In chapter five of John’s Gospel we are confronted with testimonies concerning the Son of God (John 5:31-47). Certainly, the human testimonies which bore witness to Jesus Christ in John’s day continue to be important in this present age.
But perhaps we make too much of ‘testimonies’ today. You will find them in books, videos, music, or even on the internet. But by far the most important form of testimony outside of Scripture is not found in the media, but in preaching!
What is preaching for?
That may come as a surprise. Yet the most important form of testimony to God’s mercy and power remains the preaching of God’s Son. This is God’s ordained means of setting forth his gospel.
It is the goal of preaching to exalt Christ as the glorious Son of God, humbling man by demonstrating his sin, and directing him to the Son for salvation.
In preaching, also, the Christian is commanded to pursue holiness. Apart from holiness, no man will see God; that is the essence of biblical preaching.
What a privilege it is, therefore, to set forth Christ in preaching! To delineate the ‘unsearchable riches of Christ’ to those who were once ignorant of him (Ephesians 3:8).
The comment of the puritan Thomas Carlyle is both apposite and poignant: ‘Who, having been called to be a preacher, would stoop to be a king?’
A problem of the heart
Jesus Christ disclosed himself in the Scriptures, saying: ‘Ye search the scriptures, because ye think that in them ye have eternal life; and these are they which bear witness of me; and ye will not come to me, that ye may have life’ (John 5:39, 40).
Why did these Jews miss Jesus Christ? Because they made a prior determination. ‘Ye will not come to me’, said Jesus. Theirs was not a problem of the mind, but rather of the will and of the heart.
The Jews of Jesus’ day had no excuse. Not only did their own Scriptures witness to the Messiah, but John the Baptist also gave witness to Christ.
Their need was not to have a little more proof, or be persuaded by more convincing debating tactics. It was not a matter of evidence or presupposition, but of will and heart!
A pundit once asked C. H. Spurgeon as to how he would ‘defend the Bible’. He retorted: ‘Defend the Bible? I’d as soon defend a lion!’ To defend a lion, he added, all you need do is open the cage door and let it out. Likewise, to defend Christ’s gospel, we need only preach Christ.
There is, of course, a place for ‘being ready always to give answer to every man that asketh you a reason concerning the hope that is in you’ (1 Peter 3:15).
But this must not be confused with the increasing tendency in Christian circles to hold disputations regarding the things of God, as if logical argumentation itself has the power to change men’s hearts.
You may wrestle an unconverted man to the ground with brilliant proofs, yet he remains dead in sin apart from the work of the Holy Spirit. Such methods, in fact, lead us to marginalise the very One we wish to set-forth, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Those who adhere to the debating-society approach to evangelism have forgotten that our manner and techniques must seek to glorify God, not ourselves.
Nothing but Christ
The apostle Paul defined both his message and his method when he wrote: ‘For Christ sent me not to baptise, but to preach the gospel: not in wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made void’ (1 Corinthians 1:17).
A few verses later Paul asserts: ‘And I, brethren, when I came unto you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified’ (1 Corinthians 2:1-2).
These statements emphasise dramatically the centrality of Christ to the message preached by the apostles.
‘How to’ manual
It is not just in our methods that Jesus Christ is marginalised today. He is also side-lined by unbiblical emphases, or lack of balance, in preaching.
Ongoing cultural decline, and society’s retreat from Christian values, rightly concern us. Perhaps as a result, our pulpits have become pre-occupied about attacks upon family, marriage, and child-rearing. Book after book published in recent years also address these family issues.
But as preaching becomes family-centred, Christ is pushed into the margins. In examining the New Testament, one is struck by the infrequent mention of family topics, when compared to the constant uplifting of Christ in the apostles’ writing and preaching.
This overemphasis on the family, makes the Bible little more than a ‘How to’ manual for the preacher, and transforms the church of the living God into little more than a ‘nice family club’.
Object of debate
A type of veneration is retained for the Word of God but, as with the Pharisees, it becomes the object of debate rather than revelation. Not only so, but sacred doctrine becomes the turf for intellectual rugby matches and self-congratulation.
With this wrong emphasis in preaching and teaching, Christ still serves as the ‘frame’. But he is no longer the portrait.
The Bible is not a guidebook to the relative merits of different approaches to family life; nor is it’s main concern the Christian’s role in society. It is not to be reasoned over, but reasoned from, that we may centralise Christ, not marginalise him.
Jesus said, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life’ (John 14:6). Christ is the life, for ‘no one cometh unto the Father, but by me’ (John 14:6).
The primary end of the Bible, as well as of preaching, is not to instruct us concerning marriage, family or finances. The Scripture is not an end in itself. Its purpose is to point us clearly and unashamedly to Jesus Christ.
So, in our high regard for the Scriptures, and in our preaching and teaching, let us not pass over their main purpose. It is the Holy Spirit’s intention, first and foremost, that they direct us to the Saviour.