This post is part of a multi-part blog series called Preaching Principles. Click here to watch the introduction video.
In modern times, to “preach” at someone has become like a dirty word. “Don’t you preach at me!” is a common refrain for those who don’t want to have their opinion challenged. And often people are justified because this approach to “preaching” is linked to shame, condemnation, and legalistic judgments. But this phenomenon doesn’t capture God’s heart for preaching. In fact, the practice of biblical preaching is central to God’s redemptive plan for our world. Proclamation is crucial.
Preaching at Key Points of Redemptive History
From a big picture standpoint, some of the great moments of faith history are marked by proclamation.
- The universe is the result of the very first sermon preached by God; “By the word of the Lord the heavens were made…” (Ps 33:6-9; Gen 1-2).
- Jesus’ arrival was announced by the preaching of John the Baptist; “In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea …” (Mt 3:1-12).
- Jesus’ own ministry launched on the wings of preaching; “From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand’” (Mt. 4:17).
- When the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost, Peter’s first instinct was to preach. And from that initial proclamation; the Church was born! The preached word brought forth the Church; “…those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.“ (Acts 2:1-44).
- The very last sermon of history, of the hellfire and brimstone variety, will be preached by an angel; “If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand,he also will drink the wine of God’s wrath.” (Rev 14:9-10).
As we get into the nitty gritty of the biblical story, we can see that preaching is God’s chosen method of bringing truth to his people and changing their lives. J. I. Packer once said that “the proper aim of preaching is to mediate meetings with God.” So, on one side you have God eager to commune with his children. On the other side you have people, often oblivious, but deeply in need of a word from God. In the middle, is a preacher, brokering a meeting between the two by the proclamation of God’s word. What a profound privilege.
Examples of Preaching in the Old Testament
There are many examples of preaching in the Old Testament. Let’s consider three.
Moses was a man who stood between God and his people and declared God’s word to them. Moses spoke for God. He wrote down things that God told him to write down. He declared the words of God to the people of Israel and even to enemies of God like Pharoah. Remember, Moses was also a reluctant preacher. He was not confident in his speaking abilities. And yet God used him as a mediator who both understood what God was saying and then proclaimed it to God’s people.
After the return of the Israelites from Babylonian captivity, the temple was rebuilt and the walls of the city were rebuilt, but also the heart of the nation and the people were rebuilt by the reading and understanding of God’s word. Ezra proclaimed the word of God while other priests explained its meaning while the people confessed their sins and turned their hearts back to God. The last 3 chapters of Ezra demonstrate the power of preaching the word of God.
God used different groups to lead his people through the generations: priests, judges, and kings. But maybe more than any other group, the prophets acted as God’s direct mouthpiece. They were individuals chosen by God to speak directly to His people and to those in power. The prophets weren’t mainly foretellers or clairvoyants, they were mainly preachers. They were applying the words and wishes of God to the current events of their day. And talk about object lessons, their sermon illustrations went well beyond a pitcher or rope on side table next to the podium. The prophets would often live out God’s object lessons, dig a hole and sit in it, wear a yoke around the neck, marry a whore, walk around barefoot and naked for three years… try one of those next Sunday.
Jesus the Preacher
Preaching has a rich history throughout the Old Testament. But the true founder of what we know of as preaching is Jesus himself. Consider these examples of the primacy of preaching for Jesus and the ripple effect into the early church.
He began to Preach: Commencing his ministry (Matt 4:12ff)
Matthew’s narrative marks a significant turning point with the phrase in 4:17 “from that time.” It’s an indication that all of Jesus’ preparations were complete. He endured the temptation in the wilderness, he went to live in Capernaum to fulfill the messianic prophecy of Isaiah, and his ministry will now commence. What does he do? He begins with his three-fold ministry starting with preaching. Mark 4:17 From that time Jesus began to preach … :23 – And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people.
I must Preach: Clarifying his purpose (Luke 4:42-44)
During his stay in Capernaum at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, he visits Simon’s mother-in-law’s house. The crowds are clamoring for him to stay. To put down roots in Capernaum. In his response to their cries, Jesus states his ministry purpose. Luke 4:43, “But he said to them, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose.” 44 And he was preaching in the synagogues of Judea.
To Proclaim the Kingdom of God: Empowering the disciples (Luke 9:1-2)
One of the key commands Jesus gave his disciples was to preach the good news of the kingdom. He assured them that there would be places where people wouldn’t want to hear what they had to say, but they could continue because they were equipped with his power. In Luke 9:1-2 it says, “And he called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal.”
They preached everywhere: Responding to the Great Commission (Mark 16:19-20)
In Mark’s version of Great Commission and ascension, the first thing Jesus’ followers were compelled to do is go out and preach. Mark 16:19ff captures the scene, “So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God. 20 And they went out and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by accompanying signs.”
Give ear to my words: Preaching at Pentecost (Acts 2:12ff)
Jesus sends the promised Holy Spirit after his ascension. The spirit stirs, not only on those followers of Jesus, but everyone in the crowds who had gathered for Passover. The instinctive response of Peter was to stand up and preach. Acts 2:12-14 says, “And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” But others mocking said, “They are filled with new wine.” But Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them: “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words.
Ministry of the Word: Refocusing on the priority of preaching (Acts 6:4)
Early on in the life of the church, the apostles face their first minor church crisis. There were problems in the food pantry ministry. At best there was operational oversight, at worst there was some underlying racism at play against the Greek widows. The apostles faced a critical moment and could have been distracted. They reaffirmed the primacy of preaching in the life of the church by delegating this task to they could focus on their priorities, Acts 6:4 says, it’s not good for us to wait on tables, “but we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”
Went about preaching: Preaching during persecution (Acts 8:3-4)
The church went from minor crises to major crises when widespread persecution had broken out. Even in the face of danger and death, Christians kept the importance of preaching at the forefront. Acts 8:3-4 says, “Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison. 4 Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word.”
Preaching is a peculiarly Christian practice in which God’s will and word will be made known to mankind. It’s hard to argue the importance the scripture places on the act of preaching.