Life + Culture

The Impossible Calling of the Christian Preacher

The Impossible Calling of the Christian Preacher

Christian preacher, your calling is astounding. Indeed, your life is astounding. I hope you are amazed at your miraculous existence in Christ. As a Christian, you are not unique, but you are astounding.

Astounding Existence

When Jesus Christ was raised from the dead by “the immeasurable greatness of the power” of the Creator, he “was seated at the right hand” of God in heaven (Ephesians 1:19–20). That is where the God-man is today. Waiting for the last trumpet. As I write, there he is. As you preach, there he is.

Then after telling us that Christ is sitting at God’s right hand, Paul tells us that you are sitting there with him. Now. Today.

God made us alive together with Christ . . . and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:5–6)

He put you there when he made you alive — made you a new creation. This is done. Not will be done. But done. You, Christian preacher, today sit with Jesus at the right hand of God.

“Your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory” (Colossians 3:3–4). Glory now, unsurpassed. Then, at his coming, glory unconcealed. Christian preacher, are you astounded at your life?

Astounding Calling

Your calling to preach is astounding! You share in Paul’s calling from the Lord Jesus, do you not? You know what Jesus said to him:

“I am sending you to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.” (Acts 26:17–18)

You are called to do what only God can do — open the eyes of the blind — the blind who cannot see “the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:4). Only the Creator of the universe can say, “Let there be light!” in the sin-and-Satan-blinded heart — and expect the blind to see. And this is exactly what he says into blind hearts.

He has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. (2 Corinthians 4:6)

Be Astounded God Saves Through You

If that is not astounding enough — that God gives blind sinners a real sight of his glory in the face of Christ, and raises them from spiritual death — then add this: he does this through you. Through your preaching! You. A mere man. A sinful, finite, fallible, called servant of the risen Christ.

Since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. (1 Corinthians 1:21)

When you herald the glories of God in Christ, God saves. God opens the eyes of the heart (Ephesians 1:18). He shines with the glory of Christ. He makes this beauty joyfully irresistible. Be astounded, Christian preacher, that God saves sinners through your preaching.

To experience this is thrilling. Just today I received a letter from a man who was converted through the preaching of several pastors. I was one. He wrote,

[He] continued to expound the next few verses, and in that moment everything clicked. God, by the power of the Holy Spirit, had shown me that I had cried out to Jesus because he had given me to him, that Jesus was never going to cast me out, and his will was that I would never be lost. I started to weep for joy and was filled with the most wonderful sensation of warmth and comfort. Since that day, I’ve found that God has placed in my heart the desire to seek him daily, conform every aspect of my life to his word, and fight sin in my life.

Astounding Preamble to a Great Command

Preaching is not just teaching. It is not just giving counsel. It is not discussing. Preaching is heartfelt heralding of the reality communicated by the inspired spokesmen of God himself in the Bible.

Paul says, “All Scripture is breathed out by God” (2 Timothy 3:16). Then he says, “Preach the word!” (2 Timothy 4:2). That is, “Herald (Greek kērussō) the word!” And in between this highest of all praises of Scripture (God-breathed), and this command to “Herald the word,” comes the most astounding preamble in the Bible to a great command.

This preamble turns the command to herald the word into an exalted, solemn, supremely weighty adjuration:

I charge you
in the presence of God
and of Christ Jesus,
who is to judge the living
and the dead,
and by his appearing
and his kingdom . . . preach the word! (2 Timothy 4:1–2)

I know of nothing quite like this in all the Bible. This is an unparalleled preparation for a three-word command. The heralding of the word of God is in obedience to a solemn, apostolic “charge.” This charge-empowered preaching happens “in the presence of God,” the Creator of all things.

It happens “in the presence of Christ Jesus,” God’s Son. It happens in the light of a great final “judgment” by the very one we preach. It happens — always happens — in the presence of those who will be judged, whether living or dead. It happens in the certainty of Christ’s personal appearing on this planet. And it happens in the power and presence of Christ’s all-encompassing “kingdom.”

Brothers, your calling to preach is astounding!

Stay awake to the wonder of your calling. If you are not awake to it, neither will be your people. And that would be tragic.

Astounding Privileges of Preaching

You get to stand before God’s people and tell them the greatest realities in the world. You get to exult with them over the most exalted truths in the universe. You get to explain to them the most mysterious wonders ever conceived in the mind of God. For you are “stewards of the mysteries of God” (1 Corinthians 4:1).

You get to represent the highest authority in the world — “God making his appeal through you: Be reconciled to God” (2 Corinthians 5:20). You get to meditate day and night, as your vocation, on realities that are more valuable than gold and silver. You get to chew on, and savor, and speak the most delicious truths that exist — truths that are sweeter than honey and drippings from the honeycomb (Psalm 19:10) — sweeter than the most intense sweetness in the world.

God has filled your mouth not just with truth, but beautiful truth, infinitely valuable truth, profoundly satisfying truth. This is why your job is preaching, not just teaching. Preaching, not just explaining. Preaching, not just discussing or debating or defending. God created the uniqueness of preaching because of the uniqueness of the reality communicated in his inspired words.

Explaining and Exulting

Yes, those words, and that reality, must be explained. Preaching includes exposition of biblical texts, or it is not preaching. Ultimate reality — glorious reality — comes to us through written texts. But careful exposition is not preaching. Not yet.

Preaching is the effect of astounding, truth-carried, text-mediated, Spirit-revealed reality. And that effect is not boredom. It is not emotional neutrality. It is not lukewarm. It is not silliness, or cleverness, or levity. It is not mawkish emotionalism. It is not melodramatic pathos. It is not pseudo solemnity.

The effect of astounding, truth-carried, text-mediated, Spirit-revealed reality in preaching is exultation over the word. Or more precisely, it is the overflow of the lips from Spirit-wakened emotion appropriate to the reality in the text. But it is never neutral. Emotionally blank preaching does not embody the reality of the text; it betrays it.

Preaching is heartfelt heralding of the reality communicated by the inspired writers of God’s word, the Bible. I call it “expository exultation.” It is not one or the other — exposition or exultation. It is both at once. The calling of the Christian preacher is to illumine the mind by our exposition of God’s words, and to enliven the heart with the glory they carry.

This is astounding. Indeed impossible. For man. Illumine the blind. Enliven the dead. That is an astounding calling. The path on which the miracle happens I call expository exultation.

If you wonder what more is meant by this description of preaching, I have tried to deliver my burden in the book Expository Exultation: Christian Preaching as Worship. I hope you find in it a path, and through it a power, toward the astounding calling of Christian preaching.

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