Preaching is Christ’s voice speaking with power in the church and to the world in salvation or judgment.
As God’s people, we should understand that preaching is a continuation of Christ’s prophetic ministry to the Church. Christ still speaks. On the Day of Pentecost, the exalted, ascended Christ sent forth His Spirit to empower His beloved people to be His witnesses (Acts 1:8). Preaching was one important result of this Holy Spiritual outpouring. We see Peter in Acts 2 “lifted up his voice” (Acts 2:14; cf. Isa. 42:2) to authoritatively declare the truths of God in submission to His word. To lift up one’s voice as a preacher (or prophet as in the Old Testament, cf. Isaiah 40:8-11) is to authoritatively, yet submissively declare the mind of God in Christ by the Spirit. As we see in the sermons recorded for us in Acts chapters 2 and 7 and 13, all are focused on declaring authoritatively, yet submissively the mind of God in Christ by the Spirit, particularly God’s faithfulness in keeping His promises through the Gospel of Christ (see particularly Acts 2:32-36, 13:23, 25, 38-39). In faithful preaching, where the preacher is authoritatively, yet submissively declaring God’s truth through His, we hear God’s very voice. As our forefather, John Calvin, taught in his ‘Sermons on Deuteronomy’: “Where preaching is, there God’s voice rings in our ears.”
Preaching is Christ continuing to be with His Church by His Spirit, to guide the Church, to feed His sheep through the means of men as they declare His word faithfully (Christ says to His preachers: “I am with you always, even until the end of the age…” -Matt. 28:18-20). Christ is pleased not to speak directly from heaven to His people, but to use sinful, yet sanctified men as His means of making His truth known. Christ is pleased to use weak men to glorify His strength (1 Cor. 1:23-24, 2:1-5; 3:7; 4:7; 2 Cor. 2:16). Christ is pleased to use men who are insufficient yet qualified and called to the task (cf. Act 13:1-4; 1 Tim. 3:1ff). Preaching is incarnational, in that it continues Christ’s powerful ministry of the Word, and extends His kingdom through weak men, weak vessels, extending a hand of grace and comfort to His people through the preacher.
Although Christ is pleased to use weak, sinful, insufficient, yet sanctified and qualified men to preach, the authority and efficacy of preaching is with Christ alone. The men that Christ calls to preach and fills with His Spirit are those who are submissive to God’s Word and faithfully declare God’s Word to God’s people. In other words, preachers are Christ’s called, ordained, and sent ambassadors declaring faithfully the mind of Christ the King to the church and to the world as it is revealed in the Word of God (“Preach the Word!” 2 Tim. 4:1, not merely a preachers own ideas, or his pet theological topics, nor his own opinions). Faithful preaching through ambassadors is declaring the Gospel story of redemption to the church and to the world all for the glory of God, imploring sinful men to be reconciled to God in Christ (cf. 2 Cor. 5:17-21)! In Acts 2 and 7 and 13 with the sermons of Peter, Stephen, and Paul, we see them as preachers wholly submitted to Holy Scripture as Christ’s ambassadors, faithfully telling God’s good story of redemption in Christ. Their preaching has Christ and His crucifixion as the central focus of their messages (cf. 1 Cor. 2:1-5). Let us rejoice that God has provided faithful ambassadors in preaching! As the people of God we can rejoice that God is not silent, but ever present to teach, guide, encourage, comfort, and edify His people through preaching (cf. Isa. 40:1ff; Eph. 4:11-16). Preaching reveals God as the God of all mercies and comfort because we are reminded of His gracious voice to us in Christ. Christ’s sheep hear His voice, and they learn to listen, learn, and follow as his sheep-like disciples (John 10:14-16, 27). Jesus says: “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27). What should God’s people remember to bring to the preaching event or sermon so that they can better hear and follow? Not only God’s Word to follow along with the preacher, but also a prepared heart, and an expectant faith that Christ will speak to them.
But you may ask, “How is preaching Christ’s voice speaking with power”? The Bible teaches us that although Christ is exalted at God’s right hand, ruling and reigning in a glorified body, He nevertheless is pleased to be with His chosen instruments by His Spirit as a means to speak to His Church. Although Christ is in heaven as Advocate, ever-interceding for His people (Rom. 8:34), he nevertheless is present, truly and really, yet spiritually in preaching to the faith of God’s people. Similar to the Lord’s Supper where Christ is truly and really, yet spiritually present (not corporally present for He is embodied in heaven as glorified King of kings), so he is present in this same way in preaching. As Calvin wrote in his ‘Commentary on Acts’: “The Lord gave the Holy Spirit [on Pentecost] once to His disciples in visible shape, that we may be assured that the Church will never lack His invisible and hidden grace [my emphasis].”
This is another important way of saying that Christ is pleased to use the means of men as preachers to be present with His Church and to make His very voice heard. In Romans 10:13-17, the Apostle Paul is speaking of the importance of faith in hearing God’s Word. He writes: “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17). Before this verse, the apostle very clearly declares that Christ is present to the faith of all who hear faithful preachers and will save them: “For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Rom. 10:13). He says in Romans 10:14: “But how are they to call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?” In Romans 10:14b, the Apostle Paul is translated in many Bible translations as saying: “How are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard” stressing merely Christ as the subject of preaching, and this is true to a certain extent; Christ is the subject of good and faithful preaching! But what Paul is more particularly saying here is captured more faithfully in the marginal reading of the ESV. In the original language, Paul is not merely speaking of Christ as the subject (“in him of whom”, but Christ as the actual speaker. The correct translation of this should be: “And how are they to believe Him whom they have never heard” (Rom. 10:14b). That is, in the preaching event or sermon, when the ambassador of God is submitted to Christ and His Word, the very voice of Jesus Christ is heard. We are to believe Him and hear Him!
Furthermore, Christ promises that the Gentiles will hear His voice through the ministry of the apostles in John 10:16ff, emphasizing that it is Christ’s voice that is heard truly and really, yet spiritually through preaching: “And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice” (cf. Acts 13:47-48). Also, in the sermon to the Hebrews, the preacher says that Christ is speaking in and through preaching, he writes: “See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven” (Heb. 12:25). Christ literally speaks from heaven and warns from heaven through the preaching event or sermon, and this brings either salvation or judgment. John Calvin, in his “Commentary on Isaiah” wrote: “When the ministers faithfully declare the words of Christ, their mouth is His mouth and their lips are His lips [my emphasis].”
What makes these weak men who serve as preachers powerful in preaching? Are they not just weak men? What brings the power and effective or transformative change? Christ, by His Spirit. When the Word is preached, the Spirit is faithful to use these means of bringing about God’s purposes (cf. Isa. 55:10-11; Acts 13:48-49), whether these purposes are salvation or judgment. The Spirit and the Word, though they are distinct, must never be separated from one another. When the Word of God is faithfully preached in Christ’s name, God’s people can be confident that what they are hearing is Christ’s very powerful voice! While the men as preachers are instrumental means of grace, the effectual means of grace comes from the Spirit of God alone. This means that while Christ is pleased to use men as means, nevertheless, it is His Spirit alone that brings the powerful work of salvation or judgment when the word is rightfully and faithfully preached.
Like bread and wine that Christ is pleased to use as instruments or means of His holy presence to the faith of God’s people in the Lord’s Supper, so He is pleased to be with the lips of His preachers as instruments and means, and their words in the preaching event or sermon (like the bread and wine) should be received by faith. There is no automatic working in the Lord’s Supper nor the preaching ministry of the Word. Both require that we receive Christ’s appointed means by faith. The preaching event or sermon requires that we come by faith to receive from the very mouth of Christ with our minds and hearts. God’s people can be confident that what the preacher says, while it may not immediately appear to them to be applicable sometimes, or particularly relevant to them in their estimation at the moment, it is very applicable and relevant, because Christ has chosen to teach them this in His good timing, on this occasion and at this location by His good and kind providence. God’s people should never go forth from a sermon immediately judging the results according to their limited (and often wrong!) estimation, but rather, by God’s Spirit to humble themselves before God, and prayerfully ask: “What are you teaching me, kind king?!” “Help me to hear this, to believe it, to meditate upon it, to live it out!” Help me to apply this,” etc, should be our immediate prayers after the preaching event or sermon. We should be on our knees as we approach the sermon, praying during this honored and privileged time with Christ, and then on our knees as we leave the sermon!
Preaching is using a double-edged sword (Heb. 4:12), and that double edge reminds us of both God’s salvation and His judgment that comes through the faithful preaching event. Preaching by the power of the Spirit brings forth both salvation for those who receive the truth as from Christ’s own mouth, and judgment for those who would reject it, because they are rejecting Christ Himself (see Acts 7:51-54; 13:42-52 for both salvation for believers and judgment for those who reject it who are described as those who “judge themselves unworthy of eternal life”, 13:46). Preaching is a fulfillment of Christ’s promise in John 16 that when His Spirit comes He will guide the Church into all truth (John 16:13-14), and that He will convict the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment (John 16:7-8). Jesus is faithful through preaching to lead His people into all the truth, sanctifying them by that same truth (cf. John 17:17). He is also faithful to declare to the world by His Spirit through preaching the reality of their sins, the righteousness of God that is required of every creature to enter heaven (and how it is found in Christ alone!), and to prepare all flesh for the Judgment Day. As we learn in Acts 17:31:
“…[God] has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man [the Lord Jesus] whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”
When the Bible is faithfully preached, Christ truly speaks from God’s right hand through the preacher, and brings either salvation or judgment. As Christ will one day formally separate the sheep from the goats as he teaches in Matthew 25:31-45, with every preaching event or sermon, there is a “sneak preview” of this last day separation that is being made, whether one receives Christ showing oneself to be one of his sheep (because they hear His voice!), or whether it is rejection showing oneself to be an unbelieving “goat” (at least at this point in their life). Whether Christ is pleased to bring salvation or judgment, we should understand that the preaching event is always successful in bringing about God’s purposes (even though the preachers are often weak in different ways, the results are always powerful!). God’s word says:
“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, 11 so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” (ESV Isaiah 55:10-11, my emphasis).
Understanding that preaching is Christ’s very voice speaking with power to the church and the world for salvation or judgment might change the way we pray for Christ’s preachers (1 Thess. 1:5; Eph. 6:18-20), and it might cause us to attend worship with more joyful willingness and a heightened expectation of God’s special presence in Christ, particularly in the preaching event! Let us pray earnestly that Christ would be pleased to both save and sanctify His church through preaching. Let us pray with great passion and ardor that Christ would be magnified and glorified in His enthronement as King through preaching (cf. Heb. 5:12).
Beloved in Christ at KCPC, let us pray that we would attend every preaching event or sermon with great confidence, NOT in Christ’s preacher, but in Christ Himself as He is pleased to speak through Him. Let our faith not rest on men’s wisdom in preaching, but in the power of God. Let us be reminded of what the Apostle Paul said in 1 Corinthians 2:4-5:
“…And my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God” (1 Cor. 2:4-5).
Where is your faith? In men, or in the power of God? Let us pray that each preaching event or sermon, we would hear Christ well, and that we would see a demonstration of the Spirit and of power!
Understanding this could make the Church more attentive in listening and seeking to “hear” God as Christ speaks through the Ministry of the Word each Lord’s Day! We should be reminded that hearing is not merely hearing audibly with the ears. Many folks can hear audibly the preaching, but not profit from it at all! Profitable, true, and spiritual hearing is learning to be a “doer of the word” by God’s grace and power (cf. James 1:22). In fact, we were “created in Christ Jesus to do good works” and show forth the likeness of Jesus in conformity to Him by the power of God’s transformative Spirit! (Eph. 2:10; cf. Eph. 1:4-5; Rom. 8:29; Titus 2:11-14). As Hebrews 2:1, 3a teaches us:
“Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it…How shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation?”
As the Parable of the Sower reminds us (Mark 4), there are four types of soils, or hearts, or ways of receiving Christ’s voice. Although the actual growth and increase of the Word by the Spirit in men is a mystery (Mark 4:27), nevertheless, we are to come with prayerfully prepared and expectant hearts to receive from the very mouth of Christ! May we have a flourishing and fruitful increase of growth in holiness, humility, and honesty as a congregation of Christ because we hear and obey the very words of Christ that come forth from His preachers! Amen.
Preaching is Christ’s voice speaking with power in the church and to the world in salvation or judgment.
In Christ’s love,