Friday, 17 October 2008

Features of the Preaching of Jesus

I have been preaching through the Sermon on the Mount for a few months and have now completed the series. The final sermon attempted to identify features of the sermon that caused his listeners to be astonished at the Saviour's authority. Below are some suggestions that seem to me to be obvious in this regard.

The first quality of the preaching of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount is its comprehensiveness. When we begin to list the topics he mentions, we soon discover that there are a great number. He speaks about divine attributes, his own activities, the work of the Spirit, prayer, good works, attitudes of the heart, witness by his disciples to others, and many others. What is striking is that he does not go into minute detail about one topic, instead he interlinks a great number of topics. Perhaps this is the reason why his listeners did not find his sermons boring.

A second quality of his preaching, and it is connected to the above point, is his conciseness. Jesus merely states his teaching, and leaves it there. We can take almost any of his comments and see that this is the case. For example, each of the Beatitudes contains several truths, and I am not suggesting it is inappropriate to preach a sermon on each one. Yet we must note that originally each one of them is a concise statement, and each was similar to many other concise statements that made up the sermon. The opposite of concise is long-winded, and often long-windedness obscures truth whereas conciseness declares it.

A third feature of his preaching is creativity and in this heading I would place two sub-features. One is originality and the other is illustrations. Obviously there is a sense in which Jesus was original in his teaching because of his unique understanding of the meaning of the Old Testament. But that is not the meaning of originality that I have in mind. Rather what I mean is that he presented truth in a way that was exclusive to him. In other words, he did not imitate another person, but was himself. The truth he preached was revealed through his own personal identity. As Oswald Sanders describes it, ‘What He said was original in its manner of formulation, in its spirit and atmosphere. It was free from the clich├ęs and casuistry of the Jewish teachings. Old truths were stated in new ways that challenged fresh thought and action. His teaching carries its own stamp of greatness. It was original because his ideals and standards of greatness on many things were the very antithesis of generally accepted standards.’

His creativity was also shown in his frequent use of word pictures or illustrations. He refers to his disciples acting like salt or influencing like light; he pictures a person building a house on a rock and another person building a house on sand. He asks his hearers to imagine the Day of Judgement when individuals will say that they have preached in his name. And he compares prayer to the Father to the interaction between a parent and child over the everyday matter of asking for food. It is obvious that Jesus stressed the value of illustrations as an important means of communicating truth, and the illustrations that he used were taken from everyday life which all his listeners could understand. It is possible to take an illustration from the world of science that would appeal to those with such understanding but which would only confuse other people. The Saviour only used illustrations that his listeners could understand.

Fourthly, the preaching of Jesus was corrective in dealing with the errors of other teachers. We can see this aspect in the section in Matthew 5 in which he exposes the wrong teaching of the scribes and Pharisees, when he deals with the sayings from old time. In his correction, he did not delve deeply into how they came to their erroneous views. Instead he stated each wrong view as it was commonly understood and proceeded to explain in what ways it was wrong.

This corrective quality in his preaching was accompanied by another essential feature, the feature of courage. The Saviour was a very courageous preacher, bold in affirming the truth of God. For Jesus, error was a lie, not merely an opinion, and therefore he strenuously refuted it. Because it was a lie, it would inevitably lead to deception and take people along a wrong road. Therefore he courageously corrected false views and did not deal with them in a mealy-mouthed manner.

Fifthly, Jesus preached with conviction. This is one reason why he used the above-mentioned features. He knew that each aspect of the message he taught was essential truth. Therefore he taught in a serious way, whether he was speaking about the necessity of true sanctification (as depicted in his teaching about slaying indwelling sin) or about the inevitability of the Day of Judgement. For Jesus, there were no doctrines which he could preach without conviction. He instructed earnestly the whole range of his teaching.

Sixthly, Jesus preaching consolingly. He knew that his followers would face huge problems as they lived for him in a hostile world. Ahead of them were troubles that would have terrified them if they had seen them beforehand. In addition, they would all experience personal failings, they would succumb to temptation, they would wonder if restoration was full once they repented. Therefore, the Saviour emphasises again and again the wonderful reality and variegated manner of divine consolation. There is comfort from God for every circumstance, and Jesus gives a wide range of them in the Sermon on the Mount.

Seventhly, Jesus preached conscious of God. We see this in the Sermon of the Mount when he teaches that the sun is God’s sun, that the rain is sent by God, that God clothes the flowers of the field, that God is present with his people when they give to the poor, when they pray, and when they abstain from lawful actions. This was the world-view of Jesus – he lived in the presence of an omnipresent God who knew all things and possessed all power.

Eighthly, Jesus’ preaching centred on himself. While it would be wrong for any other preacher to preach about himself, it was entirely appropriate for him to do so because he was the message. The gospel is about what God has done in Christ, therefore if a message is not Christ-centred, it is not the gospel. It is possible to preach a biblical message that is not the gospel; it is possible to preach a series about great doctrines of the faith and fail to preach the gospel. This happens if the message is not related to Christ. Jesus always preached himself: in the Sermon on the Mount he says that he is the One who will fulfil the law and the prophets (5:17), who speaks with divine authority (‘But I say unto you…’), who reveals the Father in a variety of ways (to see this we need to look at each reference to the Father), and who will be the Judge of all humans at the end of history (7:21-23). Elsewhere in his addresses in the Gospels, he speaks about other matters about himself.

Those features found in Christ’s preaching were in him in a far higher way than they will be found in other preachers. Nevertheless, they should be found in all preachers of Christ. True preaching will be comprehensive, concise, creative, corrective, marked by conviction, consoling, conscious of God and Christ-centred. This is what we should pray for when praying for preachers we know.

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