January 23, 2018

Preaching the Gospel

Matt Recker

It seems strange to say that a missing element in much preaching is Jesus Christ and His gospel of grace, but I believe it is so. Even in my own experience, I have found that I can preach on Christian living, worldliness, the decaying culture, church growth, or a host of other topics and gloss over the power of Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection! God has convicted me and challenged me that preaching this gospel must be included as the ultimate motive for everything we do and the power behind all we can be for Him.

Gospel preaching is essential for the justification of unbelievers but also for the sanctification of believers. Preaching that diminishes the gospel’s power will result in hearers thinking that they can earn God’s approval or find strength to be a good Christian, parent, or spouse in their own ability. The unsaved will be deceived into thinking that salvation is something they can earn; the saved will be misled to think they can live the Christian life through their own effort. Gospel-less preaching will leave hearers still feeling guilt and shame no matter how hard they “try to do right.” It is a fatal error to leave out the gospel, for any attempt to achieve our salvation, either our justification or sanctification, by human obedience alone will lead only to glorifying self and not God. The gospel alone gives the unsaved grace to stand in God’s righteousness, and the gospel alone removes the condemnation from our lives.

In 1 Peter 1:10–12, the apostle Peter summarizes the gospel of “salvation” and “grace” as the “sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow” (vv. 10, 11). This can be restated as Christ’s substitutionary crucifixion and His glorious exaltation. Peter then shows how three representatives— the prophets, the apostles, and the angels—center their energy upon this good news of Christ’s death on the cross and His bodily resurrection from the grave.

The Prophets and the Gospel

Peter declares that the gospel is the subject of inspired prophetic consideration (vv. 10, 11). The prophets, those who lived before Christ and wrote the Hebrew Scriptures, or Tenach, did due diligence in their ministry. Peter uses two very strong terms to emphasize their strenuous effort. They “enquired” zealously (ekzeteo) to understand God’s salvation, just as the man of faith is described as one who diligently seeks for God (Heb. 11:6). They also “searched diligently” (exeraunao) regarding all that they wrote. This search is used of Jesus’ examining His church (Rev. 2:23) and God’s searching one’s heart (Rom. 8:27). Although there was intense human effort in the writing of God’s Word, ultimately these prophets did not write according to their own will. What they penned was by divine inspiration: the Spirit of Christ was in them and witnessed to them of Christ’s suffering and glory before it occurred! We conclude that God’s Word is a coupling together of God’s divine out-breathing and a humanly exhaustive inquiry in every word that was written.

This gospel of Jesus’ suffering and glory is at the heart of God’s revelation throughout the Tenach. Jesus questioned His doubting disciples on the Emmaus road thusly: “Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory?” Jesus proceeded to expound these two truths from the writings of Moses and all the prophets (Luke 24:25–27). In Luke 24:44–48, our Lord again explained these two themes from the three major sections of the Old Testament Scripture: the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings. Jesus opened their understanding as He proclaimed what was written by the prophets: “Thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day.”

We can only guess as to what Scriptures Jesus may have used in those two resurrection appearances! Did He proclaim His miraculous incarnation from Isaiah 7:14? Did He reveal His substitutionary atonement from Psalm 22 or Isaiah 53? Maybe He asserted His bodily resurrection from Psalm 16:10 and His glorious return from Psalm 24! The crimson cord of Calvary’s blood and the shout of hallelujah victory over death underlie all the writing of the faithful prophets of the Scripture. Because the gospel is a central focus of the Scripture, we must make preaching the gospel predominant!

The Apostles and the Gospel

Secondly, Peter reveals how the gospel is the subject of humble apostolic proclamation (1 Pet. 1:12a). Amazingly, the Old Testament prophets did not fully understand the mystery of the gospel message which they wrote. This message was fully revealed to the New Testament apostles. Peter implies that it was overwhelming to receive prophetic testimony from those who had “trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment: They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword” and much more, and yet, they “received not the promise” (Heb. 11:36–40). Peter recognizes that the gospel message was written at great price, and it was accomplished at an even greater cost: the precious blood of Christ! This gospel humbly received was proclaimed by the power of the Holy Spirit who was sent (apostello) from Heaven. The human apostles, sent ones, were empowered by the divine Apostle: the Holy Spirit! This causes the human messenger to be crowned with great humility in so great a task. Throughout the pages of the Acts of the Apostles as well as into the New Testament letters, Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection were proclaimed and applied to every aspect of the believer’s walk through this world. It was received at a great price, and it requires a great power to make it known, so may we follow the apostolic example to humbly proclaim the gospel at every opportunity.

The Angels and the Gospel

Finally, we see that the gospel is the subject of intense angelic examination. Peter gives us a glimpse into the unseen world of angels and how these spiritual servants of God peer longingly into the gospel to uncover its rich truths (1 Pet. 1:12b). The angels “desire to look” into this gospel! The word “desire” is a strong one, referring to a passionate craving and is the same word used for “lust” in Galatians 5:17. “To look into” (parakupto) is used of Peter, John, and Mary stooping and staring into the empty tomb (Luke 24:12; John 20:5, 11). It speaks of an eager inspection with a boggled mind. The preposition (para) means “beside” and is used to denote a separation. The angels peer into the mysteries of gospel truth from beside it, not as participators in the forgiveness offered through the gospel, but as spectators of God’s earth-shattering grace. The holy angels do not need the gospel for themselves, yet they have an intense interest in it! It boggles their imagination to marvel at the love, wisdom, and justice of God. It staggers their mind to see how the glorious God could take upon Himself the form of a servant and be made in the likeness of men. It dumbfounds their wisdom to see how Christ arose bodily from death!

The message of Jesus’ suffering and glory has come to us by God’s miraculous intervention and man’s noble suffering. Should we not humbly proclaim the same message that the apostles preached and prayerfully rely upon the same Holy Spirit power? Unlike angels, we are not mere spectators of the grace that cascades from the gospel. Should we do anything less than the angels, then, than intently gazing upon the grace revealed in the gospel and seeking to apply the gospel to all our living and preaching?

This is not the time for Christians to grow weary of preaching the gospel to both believer and unbeliever. The political and economic turmoil of our times cries out for gospel preaching, for this alone is the power of God leading to salvation. If we preach on Christian service, preach that the gospel is the motivating power in all our labor (2 Cor. 5:14–21). If we preach on the home, emphasize that Calvary love and resurrection power fuel the home with sufficient grace for victory (Eph. 5:25). If we preach on great Bible characters, proclaim that Jesus is the perfect man who accomplished the most glorious work. The gospel is our glory (Gal. 6:14). It is the key to our victory over the world, flesh, and Devil (Rom. 6; Col. 2:14, 15). It is the quintessential way of knowing Christ and experiencing His power in our lives (Phil. 3:10–12).

Friends, let’s live according to the truth of the gospel (Gal. 2:14) and then preach the gospel! Renew your mind with the gospel by forgiving others and living free from bitterness and anger (Eph. 4:31, 32). Revive your spirit with the gospel and claim the fullness of Jesus’ life dwelling in you today (2 Cor. 4:10–14). Remember the gospel by taking your cross daily and making known the gift of eternal life through Jesus Christ. The prophets predicted it, the apostles proclaimed it, and the angels peer into the truth of Christ’s suffering and glory. In our day of amazing chaos let us faithfully make known the story of amazing grace by the power of the Holy Spirit sent down from Heaven!

Matt Recker is the pastor of Heritage Baptist Church in New York City.

(Originally published in FrontLine • January/February 2009. Click here to subscribe to the magazine.)

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