In October 2004, I wrote the following during a soul-searching season. At that time I was recently fired from my first church, but was having to stay around to finalize an adoption. So, I was a pastor without a people and a preacher without pulpit. Never had I appreciated the office more. But, God was clear: the act (art?) of preaching can become an idol and He would be worshiped, not the office. It was a Friday as I remember and I wanted to encourage my brothers who would be preaching that Sunday. For whatever reason it has served to encourage a few along the way. So, having crafted my sermon for this Sunday I thought I’d provide it again before the usual doubt sets in.
“. . . the kingdom of Christ is contained in the public oral office of preaching, which shall not stand still nor remain in one place . . . but should go openly, free and untrammeled into all the world. . . . Preach to them that are disposed to prosecute and kill you. You shall merit such thanks and not try to please them, for such is the way of hypocrites and not that of the evangelists.” (Martin Luther)
Brothers, cherish the pulpit. Tread circumspectly on the stairs that lead to God’s secret place. We are never so close to the heavenly places than when we tremble before God’s people as harbingers of holy things. We are never more powerful than when from our quivering lips sweet Living Water flows from heaven. We are never more humble than we speak God’s steely words from fickle tongues. Our knuckles are never so white on the pulpit as when Christ’s brand-marks are red on our backs.
It was to Paul a grace to preach of Christ’s riches to Gentiles (Eph 3.8). He then provides the perfect definition of preaching—bring[ing] to light what is the administration of the mystery which for ages has been hidden in God who created all things. For what purpose must we preach—that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places (v10). From heaven God fills the church on earth. And from the church on earth He unfolds His wisdom to the heavens. All of this according to His eternal purpose accomplished in Christ—the Gospel (v11).
Our Gracious God promises to use only one instrument to redeem sinners and strengthen His Church—the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. That Gospel will be sent by God not through thunderstorms or multi-purpose buildings or live bands or innovative technology or creative leadership. The mysteries of the Kingdom will be unleashed by mealy-mouthed fools loved and equipped by God to uncork heaven’s sweet wine (Rom 10.14-15).
As you stand behind the sacred desk this Sunday you do so not to be popular, eloquent, admired, impressive or paid. No, you stand there as an eternal servant of God, vested with the mysteries of God, clothed with the robes of Christ, stewards of the Spirit’s riches. Indeed, God will have orchestrated history that you would open your Bible before His people at that moment.
You stand in a graveyard calling corpses to life, which apart from God’s sovereign power is profoundly silly. And though the grave stones may remain intact and the earth untouched, the heavenly places will shake under the weight of the gospel. The rulers and authorities in the unseen world will have shuddered and rejoiced as the preacher uttered God’s words. The enemy will have suffered yet another blow as he strives against the church. He cannot do otherwise because God’s word is never ineffective.
And if Luther is correct (which according to Jesus, he is) then you may very well stand there to be ignored and hated and killed. But you will bear the name “evangelist,” having shod the hellish moniker “hypocrite,” and will share the wealth with the “least of all saints.” How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news of good things!