Recently I saw a piece written by a parishioner about her pastor. She was amazed at how he could make himself out to be the hero in almost any of his messages. When he preached on the sufferings of Jesus, she was impressed at how cleverly he wove the story of how he rescued a person in a car accident into the sermon. He was really good at making himself the hero. I hope the article was satire, but I came away unsure. I also wondered at who the heroes are in many sermons. If we preach the gospel, there is only one hero. Which brought me to consider the messages we present.
The great Apostle Paul was careful how he preached. “For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord” (2 Cor. 4:5a). He was careful not to make himself the hero. We may consider Paul a hero, but he assiduously kept the focus off of himself. In fact, he trembled before God as he preached so that he kept the emphasis right. “But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Gal. 6:14a). His main focus was what Jesus did on the cross, and he understood well that he could not neglect that as the center of his preaching. “For though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of: for necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel!” (1 Cor. 9:16).
How often do we really preach the gospel in our churches? I mean in our conservative churches. Not including Easter Sunday, how often does the resurrection of Jesus Christ play a significant part in the messages that come across our pulpits? In all of our emphasis on living holy lives, how much of our preaching points to the savior suffering on the cross for our sanctification? In our desire to see people make a significant commitment to Jesus, how many sermons focus on the sinless life of the Messiah as He walked on earth? In our efforts to see people die to themselves, how often do we focus on the physical burial of the body of our Lord Jesus?
All of these are significant elements of the gospel. Paul summed it up succinctly. “Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand…how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures: And that he was seen…” (1 Cor. 1, 3b-5a).
The center of the gospel message is Christ. He is the promised one who became a man by virgin birth, was sinless, holy, and undefiled as he walked among men. No one could accuse him of any wrong, but He went about doing good. No one ever walked as He walked and no one ever talked like He talked. There was never any guile found in His mouth, but those who heard Him wondered at His gracious words. If we would walk as He walked and talk as He talked we must lift up our eyes and look at Him. If we focus on ourselves we will of necessity look down. Look unto Him! He is the author of our faith.
How can we who are so imperfect live for Him? Should we not begin to make ourselves worthy? That is to miss the whole message of the gospel. We are not worthy! We cannot make ourselves worthy. No amount of tears, no measure of commitments, no multitude of self-effacing vows, no rigorous religious rite, no zealous working can ever make us worthy.
There is only one sufficient sacrifice for sins and we did not make it, nor could we ever make it. “Christ died for our sins.” Only the sinless Son of God had the qualification to make atonement for our sins. He did it for us. He stepped into our place and offered the only acceptable sacrifice that ever was or ever could be made. If we would live the crucified life we must look to Christ’s cross. Paul did not live that life on his own. “I am crucified with Christ,” he wrote. We cannot live for Christ on our own and we cannot die to self on our own. It is with Christ. We can never stray from the cross of Christ or we will cease to have the grace of the cross of Christ.
The gospel tells us that Christ died. His physical life ended. He did not swoon. He did not go into a coma. He did not become insensible from drugs that were put to his face on the blunt end of a guard’s spear. He died! And he was buried. Wrapped in grave clothes which were permeated with burial spices, his body was laid in a borrowed tomb. It was borrowed because He only needed it for three days. On the third day He rose again! He rose for our justification. You are not justified by church attendance, baptism, your family background, or your national citizenship. You can only be justified by faith in Him who died for you and rose again.
The gospel is rooted in the historic, real time life, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. This was the message of the apostles. They focused on the gospel. They convinced others by the scriptures that Jesus was the Christ. They couched their teaching to the church in very close gospel terms. They did not do a rerun of Old Covenant didacticism, but they were intentionally and overtly New Covenant in everything. Read the epistles. Jesus is the center of everything. The gospel is not just what gets us saved, but is what keeps us, leads us in life, brings us cleansing, and will take us home to glory.
Who is the hero in all this? It is Jesus. He saves. He keeps. He sanctifies. He guides. He comforts. He brings peace. He loves. He helps. And He promises never to leave us or forsake us.
Years ago several of us visited a meeting where a well known British preacher was speaking. We decided to count the number of times he used the word Jesus in his message. It was still near the beginning and we stopped counting after we passed seventy-five mentions. The next day we were in a camp meeting and did the same thing. We counted six times the evangelist mentioned the word Jesus. The contrast was stark. Are we preaching the gospel or something else? Who was the hero?
I suggest that we make Jesus the hero in all of our preaching, teaching, testimonies, and witnessing. Without Him there is no salvation. Without Him there is no holiness. Without Him these is no gospel. Without Him there is no hope. But in Him we have all that we need.
“And I, brethren, when I came to you…I determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.” (1 Cor. 2:1,2)