Jesus of Nazareth preached Christ, and him crucified. It sounds strange but it is true. The central aim and object of the Messiah’s preaching was himself, the Eternal Son. Many books today rightly discuss the obligation of preaching Jesus Christ, but few investigate how the Son of Man preached, specifically how he preached about himself.
Paul said, ‘For we do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord’ (2 Corinthians 4:5). But Jesus did the very opposite of what Paul stated. Jesus regularly proclaimed himself with a holy boldness: ‘And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself’ (John 12:32).
This article seeks to demonstrate what most take for granted – to preach Christ and him crucified is to preach as Jesus himself preached. Jesus glorified God as he preached his own person and work. Modern homiletics books rarely include this fact, but several older preaching books held this opinion. Here’s one example:
‘The Preacher (Jesus) had a unique relation to his message. his preaching was Christo-centric. He was its centre and power. He claimed chief place for honor and worship … Without Jesus the Person the preaching of Jesus would have been valueless. In himself must be found the justification for his preaching’.1
Declaring the truth about himself
While no one else should ever preach himself, Jesus did. What an odd but great thought. If anyone else in the universe promoted and preached himself, he would be thought of as the world’s greatest egomaniac. Yet Jesus, being God incarnate, rightfully declared the truth about himself and his mission. It is true that the Son promoted his Father’s glory, yet he simultaneously gave witness to his own.
Let us briefly turn to the Gospel of John for a sweeping overview of Jesus’ self-centered preaching.
John records seven ‘I am’ statements which draw crisp notice to the deity of Jesus of Nazareth. One single ‘I am’ statement is startling enough, but the seven self-attestations of Jesus Christ together crystallise the verity that Christ preached himself.
Martin Luther declared, ‘Should a tyrant succeed in destroying the Holy Scriptures and only a single copy of the epistle to the Romans and the Gospel according to John escape him, Christianity would be saved’.
Christianity would be safe because John unmistakably broadcasts Jesus’ divinity. All seven ‘I am’ proclamations ‘have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name’ (John 20:31).
Bread of life
Firstly, Jesus preached himself as the bread of life – ‘I am the bread of life; he who comes to me will not hunger, and he who believes in me will never thirst’ (John 6:35).
True believers will not hunger and will never thirst. The Greek word for ‘not’ is used to make the statement more emphatic. The word ‘never’ means ‘not at any time will this be true’. Jesus, as spiritual nourishment himself, ‘contains in himself the source of heavenly life [and] supplies celestial nutriment to souls that they may attain to life eternal’ (Thayer’s Greek Lexicon).
Jesus did not say that he had the bread, or that he knew where to get it – rather, he preached himself as the bread of life. The Messiah alone can give permanent spiritual satisfaction. Such bread will satiate the hunger in the soul of any spiritual beggar.
Light of the world
Secondly, Jesus preached himself as the Light of the world – ‘I am the Light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life’ (John 8:12).
Jesus was speaking at the Feast of Tabernacles. Oversized menorahs (Jewish candelabra) were set ablaze in the Court of the Women, symbolising the ‘pillar of light’ in the wilderness. Christ’s self-avowal as ‘the light of the world’ in this very public place would not be missed by the listeners.
When Jesus said, ‘he who follows me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life’, the people must have been stunned. Jesus’ words meant, ‘The menorah was to be extinguished after the feast, but his light would remain’.2
God, the ultimate source of light, is fully manifest in the Son. Earlier, John wrote, ‘In him was life, and the life was the Light of men’ (John 1:4). Jesus preached himself as the Son of God giving light and salvation to his people – bearing witness to himself as the God who illuminates (Isaiah 60:19-22; Zechariah 14:5b-7; cf. Revelation 21:23-24) and who conquers sin and all its darkness.
Those following Jesus as ‘the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night’ would walk in the light, but more importantly, they would have Jesus himself as that light.
Door of the sheep
Thirdly, Jesus preached himself as the door of the sheep – ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep’ (John 10:7).
To correctly understand this statement you need to know that Near Eastern shepherds examined each sheep as the flock entered the sheep pen for the night. Jesus, the door, proclaims himself as the only one who decides who enters his sheep pen.
Jesus calls false messiahs ‘thieves and robbers’ (John 10:8), but declares himself as ‘the door; if anyone enters through me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture’ (John 10:9).
The good shepherd
Fourthly, Jesus preached himself as the good shepherd – ‘I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep’ (John 10:11).
Jesus as shepherd feeds, guides and protects his followers, giving an abundant, rich life to the sheep he loves. Jesus preaches that he is the one who would willingly give himself as a substitute for sinners, declaring three times that he would lay down his life on behalf of, or for the sake of, others (10:11,15,17).
‘Good’ can also be translated ‘fitting, honorable or noble’. The Son of God preaches himself as the noble substitutionary sacrifice.
Resurrection and life
Fifthly, Jesus preached himself as the resurrection and the life – ‘I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die’. He asks Martha, ‘Do you believe this?’ She responds, ‘Yes, Lord; I have believed that you are the Christ, the Son of God’ (John 11:21-27).
Martha was well versed in Old Testament theology and was assured that God would resurrect saints on the last day. Jesus lovingly explained to her that these were already the ‘last days’ – the days of the Messiah who is ‘the resurrection’ and ‘the life’.
Both nouns have the definite article, signifying that Jesus personally grants the resurrection and eternal life. He wanted Martha to know that the significance is on the person, not on the event itself.
The way, truth and life
Sixthly, Jesus preached himself as the way, the truth, and the life. Thomas said, ‘Lord, we do not know where you are going, how do we know the way?’ Jesus replied, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through me’ (John 14:5-6). This time, Jesus’ auto-proclamation is a response to Thomas. Christ tells Thomas he alone has access to the Father.
Pluralistic syncretism shudders at this bold declaration. Jesus is not saying that he can teach them the way to the Father (as if the problem were knowledge) but that he himself is the way to God, the truth of God, and the life of God. Jesus is the way because he is the incarnation of God’s revelation and the only one who bestows eternal life.
The true vine
Seventhly, Jesus preached himself as the true vine. ‘I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser’ (John 15:1).
Christ Jesus announced that he was the source of spiritual vitality. The Friberg Lexicon describes ‘vine’ as ‘metaphorically, of Christ as sustaining and spiritually nurturing his disciples (John 15.1); by metonymy, to indicate the produce that a plant produces (Revelation 14.19)’.
Jesus grants strength and life to his people as a grapevine would yield sustenance to its branches.
Much more could be produced from the corpus of Scripture, but these seven statements of Christ leave no room to doubt that Jesus determined to preach himself, and him crucified.
An edited extract from Day One’s book by Mike Abendroth – Jesus Christ: the Prince of preachers – learning from the teaching ministry of Jesus.
1. Albert Richmond Bond, The Master Preacher (American Tract Society, 1910), p.93.
2. Merrill C. Tenney, John, in vol. 9 of The Expositor’s Bible Commentary (Zondervan, 1981), p.92.