Jesus was more than a mere prophet – he was the sinless Son of God, the human-divine sacrifice for our sins. But he is a prophet nonetheless, and the greatest prophet the world has ever known.
We like to think of Jesus in any kind of role except that of preacher and prophet, but preaching was a primary component of his earthly ministry. He was a truth-teller and herald of the good news and eternal truth of God.
Mark, who was first to write an inspired biography of Jesus, jumps right into Jesus’ adult years and gives us a summary introduction to Jesus’ ministry with these words…
Later on, after John was arrested, Jesus went into Galilee, where he preached God’s Good News. “The time promised by God has come at last!” he announced. “The Kingdom of God is near! Repent of your sins and believe the Good News!”
Mark 1:14-15 NLT
Jesus’ ministry was, of course, more than just words, but he started his ministry with words, uttered vital words from the cross, and gave even more words of empowerment after his resurrection. Preaching the good news mattered a great deal to Jesus, and preaching the good news is still the primary ministry of the church two thousand years later.
Preaching, as a communication method, may sound outdated and unpopular, but that’s only because of the traditional baggage we attach to it. The fact is, human beings are still deeply moved and motivated by the art of spoken word, even in our visually-stimulating media-rich culture.
From campaign stump speeches to TED talks, we listen to words conveyed through human personality.
THAT Jesus preached matters greatly to how we serve truth to the world today, but WHAT he preached matters even more. And this is where I believe we misunderstand him most.
Jesus didn’t just preach “good news” TO people.
His message wasn’t motivational fluff. It wasn’t self-help gibberish or mystical, pithy sayings. It was good news, but there was a call to action. Specifically, there was a call to repentance based on the good news. Jesus expected his listeners to consider changing their minds about God, about sin, about themselves, and about their way of life. He called them to a radical commitment to believe and trust in him.
When we simply preach good things without any call to repentance, we make the good news seem a little too good. Don’t change. Just stay where you are and God will overlook the deep brokenness within you.
On the other hand…
Jesus didn’t just preach “repentance” AT people.
My big problem with most street corner preachers is that they claim to speak a bold message of repentance – turn or burn, get right or get ready to hell – but what they really do is skip the good news or skim over it at best and head right for the call to action.
When we skip the good news and start our presentations of the gospel with “You’re a sinner… own it… admit it… repent of it… or else…” then we make the good news seem… not very good. In fact, the gospel is the best news anyone could ever hear, and we should present it so.
What, then, was Jesus’ message?
Jesus preached the best news the world has ever heard with an invitation FOR people to turn from sin, trust him, and have their lives changed forever!
Jesus started with the wonderful news that the deliverance broken humanity had been waiting for so long had finally arrived. And more specifically, the messiah for whom Israel had been waiting so long was finally being presented. Sin and the grave would soon be defeated. The King of all kings would be coronated over a Kingdom into which all who would believe in and follow him would be included.
The gospel is really, really good news for broken sinners. Luke is a little more specific about one of Jesus’ earliest messages. One day in the synagogue, Jesus announced the purpose of his ministry by quoting Isaiah…
“The Spirit of the LORD is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see,that the oppressed will be set free, and that the time of the LORD’s favor has come.”
Luke 4:18-19 NLT
Do you hear that? Because of Jesus, you can be rescued from poverty, released from slavery, restored in your sight and your soul, and redeemed from all oppression! Addictions can be broken. Diseases lose their power. Demons have to flee. Cruelty and tyranny won’t last. The gospel is good news!
One of the reasons we doubt the power of the gospel is because we fail to understand that God’s Kingdom is both now, and not yet. Deliverance is both gradual and eventual. Victory is sure, but it is only enjoyed partially, until the King returns to be worshipped by all.
And as Jesus preached the good news of the ultimate deliverance from sin’s curse, he also called his hearers to respond. His calling to repentance and faith is both a command and an invitation. It is the required response of sinners to the gospel, and it is the offer of a good Savior to the broken.
Biblical preaching is both a presentation of the good news of Jesus and a challenge to embrace it with the whole heart and mind. Both are necessary in our faithfulness to the great commission of Jesus to his church.
If all you can do is yell at people about their sin, don’t call it gospel preaching. And if all you have the courage to do is speak the positive things of Christianity without any call to repentance and faith, don’t call it gospel preaching.
I’m a big believer in being creative, in striving to communicate well, and in adapting our presentation methods to each new generation. And I think the content of Scripture ought to be presented in a way that connects with the brokenness and deep-seated needs of its audience. But at the end of the day, here is the non-negotiable core of all good preaching – preach the good news of Jesus, and invite people to embrace him by repenting of their sins and believing in him alone.