The Supremacy of Preaching Christ Himself

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“For while I was with you I resolved to know nothing except Jesus the Messiah, and Him crucified.” -1 Cor. 2.2

“Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria, and preached Christ unto them.” -Acts 8.5

Every true preaching will lead its hearers to a higher vision of Jesus Christ and the centrality and supremacy of His cross. When we set up camp around superfluities or even biblical doctrines, however crucial they may be, yet fail to proclaim them in a manner that points the hearer Christ-ward, we fail in the high calling of true proclamation.

Nearly every religion on earth has some measure of light and truth; a paradigm or mode of thought that could be beneficial for living, but every one falls short of the glory of God. Religious systems do not impart life, and not one of them can deliver men in the salvific sense. Only the proclamation of “Christ, and Him crucified” brings to bear the truth of God, for “there is no other name given under heaven by which men can be saved.”

No other supposed faith can hold a candle to the glory of the Man Christ Jesus, and none can answer the ancient problem of mankind; namely, the universal dilemma of depravity and sin. To preach Jesus in the apostolic sense is not merely to give a “Roman’s Road to Salvation” presentation. It is to declare things which “angels long to look into”- the mystery of God as the merciful Judge, and the remarkable desire of Jesus Christ to restore sinners to Himself. Only the Gospel reveals the eternal God as He is, and only the Gospel deals with the issue of sin.

The missionary message is the limitless significance of Jesus Christ as the propitiation for our sins, and a missionary is one who is soaked in that revelation.

The key to the missionary message is the remissionary aspect of Christ’s life, not His kindness and His goodness, and His revealing of the Fatherhood of God; the great limitless significance is that He is the propitiation for our sins.

A missionary is one who is wedded to the charter of His Lord and Master, he has not to proclaim his own point of view, but to proclaim the Lamb of God.

(Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, October 15th selection)

Missionary work, ministries, movements, or “revivals” that stray from the proclamation of“Christ, and Him crucified” will ultimately fade into nullity. Even if they flourish numerically in this age, they will be as nothing in the age to come. “That which is born of flesh is flesh,” and only the foundation of Jesus Himself will endure to the glory of God. He must be the center, the nexus, and the capstone of our proclamation and vision. Even other necessary biblical views will end in nothingness unless they are postured in such a way as to lead us to “Christ, and Him crucified.” We need not to set forth our “own view, but to proclaim the Lamb of God.”

A man may preach about eschatology, the issue of Israel, divine healing, or even the cross itself without preaching Jesus Christ. If the message delivered is only categorical and canned, one may even expound on 1 Corinthians 2.2 without actually preaching “Christ, and Him crucified.” There is preaching and there is preaching. Have we come to know the difference between the two?

In contrast to mere human proclamation a man sent by the Lord will expound the same subject matter in such a way that it reveals the centrality and glorification of Jesus Christ to the heart of the hearer. Everything depends on whether or not the proclaimer is ascribing the glory to God in his own soul. If we are puffed up about knowledge, wanting to be clever, hoping to receive a certain calculated response from our listeners, we are disqualified from preaching Jesus Christ. Our own souls must be ever and always ascribing glory to the Lamb of God, or all our speech becomes suspect and dubious.

Thus, a radical and total jealousy for Christ Himself to be glorified is at the heart of true proclamation. Philip preached Jesus. He not only spoke about Christ, but his proclamation was an actual conveyance of the Person Himself. Something of the substance of the Lord was transmitted to the hearers and salvation ensued immediately. For Paul it was the same reality. Even the prophets of old preached Christ in this manner, though they prophesied “in part.” 

We need to see to the restoration of preaching Christ Himself, and not merely speaking of Him in a superficial or skin-deep manner. Down to the “marrow” of the soul we must be suffused with an active jealousy for the glory of Jesus Christ. Preaching and living from that place is preaching Christ indeed.

Have I “resolved to know nothing except Jesus the Messiah, and Him crucified,” or am I frolicking on the periphery of Christian theology and thought? He must be the center, dear saints. The world shall be in want of a true proclamation of the Gospel unless we give Him the pre-eminent place.

The more the Church holds to its central message- Jesus Christ Himself- the more effective it is.

-Dietrich Bonhoeffer

His Appearance “For Us”

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“Just as the Father has loved Me, so I have loved you. Abide in My love.” -Jn. 15.9

Some years ago, I was in the home of a beloved servant of God by the name of Art Katz. We were discussing the need for a recovery of the kind of preaching that would not merely inform the people of God, but lift them into a greater inner-awareness of His majesty. He made a comment that struck my heart, and I am feeling it’s reverberations especially today. This is what he said:

The Church is suffering from a chronic sense of inferiority, and they need to be built up in the reality of His love. We need to come into the realization that we’ve been “accepted in the Beloved.”

So many believers are “suffering from a chronic sense of inferiority,” and the opportunities for insecurity, self-consciousness, and anxiety are around every corner, particularly in a Western culture that is so status-driven. The powers of darkness have always worked overtime to keep the saints from a sustained and abiding experience of love of God. They have worked thousands of years at mastering the art of destroying the lives of men, and nowhere have they been more successful than in their schemes to bind men in strife after worldly acceptance, while robbing them of the awareness of God’s desire to secure them in His love.

Billboards and magazines pin women into the corner of striving for external beauty; commercials and other media venues trap men in the pursuit after bigger trucks and better homes. The options are voluminous for all types of searching after acceptance from others. Even- or maybe especially- in the religious world, many are jockeying for positions in ministry that would feed their ‘spiritual’ egos, and so many leaders are eaten up by a desire for numerical growth in their congregations and the popularity of their ministries.

Individual strife for a spiritual reputation is also common in the Body, with jealousy and envy dominating those who are wanting to establish a “form of godliness” without the reality of His power and love. We are comparing ourselves to others, living in an earthbound manner, and our vision of Jesus Christ is suffering as a result of it. We want approval from men, and it is that corrupt desire that robs us from experiencing the heavenly approval that the Father longs to express in His own “kind intention.”

“How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and you do not seek the glory that is from the one and only God?” (Jn. 5.44)

Across the board, we humans are being consumed by a sense of inferiority to someone or something, and it all stems back to the fact that we have not adequately received and abided in the love of God Himself.

Can we fathom that He does not regret having brought us into the Kingdom? That we are not a part of some “inferior” segment of the Body of Christ? That we have nothing to prove to Him, nothing to perform in the aim of earning His love, and that He is kind and compassionate toward us not because of our spiritual performance, but because that is who He is?

We need to commit the rest of our days to pursuing a greater understanding and awareness of His love toward us. He has declared that He loves us “just as” the Father loves Him. Hear Him, dear saint! His affections are no less profound toward you than they were toward Moses, Paul, Brainerd, Whitefield, or any other great soul. Oh, that we would be awakened to the reality of His constant and unfading love, and that it would be more for us than a theological category. Our Gospel inheritance is an abiding awareness of the glory and love God Himself.

The more I study the New Testament and live the Christian life, the more convinced I am that our fundamental difficulty, our fundamental lack, is the lack of seeing the love of God. It is not so much our knowledge that is defective but our vision of the love of God. Thus our greatest object and endeavor should be to know Him better, and thus we will love Him more truly.

-D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones

The pursuit after acceptance from men is a deathly roller-coaster ride, and it will not end until you learn to still your heart before the Lord, and receive the love of God Himself. Jesus Christ has already declared that He loves you just as the Father has loved Him, but your reception of that love is not automatic. You must push your way past the multitudinous voices that press for your attention, “be still and know” that a much profounder love is being poured out from heaven. All other voices lead to the fading glory of self, but the voice of the Lord is “above the waters,” and it leads to His eternal glory, which is “life forevermore.”

If the praise of man elates me and his blame depresses me….then I know nothing of Calvary love. -Amy Carmichael

Dear believer, you need not be jerked and pulled by the opinions, compliments, and criticisms of men. You need not be plagued with a sense of inferiority and a burning desire to be accepted by others. The undying and unwavering love of God Himself is available to you, for the cross of Jesus Christ has torn the veil of separation on your behalf. Turn from sin and strife for acceptance, and let your heart be stilled in the place of prayer. There you will hear His voice, receive from the well of His love, and your joy will be made full. From that holy place, He will give you grace to live amongst men with a whole new consciousness, abiding in the love of God Himself, “accepted in the Beloved One.”

The Fractured Soul, Gentleness and the Nearness of God

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“Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near.” || Philippians 4.5

This remarkable statement from Paul is no dainty piece of religious eloquence, no ostentatious display of flourish. These words were penned by a man who bore in his body, and in his innermost parts, the “brand-marks of the Lord Jesus.” These are the words of war; war against “the world, the flesh, and the devil”; war against our own unbelief, pride, entitlement, and joylessness. These are requiring words, especially when everything around and within beckons us to live in a manner which is antithetical to this kind of gentleness.

Paul was an anomaly in his age, a phenomenon of grace, and so ought the church to be. He experienced- in poignant and painful ways- the searing burns of betrayal, the press of resistance, the chaos of persecution, and a whole host of other sufferings. When everything around him was fractured; when many of the churches he had planted seemed to be crumbling doctrinally, morally, and relationally; when he himself was beaten and imprisoned, surrounded by criminals and the stink of fecal matter and urine, the apostle could yet discern the plumb-line of the faith. “…the Lord is near.”

He called the saints to “rejoice in the Lord always”, and in light of His nearness, to abide in that “gentleness” which characterizes His eternal Kingdom.

“…gentleness here signifies ‘a humble, patient steadfastness, which is able to submit to injustice, disgrace and maltreatment without hatred or malice, trusting God in spite of it all.’ [R. Leivestad]

Within the NT it is Christ who preeminently displayed this ‘gentleness’…” [Peter T. O’ Brien, NIGTC: The Epistle to the Philippians, Eerdmans 1991, p. 487]

The call to gentleness is a call to “look unto Jesus” Himself. It is sandwiched between the “rejoice always” of v. 4 and the “be anxious for nothing” of v. 6. It has to do with surrendering the whole of our hearts, congested and pressed as they are with all kinds of pains, sins, and wounds, to the sovereign hand of the God of creation, who happens also to be the One who is “faithful and true”, the only all-wise, ever-kind Father.

Have we the faith to believe, and the humility to accept, that the crushing experiences of our lives- in stormy circumstances and fractured relationships- are meant among others things to refine us as sons and daughters of God? Are we prepared to accept them as gifts, which in due season, will leave the impress of Christ upon us, that we may increasingly bear His image?

Have we been mistreated or misunderstood? Have we suffered tragedy? Have we known the gut-grinding pangs of betrayal? The entangling cobwebs of suspicion and self-consciousness? The suffocating power of subtle bitternesses and jealousies? Have things tended in appearance toward the fulfillment of our aspirations and just at their peak, come crashing to the earth, dashed to total dismemberment?

Paul experienced all of these and more. The twelve disciples experienced all of these and more. Our precious High Priest was carried by the Spirit through ultimate trial and suffering, and in gentleness He “bore our griefs”, “carried our sorrows”, and was “crushed for our iniquities”. His death bore the same sense of finality that any man’s death bears. His breathing was just as silenced, His heart just as stilled, His skin just as cool to the touch, His frame just as stiffened. But alas! He could not be held in the grave, for though they crucified and pierced His body, though the weight of our sin crushed Him to the last breath, nothing could suspend or upset His gentleness. The man who goes down into death in gentleness will assuredly be raised to newness of life.

Our High Priest “has passed through the heavens”, and He is not a “High Priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses… Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” 

To live in the brazenness of our sin, beneath the veil of the variegated lies of the Accuser, is to grope in darkness amidst thorns and thistles. In our bitterness we cannot perceive the Atonement Lamb. In our jealousy we cannot behold His beauty. In our haughtiness His Name loses is preciousness. In our lust for power and recognition from men, His communion is deemed undesirable. When we step outside of the gentleness of Jesus Christ, we are thereby blinded from seeing and hindered from tasting the vital, life-giving power of His nearness. Left to ourselves, we lie down and wither in ever-increasing hardness.

On the other hand, to live in gentleness before the throne of God is like unto living in a spring-time garden. There is freshness on every side, fruit brimming with sweetness. Life-giving fragrances and Spirit-nourishment abound. To be gentle is to be as a child— trusting and resting in the Father of Lights. To be gentle is to count others- even those who have wronged us- as more important than ourselves. To be gentle is to bow low before God’s throne, and to experience the glad release of all our sins and all our depressions— to watch them sink and drown in the sea of His sovereign goodness.

Our gentleness will only be realized and demonstrated to the degree that we are conscious, through faith, of the nearness of Jesus Christ.

That nearness is two-fold:

1. He is near to the broken-hearted; those who trust in His righteousness and treasure His grace. We have come to know His nearness on the basis of the Atonement. We who were “far off have been brought nigh by the blood of Messiah.” In the Gospel we are reminded of the gravity of our own sin, of the wrath that we deserved, and of the inexpressible greatness of His mercy. This brings an increase to our gentleness. His “already” nearness is the awareness of His grace, which enables us to turn from sin, and to increasingly behold and treasure the Lord.

2. His return is near, and He will carry out justice and establish righteousness and mercy in that great Day. The Holy Spirit, who has been given to us as a deposit of the resurrection inheritance to come, quickens us with sobriety and hope with regard to the “at-handness” of His appearing. This reminds us that we will soon receive a “new body” which no longer suffers the propensity to sin. This, along with the sure hope that He will put straight every crooked thing in this fallen world, encourages us to gentleness. And when the God of Gentleness appears in the greatness of His Glory, it will be a Day of trouble for those who clung to ungentle-ness.

He is near by His Spirit now, and His literal, physical return is nearly upon us.

“The Philippians are to adopt an unabrasive spirit under provocation because their Lord is coming to vindicate their cause… The ordinary things of life, which are referred to in these verses, are important in the light of that return, so that the Christian who has this hope does not live thoughtlessly day by day.

…For them to know that the Lord is “near”, in the twofold sense suggested above, namely that He is at hand now and will come quickly, would be a powerful incentive for them to respond to the apostolic injunctions and live in this godly way.” [O’Brien]

The presence of His Spirit now, on the basis of the Gospel, and the future presence of the Son Himself upon His return- these are “powerful incentives” by which we live in a godly manner- rejoicing always, being anxious about nothing, making our requests known to our covenant-keeping God, our very present Friend. They not only encourage us to gentleness, but impart the very gentleness of Jesus Christ to us. This is in accordance with our faith.

The Lord is near, saints. His Spirit fills and surrounds the child of God in this age, and He is coming again to fill the earth with “righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.”Let your gentleness be known to all. Love your enemy. Forgive your brother. Serve your neighbor. Bring “all things” before your God in prayer.

You cannot change the past. You may not be able to mend every fractured relationship. You cannot change the hearts of men. You will not be able to understand every circumstance or explain every trial. You must relinquish control, and offer up your body- including your soulish anxieties- as a living sacrifice unto God. He will make all things new in a manner that most glorifies His Name, and that precisely is where you find “rest for your soul”, when He becomes “all in all”. Fractured though you be, by your sins and by the sins of others, He will mend you beneath the shadow of His wing. “Underneath it all are the Everlasting Arms”, and when He does the mending, your joy will be full.

The bitterness, fear, self-consciousness, jealousy, envy, arrogance, hardness, depression, self-medication, lust, greed, power-hunger— all of these belong to the old you, and that ‘you’ has died with Christ. Flee from them today. Flee from them now, for He is near. “Repent and believe the Gospel.”

“And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” || Philippians 4.7