Preaching for Discipleship Making

The best advice I’ve ever received came from an elderly preacher who reminded me that my job as a preacher is not just to preach the Bible, but to preach the Bible to people. 

The church father Tertullian asked the question:

“What hath Athens to do with Jerusalem?”

Tertullian, “Prescription against Heretics,” trans. Peter Holmes, in Ante- Nicene Fathers, ed. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1994), 3:249. Accessed in Jay Green, An Invitation to Academic Studies, pg. 8.

In other words, what hath the intellectual academy have anything to do with the spiritual realm? We must preach the Scriptures to the minds and the culture in which we live. 

A quote widely attributed to Martin Luther (1483-1546) puts the matter bluntly:

“Also it does not help that one of you would say: ‘I will gladly confess Christ and His Word on every detail, except that I may keep silent about one or two things which my tyrants may not tolerate, such as the form of the Sacraments and the like.’ For whoever denies Christ in one detail or word has denied the same Christ in that one detail who was denied in all the details, since there is only one Christ in all His words, taken together or individually.”

[D. Martin Luther’s Werke : kritische Gesamtausgabe (Weimarer Ausgabe) : [3. Band] Briefwechsel, ed. (Weimar: H. Böhlaus Nachfolger, 1933), 81-82].

We preach with God as our ultimate audience in order to help equip the present disciples to be disciples who are stronger in their walk with Jesus, but also to help those disciples (including the pastor preaching) make more hopeful, joyful disciples of Jesus. How would preachers accomplish this?

  1. Exalt Christ in every sermon because Christ is exalted in every text. This helps believers to be disciples of Jesus.
  2. Engage the text to strengthen believers in the sufficiency of Christ and His Word. This helps pastors make disciples in the process of preaching.
  3. Equip others to study the text by modeling how you’ve studied the text to construct your sermon. This is multiplying disciples as we invest in God’s people through this modeling. 
  4. Encourage God’s people to take what they’ve learned and invest in others. This is a great way to send disciples out with what they have learned as disciples to make and multiply more disciples.

And Wild and Sweet, the Words Repeat

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882) was an American institution. His poetry contributed much to the American landscape. Yet, at this time of year, we may find ourselves singing one of his poems. While this may bring to mind the peaceful and joyful times of Christmas, this poem came out of deep despair.

In 1863, Longfellow received news that his son Charles, a Union soldier, had been killed in the line of battle. Two years prior, his wife had died from burns from a home accident. This poem was originally known as “Christmas Bells,” but time has given it another name. This was composed in grief.

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along
The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Till, ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime
A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

These next two stanzas are not in our modern hymnals for obvious reasons. But you see the forlorn nature of Longfellow as his country is torn apart by ideology and, ultimately, the warfare of the Civil War.

Then from each black accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound
The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn
The households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

The external issues became internal!

And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth,” I said;
“For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

Longfellow finally found hope and assurance. Granted, there is nothing distinctly Christian about this line (a Unitarian, Mormon, or any theist could write this).

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead; nor doth he sleep!
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men!”

We must understand that there is no peace outside of the “Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6). Christ came to “save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21) and to reconcile a sinful humanity to a holy God through His atoning work on the Cross. This is peace on earth!

18For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 19For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. 20For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, butbecause of him who subjected it, in hope 21that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. 23And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? 25But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

You see, behind the scenes, God is working out peace on earth in the hearts of men and women who surrender to Christ who provides the “peace that surpasses all understanding” (Philippians 4:7) by the gift of repentance and faith, lifting our guilt of sin and declaring us righteous (2 Corinthians 5:21). And when the time comes, he will bring all of creation by to himself (Revelation 21:1-4).

So there will be peace on earth—not by the ceasing of firing guns, but by the redemption of sinful hearts that once rebelled against Creator God but now worship Him through Christ’s atoning work on the cross and his resurrection which breaks the back of the enemy of sin, death, hell, and the devil.

So, Merry Christmas! Have a Christ-filled 2019!

A Trajectory Set: #BeMakeXSend Sermon Series

In the fall of 2018, I preached through a series called #BeMakeXSend (that is: be, make, multiply, send. Below are the sermons that set our church on this trajectory.

Being a Disciple: Denying Self
Being a Disciple: The Fruit and the Foundation
Being a Disciple: Devotion to Others
Making Disciples: The One Who Commissions
Making Disciples: Knowing and Showing Your ID
Making Disciples: It’s Not Just What You Know…
Making Disciples: We Are Not Alone in This
Multiplying Disciples: Equipping to Maturity
Multiplying Disciples: … with Missional Urgency
Sending Disciples: To What End?
#BeMakeXSend: Putting It All Together