There is a case to be made that preaching, as commissioned by Jesus, is purposed to be divine self-testimony. That is, it is the Lord’s own testimony to Himself. Yes, there is the preacher’s own testifying to the truth about Jesus as God’s Messiah. And yes, there is the preacher corroborating the testimonies of Scripture. But preaching essentially entails God’s self-attestation that Jesus is the Christ, the world’s rightful King and only Redeemer. Indeed, preaching essentially is the self-attestation that God is as His Word and His Word is as Him (John 5:39-40). This divine self-attestation is, in other words, the Lord preaching the Word of the Lord; the Christ of the Gospel preaching the Gospel of Christ (Mark 1:14-15).
Is God made known in the Gospel only? No. The gospel entails the Law in the sense that there is no Gospel without the place of the Law and our individual and collective predicament for failing to keep the divine standard of perfection. Indeed, the Gospel is no gospel without the Lamb of God bearing the sins of the world and making a sacrificial, substitutionary blood atonement for our sins. Consequently, divine self-attestation includes the Law and the Gospel, and for those within the domain of the Kingdom of God’s Gospel, the ethic of the Kingdom, namely life in the Spirit of Christ or, synonymously, the third use of the Law. The Gospel of Christ, yes, the Gospel that is Christ, thus constitutes the final and supreme revelation of God (Ephesians 3:3-12). God testifies to this in preaching. Preaching is the vehicle of salvation because God engages in self-giving through the heralding of His Word (Romans 10:14-17).
There stands this one massively important caveat: The content of preaching must be the Gospel from Christ, the Gospel of Christ, the Gospel that is Christ. Not any old “preaching” will do. The commissioned proclamation is specific: Christ crucified, Christ resurrected, Christ ruling. The commissioned Gospel is from Christ. It is of Christ. It is Christ. Notice a theme here. Christ constitutes preaching. Christ is the sermon from Christ Himself (Luke 10:16). Everything else is either explanatory background information or application or, alternatively, not a sermon of divine self-attestation. Put simply, the parameters of preaching consist of what Jesus has given us to say about Himself, with the Father and Holy Spirit. Everything else the faithful preacher says in the sermon should be purposed to support, augment, highlight, underscore, and enlarge the commissioned Gospel and can be differentiated as testimony to the Gospel of divine self-attestation.
The content of preaching must be the Gospel from Christ, the Gospel of Christ, the Gospel that is Christ.
Peaching recognized as divine self-testimony collapses the distance artificially inserted between the Lord and His auditors: “He who hears you hears Me, he who rejects you rejects Me, and he who rejects Me rejects Him who sent Me” (Luke 10:16). The faithful preacher of the Gospel stands as a mere surrogate for God speaking to His people, again, only within the parameters of the commissioning. The preacher is not supposed to be an intermediary, a go-between for the Word, but rather when he engages in “the pure preaching of the gospel” from and as the Word of Christ, then it is Christ speaking to the assembly as the Father-Son-and-Holy Spirit declaring the promise-making God who is the promise-keeping God in Jesus Christ. When this is case, then the intermediary ceases to be and the Mediator Himself addresses believers and unbelievers alike with perlocutionary force — the Law having its affect (hardening hearts or breaking them) and the Gospel doing its sanctifying, revivifying work. This, of course, is none other than the power of the Holy Spirit (John 3:8). It cannot be the work or effect of man, even the man called and ordained to preach. No human being has power over the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit does not beckon to the directives or whims of mankind. As Jesus says, “Flesh is born of flesh, but spirit is born of the Spirit. Do not be amazed that I said, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes. You hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it is going. So, it is with everyone born of the Spirit” (John 3:6-8). No, the application of the Word of law and gospel can only be by the Holy Spirit working in conjunction with the will and Word of Christ (John 6:33b). Christ is the locutor and the elocution, the speaker of the Word and the Word spoken. He speaks for the Father as the Father. Our Lord teaches this principle of apostolicity throughout John’s Gospel:
- My teaching is not mine, but His who sent me (7:16).
- For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has Himself given me a commandment—what to say and what to speak. And I know that His commandment is eternal life. What I say, therefore, I say as the Father has told me (12:49-50).
- The words that I say to you I do not speak of my own; but the Father who dwells in me does His work (14:10).
- The word you hear is not mine but is from the Father who sent me (14:24).
- For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from You; and they have believed that You sent me (17:8).
Yet, the power of the Word-of-the-Father concerns the Holy Spirit, who, “...convinces the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 16:8). The preacher has no power, only an authority to herald the Gospel of Christ as divine self-attestation.
The preacher has no power, only an authority to herald the Gospel of Christ as divine self-attestation.
This realty may be too readily dismissed by a conflation of the office of the preacher with the actual event of preaching. The office consists of a set of divinely instituted parameters, conditions, and responsibilities for a man to be a preacher. The call to preach and the content of preaching condition the office as such. It has an integrity of its own impervious to the failings of the preacher. But when the preacher heralds God’s Gospel in truth, that is, when he actually preaches the Gospel of Christ crucified, resurrected, ascended and sacramented (and not merely talks about Christ), then we have confidence by divine promise that it is the theatre of salvation (theatrum salutis), the medium and forum through which the Holy Spirit illumines Christ and manifests Christ in the Word and as the Word. Or, put differently, God testifies about Himself (John 5:31-47; 8:18).
Nothing could be more serious than a recognition of the “pure preaching of the Gospel” as divine self-attestation. For the preacher aspiring to faithful proclamation, this one consideration should arrest excesses in isagogical contextualization, self-referential narratives, storytelling, allegories, and moralizing, to say nothing about a dependence on electronic visual aids. Moreover, God testifying to Himself is far more interesting and, truly, only His Word is the Word of life.
Which brings us to our final point, namely the obvious one that not all preaching is preaching and, so, not all preaching is the Word of God. Only the Word of God is such. Therefore, preachers do well to remain obedient to their commissioning to herald the Gospel from Christ and the Gospel of Christ, infallibly preserved in Holy Scripture. He has given us His Word to proclaim as the very safeguard to ensure His Word is proclaimed. A faithful preacher, then, is careful in speaking his own words during the proclamation and submissive to God’s Word as the proclamation. In this way, auditors will hear what God has to say about Himself in Christ reconciling the world to Himself.