Dying in the Pulpit (Pt 1)

The only way that preaching can bring us common folk into the very presence of the eternal, immortal, all powerful God is for God to show up. We cannot orchestrate this through mere speech-making or rhetorical excellence or entertaining diction. We are entirely helpless in the hands of an infinite God. Unless God shows up, our preaching is completely powerless and our efforts are in vain. Therefore, there is a deep irony in preaching. No one can reveal the face of Christ to the Glory of the Father except for the Holy Spirit of God. He alone is able to do what preaching aims to do and, therefore, He alone is the ultimate Preacher. In his book, The Glory of Preaching (12), Darryl Johnson states this same reality in this way:

The burden for the success of preaching rests on the Preacher’s shoulders, on Jesus’ shoulders… What makes preaching work is the Preacher, who, by his Spirit, is at work in and with the text, in and with the preacher, in and with the hearers. Preaching works because somehow the risen and ascended Preacher being preached is actually doing the preaching himself. We do not stand up before others, Bible in hand, alone; we stand up in and with Jesus.

The human instrument used by the Spirit is the vehicle of choice for this profound ministry and yet the human preacher can do nothing but distract from the aim of preaching, lest he die to himself in the pulpit for the sake of the Gospel.

By this I mean, and I agree with Piper (The Supremacy of God in Preaching, 35), that the preacher sets his mind on the “crucifying power of the cross that in everything he [says and does], in all his preaching, there would be the aroma of death – death to self-reliance, death to pride, death to boasting in man. In this aroma of death the life that people would see would be the life of Christ, and the power that people would see would be the power of God.”

Or, as Smith summarizes in his book Dying to Preach (111):

A cross in the pulpit means a death – a surrender. Specifically, the preacher will need to surrender to the text he is preaching. He must not be exalted above it but submitted to it. He will also have to surrender to the audience. Their need to know the truth is more important than his desire to preach the truth. Finally, the cross in the pulpit demands surrender to the task of great preaching.

Still (The Work of the Pastor, 36) further affirms this point:

There is a great price to be paid for being the ‘conductor’ of divine truth and power. Change the figure: this is sacrificial power, and you will have to die to release its truth into human hearts. You will have to go down into a new death every time you bring forth God’s living Word to the people. You will have to die, not only to your own sin, but to self in many of its most seemingly innocent and legitimate aspects. Only then can the death and resurrection power of Jesus Christ be communicated to men, and we dare not do less for any people than this. If we do less, we will have to answer before God one day.

In other words, all glory goes to God and God alone because it is God alone who supplies the life transforming power in and through preaching.

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