Grace Meditation #6
Christ-Centered Gospel Focused Preaching
I Corinthians 1:22-25
22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
I Corinthians 2:2
2 For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.
Remember the old children's Sunday School answer to almost every question? “Jesus!” If you didn’t know the answer to a question the teacher was asking, answering “Jesus,” would probably get you at least close.
But you know what, that old Sunday School answer to everything is about right! The grace of God revealed in the person and work of Jesus pretty much sums up the message of the Bible. From before all time, the Godhead-Father, Son, and Spirit- covenanted with one another to redeem for themselves a people, and that God the Son would be the sacrifice of atonement securing that redemption. And that is the story of the Bible. That redemption works itself out in the grand narrative of Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Consummation in the Bible. But at the center of that story, indeed at the center of human history itself is the cross of Christ.
But some folks might say, “Of course we preach Jesus and the cross! We are a Christian church isn’t that what we do?” “After all, we have a cross on top of our building!” We celebrate the Lord’s Supper at least once a month!” Well, it should be! But is Christ-centered, grace-based preaching what we find in every church we might visit or watch on a live-stream?
Unfortunately, many churches who claim to be focused on the gospel and “saving the lost,” still treat the Bible as being, first and foremost, a collection of stories and doctrinal treatises on how to live a moral life that serve as an example of how “good Christians” should live. In many circles there is still a less than subtle culture of works-based righteousness. And so, the Biblical heroes are presented as models to follow or examples of “godly living.” So, “When the Spirit of the Lord moves in my heart, I will dance like David danced….” or, “pray like Daniel prayed,” or “lead like Moses led,” or, “love like Jesus loved.” But really not much attention is given to the “When the Spirit of the Lord moves in my heart.” ☹ And if any attention is given to the role of the Spirit in our living holy lives, we forget that the Spirit is given to us as a gift that accompanies our faith in Jesus, which is also a gift, as is the righteousness of Jesus counted to us, and the forgiveness of sins we have, because of the fact that we have trusted in Jesus as our substitute-a sacrifice of atonement on our behalf.
As Scotty Smith so often says, “Jesus cannot be our example unless He is first our substitute.” No Biblical character can be our example unless Jesus is first our substitute! The Biblical heroes are all examples of sinners saved by grace-Abraham, Moses, David, Daniel and his friends, Peter, Paul, all of them are examples of sinners saved by grace. They were all saved by grace through their faith in God who would “provide the Lamb,” for the sacrifice-the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world,” as John the Baptist described his cousin, Jesus.
Abraham and David are given, as examples by Paul, of folks who had faith in God-the One who justifies the ungodly by faith. (Romans 4:5) They trusted God to be the one to provide a substitute for them. They are included in the “ungodly” that God justifies by faith. God does not count their sins against them because of His gracious provision of Jesus to take their place. Abraham, who twice turned his wife over to other men to save his own skin, and David who abused one of his subjects (Could Bathsheba realistically say no to the king?) and murdered her husband.
Jesus is the only example in the Bible of one who lived a perfect life. And His perfection is counted as ours when we personally trust Him as God’s Provision. And Jesus Himself taught that all the Scriptures were pointing toward Him. (Luke 24) All the stories and accounts of the Bible point towards the provision of God’s righteousness in Israel’s Messiah, Jesus! Does that mean there are not things to be gleaned from the lives of the Biblical heroes, or that we should follow their lead in attempting to keep God’s Covenant faithfully from the heart? No!
There are maxims, and lifestyles, and faithfulness, that are worthy of emulating. David sang, “Your word have I hid in my heart that I might not sin against you.” That is certainly worth taking to heart! There is wisdom and guidance for all aspects of our lives as believers found in the pages of Scripture. But anything good in the Biblical characters is because of God’s grace, mercy, and kindness in calling them to be His children and making atonement for their sins in Jesus.
The gospel message is not, “Just do it!” Which I call “Nike” theology. The message of the gospel is “Believe it!” Believe that when Jesus said, “It is finished!” He meant it! Salvation, forgiveness, righteousness, reconciliation to the Father, have all been fully accomplished by the Son!
That is why Paul refused to preach anything but Jesus and Him crucified! Did Paul not also deal with moral and behavioral issue? Of course! But only as they proceed from a life of faith in our identity as “in Christ.” The obedience of faith is a major theme in the book of Romans. But it is the “obedience of faith” not an attitude of working to earn God’s favor-to acquire a righteousness of our own by our own efforts. God’s Law, as presented in the Torah, (the five books of Moses) is indeed a guide to holy living. But it is primarily a mirror to show us our own sin and desperate need for Jesus. Only then can it be a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path. Greeks (Gentiles) wanted philosophical answers to life’s questions and mankind’s search for meaning and identity, and Jews wanted miraculous signs to validate God’s revelation and work in their lives. Paul says, “You want wisdom?” “He was crucified on a cross!” “You want a miracle? God provided Him.” “The miracle is Jesus taking on the sins of the world on the cross!”
That is the “whole counsel of God.” Christ and Him crucified. A sermon is not a sermon until it gets to Jesus! A sermon is not a sermon until it gets to God’s gracious provision in the justification of ungodly sinners like you and like me-like Abraham and like David.
That is why, so often in our messages at NPPC you will hear us quoting the late Jack Miller and others before him, “Cheer up! You’re much worse than you think!” Our situation is indeed dire and hopeless without Jesus. But also, “Cheer up, the cross is far bigger than you ever imagined!” The grace of the cross is our only hope! The grace of the cross is the only thing that empowers and enables the “obedience of faith!”
Can you believe it?! May we never lose our astonishment when we “survey the wondrous cross!” May we forever be gazing at and grateful for the beauty of Who Jesus is and what He accomplished for us! I have told our congregation that if I ever preach anything but Jesus and the cross to kindly escort me to the door. And I mean it!