The focus in this message is the gospel-shaped mouth. That is, what does it mean to preach the glories of Christ?
We have seen that God’s purpose for the gospel-shaped mind is to provide the kindling of truth so that the furnace of the gospel-shaped heart will burn with holy affections for the beauty of Christ.
So, the implication is that every preacher, in every message, should preach and pray in the hope of bringing about their holy affections. We preach to the mind, we pray for the heart, and our great desire is that God would be increasingly glorified as our people are increasingly satisfied in him, and thus be set free from the power of sin.
We Preach Christ
What kind of preaching will bring about this goal? The short answer is that we “preach Christ crucified” (1 Corinthians 1:23). Or, as Ephesians 3:8 says, we “preach the unsearchable riches of Christ.” Or simply: Preach Christ (Galatians 1:16).
What does that mean? What is involved in preaching the unsearchable riches of Christ? I’m going to argue that it includes at least five focuses. I will state each one briefly, and then we will take a few minutes explaining each of them from the Scripture. These are not the totality of what peaching is. These five focuses are what I have found that magnifies Christ — the unsearchable riches of Christ.
- Creation, history, and all of reality are Christ exalting by God’s design.
- The love of Christ is Christ-exalting by divine design.
- The cross of Christ is Christ-exalting by divine design.
- The new birth or new creation in Christ is Christ-exalting by divine design.
- Sanctification and the transformation of our lives in Christ is Christ-exalting by divine design.
What is surprising, and even shocking, to many people is how all are acts of God and acts of Christ, which means that their aim to be Christ-exalting and God-exalting is the aim of God himself and Christ himself. Or, to put it bluntly, God is God-exalting, and Christ is Christ-exalting. God is radically committed to displaying and exalting the worth of the glory of God. And Christ is radically committed to displaying and exalting the glory of Christ.
Faced with a Crisis
“Preaching the glories of Christ continually makes clear that God and his Son are always doing everything to exalt their divine glory.”
So, preaching the glories of Christ continually makes clear that God and his Son are always doing everything to exalt their divine glory. This forces your people into a crisis. Will they rejoice and be glad that God and Christ always uphold and display and exalt their own glory? Or will they resent the fact that they themselves are not the supreme value in God’s affections? I don’t think people really see and value the glory of Christ as they ought until they face this crisis: Am I supreme in God’s heart? Or is God supreme?
Of course, people will ask: If God is supreme in his own heart, does he love me? Or does he only love himself and his own glory? We will answer that question especially when we focus in a moment on the love of Christ and the cross of Christ.
One Divine Glory
So, before we look at these five focuses, let’s establish that the glory of God and the glory of Christ are one glory. Consider 2 Corinthians 4:4, 6:
In verse 4 Paul refers to “the gospel of the glory of Christ.” And in verse 6, he refers to “the knowledge of the glory of God.” But as soon as he refers to the glory of Christ in verse 4, he adds, “who is the image of God.” And as soon as he refers to the glory of God in verse 6, he adds, “in the face of Jesus Christ.” In other words, the glory of Christ is the glory of God. And the glory of God is the glory of Christ. There is one divine glory.
What It Means to Preach the Glory of Christ
Therefore, when we look at these five focuses of preaching, we know that the glory of God includes the glory of Christ and the glory of Christ includes the glory of God.
Everything Exists for the Glory of Christ
First, preaching the glories of Christ means making clear all creation, all history, and all reality exist for the glory of Christ, which is the glory of God.
We saw this in Isaiah 43:7. We are “created for God’s glory.” In Psalm 19:1, we see that the entire created order is designed by God to “proclaim the glory of God.” And to make this divine design more explicitly Christ-exalting, we should notice in Colossians 1:16 that in all this work of creation, Christ himself is working for his own glory: “All things were created through him and for him [through Christ and for Christ].” Christ brought everything into being for the glory of Christ. All reality exists for the glory of Christ — his name, his honor, his fame, and his praise. Preaching Christ makes that plain again and again.
Christ’s Value at the Center
Second, preaching the glories of Christ means showing our people that the love of Christ for us puts his value, not ours, at the center.
To say it another way: Preaching Christ means showing our people that being loved by Christ does not mean that he draws attention to our value, but that he enables us to enjoy his value.
“Preaching Christ shows our people that being loved by Christ means that he enables us to enjoy his value.”
But let me illustrate from the story of Lazarus’s resurrection from the dead in John 11. As I read this, ask yourself: What does it mean to be loved by Jesus? 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 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, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.
Notice three things:
John points out two times that Jesus loved Mary, Martha, and Lazarus.
Then, notice the logical connector at the beginning of verse 6, “so,” or, “therefore.” In other words, because he loved them, he did not go to save Lazarus, but let him die. Make sure you see this. Verse 5: “Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. Therefore, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.”
Third, notice that the explanation Jesus gives in verse 4 is that his plan was to do something that would glorify the Father and the Son. Verse 4: “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.” And later in the chapter, in verse 40, Jesus said to Martha, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?”
“To be loved by Jesus means that he will show us his glory for our everlasting joy.”
What then does it mean to be loved by Jesus? It does not mean that he will rescue us from suffering and dying. It means that he will show us his glory for our everlasting joy.
Let’s confirm this by glancing at John 17. This is Jesus’s great prayer for his disciples. Would you not agree that when Jesus is praying for his disciples, he is loving them? How then does he love them in this prayer? How does the prayer begin? John 17:1, 5:
When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you. . . . And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.
The first thing Jesus asks for in his prayer on our behalf is that he would be glorified. How is that love toward us? The answer is given in verse 24:
Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. (John 17:24)
So, first he prays that God would restore the fullness of his divine glory (John 17:1, 5), and then he prays that we would be with him to see this glory!
So, then, what does it mean to be loved by Jesus ultimately? It does not mean that he draws attention to our value. That is the way the world wants to be loved. Rather, it means that Christ gives us something infinitely better than making much of us. He gives us himself to admire and enjoy forever. He sets us free from our bondage to self-exaltation. And in its place, he gives the immeasurable, eternal pleasure of beholding and sharing in the glory of Christ.
Preaching Christ means making that plain again and again — that to be loved by Christ means that he will do everything necessary to satisfy us with his glory forever.
The Cross Is Christ-Centered and Christ-Exalting
Third, preaching the glories of Christ means showing our people that the cross itself is Christ-centered and Christ-exalting. The ultimate reason Christ died was for the glory of Christ.
Of course our sins are forgiven, and we get eternal life, but our forgiveness and our life are not the ultimate goal of the cross. They are a means. The goal is to enjoy Christ, and thus, show that he is supremely enjoyable, satisfying, beautiful, and valuable.
Here’s the way Paul said it in 2 Corinthians 5:15:
Christ died for all, so that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.
Let me try to paraphrase that: Christ died so that you would live for the glory of Christ. Christ died to make much of Christ in your life.
Christ died so that he might have a people who glorify Christ. In other words, the cross is radically Christ-exalting. The very meaning of grace is that we don’t deserve to be saved. Therefore the cross is not designed to glorify merit of man. It is designed to glorify the grace of God in Christ.
The cross of Christ is so central to God’s eternal plan to exalt his grace that he planned it before there was any sin in existence that needed grace. Listen to the way Paul says this in 2 Timothy 1:9:
God saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began.
God planned grace in Christ Jesus before there was any universe, let alone any human sin that needed grace. That’s how central Christ crucified is to the history of the universe. His grace-exalting death was planned as the center before there was a universe.
Christ crucified was the plan in eternity past, and it will be the song in eternity future. “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9).
Not only is Christ exalted in eternity past in the divine plan, and in eternity future in our future song, but he is also exalted at the center-point of history in this age. And at the fullness of time in history, the death of Christ for sinners became the foundation and guarantee for every possible benefit that we could ever enjoy. That’s what Romans 8:32 says:
He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?
“What is the best and highest gift guaranteed by the cross of Christ? God himself.”
This means that he will indeed graciously give us all things — every possible good (see Psalm 84:11). And what is the best and highest gift guaranteed by the cross of Christ? The answer is: Himself! If God gave us all the world and withheld Christ as the supreme treasure, he would be withholding from us the one thing that could fully satisfy us forever.
One might ask if this promise that God guarantees to give us all things is, in fact, an instance of the prosperity gospel that promises earthly blessing to all Christians. The answer is no because of the verses that follow. In Romans 8:35, Paul asks, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?” The understood answer is, No. This implies that Christians might be put to the test by famine, nakedness, and deadly persecution (sword).
But someone might object. No, that is not implied because Paul may answer his own question: No famine and nakedness and sword will not separate us from the love of Christ because God will not let Christians go naked, or go hungry, or be killed by the sword. But that objection too fails because of the next verse. Verse 36 says, “As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’” In other words, the “sword” is not just a possible persecution that really never happens, but is, in fact, a real persecution that kills Christians.
The point Paul is making is that “In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Romans 8:37). So, when he says in verse 32 that the death of Christ secures for us “all things,” he means this: Because Christ died for us, God will give us everything necessary to keep us from falling, and come safely through suffering to eternal life where indeed every pain will be taken away. Suffering is part of our calling (Acts 14:22). But the cross exalts Christ by making his blood the ground of all our blessings now and forever.
To preach Christ is to show that the cross of Christ is radically Christ-centered — from eternity to eternity.
Eyes to See the Glory of Christ
Fourth, preaching the glories of Christ means showing our people that being born again — being saved, being converted, and becoming a new creation — means that God opens the eyes of our heart to see Christ as supremely beautiful and desirable. To be saved is to be given eyes to see Christ as all-satisfying.
“To be saved is to be given eyes to see Christ as all-satisfying.”
Paul says it in two ways in 2 Corinthians 4:4, 6. In verse 4, Paul says the god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers. And what does that blindness keep us from seeing? It keeps us from seeing “the light of the gospel of the glory [the all-satisfying beauty] of Christ, who is the image of God.” And verse 6 describes what happens in conversion like this: God shines into our hearts “to give the light of the knowledge of the glory [the all-satisfying beauty] of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”
This is what happens when we are born again: The gospel is preached. At the center of it is Christ — glorious in death and resurrection. God opens our eyes to see this dying and rising Christ as supremely beautiful. This is the mark of the Christian. Christ is no longer boring. Christ is no longer mythological. Christ is no longer a mere tradition. Christ is the self-authenticating, all-glorious, all-satisfying Savior, and Lord and treasure of the universe.
To preach the glories of Christ means to make plain that this is what happens in the new birth.
Sanctification Exalts Christ
Fifth and finally, to preach the glories of Christ means to show our people that not just the new birth, but also sanctification — the ongoing transformation of our lives into the image of Christ — is Christ exalting. Its measure is conformity to Christ and its cause is the steadfast gaze at the glory of Christ.
2 Corinthians 3:18 says,
Beholding the glory of the Lord, we are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.
The Christian gazes steadfastly at the beauty of Christ in his word. (We know this happens in the word of the gospel because four verses later in 4:4, it is in the gospel where the light of the gospel of the “glory of Christ” shines.) Our admiration of him enlarges. Our satisfaction in him deepens. The power of sinful pleasures is broken. And we are brought into conformity to the image of Christ — from one degree of glory to another.
Supply the Kindling
In summary, then:
- Preaching Christ means showing our people that everything in the universe exists for the glory of God in Christ.
- Preaching Christ means showing our people that being loved by Christ does not mean that Christ calls attention to our value, but that he frees us to enjoy his value forever.
- Preaching Christ means showing our people that the cross is Christ-exalting: Christ died to magnify the glory of Christ.
- Preaching Christ means showing our people that when we are born again, the eyes of our hearts see Christ as supremely beautiful and desirable.
- Preaching Christ means showing our people that the ongoing transformation of our lives happens when we keep our eyes fixed on the glory of Christ.
Pastors, if we are faithful in this task, we will supply the minds of our people with Christ-exalting kindling so that their hearts will burn with love for Christ. The great aim is that Christ will be increasingly glorified in them because they are increasingly satisfied in him.
May God do that in the churches of China and Korea with great power!