written by: Warren Wiersbe
“No man can bear witness to Christ and to himself at the same time,” wrote James Denney (1856-1917), one of the Church of Scotland’s most able theologians. “No man can give the impression that he himself is clever and that Christ is mighty to save.”
It seems incredible, but there are preachers who mention Jesus Christ two or three times in a sermon and sometimes not at all. How an evangelical preacher, who is supposed to love Christ and preach Christ, can minimize the Master in this way is a mystery to us. The early church majored on preaching Christ and refused to stop even when threatened by the religious establishment (Acts 4:13-22). Jesus was central in both the preaching and the personal witnessing of the apostolic church. “And daily in the temple, and in every house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ” (Acts 5:42 NKJV). No wonder the early believers were nicknamed “Christians” (Acts 11:26)! What would we be nicknamed today?
The greatest apostle, evangelist, theologian and missionary in the history of the Christian church was the Apostle Paul, who didn’t major on performing miracles or delivering profound philosophical lectures but on preaching Jesus Christ: “…but we preach Christ crucified” (1 Cor. 1:23). One reason the church in Corinth was in a mess was because they didn’t emphasize Jesus Christ. Hoping to attract the “wise people” of their city, some of the ministers in the church tried to mix the wisdom of the philosophers with the Gospel of Jesus Christ and ended up with a sterile hybrid message that had no power to win the lost or edify the saints.
To preach Christ means much more than occasionally mentioning His name or quoting his words. It means to preach God’s Word in such a way that Jesus is magnified in His person, work and offices, so that the listeners will be attracted to Him, learn to know Him, believe in Him, love Him and will want to live for Him. The Presbyterian preacher James S. Stewart wrote, “If we are not determined that in every sermon Christ is to be preached, it were better that we should resign our commission forthwith and seek some other vocation” (Heralds of God, p. 54). “Of all I would wish to say this is the sum,” Charles Spurgeon told his ministerial students; “my brethren, preach CHRIST, always and evermore. He is the whole gospel. His person, offices and work must be our one great, all-comprehending theme” (Lectures To My Students, ch. 5).
Good counsel, indeed! Now let’s discover why it is essential that we “preach Christ.”
When you know Christ, love Him and want to share Him, you will never lack for a living text to preach, nor will you have to resort to subversive hermeneutics to find Jesus Christ on the pages of your Bible. This was the lesson Jesus taught those two discouraged disciples walking to Emmaus: “And beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself” (Luke 24:27). He told His own disciples “that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms” concerning Himself (Luke 24:44).
The early believers had only the Old Testament, but because they emphasized Jesus Christ, they were able to lead people to Christ, develop the spiritual life of the believers and guide the affairs of the churches. The Old Testament proclaims “He is coming!” and the four Gospels and the Book of Acts shout “He came! He is here!” The epistles and the Apocalypse declare, “He is coming again!” Jesus Christ is the “living link” between the Old and the New Testaments, between law and grace, Jew and Gentile, and lost sinners and forgiveness. Should we not be preaching Christ?
As you study the text, always look for Christ and see how the text relates to Him. When you complete your outline, ask, “Where is Jesus in the message?” You don’t “add” Jesus to an outline, the way you put salt and pepper on food. He must be the sum and substance of the message. Preaching the Word means preaching Christ.
As Paul prepared for his trip to Rome, he sent an epistle to the Roman churches to outline and explain the message that he preached. In going to Rome, Paul was tackling a formidable enemy, not unlike Joshua attacking Jericho. But Paul knew that Rome’s laws and legions, emperors and entertainments could never stand before the Gospel of Jesus Christ, a message of which he was not ashamed (Rom. 1:16). He was going to Rome with good news, not good advice, and the power of God Almighty was in that message.
The good news of the Gospel is the good news about Jesus Christ, “…that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He was seen…” (1 Cor. 15:3-5). The great apostle was a brilliant thinker, but he wasn’t depending on the wisdom of the world. He was a seasoned evangelist, but his faith wasn’t in his experience. He knew the principles of logic and rhetoric, but his confidence wasn’t in the excellence of his presentation (1 Cor. 2:1-4). He was trusting God to bless the preaching of the Gospel.
Paul’s world wasn’t much different from our world today, for people were still searching for the power to overcome evil conduct and produce good character. Paul knew that when he preached Jesus Christ from the Word, the Holy Spirit would release saving power, living power, serving power, and even dying power. “But I know that when I come to you, I shall come in the fullness of the blessing of the gospel of Christ” (Rom. 15:29). Isn’t that the confidence we should have every time we enter the pulpit or the classroom?
“But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God – and righteousness and sanctification and redemption” (1 Cor. 1:30). These are not individual gifts from God; they are all wrapped up in the one Great Gift, Jesus Christ, the Son of God. For us to be in Christ and to have Christ living in us means to possess all that God wants us to have, and nothing need to be added. All we do is draw from Jesus by faith whatever grace we need.
To preach Christ is to preach the righteousness of God and tell people that this great blessing is found in Jesus Christ alone (2 Cor. 5:21). To preach Christ is to proclaim Him as our sanctification, for He lives in us (Gal. 2:20) and transforms us through His Word as we worship Him (2 Cor. 3:l8). He has already given us His glory (John 17:22-24), and one day we shall both see and share His glory in heaven (1 John 3:1-3). No matter what biblical doctrines we preach, they are all centered in Jesus Christ.
Our Savior is also the Creator and Sustainer of all things (Heb. 1:1-3; John 1:l-5; Col. l:l5-17), so we don’t live in a threatening universe. He made it all, He sustains it all and He is working all things for our good (Rom. 8:28) and His glory. He is the Head of the Church and the only source of its power. It is through His name that we pray and in His name that we confront the principalities and powers and overcome them. How can we have a dynamic church without magnifying the risen Christ? Without Christ, we have no hope for the future (1 Thes. 4:13-18), for He is our hope (1 Tim. 1:l). Hope isn’t an abstract commodity that philosophers discuss; it’s a precious gift found only in Jesus Christ.
Do we want the Holy Spirit to lead us and empower us as we serve the Lord and preach the Word? Then we must glorify Jesus Christ, for that’s one reason why the Spirit came to earth. The Holy Spirit is the “Spirit of Christ” (Rom. 8:9), and Jesus said, “He [the Spirit] will glorify Me” (John l6:14). 1f we don’t seek to glorify Christ, we cannot have the help of the Holy Spirit! It is pure arrogance to expect the Spirit to fill and empower us in the pulpit when all we do is talk about ourselves, tell clever stories and give religious advice.
Jesus Christ is at the heart of every Christian doctrine, and He must be at the heart of every message we deliver. To attempt to teach Bible doctrine and yet leave out Jesus is to rob that doctrine of its vitality and excitement.
If we preach doctrine without duty, we produce Christians who are unbalanced. They have theological knowledge but no personal experience of the power of God in their lives. They are not “doers of the word” (James 1:22) and therefore miss the blessing that comes in obeying. True Christian discipleship involves both learning and living, putting into practice what the Lord tells us to do in His Word. It’s good to be a student who grows in knowledge, but it’s even better to be a disciple who grows in both knowledge and grace (2 Peter 3:18).
But to preach duty apart from magnifying Jesus Christ is to turn blessings into burdens and lay heavy loads of legalism upon God’s people. If we love Him, we will keep His commandments (John 14:15, 2l), and those commandments will not be burdensome (1 John 5:3). This is what Paul meant in that great Christological passage Phil. 2:1-11, which begins, “If therefore there is any encouragement in Christ…” (NASB). The secret of obedience isn’t simply knowing the Bible but also knowing and loving JesusChrist, because doctrine and duty go together.
For example, why should Christians forgive one another? Because God has first forgiven us for the sake of Jesus (Eph. 4:32). Why should husbands love their wives? Be-cause Christ has first loved us Eph. 5:2, 25). Why should servants labor faithfully for their masters? For the sake of Jesus Christ (Eph. 6:5-6). Why should God’s people strive to maintain spiritual unity in the church? Because of Christ who has made all believers members of His body (Gal. 3:26-29; Phil. 2:1-4; Col. 3:l5). What is our motivation for sacrificial giving? The grace of Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 8:9). Why walk in love? Because Jesus loved us and gave Himself for us (Eph. 5:1-2.
When duty is linked to Jesus Christ, love becomes our motive and we want to do our very best. Therefore, preaching that magnifies the Lord Jesus Christ opens the hearts of the listeners to the commandments the Holy Spirit wants obeyed. Yes, there’s a place for exhortation and admonition, but even then we must link our words to Jesus. “If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ…” (Phil. 2:1 NIV) is the secret of helping ourselves and others practice what we preach. To preach duty without preaching Christ is to burden the people; to preach doctrine without duty is to rob the people of the blessing that comes with obedience. Blessed are the balanced!
Dr. Warren Wiersbe (1929-2019) was an internationally known Bible teacher, author, and conference speaker. He graduated in 1953 from Northern Baptist Theological Seminary in Lombard, Illinois. While attending seminary, he was ordained as pastor of Central Baptist Church in 1951 and served until 1957. From September 1957 to 1961, Wiersbe served as Director of The Literature Division for Youth for Christ International. From 1961 to 1971 he pastored Calvary Baptist Church of Covington, Kentucky south of Cincinnati, Ohio. His sermons were broadcast as the “Calvary Hour” on a local Cincinnati radio station. From 1971 to 1978, He served as the pastor of Moody Church in Chicago 1971 to 1978. While at Moody Church he continued in radio ministry. Between August 1979 and March 1982, he wrote bi-weekly for Christianity Today as “Eutychus X”, taught practical theology classes at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois, and wrote the course material and taught a Doctor of Ministry course at Trinity and Dallas Seminary. In 1980 he transitioned to Back to the Bible radio broadcasting network where he worked until 1990. Dr. Wiersbe became Writer in Residence at Cornerstone University in Grand Rapids and Distinguished Professor of Preaching at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary. In his lifetime, Dr. Wiersbe wrote over 170 books—including the popular Be series, which has sold over four million copies. Dr. Wiersbe was awarded the Gold Medallion Lifetime Achievement by the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association (ECPA).