Like most people, I have a particular rhythm to my week. As a pastor I prefer, when possible, to take Monday off. I dedicate Tuesday and Wednesday to meetings and visitation. Thursday is a transition day, usually including a meeting or two, but moving more intentionally into study and sermon preparation. Friday and Saturday, as much as possible, is for study and sermon prep. This is when I try to do some writing and hard thinking about Sunday’s sermon and any other teaching I’m doing.
As a help for this week’s sermon prep I’ve spent some time revisiting Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ classic work on preaching, Preaching and Preachers. I don’t think there’s another book on preaching that has marked me as profoundly as this volume. I also read this week a helpful blog post by Ray Ortlund, “Preaching Christ or preaching about Christ?” To my soul’s nourishment, the good doctor and Ortlund spoke with one voice to remind me of a distinction in preaching that makes all the difference for preacher and listener alike.
Here’s how Ortlund begins his post:
There is a difference between preaching Christ and preaching about Christ. Preaching Christ is presenting him so clearly and directly that the people experience the sermon this way: “It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified” (Galatians 3:1). Preaching about Christ is presenting ideas related to him. It’s a good thing to do. But preaching Christ is more profound, more daring and more helpful.
Calvin comments on Galatians 3:1, “Let those who want to discharge the ministry of the gospel aright learn not only to speak and declaim but also to penetrate into consciences, so that men may see Christ crucified and that his blood may flow.” Christ’s blood flowing into the human conscience, setting people free as they sit there listening to the sermon – that is preaching Christ.
One way to test ourselves is to ask, What are the people who hear me preach walking away with? Have they seen Christ himself during this sermon, or have they only interacted with ideas about Christ? As a preacher, I cannot make people engage with him. I wouldn’t want to try. But I can and must preach in such a way that he stands forth as obvious and available to the people right then and there.
And here’s how Lloyd-Jones stated this all-important principle:
There is one other general point I would emphasize here before we leave this matter of the content of the sermon; and that is that we are to preach the Gospel, and not to preach about the Gospel. That is a very vital distinction, which one cannot easily put into words, but which is nevertheless really important. There are men who think that they are peaching the Gospel when actually they are simply saying things about the Gospel….The business of the preacher is not to present the Gospel academically. This again is done frequently. The preacher can analyze it and show its parts and portions, and show how excellent it is; but still he is saying things about the Gospel, whereas we are called to preach the Gospel, to convey it, and to bring it directly to the individuals who are listening to us, and to bring it to the whole man. So let us be clear that we are not to talk about the Gospel as if it were something outside us. We are involved in it; we are not to look at it just as a subject, and to say things about it; it itself is being directly presented and conveyed to the congregation through us (67-68).
Lord, as I prepare for Sunday, please give me the grace to “taste and see” that You are good so that when I preach I don’t just say things about you, as if you were a mere subject for our analysis. Make me a servant who presents You–who declares You–as the One with whom we must give account and in whom there are pleasures forevermore.