strengthen the faith of believers, I don’t increase the holiness of believers, and I don’t empower believers, if I don’t proclaim Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit.
What I want to do is set the stage of those five steps by making sure we all understand how crucial the link is between proclaiming Christ and experiencing in it the power of the Holy Spirit in doing it, so that you aren’t left with the impression that if you were just gifted enough, or powerful enough, or had the right personality to proclaim him, you could make things happen of an eternal kind. You can’t. There are few things more plain after 31 years in the pastorate for me than that I cannot make happen the one thing I want to happen. I can make lots of things happen. You can grow a church without the Holy Spirit, but who wants to do that?
I want to see people utterly revolutionized from the inside out, a new kind of human being with a new kind of faith and passion, power, zeal, love, and sacrifice. I can’t make that happen. I can’t make anybody into that kind of person. Only God does that. Therefore, it’s crucial that we get this connection between the Holy Spirit and proclaiming Christ. So, if you expanded the title of this message, it would be something like Proclaiming Christ in the Power of the Holy Spirit.
The Word and the Spirit
So, let’s read Galatians 3:1-5. Have your ears open for the connection between Christ proclaimed and the power of the Holy Spirit.
O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified…
Now, let’s pause there. Surely, he’s not talking about flannelgraph or video. When he says, “publicly portrayed as crucified,” he means, “When I preached you the gospel, when I spoke to you, I did it in such a way that it was as though your hearts’ eyes were seeing Christ crucified.” It’s the proclamation of Christ done in such vivid characters that they actually saw him as it were with the eyes of their heart crucified for them.
…Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith?
The Holy Spirit was received the first time. That’s regeneration. The Holy Spirit came on the spear of the word, and that shaft, that Spirit-driven shaft, sank into their heart. The Word and Spirit sank, and they received the Spirit by the word. Then verse three says:
Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith—
I don’t want to narrow down miracles to any one thing, whether there’s any apostolic signs and wonders, or whether it’s just the kinds of things that only God can do. Just let it be broad. I read this as what only God can do in the ministry, I want done. He says, “Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by the works of the law?” And the answer to that is, “No.” And then he says, “Or is it by hearing with faith?” And the answer to that is, “Yes.”
So, the initial reception of the Holy Spirit was when Christ was portrayed, proclaimed, and received by hearing with faith. Faith was awakened by that word and the Holy Spirit, awakening faith, was received into the heart. And then, there is another ongoing work. Pastors, who are not only evangelists that want to see people come to faith the first time, but week after week want to see people to go on receiving empowerment from the Holy Spirit; having transformation and sanctification by the Holy Spirit; having marriages made different, parenting made different, workplaces made different, and their relationship to sex, money, and power made different, know that happens, not by works of the law, but same way — by hearing. And by hearing what? The proclamation of Christ with faith.
So, hope it’s plain now how I understand this. When I’m speaking to you about proclaiming Christ, I am speaking about something that can only be done in the power of the Holy Spirit, if it is to produce the receiving of the Spirit the first time in regeneration, and then the ongoing supply of the Holy Spirit by which miracles are wrought in the lives of our people. Both of them come by our people hearing that proclamation with faith that is awakened by that proclamation. That’s the foundation for everything else that I’m going to say now in these minutes.
Crucifying Sin and Magnifying Christ
When we proclaim Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit is unleashed in our people to crucify sin and to magnify Christ. Those are the two things I’m after. You could say it a lot of different ways, but I’m saying it those two ways because I want to link up with two texts just to confirm and illustrate what I’m saying about how this works. Look at two texts with me, and then we’ll start into our five points on preaching.
The first text is John 16:13–14, which says:
When the Spirit of truth comes…He will glorify me
J.I. Packer’s book, Keep in Step With the Spirit is the best book I’ve ever read on the Holy Spirit, I think; at least the best accessible book leaving John Owen out of account. This book said that this verse right here, John 16:14, is probably the most important statement about the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the New Testament. His passion, the passion of the Holy Spirit, is to make much of the second person of the Trinity. He is sent into the world to open the eyes of our hearts that we might see the magnificence of Christ, and thus glorify Him.
So, the Spirit and the Word come together. I picture them sometimes as these jets we have in America called the Blue Angels. They’re four jets that fly 10 feet apart from each other. I picture the word of God flying through the mouth of a preacher and the Holy Spirit right there like one of those jets. Wherever that word is flying faithfully, the Holy Spirit is right there doing his work to make a place for that word. But if the proclamation of Christ lands, and the preacher starts doing something else and replaces the magnificence of Christ, the Holy Spirit is going to depart.
He is not interested in empowering self-talk. He’s not interested in empowering little stories. He’s not interested in empowering anecdotes about this or that. He wants to make much of Jesus. Therefore, I promise you that if you get up and make much of Christ, biblically, you’ve got this jet flying in with you immediately. He loves it. He was sent into the world to magnify the Son. So, if you say to him, “I want to magnify the Son this morning,” he will say, “I’m with you. I am right there on your side to help you in that.” That’s why proclaiming Christ is so essential to experiencing the power of the Holy Spirit.
So, that’s my first illustration of the connection between proclaiming Christ and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit. John 16:14 says the Holy Spirit is given to magnify Christ. Therefore, whenever you put magnifying words on your lips, and you say, “I’m going to find ways with my mind and my mouth to make much of Jesus,” the Holy Spirit is right there to put boosters behind it all the time.
Here’s the second text that illustrates this, namely Romans 8:13. I said that when the Holy Spirit empowers the proclamation of Christ, not only is Christ magnified, but sin is crucified, or killed. So, you know that John Owen wrote Mortification of Sin to unpack this verse alone. It says:
…we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.
Consider that little phrase. By the Spirit, we and are people, kill sin. How does that work? That’s what we want to happen week in and week out. Our people walk out Monday morning and they experience some temptation of greed, or pride, or lust, or anger, or bitterness, and you want them to kill it and in its place have love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, and kindness. That’s what you want to happen. You tell them, “By the Spirit, kill it.” But do they know what you mean? What does that mean? How do you do it? You have to do this by the Spirit. So is he a gun? Do I pull his trigger? Well, they didn’t have guns, but they did have swords.
The Sword of the Spirit
Is it an accident that the one weapon in our arsenal from Ephesians 6 with which you kill people is the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God? Is it an accident, exegetically, that these two texts come together so amazingly?
By the Spirit, put this to death. Well, how do you do that? Well, the one murderous weapon that you have is a sword. You don’t helmet people to death. You don’t shield them to death. You use a sword to kill them. That’s what swords are for. They’re for killing, and not killing people. We wrestle not against flesh and blood (Ephesians 6:12). We’re going to stick the devil with this sword and you’re going to stick your sins with it. So, the way I understand, “By the Spirit, put to death the deeds of the body” is to hear with faith some Christ-exalting truth or promise, believe it, and stick your sin with it.
So, if your temptation is to be greedy, like lying on some tax return to save yourself a few hundred dollars; that’s a temptation. You need to kill that. How would you do that by the Spirit? You would pause, and you would say:
Oh, God, you have said “Be content with what you have, for he has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’ So we can confidently say, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?’ (Hebrews 13:5–6). You’re on my side, I believe you.”
You kill that temptation right there with the promise of God, and that is the work of the Holy Spirit. The work of the Holy Spirit is not like a gas, producing amorphous feelings with no connection to the word of God. You take the word, the sword of the Spirit, which in this case was the promise from Hebrews 13:5–6, and you hear it with faith (Galatians 3:5). You hear with faith and the Holy Spirit at that moment is supplied. Does he who supplies the Holy Spirit do so by works of the law? No, but by hearing that promise with faith, greed dies and you’re free.
That's the way I want my people to live, which then means that we must proclaim Christ in all of his riches, so that they will have something to believe moment by moment with which they can kill sin and magnify Christ.
I said there were five points, and here they are: the aim of preaching Christ, the content of preaching Christ, the manner of preaching Christ, the preparation for preaching Christ, and the act of preaching Christ. So, let’s take these one at a time.
1. The Aim of Proclaiming Christ
Now the answer to that has already been given, so we can be brief here. When you talk about aim, you can talk about different levels of aim. You could say the aim of everything is to glorify God, and you could say with 1 Timothy 1:5, “The aim of our charge is love that comes from a pure heart, a good conscience, and faith unfeigned,” or you could say down here that the aim is faith. That’s what I’m going to say, but you know that I understand there are more ultimate aims, like love and glorifying God.
But let me just linger here with you. When you stand up before your people, I think the aim that should be conscious to your mind is wanting your people to walk out of there deeper and stronger in their faith in God and his word, and in particular, his Christ-exalting word and his gospel-based word of promise. I want their faith to be stronger. I want them to be like Gideon. Gideon’s just been on my mind a lot lately, because we’ve got a big challenge in front of us at our church to raise lots of money. There’s a big recession and all kinds of obstacles in the way.
I just love Gideon because God comes to Gideon and says, “There are not enough obstacles in the way of accomplishing my purpose. So, let’s create some obstacles. So, send 22,000 of your men home, 300 would be a good enough obstacle.” And then God gives a dream, and a loaf of barley bread goes in and knocks down a tent. This is really a funny story. Then they say, “The sword of the Lord and of Gideon.” Gideon overhears the men talking and says, “He’s given the whole army into our hand. Let’s go, all 300 of us, against hordes and hordes of Midianites.” That’s the way I want my people to walk out on Sunday morning — valiant and confident that they’re nobody and he is absolutely magnificent.
So, right here still Galatians 3:5 says:
Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith?
So, that’s what I’m after: faith. I want them to hear the word of God with faith. I want the word to awaken faith. Now, the reason I suppose that I’m lingering on faith here instead of some other aim is because I want to make sure that while I’m here in Australia, I leave a few deposits behind of the things that have meant most to me over my ministry years. One of them is this: I think we would do well to think deeply about the nature of saving faith because until you go deep with the nature of saving faith, you don’t see as clearly as you might how it is so powerful to transform people.
The thing that we miss often is that faith is not mainly a decision, and it’s not mainly an affirmation of a truth. The statement “I believe that Jesus rose from the dead” is an aspect of faith, but it’s not the main aspect because the devil believes that. How could it be main if the devil believes it? Now we share the main thing in common with the devil. Obviously, believing that Jesus rose from the dead, or that he died for sinners can’t be the main thing in faith, because the devil believes that. So, it’s really crucial that we understand the main thing. In John 1:12 it says:
But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God…
So, I’m going to take the word receiving now and let that unpack the nature of faith. And then a new question arises, receive him as what? Traditionally in evangelicalism, we say, “Receive him as Savior and Lord.” That’s right. He is both, and both are crucial, but neither is enough. At least in my context, in America, I think it’s very much like Australia, very secular, very up to date — to talk about receiving Jesus as Savior and Lord misses something essential. I must receive him as my treasure.
Whenever I talk nowadays — if I’m talking to anybody, whether an unbeliever or believer, and I’m talking about the nature of faith, what it is to be saved, and how you receive him — I say receive him as your Savior. You need a savior. You’re a sinner. You need a substitute who died for you and rose again. You need an alien righteousness. And you need a Lord. You don’t know what you’re doing. You need a guide and a king. He’s got absolute authority. You have to take him that way or leave him. He won’t be negotiated with. And you also need to receive him as the supreme treasure of your life, because that’s what’s driving these people here in Brisbane.
What they’re driven by is not lords and saviors mainly, it’s treasures. They treasure the approval of man. They treasure the power of money. They treasure the sweetness of leisure. They treasure entertainment. They’ve got these passions inside. They’re saying, “Oh, give me satisfaction.” If we do not fight that fire with a superior fire, we’ll lose it. Savior and Lord alone do not compensate for a passion for a treasure that satisfies my soul. They are essential, and the treasure lies in them, but the treasure is key and is an emphasis that I want to leave with you in a few texts. In Philippians 3:8, this faith says:
I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.
That’s what faith says. Faith says, “Everywhere I look in Brisbane is garbage compared to you.” So, that’s what I want to be awakened in my people. I want them to see Christ in such a way that they are embracing him as savior, embracing him as Lord, and embracing him as the supreme treasure of their life. When that is happening, I say they are believing him. They are receiving him for who he is.
So, here’s my restatement of the aim of preaching. When I said the aim is faith in our people in the power of the Holy Spirit, I would now nuance it this way. This is the way I consciously think on Sunday morning. Last Sunday, I finished preaching through John 10. I’ve been preaching through John for, I think, four years now, and I hope in the next three years I can finish it. But I have the same aim every Sunday, though a different text it’s the same aim: a Spirit-given treasuring of Christ as supremely precious.
If you wanted me to unpack doctrinally what that may mean, I would pour it all out of the word supremely. My argument last Sunday was that when Jesus said, “I and the Father are one,” he meant it to the max, to the metaphysical max. Supremely really means supremely. So, that’s the answer to my first point. The aim of proclaiming Christ is that he be treasured as supremely precious, which in my vocabulary — and I believe I can defend it from the New Testament — means to believe him and receive him. To as many as received him for what he is (namely, supremely valuable) who believed in his name, he gave the power to become the children of God.
2. The Content of Proclaiming Christ
This follows pretty clearly, and these all build on each other. If that’s the aim, if you’re trying to proclaim Christ in such a way in the power of the Holy Spirit, that there is awakened in your people a treasuring of Christ as supremely valuable, then what should you say in your preaching? Well, you should point out as many things about him that are supremely valuable as you can. Here’s the way Paul says it in Ephesians 3:8:
To me…this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ
So, if you were to ask Paul, “What are you doing? What’s the content of your preaching?”, he would say, “The unsearchable riches of Christ.” That’s what I proclaim. So wherever you are in the Bible, go there eventually. Preach something magnificent about all that God is for us in Christ — the unsearchable riches of Christ. If you do a word study on the phrase “riches of,” you find texts like “the riches of his kindness” (Romans 2:4), or “the riches of his grace” (Ephesians 2:7), or “the riches of his glory” (Romans 9:23; Ephesians 3:16; Colossians 1:27).
Why don’t you turn with me to 2 Corinthians 3:18–4:6. I’m going to linger here for just a minute to make sure that you at least see the direction I go in one of the most ministry-shaping passages in the Bible for me. Maybe they have been for you or would be for you. What I’m after here is the content of the preaching of Christ, the content of Christ proclaimed in the power of the Holy Spirit. I want my people to be transformed. How do they get transformed? 2 Corinthians 3:18 says:
And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord…
That’s the glory of Jesus. So, that’s what I’m proclaiming. If this is going to happen for your people, you have to do this for them. They are beholding the glory of Jesus — when, where and how? Well, I placarded Christ crucified for you. I held up Christ in as many of his riches and dimensions as I could over the years. Therefore, as I leave, your blood is not in my hands. I have delivered the whole counsel of God, centered on Jesus. The passage 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. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.
So how do you people get transformed? By beholding the glory of the Lord, they are transformed. I don’t have a lot of techniques. My life has to stay pretty simple because my brain short-circuits if too many ideas come into it at one time. They have to immediately connect or I can’t handle it. So, I’m just constantly pushing things down to the center, pushing things to what’s ultimate.
So, I have some pretty simple ideas about how my people change; namely, by seeing Jesus, because that’s what it says. Beholding the glory of the Lord, we are being transformed. I don’t have any other keys. I have lots of ideas. I could write a whole book on beholding Jesus. So you can say lots about that, but it’s really simple; preach Christ, proclaim Christ with the aim that they would treasure him as supremely valuable. How? By continually finding ways to unfold the riches of his glory, because by beholding his glory people are changed. That’s how it works.
Where is that glory seen most clearly? Drop down to the fourth chapter of 2 Corinthians. Chapter divisions don’t mean anything. They usually get in the way. They mess people up, so just ignore verses and chapter divisions. Second Corinthians 4:4 says:
In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers…
The devil wants to cancel out 2 Corinthians 3:18 at any cost, because he knows if people see the glory of Jesus, they’re going to be changed into the image of Christ. That messes up his strategies, big time. So he wants to blind them. The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers to keep them from seeing what? The light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.
So if you ask me, “Where is the glory of Christ seen in its essence or at its apex?” My answer would be: in the gospel. So my ministry is going to be centering on the glory of Christ, which means centering on the gospel. I’m going to pack into three minutes here an hour’s worth of gospel explanation. What is the gospel? I have six levels or statements, which are various aspects of the gospel. I’m just going to read them off because I want you to know what I mean by saying that his glory is seen most clearly and its apex is found in the gospel. Here are my six pieces. If any one of these six is gone, there’s no gospel.
What Is the Gospel?
First, the gospel is planned. I’m getting this mainly from 1 Corinthians 15:3–4, which 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, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures
When it says, “in accordance with the Scriptures,” it means there was a plan. A long time ago, God had an idea to do the gospel. So, the gospel is a plan. If you say there was no plan, or he thought that up on the spur of the moment, there’s no gospel.
Second, the gospel is an event. Christ died in history. If he didn’t die in history and rise in history, there’s no gospel. It is an event. If you take the event quality out of it, there’s no gospel.
Third, the gospel is an accomplishment. Christ accomplished something at that moment when he died. He accomplished something before you who would later benefit from it ever were on the scene. For example, sin was punished, righteousness was completed and perfected, and wrath was satisfied. Those happened before you were ever born. They were accomplished in the gospel or in the act, in the event.
Fourth, the gospel is a free offer for faith. I asked Don Carson one time, “Don, would you say that the free offer of Christ crucified is an essential component of the gospel itself?” He said, “Absolutely.” And I agree. The reason is this: if Christ accomplished something for you, and then I come to you and say, “Here’s what he accomplished for you,” and you say, “What must I do to be saved?” If my reply is, “work hard,” then there’s no gospel. So the free offer, which is for faith alone, has to be a part of what the gospel is. It is a free accomplishment. You receive it only by faith.
Fifth, the gospel is an application of benefits to us by the Holy Spirit. There’s a great book by John Murray called Redemption Accomplished and Applied. What this means is that when you come to faith, that purchase is now yours. Your sins are forgiven. That righteousness is now counted as yours. You are justified. That wrath removed, now is yours. God’s propitiation and total reconciliation now comes home to you. That application to you by the Holy Spirit is the gospel. You take that away, you’re going to hell, and there’s no gospel.
Sixth, the gospel is union with God. Now, pause here. In my growing up and most of the places where I hear the gospel preached, that’s where people stop — those five pieces. Historically, not much is controversial about the gospel being a plan, an event, an accomplishment, an offer, and an application by the Holy Spirit into your life.We recognize these things and we’re just soaring. We’re singing songs. We’re celebrating, saying, “I’m forgiven. I’m justified. I’m reconciled.” And that’s the end of the sermon.
But that isn’t the end because I come along with my brain, that has to get everything down to the main thing, and I say, “Who cares about being forgiven? Why would you want to be forgiven?” There are wrong answers to that question like, “I don’t want to go to hell.” If I insult my wife when I get up in the morning because I’m angry about something, and just on the spur of the moment I spit out some unkind word, I know as soon as I’ve done it that I’ve sinned and I’ve wrecked the relationship for the time being. And then, let’s say I go downstairs and I’m working in the kitchen, and she comes down and there’s ice in the air. She’s got her back to me at the sink. What do I need? I need forgiveness. Why?
Now, what kind of a husband would say, “Because when I go to work, I don’t like having a guilty conscience.” If you heard that, you would think, “Wait a minute, does this thing have to do with her? Excuse me? There’s a relationship here that’s been wrecked.” Do you see what I’m getting at? All of those glorious applications: forgiveness, justification, reconciliation, and wrath removed are going somewhere. Are you man-centered or God-centered? Is it terminating on you and your good feelings? Here’s the key text. First Peter 3:18 says:
[Christ] suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God
That’s the gospel. I was so worked up about this that I wrote a book called God is the Gospel, which of course has come with all kinds of misunderstandings. What if you just stop at the thought, “I just want to be forgiven. I just want to be justified. I just don't want him to be mad at me. I just don’t want to be in hell. I just like to be with mom and dad in heaven”? Excuse me? This is about God. Do you want him? Would it be the end of your soul’s quest to say, “I have you now. I’m home with the Father”? That’s the end of the gospel. That’s what makes the gospel good news, ultimately. Those six things are where you see the riches of the glory of Christ most fully displayed.
So, a ministry that is aiming to bring people to treasure Christ as supremely valuable (the aim of preaching) will lift up Christ and his riches, his glory, his worth, and his value in 1,000 ways revealed in the Bible centered on the gospel (the content of preaching), because that’s where, according to verse 2 Corinthians 4:4, the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ shines.
3. The Manner of Proclaiming Christ
Take a look at 2 Corinthians 4:5, which says:
For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.
The word “proclaim” there is kēryssō. Linger with me on that word for a moment. Why does Paul use that word for the manner of preaching? Kēryssō is not didásko (to teach). It’s not teaching. It’s not lego. It’s not laleó. It’s not kataggelló. It’s not euangelizō. Those all have their peculiar nuances, but so does kēryssō. In 2 Timothy 4:2, which is probably the most clear command for pastors to be preachers or proclaimers, you get this word. The introduction to this imperative in 2 Timothy 4:1–2 is unlike anything that I know of in the Bible. I don’t know of any other sentence like this in all the Bible, where Paul piles up preparatory words for the imperative he’s about to give. Here’s the passage:
I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word…
The phrase there is kēryxon ton logon. Do you know what kēryssō means? It’s means to herald. It’s what in those days a person did when they came and said, “Hear ye. Hear ye. Hear ye, a message from the emperor. I declare that everyone who bows the knee and swears fealty to the emperor will be remitted of his treachery.” That’s the sort of thing a kēryx does. He heralds.
Now, I’m in Australia, and I don’t know what you think about this. I think I’ve been to a church service in Australia one time in 1996, so I don’t know what you think about this. I get little hints that there’s some different kind of thinking over here about the nature of preaching and the nature of worship services, which may not even exist. I don’t like that idea. I really believe in preaching, not just teaching, because the Bible does, and here is why.
We’ve just seen that the aim of proclaiming Christ is to treasure him as supremely valuable. We’ve seen there that the content must be lifting up, making plain, and magnifying the riches of his glory. Of course, all of that must be understood by the mind. Therefore, there has to be a kind of communication that fits these two things. We have to see him and understand him with our brains, and we have to passionately embrace him as our supreme treasure. There’s a way of talking that honors both of those. It’s called preaching. It’s called kēryssō.
If you reject that and say, “I don’t want that emotional stuff and that treasuring stuff. This is just an exhortation and teaching time. This is just a fellowship time. This is just an edifying time,” you will lose massive dimensions of what’s supposed to happen when the church comes together. People are made in the image of God to see Christ, understand him clearly with their minds, and not be jerked around by emotions; and they are to feel him so massively they could explode, because he is infinitely valuable. He is infinitely precious. Small emotions for Jesus are blasphemy. It’s so out of step with who he is and what he values.
Preaching is designed by God to be the kind of communication that pulls all those together — the right thinking about him and the right awakening of feelings for him. That’s preaching. I’ve got a name for this and I’m going to write a book on it someday, if God gives me life. My name for preaching is expository exultation. My job on Sunday morning week after week is to open this book to expose what is here and exult over it. If any of my staff says, “After we worship for 30 minutes, Pastor John is going to preach,” I say, “What? No way. I’m worshiping right now.” This is worship, which means I’m seeing him, loving him, exulting in him, and lifting him up. I’m trying to make the message plain to your minds and talk about it in a way that has some resemblance to its massive value.
A Spirit-filled preacher should see Christ clearly. If he checks out on his mind and does sloppy exegesis, it’s not the Spirit at work. He has just been taken over by his hormones. And the Spirit-filled preacher not only sees clearly with his mind, but he also savors Christ deeply and exults over the word. So the manner of preaching is expository exultation because if Christ is to be treasured for who he really is, people have to know who he is. This has to be a school-type place, with lots of thinking and lots of studying. And that moves me to the fourth aspect of preaching, which is the preparation.
4. The Preparation of Proclaiming Christ
Where does lucid exposition and authentic exultation come from? It comes from Spirit-given thinking and Spirit-given praying. I’ll illustrate each of those briefly. First, I’ll address Spirit-given thinking. In 2 Timothy 2:7, Paul says to Timothy:
Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.
I take that as a personal command from the Lord to me. Think over what Paul says. Think about it. I spend most of my sermon preparation thinking. A paper is open on the desk, my computer program, Accordance, is open in front of me, my Bible is there, and I’ve got books next to me. I’m surrounded by thinking stuff. I’ve got a pen in my hand and I’m doodling, drawing circles and lines. I’m banging my head. I’m thinking to see how this relates to that, seeking to understand what that word means in relation to that word. I’m thinking and thinking and thinking. Pastors should outthink everybody in their church. They have to be ahead of them all, thinking ahead. They should think of all the objections that are going to be raised out there, or at least some of the key ones.
People love to have their pastors successfully outthink them when it comes to the questions that are raised. I had a young woman pay me one of the best compliments I’ve ever had. This was a long, long time ago. She said, “You know what I like about your preaching, Pastor John? As soon as I think of a problem with what you just said, you pose the problem and go ahead to answer it.” That’s exactly the way my mind tries to work. I want to think clearly about what God said, because Paul said to do that. It’s not a personality thing. I’ll read that passage again:
Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.
Now the paradox is that some people would say, “You’re saying, you should think because you don’t need to have any help from the Holy Spirit.” That’s the opposite of what it says. It says, “Think over what I say, for the Lord will give understanding.” It doesn’t say, “The Lord will give understanding, therefore don’t think,” or “Think, because the Lord is not going to give you anything, and you have to get it yourself.” Paul puts them together. We need pastors who keep these together. He is saying, “Think over what I say, for in and through that sanctified thinking, God is going to show you.”
God didn’t have to leave us a book. He didn’t have to. He could have done it all directly. He could have said, “Skip the book, because it’s just going to cause a lot of problems. They could interpret this book in a lot of different ways. Let’s just have direct communication every time a sermon is preached. I’ll just come straight to pastors and tell them what to say, and then have them go out and say it.” He could have done it that way, but he didn’t. He did say, “There will be literature, you have to learn to read in order to preach.” You have to learn to read to preach, or at least, somebody has to learn to read in order to tell you what to preach, if you’re illiterate.
What about prayer? Let’s get really practical here. How do you do this? How do you pray? My answer is before, middle, after, during, and every 30 seconds, saying, “Help me. Guard me from pride. Guard me from the fear of man. Guard me from confusion. Guard me from rabbit trails. Help me in the choice of words. Help me in understanding. Help me in what illustrations I use to pull people in. Help me.” This is not just at the beginning of the day. Every few minutes you’re doing your sermon preparation, you’re crying out for divine guidance. I have an acronym IOUS that I use for prayer. It goes like this:
- I — “Incline my heart to your testimonies” (Psalm 119:36).
This is the way I’m praying to God, almost every morning. That means, “God, sometimes I get up and I don’t feel like reading the Bible. I’m so sorry. Would you now incline my heart? Would you push it, and just incline my heart toward your testimonies?”
- O — “Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things out of your word” (Psalm 119:18).
I’m praying for my eyes to be opened because now I’m standing or kneeling over the word, and I’m just seeing black marks on a page and nothing is happening. So I pray, “God, please, open the eyes of my heart that I might see something precious, something valuable, something that moves me, stirs me, grips me, and holds me.”
- U — “Unite my heart to fear your name” (Psalm 86:11).
I was praying this in the morning and the Lord gave me a new understanding of it. I’ve usually thought of this in terms of my heart being fragmented. For example, distracting thoughts like, “Am I going to fall asleep during my talk this morning because of jetlag?” That could be one thing that goes into my mind. Another might be, “Will I be able to make it plain? Will I be able to stay with my time limit? Will anybody care? Will they understand?” All kinds of crazy thoughts just fragment my mind. And then I want to get it together and have my heart united.
Another thought, I believe, is also implied. Don’t you just hate it when either you’re preparing to preach or you’re preaching, and there’s suddenly two of you? One is doing it and the other is watching you do it. The one who’s watching you do it is wondering how it’s going. Suddenly, there are two of you. When that happens it’s very, very disempowering, because you lack integrity. One of you is preaching, the other is watching you preach. The one watching you preach is assessing the one who’s preaching, either liking it and becoming proud, or not liking it and becoming discouraged. Either way, you feel utterly distracted, so we pray.
When we’re down in our basement praying for the service before we preach, regularly we pray, “God, give us the miracle of self-forgetfulness. I just don’t want to think about myself. I don’t want to think positively about myself. I don’t want to think negatively about myself. I don’t want to think about myself at all. I want to think about them, you, the connection, and the glorious things you might be doing here.” So, when I pray, “Unite my heart,” I don’t just mean, “Keep it from being fragmented into all those kinds of distracting thoughts,” but I also mean, “Let there be just one John Piper” — the one who’s doing it, not the one who’s watching him do it.
- S — “Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days” (Psalm 90:14).
I pray for satisfaction in the word, in what I’m preaching, and in the God I preach. What a horrible curse on a ministry when we stand up and begin to speak and our hearts are not there. We don’t want to be doing what we’re doing. We don’t love what we’re saying. I want to thank the Lord publicly that he has set up my life in such a way, and this is true almost uniformly and I can only give him thanks, that my battles with depression and discouragement have almost always lifted on the weekend before the word.
I wrote something on one of the first pages of Desiring God that there are points when I can get so discouraged that I can sit down on the grass between the garage and the house, or go to Lake Nokomis, and not even be able to think of my childrens’ names. I have known really deep discouragement, almost paralyzing depression, but God has never let it carry through to the Lord’s Day. Is that amazing? It could descend again on Monday for all I know, but I have always walked into the pulpit loving what he’s given me to say. I just consider that an absolutely amazing work of God.
5. The Act of the Proclaiming Christ
How do you preach Christ by the Spirit? First Peter 4:10–11 says:
…whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; 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.
So, what I want to know is how do I speak/serve in the power that God supplies? This is almost like Romans 8:13, right?
Put to death the deeds of the body by the Spirit
Now this says, “Let him who serves, serve in the strength that God supplies.” What does that feel like? What does it feel like to proclaim Christ in the power of another? Right now, it feels to me like I’m doing this. It’s my hands, my voice, and my eyes. I’m thinking. I’m talking. I’m feeling. There’s a lot of me here. Am I doing it? Is this happening? You’re supposed to serve in the strength that God supplies, so how do you do that? I’ll just close with this acronym I use.
We were walking down the steps where we came in here over there, and as we were coming to the steps I was going over this in my head: APTAT. I have used this for more than 25 years. I go through this as I’m sitting on the pew, virtually every time before I get up to speak. I’ll just run through it with you. This is what I think you do in order to preach in the power of the Holy Spirit. The passage says, “Let him who serves, serve in the strength that God supplies so that in everything God may get the glory through Jesus Christ.”
- A — Admit that you can do nothing.
John 15:5 says:
…apart from me, you can do nothing.
So, I say to the Lord, “Lord, you know I have prepared. I have thought. But when it comes to what I want to see happen in this church, I cannot make it happen. I can do nothing. In fact, I can’t breathe without you. I can’t think without you. I can’t feel without you. I can’t stand up without you. This building will fly apart if you don’t hold the molecules together. We can’t do anything without you. I say it as an act of worship to you, and I admit it.” That’s where I start.
- P — Pray for help.
It may be whatever I want to see God do that Sunday in particular, but here, I’ll illustrate with Luke 11:9–13, which says:
And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
So, I begin praying, “Father, I need the Holy Spirit. Grant me, these people, and these worship leaders a fullness of your Holy Spirit because you promised. You promised that you love to give him to your children who ask, seek, and knock. I’m asking right now. Grant me your Spirit.”
- T — Trust a specific promise.
This is the nub of the matter. You’re just about to go up to the pulpit. You’re called upon to preach in the power of another, and you trust a specific promise. I usually get these promises from my devotions early in the morning. This morning, I was reading Psalm 32 among others. Near the end, Psalm 32:10 says:
Many are the sorrows of the wicked, but steadfast love surrounds the one who trusts in the Lord.
I just paused and I said, “Okay, that’s it for today, Lord. I’m going down to talk to those folks and I’m going to trust that steadfast love is surrounding me. Steadfast love is all around me. I’m counting on that. I’m going to believe this promise as I go there to speak.”
- A — Act.
You just get up in the pulpit and you act. You use your will, you use your mind, you use your hands, and you use your imagination and you act. God did make you to be an acting, thinking, and willing human being, not to check out and say, “Holy Spirit, you do it, then you get all the glory.” No, you do it. Philippians 2:12 says:
Work out your salvation, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
So, get up there and preach because God is at work in you.
- T — Thank him.
And that is what I’m going to do in just a moment for him helping us here.
Let me summarize where we’ve been. The theme has been proclaiming Christ in the power of the Spirit. First, the aim of that proclamation has been that our people would believe him and trust him; that is, that they would treasure him as supremely valuable above all things. Second, the content of preaching, therefore, has to be the display of the riches of Christ, centering on the gospel. Third, the manner of preaching, which I call expository exultation, is from that word kēryssō (to herald). Fourth, the preparation requires hard thinking and hard praying for the sake of expository exultation. Fifth, the act of preaching calls us to admit we can do nothing, pray for enablement, trust a particular promise, act in faith, and thank him. So, now let’s thank him.