Should We Preach Christ in Every Sermon?
Faithful preaching is expositional, which means that it explains a biblical text in its context and applies the text to the hearers. There have been times, however, when I’ve heard expositional preaching that makes little or no mention of the Lord Jesus Christ (sadly, I’ve done this myself). If an unbeliever had been sitting among the hearers, he would not have heard enough of the gospel to be saved. Furthermore, saints would not have heard enough of Christ to move them to live and obey out of love for Him. Scripture teaches that every expository sermon should be Christ-centered.
True preaching is not:
- An expositional sermon, even from a New Testament text, without mentioning Christ except in an evangelistic appeal at the end
- A sermon filled with illustrations and humor, while only nominally mentioning a text, or Jesus Christ Himself, occasionally
- A “practical series” on marriage, joy, etc., without explaining how the person and work of Jesus Christ applies to marriage, joy, etc.
- A running commentary on a passage of Scripture without preaching Christ because He is not mentioned explicitly in the text
None of the above measures up to the Bible’s requirement for preaching. Scripture gives us clear instructions about how to preach. Consider the following.
1. Our Lord Jesus and His apostles practiced Christ-centered preaching.
Every word our Lord uttered ultimately was about His own person and work as our Prophet, Priest, and King, even when He expounded Old Testament texts, which did not always mention Him explicitly. Christ’s apostles followed His example in their preaching. Every evangelistic sermon in Acts and every epistle were centered on Jesus Christ. The epistles were read to churches in their entirety, including the parts about Christ and the gospel. In every application of the epistles, there is always a reference to Christ, His person and His work. I am not saying that Jesus Christ was mentioned by name in every text of His preaching and the apostles teaching. What I am saying is Christ was the foundation and goal in the proclamation of every word of God.
2. The Bible mandates preaching Christ to unbelievers and believers.
First, it is clear that the apostles preached Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior to unbelievers (Acts 5:42, 8:35, 11:20). Jesus was the center of their message. When Paul first came to Corinth to preach the gospel to the unconverted, he said, “For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2). Jesus Christ was the substance of Paul’s evangelistic preaching in Corinth. Peter also preached Christ on the day of Pentecost as well as in the other evangelistic messages of Acts (Acts 2; 10; 17).
Second, the apostles preached Christ to believers. The apostles constantly tied their rebukes, exhortations, and doctrinal instructions to the person and work of Christ, past, present, and future. It’s impossible to read the epistles without seeing that the person and work of Jesus Christ is the center point of salvation and sanctification. To the Colossians, Paul described his preaching and teaching to Christians: “We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ” (Colossians 1:28). It takes little research to see how Paul tied his exhortations to the Corinthian Christians to the person and work of Christ for them. For instance, when warning against adultery, Paul said, “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:19–20). Paul based his warning against adultery on Christ’s work. Christ Himself was the substance of apostolic preaching, both to the unconverted and the converted. The Bible mandates Christ-centered preaching both to the unbeliever and believer.
3. The Bible mandates preaching Christ in every sermon from every text.
In Genesis 3:15, Jesus Christ is declared the center of God’s revelation to man. Adam represented all of his posterity and fell into sin, breaking the Covenant of Works, which required perfect obedience for life. But Jesus Christ, the last Adam, is the only mediator between God and man. Christ satisfied God’s just wrath in the Covenant of Redemption and did what Adam failed to do. Jesus Christ is the only Savior and Lord of all who believe in Him. The Old Testament records the unfolding of the promise of redemption in Christ found in Genesis 3:15. And the New Testament reveals how Christ came to fulfill that first promise in Genesis 3:15. The Bible’s own structure provides us with a theological mandate to preach Christ in all the Scriptures because both the Old Testament and the New Testament are theologically centered in Jesus Christ.
Preachers in the New Testament did not preach in the manner that has become customary to us. They did not take a text out of the New Testament, analyze it, expound it, and then apply it. What did they preach? They preached the great message that had been committed to them, the great body of gospel truth, the whole doctrine of salvation revealed from Genesis to Revelation. My argument is that this is what we should always be doing, though we do it through individual expositions of particular texts. That is the relationship between theology and preaching.
So, dear brothers, are you preaching the Lord Jesus Christ in every expository sermon? Could an unbeliever be saved through your exposition? Can a believer hear enough of Christ to be moved to love Him more and obey Him by faith working through love? May God help us to proclaim Him!
Why Should We Preach Christ in Every Sermon?
We have addressed the question: “Should we preach Christ in every sermon?” My answer is “Yes.” Now we must ask: “Why should we preach Christ in every sermon?” There are two thoughts I would offer in answer to this: (1) Biblical Hermeneutics, and (2) Biblical Example.
Biblical hermeneutics requires us to preach Christ in every sermon.
The historical rise of literal-grammatical-historical hermeneutics in the history of interpretation has been a very good thing. There is general agreement among evangelical teachers that the Bible should be taken literally (unless it uses metaphor, typology, allegory, parable, etc.), grammatically (using the original languages for exegesis), and historically (dealing with the historical context of the text). As part of this method, we also include the idea of “Scripture interpreting Scripture.” This is the foundation of exegeting a text and then expositing it in the sermon. This method is intended to prevent eisegesis in a text in order to be faithful to God’s specific Word. Sometimes, this method is used to justify not preaching Christ in every sermon if He is not mentioned specifically in the text, especially when expounding an Old Testament text.
However, grammatical-historical exegesis is not the complete hermeneutical method used by Reformed interpreters. Reformed hermeneutics espouses grammatical-historical-theological exegesis. The addition of theological exegesis for each text is sometimes called “the scope of Scripture” (scopus Scriptura). It means that the exegesis of each text must look at the full theological context in which it resides; i.e., the place in biblical history, the covenant context in which it resides, and its relationship to the overall theology of the Scripture. This means that the overall theology of Scripture, which is Christ-centered, must be included in the full exegesis of the text. This is not eisegesis. It is theological exegesis.
Let me add that this theological element in hermeneutics is not quite the same as “Scripture interpreting Scripture.” An exegete may use cross-reference or word-studies of a text, comparing Scripture with Scripture and still miss the overall theology of Scripture in the exegesis. The “scope of Scripture” takes the whole counsel of God into account, the faith once-for-all delivered to the saints, when interpreting the text. For instance, when preaching on an Old Testament text, one may use the literal-grammatical-historical method, including Scripture interpreting Scripture in cross-references and word-studies, expounding the text faithfully in its original meaning in the Old Testament. However, our Lord explained that He came to fulfill the Law and the Prophets (Matthew 5:17). To explain the Old Testament text and to expound its original contextual meaning without taking into account how our Lord fulfilled it in His person and work ignores the full theological interpretation of the text. So, one may expound accurately the Old Testament text and its meaning in context without its full theological meaning in light of the completion of all revelation according to the scope of Scripture.
To preach Christ in every sermon is more than just preaching a text in its literal-grammatical-historical meaning then going off into an unconnected explanation of the gospel. Rather, it is to expound how that text is connected to and fulfilled theologically in Jesus Christ, the theological center of God’s revelation to man. This method does not demean the Old Testament as less inspired or not as important as the New Testament. Such caveats are not helpful or accurate. Rather, it recognizes that every Old Testament text reaches its full meaning as contributing to the revelation of Jesus Christ in all the Scriptures.
One more thing about the theological method of interpretation: It recognizes that all men are born condemned under law in the fall of Adam and that from Genesis 3:15 on, the rest of Scripture reveals the coming of Christ under grace. This is the old Law and Gospel theology that was central to the Reformation’s rediscovery of the gospel. All Scripture must be interpreted in light of the Law and the Gospel theology which reveals Jesus Christ to man. This enables the expositor to preach the gospel in every sermon legitimately without eisegesis. Charles Bridges, in The Christian Ministry, said:
The mark of a minister “approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed,” is, that he “rightly divides the word of truth.” This implies a full and direct application of the Gospel to the mass of his unconverted hearers, combined with a body of spiritual instruction to the several classes of Christians. His system will be marked by Scriptural symmetry and comprehensiveness. It will embrace the whole revelation of God, in its doctrinal instructions, experimental privileges, and practical results. This revelation is divided into two parts—the Law and the Gospel—essentially distinct from each other, though so intimately connected, that an accurate knowledge of neither can be obtained with the other (222).
Biblical example requires us to preach Christ in every sermon.
We now live under the New Covenant of Jesus Christ, the completed revelation of God to man. We have been given the full revelation of God in the faith once-for-all delivered to the saints. Our example of preaching and teaching is now displayed in how Christ and His apostles preached and taught. His teaching of Himself, each sermon in Acts to unbelievers, and each epistle to believers is fully Christ-centered. Even if we take a text from Christ or the apostles’ writings which do not explicitly mention the Lord Jesus Christ, they must be explained in light of their whole teaching in the context of His message and the whole epistle’s message. These are our examples of biblical preaching under the New Covenant.
For modern-day examples of such preaching, you only have to look at the greatest preacher of the 19th century, Charles Spurgeon, and the greatest preacher of the 20th century, Martyn Lloyd-Jones. They both followed the grammatical-historical-theological method of hermeneutics to preach Christ in all the Scriptures.
How Should We Preach Christ in Every Sermon?
We have now addressed two questions: “Should we preach Christ in every sermon?” and “Why should we preach Christ in every sermon?” Now we must ask another question: “How should we preach Christ in every sermon?” In other words, is it possible to preach Christ in every sermon with hermeneutical integrity? I believe that it is possible and necessary. But how can one do this? Here, I propose two principles followed by one example.
1. We must remember that we are ministers of the New Covenant.
Paul taught that we are ministers of the New Covenant (2 Corinthians 3:6). That means the New Covenant of Jesus Christ governs all our ministry. Ministers of the New Covenant are not free to be neutral in exegeting any text. To think that they should be is a fallacy of biblical scholarship. We must start as ministers of the New Covenant when we approach any text.
The faith has been delivered once-for-all to the saints in Christ through the revelation of the New Covenant. The New Covenant revelation of Jesus is our ministerial, historical, and biblical-theological context. Jesus came to fulfill the Law and the Prophets and to establish His New Covenant, the only salvific covenant in Scripture. Ever since Adam broke God’s law in the Garden of Eden, all of the Old Testament proceeds from the gospel promise of Genesis 3:15 toward the full revelation of Jesus Christ as the “seed of the woman” who would destroy “the serpent and his seed.” The last Adam fulfilled the first Adam’s broken law and the gospel promise of Genesis 3:15 in His New Covenant. As ministers of Christ’s New Covenant, everything we teach must be viewed through that lens.
Paraphrasing Augustine: “The new is in the old concealed; the old is in the new revealed.” In this light, all of Scripture is ultimately about the revelation of Jesus Christ to fallen mankind for the glory of God. Jesus is our starting point and ending point in every New Covenant sermon. He is the Author and Finisher of faith. He is the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End, of God’s revelation to man.
2. We must exercise hermeneutical completeness.
First, we must interpret every text grammatically, understanding the original meaning of the words. Second, we must interpret that text in its redemptive-historical setting, understanding to whom God is speaking and what He is saying in their historical context. But, third, we must interpret every text theologically in terms of the completed revelation of God to man. This is the Reformed grammatical-historical-theological method of hermeneutics.
This third principle of “theological interpretation” is more than “Scripture interpreting Scripture” by citing cross references. Rather, it involves showing how each biblical text fits into the completed theology of Scripture. All of exegetical theology, biblical theology, and systematic theology serves the overall “scope of Scripture,” which expounds each text of Scripture in light of “the whole counsel of God.” In some way, every passage is framed by the completed revelation about Jesus Christ; therefore, every passage must be interpreted and proclaimed in light of Him. No part of Scripture can be interpreted fully without understanding its ultimate hermeneutical connection to the revelation of Jesus Christ to man for the glory of God the Father.