A few days ago I ran into a well-established Pastor who was visiting the hospital where I serve as a chaplain. He wanted to get a parking validation after visiting a member there, as many pastors do. In exchanging conversations, we discovered we had a mutual friend whom I had the privilege of working with while Minister of Education with a congregation years ago. Walking with him through the hospital, somehow our conversation shifted to the subject of preaching. He said to me that, in his preaching, he doesn’t always go to the cross. He said he doesn’t see the point of preaching on certain topics or issues, current affairs or events, etc. and then feeling the need to always have to go to the cross. He said to me, ‘Preacher…I’m just not that preacher who has to go to the cross and Jesus crucified every Sunday. You may come to my church and not hear me say anything about Calvary or the cross. Sometimes it’s anticlimactic. That’s just old school. Them old preachers thought it was something you just had to do.’
After parting from my brother, I left his presence burdened, disheartened and heartbroken. I felt like I had been on the old TV show ‘Punkd’. Primarily because this came from an average-looking Baptist preacher from an average traditional congregation, who appeared to be fairly successful, by human standards. And while, maybe not overly trained formally; he appeared to have a sense of collective reasoning and some good sense.
I also left that fateful meeting saying to myself, ‘Well…I guess I’m ‘Old School.’ I make no apologies for preaching the cross. Whether I am preaching on green grass; I’m going to find a way to make it to the cross planted around the green grass on a hill called Calvary. If I am dealing with marriage; I will find a way to get to the cross. If I am dealing with how to handle ungodly people in the workplace or a boss who is a heathen, my primary goal is to somehow make it to the cross of Calvary to ultimately declare the resurrection of Christ.
In 1 Corinthians 2:2, Paul tells the people there, “…I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” Essentially, he says that he was mentally and entirely preoccupied with Christ and His suffering. In 1 Corinthians 1:18 he says that “…the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” No preacher should ever come to some conclusion that the cross is unnecessary. Now, I get it….we may not always tell the entire story in full at the conclusion of every sermon or delivery. I get that. But the job of God’s Holy Spirit is the put the spotlight on Christ; ALL of Christ. Therefore, if the Holy Spirit is really leading us in sermon preparation and clear exposition, the sermon would and should naturally be seasoned in a Christocentric hermeneutic and homiletical slant.
How can we make it to the cross? On the surface, I can use how I personally begin my own sermon preparation. Those below an not exhaustive, but suggestive.
1. Identify the tension in the text. Before I do anything in terms of exegesis, morphology, lexicography, commentary reading, etc… After prayer, I am asking what’s the tension in this text. God has something He wants to say to man in any given text, passage, scripture, discourse, narrative, writing or story. At times, man has something he is trying to say to man or nature through ideas, thoughts, agendas, etc. Incidentally, every person in the pew is a compilation of hidden tension. As a consequence, the tension in the text meets the hearer and the preacher at the point of the tension in their own lives. Riddle me this: WHERE DOES THE ULTIMATE TENSION WITH HUMANITY BEGIN? I contend that it begins in the garden of Eden at the beginning of our own sin. Therefore, any bibliocentric sermon points to a Christocentric homiletic and cannot help but to expound on the life, death, burial and resurrection of Christ.
2. Identify the needs of God’s people. People need Jesus! More than they need a fast car, a big house or a good-looking spouse, they need Jesus. Why? Because the evolving of every one of our needs can only come to subjection and structure under the gravity of God’s grace through Jesus Christ. This is constructed beneath the anvil of the gospel narrative that peaks at Calvary/the Cross and climaxes at the empty tomb. Of course, this requires the preacher and pastor spending time with people. It also requires an understanding that Christ is the only answer to the questions asked by the human heart.
3. Pray and ask the Holy Spirit to direct you. As stated above, the Holy Spirit’s objective is to put the spotlight on Christ. God’s Holy Spirit will literally show Christ to the preacher and Christian from Genesis to Revelation. I stand on that; and I believe that.
I am convinced that our preaching time can be long. But I am also convinced that it might be best to shorten some of the content of our sermons if we feel a temptation to shorten the gospel narrative. I simply believe that God the Father will ultimately honor the preacher who follows the direction of God the Holy Spirit to tell the truth concerning the suffering and resurrection of God the Son.