There are two main reasons that it is important for our sermons to be Christ-centred. The first reason is that without Christ there is no Good News. And the second is simply that the Bible, in its deepest intent, is about Jesus. Today we will explore the first.
(1) Without Christ there is No Good News
A sermon that ignores Jesus – one that fails to preach the Cross, either explicitly or implicitly – has no foundation. Unless a sermon is Christ-centred the only message to be delivered is a message of doom, judgment, and despair. The reason for this is the spotless character of God. God is righteous and holy and in Him there is no darkness at all (1 John 1:5). If a sermon is to reveal God it must remind the hearers of this profound truth. The problem here, of course, is the unabashed sinfulness of humanity. A Christian sermon must preach the holiness of God and the sinfulness of humanity and, without exception, when the two collide there is no hope for the hearer outside the Person of Christ. John Piper (The Supremacy of God in Preaching, 31) has correctly identified the perplexing “impossibility” of preaching, which is only solved by the Cross:
[The] fundamental problem with preaching, whether a man-centered age like ours feels it or not, is how a preacher can proclaim hope to sinners in view of God’s unimpeachable righteousness. And the glorious solution to that problem is the atonement that happened on the cross… the fundamental problem of preaching has been overcome by the cross. Without the cross the righteousness of God would demonstrate itself only in the condemnation of sinners, and the goal of preaching would be aborted – God would not be glorified in the gladness of his sinful creatures. His righteousness would simply be vindicated in their destruction .
Preaching is God’s offer of amnesty to a people in rebellion. Peace and reconciliation between a righteous God and a sinful humanity are possible only by the Cross of Jesus Christ, principally because He alone is fully God and fully man (1 Timothy 2:5-7). He is our peace and His Cross is our hope. Jesus-less Cross-less preaching, therefore, has no grounds for peace or hope and thus it obscures the Gospel and the glory of God.
The entire Bible orbits around this reality. In eleven chapters (Genesis 1-11) we learn the grave hellish problem of humanity: “No one is righteous, no not one. No one understands or seeks God. All have turned aside, together we have become worthless. No one does good, not even one. Our throats are open graves because we use our tongues to deceive. The venom of asps is under our lips. Our mouths are full of curses and bitterness. Our feet are swift to shed blood and in our paths are ruin and misery. The way of peace we have not known because there is no fear of God before our eyes” (Romans 3:10-18). Indeed, we are all born into slavery and exile, both eternal conditions lest God act. And act God does. The rest of the Bible, from Genesis 12 to Revelation 22, describes God’s remedy to our problem. It describes God’s saving intervention as He delivers us from the just consequences of our sin. And the pivotal moment of this salvation is the death and resurrection of Jesus, God’s Messiah. To remove the Cross is to remove the remedy and when the remedy is gone all hope is lost and when all hope is lost preaching has forfeited its purpose. Therapeutic, self-help, motivational preaching, even examples with good intention, fail miserably to accomplish the goals of preaching because they have failed to be properly grounded in Christ. Therefore, they crumble when tested.
A right view of preaching aids us in establishing a right view of the Bible, and vice-versa. All of Salvation History finds its ultimate expression in the Cross of Christ. Without the Cross, Salvation History is nothing but a dead-end, a theological cul-de-sac with no effect or meaning. Put the opposite way, all roads of Salvation History lead to the Cross and if to the Cross then to the Person of Jesus Christ. Our preaching – yes! every sermon – ought to map this out clearly for our people.
The first reason, therefore, that it is important for us to preach Christ-centred sermons is that without Jesus Salvation History leads nowhere. And if Salvation History leads nowhere then we are still lost in our sins and we are of all people most to be pitied (1 Corinthians 15:14-19).
But there is a second, even more basic, reason to preach Christ-centred sermons. If we are to preach the Bible faithfully, then we have to recognize who the Bible is about. It is not primarily about us. It is about Jesus. We will explore more on this point in the next post in this series.