Sacred Assembly: Preaching
February 7, 2010 Series: Sacred Assembly
Topic: Gospel Passage: 2 Timothy 4:2–4:2
Sacred Assembly: Preaching
February 6, 2010
Marks of a “good” church
We’re in our second of five week series titled Sacred Assembly. It’s about the Church—what it is, and what makes a good one. And instead of defining the church according to our dreams or redefining it according to our experiences, we’re looking at what its builder, its foundation, and its head, Jesus says.
It’s not to say that churches don’t come in various shapes and sizes. But it is to ask that, regardless of the shape and size, what are the essential marks of a good church? Of course, if I were to ask you “what makes a good church” we’d offer all kinds of superficial answers because we live in a surface-level, amuse myself to death culture. And because we don’t see the church for what it is…the household of the living God, a place to serve Him through worship, to serve my brothers in fellowship, to serve the world on mission….we only see what serves us—and it is different for everyone. But what is the same for everyone is that you have your rate-a-church meter in place like your tip calculator at dinner: What and how did they do? kid’s ministry, women’s ministry, men’s ministry, addiction recovery, couples, bible studies, the building itself, the community groups, coffee, colors, carpet, chairs, music, songs, song leaders, graphics, view, comfort, bulletin, announcements, programs, offerings, who are you sitting next to, who you are not, do they have a ‘meet and greet’, lighting too dark/light, how we pray, what it feels like, what it smells like, how warm/cold it is, what we say, if we laugh, if we cry, if the plate passed, if money is mentioned, if the church diverse, how we are dressed, if take communion, if your greeted, mobbed, or ignored.
What a church must do
All that aside, what must a church do in order to be a church? Perhaps the earliest identifying marks of the Christian Church are found in Acts 2:42: 42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.
In response to questions troubling fourth-century Christians, the Nicene Creed declared, “We believe one holy catholic and apostolic Church.” More than a thousand years later, at the close of the 16th century, reformer John Calvin identified two marks, “Wherever we see the Word of God purely preached and heard, and the sacraments administered according to Christ’s institution, there, it is not to be doubted, a church of God exists. … If it has the ministry of the Word and honors it, if it has the administration of the sacraments, it deserves without doubt to be held and considered a church. For it is certain that such things are not without fruit” (Institutes, IV.i.9). What about Awana, women’s retreats, special music, creative skits, and guitars or drums? Those things are all “good”, but they don’t mark a good church.
According to Scripture, early church fathers, and the reformers in history, the first mark of the church is the pure, open, unapologetic, and uncompromising preaching of God’s Word—the same word preached by Jesus and His apostles. BUT today, in hopes of not “turning off culture”, there is a movement in evangelical Christianity to do away with the sermon in exchange for “conversations” or “dialogues about God.” In the views of some, listening to sermons is akin to sitting for root canal work. Not only are they boring, irrelevant, and uninspiring, the pastors who preach them serve as the poster children for what is wrong with the church. Believing that sermons are in fact a pagan invention not required by Scripture, many of the “new communities” rising up today are characterized by singing, reading of Scripture, conversations about God, even mutual encouragement even some level of accountability, but no sermon.
I can completely understand making a decision to jettison the sermon because, quite frankly, there is a lot of pressure to preach a sermon. You never please everyone and most of the time you tick off someone. People come and go based on what the preacher says or doesn’t say; whether he is someone I can trust or not; whether I feel I can relate to him or if he’s too righteous. People want to preacher to speak the truth (for everyone else to hear) but not with authority because, they are just his words. And he should never yell or tell me I need to repent because, well, that is mean—he needs to make me feel good. And I want him confident but not arrogant, humble but bold, funny but not flippant, engaging but meaty, entertaining but wise. He needs to be willing to show his heart, cry, but not weep every time he talks about how much He loves God. With such impossible expectations, it is only a matter of time before the preacher disappoints or offends you. And while there are boring sermons and bad preachers, I’m convinced that the issues with preaching have less to do with the sermon or the preacher and more with those listening.
Preaching in the Beginning: God as a Preacher
The truth is we don’t preach in church because we want to—we have to. I don’t think preaching should be boring but it is certainly not aimed at entertaining. It would be tempting to jettison preaching for some other more “engaging’ things, because its not like being a preacher makes you a lot of friends. Preaching is a priority because the Word of God is a priority. We preach God’s Word because there is power in it. We preach God’s Word because God’s Word is central to every aspect of our lives. We preach God’s Word because, if we don’t, we are not doing what Jesus told us to as the church. We preach because God’s Word has always been His chosen instrument to create, convict, convert, and conform his people—it is the way God works. Isaiah 55.10-11
0 “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
and do not return there but water the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
11 so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.
God accomplishes his purposes through His Word. God himself is a preacher who preached the first and best sermon in Genesis 1. He preached the Gospel in Genesis 3.15, He preached the promise of faith to Abraham in Genesis 12, and preached about holiness through His giving of the Law in Exodus 20.
Preaching in the Old Testament: Prophets and Priests as preachers
And though God spoke directly but he also spoke through his chosen preachers. All throughout the Old Testament we see God preaching His Word through his chosen prophets, priests, and Kings with a view of renewing and delivering His people. Noah is called a preacher by Peter (2Peter 2.5), Joseph preached to his brothers, Moses preached to the Israelites, Joshua preached as they entered the promised land, Ezra preached as they rebuilt Jersualem, Elijah preached to sinful kings, Isaiah preached to a sinful Israel, Jeremiah preached to a sinful Judah, Jonah preached to a sinful world who repented, and Nahum preached to them again when they didn’t.
A preacher is simply a tool, a mail man, a messenger, a mouthpiece for God to work. Some of the disdain for sitting and listening to lengthy sermons has to do with our increasingly illiterate culture that, through the power of technology, has developed a solid 12 minute attention span. But more of the issue has to do with confusion about what a sermon is or what a preacher is actually doing. Granted, there are some boring speakers, Greek word for preacher is kerux. A kerux is a herald who proclaims truth. A herald is not a Bible study leader or a discussion facilitator. A herald is a messenger, vested with public authority to convey the message of the King. That message, the gospel, changes the listener’s condition and requires a response. Our message is the gospel. That God has sent Jesus to die for sin that we might be saved. It is not advice or instructions. It is not something achieve but to be accepted. Repent.
Preaching and Jesus: Jesus and Disciples as preachers
Our mission in life is to proclaim Jesus because that is God’s mission. It isn’t new but very old. Hebrews 1.1-2 Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. Jesus is the Word of God. He is, in many ways, THE SERMON of God taken on flesh. It is God’s perfect way of KNOWING God, the purpose for ALL SERMONS—not just “Christian living.” Christian living is impossible with relationship with Jesus just as loving someone is impossible without knowing the love of Jesus.
Jesus wasn’t a preacher, was he? Jesus was sent to preach. You can’t live like Jesus and not preach though a lot of people think living like Jesus is hanging out with as many sinners as you can find, living communally, incarnating into the culture and doing everything the culture does (in the spirit of jesus), feeding and clothing the poor, basically any other activity EXCEPT preaching. Jesus was a preacher. Yes, Jesus has one-on-one conversations and he also spoke to crowds. And every time, he preached. He proclaimed God’s Word. Jesus was a preacher committed to preaching and sending others to preach.
Mark 1.14-15 14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and thekingdom ofGod is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”
Mark 1.7 12 So they went out and proclaimed that people should repent. 13 And they cast out many demons and anointed with oil many who were sick and healed them.
Mark 1.38-39 38 And he said to them, “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.” 39 And he went throughout allGalilee, preaching in their synagogues and casting out demons.
Mark 2.1-2 And when he returned to Capernaumafter some days, it was reported that he was at home. 2 And many were gathered together, so that there was no more room, not even at the door. And he was preaching the word to them.
Mark 16.15 15 And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.
Preaching in the Early Church Apostles and Pastors as Preachers
Didn’t things change after Jesus? What do we know of the New Testament Church? We know that they regularly gathered for teaching, fellowship, Lord’s Supper, prayer, and giving. We know from 1Corinthians 12-14 that they worshipped publicly as Paul had to speak to the disorder that existed there. We read in 1Timothy 4.13 that there was the public reading of Scripture and and it was mostly like read in an official gathering of the church as referenced by Paul in 1Corinthians 11.8 and James in 3. They were called the church, ekklesia, the assembly, because they gathered. But what did they gather to do? Acts 2.42-47 42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Is that it? Did they just live communally and fellowship? No, instead, they decided to obey what Jesus told them to do.
Acts 5.42 42 And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.
Acts 6.2 2 And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables.
Acts 8.4,12,25 4 Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word… 12 But when they believed Philip as he preached good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women…. 25 Now when they had testified and spoken the word of the Lord, they returned to Jerusalem, preaching the gospel to many villages of the Samaritans
Acts 9.27-28 27 But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles and declared to them how on the road he had seen the Lord, who spoke to him, and how at Damascus he had preached boldly in the name of Jesus. 28 So he went in and out among them atJerusalem, preaching boldly in the name of the Lord.
The Power of Preaching “Preach the Gospel and occasionally use words”
There is a familiar saying that Christians often put on church signs, “Preach the gospel, and occasionally use words.” This encouragement to love people in very practical ways is certainly needed. But, salvation comes by hearing the verbal proclamation of truth. Because Paul believed that faith came by hearing the Words of Jesus (Romans 10.17), he charged a young pastor to “preach the word” as he led the church .
WORD OF GOD BRINGS NEW LIFE - justification
The Word of God brings Life from Nothing. God’s sermon at creation demonstrates the power of His Word. Where there is nothing, comes life. Ezekiel 37.1-10 The hand of the Lord was upon me, and he brought me out in the Spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of the valley; it was full of bones. 2 And he led me around among them, and behold, there were very many on the surface of the valley, and behold, they were very dry. 3 And he said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” And I answered, “O Lord God, you know.” 4 Then he said to me, “Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. 5 Thus says the Lord God to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. 6 And I will lay sinews upon you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live, and you shall know that I am the Lord.”
7 So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I prophesied, there was a sound, and behold, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. 8 And I looked, and behold, there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them. But there was no breath in them. 9 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live.” 10 So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army. The power to save and transform a heart is the Word of God. The power to bring hope where there is none, is the Word of God. The power to bring joy where you have none, is the Word of God. The Word of God is not a dead book, rather, it is living, with the power to give life. It is the preaching of God’s Word, not programs or people, that unleashes the power of God. His Word builds, grows, protects, guides, and defines and protects church.
WORD OF GOD BRINGS RENEWED LIFE - sanctification
That power isn’t just accessed once, the first time you believe. We constantly need God’s Word proclaimed in our lives. Jesus cares for his bride and protects his bride by WASHING HER with the Word according to Ephesians 5.25-26. Jesus also tells his disciples that we must LIVE by the WORD, not just the bread of this earth. The reason is that we are often dirty and hungry. Most of the time, but not all of the time, it is because of our sin. And the Word of God is what convicts us. It has the power to cut through all of the B.S. we throw up and see the heart: Hebrews 4.12 12 For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. (Jeremiah 23.29…My Word is a FIRE and a HAMMER…usually why we avoid it. It breaks us like nothing else.) Many of us say that we believe thte Bible is actually God’s Word, God speaking to us, and yet so often we ignore it and set it aside and refuse to give time to thinking about it. Instead our lives are absorbed by all kinds of things other than the Bible. None of those things are bad. But what does it mean when we say that the Bible is the Word of God? What good does it do for you to think you have the Word of God but don’t follow it.
CONCLUSION – Word Defends Life
The Word of God not only brings life and renews life, it defends life. In truth, there have been false preachers with sermons full of lies since the Garden of Eden. God raised up leaders throughout history tp preach the truth to DEFEND the LIFE that God has for us. 2Corinthians 11.4-6 I wish you would bear with me in a little foolishness. Do bear with me! 2 For I feel a divine jealousy for you, since I betrothed you to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ. 3 But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ. 4 For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it readily enough. 5 Indeed, I consider that I am not in the least inferior to these super-apostles. 6 Even if I am unskilled in speaking, I am not so in knowledge; indeed, in every way we have made this plain to you in all things.
There is only one gospel. There is only one foundation laid by Jesus Christ alone. We are given the authority to proclaim the one message declaring the TERMS for ENTERING theKingdomofGodAND for living for God’s glory on this earth. We have the authority to speak but not to change the terms of it. And not only do we have the authority, we have the responsibility. This is not just the ‘pastor’s’ job. If you are a disciple of Jesus you are a preacher wherever God has sent you. You may not have a pulpit or a crowd, but you have a mouth to proclaim truth.
There are false preachers, false messages, all with their own false saviors. Many of you have been deceived. Many of your first sermons need to be to yourself. YOU have or are following another gospel offering hope, meaning, joy, purpose, and ultimately salvation in a functional savior. What is the source of your identity? What do you desperately want right now and not have? What do you fear most losing? If that is not Jesus…there is your savior.
You have been deceived, many of our friends have been deceived, and we know the world has been deceived. The solution to combating false teachers with sermons full of lies is to PREACH THE WORD (2Timothy 4.2). We don’t need less preaching, we need more. A church, whether it meets in a crystal cathedral, a home, a strip mall, a movie theater, or a building out in the woods….a church that does not preach the gospel (or worse a different gospel) is not a church. In correcting the church at Corinth, Paul reminded them of what was MOST important: 1Corinthians 15.1-11 Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, 2 and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.
3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. 9 For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. 11 Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.