In the first extract from my seminar notes on ‘Gospel-centred Biblical preaching’ I focused on the need for preaching to be preaching that does not abuse the text of scripture, nor even use the text of Scripture but serve the text of Scripture. Biblical preaching is preaching in which the Bible sets the agenda for the content of the sermon because the big idea of the passage is the main application of the text.
However, it’s not enough to be biblical (in that sense). Every sermon needs to be biblical in that it is Christ or gospel-centred. In this post we ask how Jesus is the answer to every question a sermon raises, the fulfilment of every hope put forth and therefore the centre of every text.
1. Every text is there to teach us about Jesus
And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he [Jesus] explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself. (Luke 24:27 NIV)
For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. (Rom 15:4 NIV)
The Bible is not Christ-centered because it is generally about Jesus. It is Christ-centered because the Bible’s primary purpose, from beginning to end, is to point us toward the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus for the salvation and sanctification of sinners. – Darrin Patrick
2. Every text teaches us of our need for a Saviour
A sermon without Christ as its beginning, middle, and end is a mistake in conception and a crime in execution. However grand the language it will be merely much-ado-about-nothing if Christ be not there. And I mean by Christ not merely his example and the ethical precepts of his teaching, but his atoning blood, his wondrous satisfaction made for human sin, and the grand doctrine of ‘believe and live. – C.H. Spurgeon
What does this all look like?
There are a growing number of good books and resources showing how to find Christ and I particularly commend Preaching the whole Bible as Christian Scripture by Graham Goldsworthy.
Tim Keller has said
Once you know that all the lines of all the stories and all the climaxes of the inter-canonical
themes converge on Christ, you simply can’t not see that every text is about Jesus. For example:
+ Jesus is the true and better Adam who passed the test in the garden and whose obedience is now imputed
to us (1 Cor. 15).
+ Jesus is the true and better Abel who, though innocently slain, has blood that cries out for our acquittal,
not our condemnation (Heb. 12:24).
+ Jesus is the true and better Abraham, who answered the call of God to leave all that was comfortable and
familiar out of obedience to God.
+ Jesus is the true and better Isaac, who was not just offered up by his father on the mount but was in the
end sacrificed for us all. God said to Abraham, “now I know you love me, because you did not withhold
your son, your only son whom you love, from me.” Now we can say to God, “now I know that you love me,
because you did not withhold your son, your only son whom you love, from me.”
+ Jesus is true and better Jacob, who wrestled with God and took the blow of justice we deserved. Now we,
like Jacob, only receive the wounds of grace to wake us up and discipline us.
+ Jesus is the true and better Joseph, who sat at the right hand of the king, and used his power to forgive
and save those who betrayed and sold him.
+ Jesus is the true and better Moses who stands in the gap between the people and the Lord, who mediates
a new covenant (Heb. 3).
+ Jesus is the true and better Job —the innocent sufferer who then intercedes for his foolish friends (Job 42).
+ Jesus is the true and better David, whose victory against Goliath was imputed to his people, even though
they never lifted a stone to accomplish it themselves.
+ Jesus is the true and better Esther, who didn’t just risk losing an earthly palace but a heavenly one, and
who didn’t just risk his life but gave it—to save his people.
+ Jesus is the true and better Jonah who was cast out into the storm so the rest of the ship could be brought
I’ve also been helped to see that when it comes to a specific narrative the ‘hero’ functions in that story in 1 of 3 roles.
• a type of Christ – see Keller’s examples above
• a type of believer trusting in Christ – that could be Abraham being justified by faith Gen. 15, Rom. 4 or David confessing his sin in the psalms eg. Psalms 32, 51.
• a type of unbeliever needing to trust in Christ – for example Abraham in Egypt, Gen. 12.
Let’s take one passage as an example of how New Testament authors quite clearly find Christ in Old Testament narrative – Exodus 2:11-25.
In this passage Moses strikes dead the Egyptian beating one of his own people. How should we find Christ here? When I preached this passage recently I called it God’s rescuer renounces his royal throne to rescue his brother(s). Two very important New Testament texts help us with this passage; Heb 11:24-26 and Acts 7:23-25. In them we find Moses commended for his actions.
Hebrews reminds us that Moses gave up a kingdom to rescue a people because he knew he would inherit a better kingdom
Acts reminds us that the one God raised up to rescue his people rejected him as their rescuer.
So in my sermon I argued that
Jesus is the greater Moses because he saw the suffering of his people and decided to get involved in our world. He is the greater Moses because didn’t forsake a human throne to come to the aid of his brothers he left his throne in heaven to save us. He is the greater Moses because he chose to suffer with his people not just in experiencing loss of status and reputation but choosing to suffer to the extent that he gave his life to death on a cross He is the true Moses because he delivers his people not just from slavery to Pharaoh but from sin and death itself through his own resurrection. Jesus is the true and better Moses because he too was prepared by God to deliver his people through suffering…
3. Every sermon must centre on Jesus
Biblical preaching is gospel-centred preaching. It shows us Christ as our only hope but does so not by
a. assuming the gospel (but not stating it). So in the sermon we learn about faith and life through David, Joshua, etc. but Christ is not mentioned.
b. bolting on the gospel in a way that eases our conscience but is not from the text. We hear valuable gospel truths but cannot relate them to the passage preached.
Instead it shows us Christ as saviour and Lord from a careful application of the passage demonstrating how it always pointed us to Christ.
In the next post we will look at what it means for preaching to be not just gospel-centred but gospel-driven.
Over this past week I’ve taken part in this year’s City to City Europe conference in Prague. Over 200 church-planters from over 60 cities throughout Europe attended and I was asked to speak at a break-out session on the theme of gospel-driven, biblical preaching.
Here are the first part of my notes on what makes for biblical preaching.
A. Biblical Preaching
1. What is biblical preaching?
Biblical preaching is not preaching that beings with a passage being read. As Hadden Robinson has said the Bible doesn’t function like the national anthem before an international sports match. We don’t use it to introduce the fact that a sermon is on the way but then close the bible for the duration of the sermon.
Biblical preaching is not preaching that uses the Bible. Many sermons mention the passage but that does not make a sermon biblical.
Biblical preaching is preaching where the meaning of the passage is the main application of the sermon.
2. Why biblical preaching?
The preacher does not decide what the church needs to hear. Our authority is in the text and our commission is to preach the word.
A faithful preacher should serve the text – Bryan Chapell.
3. Paul’s warning and instruction to Timothy
- There will be those in the church who preach false gospels. Superficially attractive, but without power – 2 Timothy. 3:1-6
- Our role as gospel ministers is to preach the word – 2 Timothy 4:1-5
- Our role is to be a workman who correctly handles the word of God – 2 Timothy 2:15
4. Why might planters be resistant to biblical preaching?
a. To invest considerable time and energy each week in preparing and the preaching Biblical sermons is costly. Time spent doing other things may have to be sacrificed.
b. To put our confidence in a ministry that appears weak, foolish and ineffective is a battle for planters who are seeking quick results.
• Modern trends in preaching deny the authority of the Word in the name of intellectual sophistication – Chappell
• We could add to that a desire for contemporary relevance
• We could add to that a quest for popularity
c. We find it easier to try and do the work of God in our own way
When our goal is to grow a church our temptation is to find easier ways.
For our preaching, the sermon takes on even greater importance as you must be well prepared every week. In general, our experience at Redeemer is that writing sermons takes twice as long as other places. This is because of the need to be clear, concise, logical, winsome, intellectually challenging and personable – all while being accurate. – Tim Keller
5. A definition of biblical preaching
Biblical preaching expounds (explains) the text and applies it.
a. An expository sermon may be defined as a message
i) whose structure and thought are derived from a biblical text,
ii) that covers the scope of the text,
iii) and that explains the features and context of the text
iv) in order to disclose the enduring principles of faithful thinking. Bryan Chapell in Christ-centered biblical preaching
b. Expository preaching points preachers to the biblical text with the instruction begin here…the text itself is the source of the truths we ultimately present. Chapell.
c. Expository preaching sticks closely to the text through-out the sermon showing the hearer why and how we have arrived at a conclusion.
B. Consecutive Biblical preaching
1. A strong case can be made for expository preaching that works through books of the Bible rather than individual passages.
a. The Bible was written in books and the big idea of the book is developed through a series of sermons.
• Sometimes the idea of the book is explicitly stated eg. 1 John 5:13, 1 Peter 5:12,
• Sometimes the idea of the book is there waiting to be discovered eg Col. 2:6-7,
b. Consecutive preaching models how we sit under the Bible as a congregation. Not picking our favourite verses or passages but working through the whole Bible.
c. Consecutive preaching exposes our blind-spots as we preach through passages and explore ideas that we might wish weren’t there but that the text sets before us.
2. Expository preaching, once practised, liberates us from the fear of running out of ideas. We no longer have to think ‘what shall I preach on this week’ because the passage set before us determines our big ideas.
3. Consecutive expository preaching requires even more work (!). For example not just showing the relationship between ideas in the passage for an individual sermon but by having to demonstrate the flow of themes and ideas through a book.
On the day of the funeral of Margaret Thatcher, Britain’s longest serving Prime Minister of the last 150 years, tributes continue to be been paid from all-sides of the political debate. Love her or loathe her no one denies that, through her leadership, she changed the face of a nation and her influence continues to be felt across the world to this day.
Looking back over her time in office, what made her the leader she was? Here’s a personal take on seven qualities identified by Thatcher and those who knew her that shaped her leadership. Seven qualities that all leaders can learn from starting in this post with 1) conviction and 2) clear vision.
Margaret Thatcher famously said above all I am not a consensus politician but a conviction politician. Her leadership was borne out of a strong moral conviction that what she believed in was what could make Britain great again. And Thatcher was to attribute her success to this unswerving conviction in the rightness of her cause. After nearly ten years in office she still maintained if you just set out to be liked, you would be prepared to compromise on anything at any time and you would achieve nothing.
Leadership not borne of strong conviction is leadership that will fail. Even when at her lowest political ebb, in 1981, she argued pragmatism is not enough, nor is the fashionable word consensus. To me, consensus seems to be the process of abandoning all beliefs, principles, values and policies. So it is something in which no one believes and to which no one objects.’
Lord Saatchi, in an interview on the BBC the morning after Margaret Thatcher’s death, paid tribute to this quality. He summarised her outlook in the following way:
The aim in that period when she was leader of the opposition was to present an ism, called conservatism, which in her mind was a philosophy and the object of the exercise was to explain that philosophy and see if people would support it and now we have a situation all these years later where you can tap anyone on the shoulder any where in the world and ask them ‘what did Mrs Thatcher believe in?’ and you will get a straight answer in a second.
Applying this principle of leadership to churches we might well ask whether it is obvious what we, as a church, stand for? We also have to ask are our principles matters of conviction,derived from God’s word and God’s purpose for the church in the world, rather than our own ideas? Do we lead from conviction or consensus?
2. Clarity of vision
Thatcher had not only strong convictions which guided her actions but a clear vision of where she wanted to take the nation. Henry Kissinger comments on why he thought Thatcher was a breathe of fresh air as a leader in her generation: The appearance of a leader that confidently asserted a vision of the future and, was wiling to tackle the economic problems of the day based on an alternative theory, had both a practical impact and also a psychological and moral impact on the period in which she lived.
He concludes her view was that leaders should define themselves by clearly articulating for their public their vision of their future.
What can we learn? It couldn’t harm if we as Christian leaders were to ask ourselves just how clearly are we articulating a vision for our particular churches? Are we able to assert not just guiding values that under-pin our ministries but a compelling vision as to where such principles might take us? For example, it is surely a good thing for a church to affirm the spread of the gospel as a necessary core value, it is another thing to set out a vision for how the church will seek to see the gospel go out over the next, say, 5 to 10 years.
In our next post we consider what it meant for Thatcher to be a leader defined by courage, clear communication and commitment to her cause.
Two quite superb articles in American Spectator.
The first is on Margaret Thatcher’s Christian faith and its impact on her leadership.
The second is entitled ‘what the new atheists ignore‘ and is a reflection by a non-believer on the massiveimpact for good Christianity has had in our communities, contra the absence of any evidence that atheism has had any social impact to the good.
The following is an extract from a talk I gave at Week 1 of New Word Alive last week on 1 Peter 1:22-2:10:
Two for one deal
We know it’s not always easy to love your family. Yet, the God who brings us to new life in Christ also brings us to a new love for his people. Peter says (1 Pet 1:22) ‘you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth’ by which he means we have believed the gospel. But in the very same verse he tells us of something else we have along with our new life in Jesus: v.22, you also ‘have sincere love for your brothers.’
With new life comes a new love. It’s a two for the price of one deal. And we ought to expect love to flow out of life because the God who gave us this new life is the God is love. God is life and God is love and if his word has entered our hearts then the word that brings us to life in Jesus will also brings us to love our brothers.
Bible logic says ‘you do love, so love!’
But there’s one other thing that Peter knows and it’s this loving your new family is not easy is it. The comedian George Burns once said ‘happiness is having a large, loving, caring, close-knit family in another city.’ It’s the day to day business of getting along together as a family that proves so hard. No wonder Bible logic says, v.22, ‘you do love one another’ and then in the very next sentence also say ‘so go on loving one another deeply from the heart.’ We all know that we can say of many people ‘I do love and yet I need a lot of help to love you as a fellow Christian at times.’
And it’s a big ask to love as God loves. Peter doesn’t say tolerate one another, nor does he say love one another when someone obviously needs love, or love the people you like, or the people you want to like you but love one another (that’s every brother or sister) and love them deeply and love them from the heart.
Our society says love people for what they do for you, or give to you – the gospel says love your brother or sister simply for who are they are – your family in Christ. That’s how families work. Family is about the one place where you love people despite what they do! Family is the one time you choose hang out people you have nothing else in common with except that you are family. Any other group and you’d walk away but because its family you make it work.
And Jesus shows me just what this looks like. He knew how to love deeply and from the heart. When Jesus loved he seemed to make life more difficult for himself rather than less. He picked out they people most difficult people to love. Don’t you think that Zacchaeus was probably a really irritating person? Don’t you think the disciples were a frustration to Jesus at times and at other times a disappointment and an embarrassment?
Love is about what you don’t do
And Peter wants you to know that loving someone is as much about what we don’t do as what we do do. In chapter 2v1 he says ‘rid yourselves of all malice, deceit, hypocrisy and slander of every kind.’ Love isn’t always about how I feel towards someone, love in the Bible is rarely sentimental. Love means deciding not to damage other Christians by my words and my example, not to put myself and my feelings first, not to be so constantly full of my own opinions and ideas that I speak too hastily and harshly to others. Everything that Peter describes in 2v1 – all of these flaws and failings – are sins that damage other Christians, things that destroy our life together.
God has put you into a new family that you might help one another to grow. The goal of life together is that we, v.2, ‘grow up in our salvation’
The church shouldn’t be a place where we just tell each other to grow up but where we help each other to grow up.
Maybe you can think of one or two people whom God has used just in the past few weeks or months to do just that for you. And growing up is what your new life is all about. I have a 2 year old son. He is full of new life. He is for the most part adorably cute – or at least I thought so until Monday afternoon when he decided to put a roll of toilet paper in the sink, blocking the plug hole, turned both taps full on and flooded the downstairs bathroom.
Do you know what I thought to myself as I mopped that bathroom floor? I thought a few things actually but one thing was this; I can’t wait for you to grow up but then I also thought and it’s my job to help you. I have a responsibility to make sure you do grow up.
The word of God brings us to new life and its brings us to new love and we know that a church is living out the gospel as we help our Christian brother and sister grow up into their salvation. That’s not easy. Living together in the Powell household is not always easy and it’s not always easy in our church family either
Growing up is a messy business we need a lot of patience with each other we will let each other down, we will hurt one another, we’ll do and say stupid things we’ll accuse one another of being immature – it’s then that we need to remember that we’re growing up together.
Growing up is not only a messy business it’s a slow business we aren’t the people we want to be. Ask any child how frustrating it can be when they know they want to be riding a bike without stabilisers or swimming without armbands. Why do I find it so hard to change? Why do I keep making the same mistakes? Only a deep love from the heart can enable me to overcome my many failings.
Growing up may be a messy business and a slow business but more than anything else it is a necessary business isn’t it. I hope my son is not putting toilet rolls in the sink when he’s 10!
And the key to growing up together? Well ask any new born baby its craving milk. For Peter that is the milk of the word. Like new born babies lets crave God’s word so that the truth of the gospel changes hearts and minds and grows that new life to maturity.
I took a marriage preparation session for a number of engaged couples at our church last week. There were lots of things I would have been very happy to discuss not least all of the many practical issues that a couple face as they get ready to marry. But rather than start there I wanted to start with the biggest issue facing any human relationship: Am I willing to let this person change me?
Tim Keller in The Reason for God writes: One of the principles of love – either love for a friend or romantic love – is that you have to lose independence to attain greater intimacy. If you want ‘freedom’ of love – the fulfillment, security, sense of worth that it brings – you must limit your freedom in many ways. You cannot enter a deep relationship and still make unilateral decisions or allow your friend or lover no say in how you live your life. To experience the joy and freedom of love, you must give up personal autonomy.’
For a love relationship to be healthy there must be a mutual loss of independence. It can’t be just one way. Both sides must say to the other, ‘I will adjust to you. I will change for you. I’ll serve you even though it means a sacrifice for me.’
In the most radical way, God has adjusted to us – in his incarnation and atonement. In Jesus Christ he became a limited human being, vulnerable to suffering and death. On the cross, he submitted to our condition – as sinners – and died in our place to forgive us. In the most profound way, God has said to us, in Christ, ‘I will adjust to you. I will change for you. I’ll serve you though it means sacrifice for me.’ If he has done this for us, we can and should say the same to God and others.
In summary: As God has changed for you, so you can now change for him.
That’s exactly what we find in a passage like Philippians 2:1-18.
2:5-11 tells of Christ’s willingness to leave the glories of heaven and become a man, taking the form of a servant, being willing to die, and to die on a cross (a cursed death – the worst death). From the highest place it is possible to be, at the right-hand of God, Christ now occupied the lowest place it is possible to be, cursed on a cross.
Either side of these verses are a call for our relationships with one another to be utterly transformed by this gospel pattern.
So, 2:2-4 we read: make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves,not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others (NIV).
And 2:14-15: Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation” (NIV).
The power to live well in a marriage comes from our willingness to change and to let our marriage partner be God’s change-agent. Christ’s willingness to change for us gives us every reason to change for him and to let him use others to do exactly that. As we learn to welcome change and to say to our marriage partners,for Christ’s sake, I need you to change me to be more like him so our marriages grow stronger.
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