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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
 
Preached At:Providence Canadian Reformed Church
 Hamilton, Ontario
 
Title:Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!
Text:LD 31 QA 84 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Preaching
 
Preached:2013
Added:2013-12-12
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

NOTE:  all songs from the 2010 Book of Praise

Psalm 25:1,2

Psalm 103:1,4,5

Psalm 107:1,2,17

Hymn 1

Hymn 4

Scripture readings:  1 Corinthians 9:1-18, Galatians 1

Catechism lesson:  Lord's Day 31, QA 84

 

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved congregation of our Lord Jesus,

What would it look like if Satan were to take over our city?  This was a question once asked by an American Presbyterian minister named Donald Grey Barnhouse.  He suggested that one possible scenario would look like this:  if Satan took over a city, the streets would be neat and tidy.  The lawns would be mowed and the flower beds all in order, looking beautiful.  There would be no graffiti on the fences.  Everyone would respect the speed limits.  There would be no neighbourhoods with prostitutes or drug dealers, in fact there would be no obvious signs of any criminal activity.  If Satan took over a city, all the children would be respectful to the adults.  They would go to school and honour their teachers, they would come home and do their homework.  And every Sunday morning, the churches of that city would be full.  But they would be churches where Christ is not preached and where the gospel is never heard.

You may have to think about that for a moment, but if you do, you’ll see that it makes sense.  You could have a perfect Muslim city somewhere in the Middle East.  There are low crime rates, the city looks beautiful, the people are nice and the children are respectful.  Every Friday, everyone in the city goes to prayers at the mosque – a place where Christ is not preached and the gospel is never heard.  Satan is quite pleased with that.  Satan has such a place firmly in his grip. 

He wants the same for us.  The Devil wants us to be content to just be more moral people, nice people.  He wants us to think that we can do this on our own and that we don’t need the preaching of the gospel.  Satan wants us to think that we don’t need Jesus Christ.  We can have a nice moral church, and even a nice moral city, without Christ.  At a certain level, it is indeed possible.  You see, Satan doesn’t really care whether we’re living like party animals or whether we’re living like self-righteous moralists.  Either way, he has you distracted from faith in Jesus Christ.  He has you believing that you don’t need the gospel.

We can be thankful that each time we cycle through the Heidelberg Catechism we’re reminded again of how important the preaching of the gospel really is for us.  The Catechism faithfully summarizes biblical teaching on this point and tells us that the preaching of the gospel is a key of the kingdom of heaven.  To have access to the kingdom, you need the keys.  There is no normal access without the keys.  For people to be brought into the kingdom, and for them to be kept safely in the kingdom, keys are tremendously important. 

Paul makes this same point in our reading from 1 Corinthians 9.  He recognizes the necessity of the preaching of the gospel.  How do you win people for Christ?  It’s through preaching the gospel of Christ.  He says in verse 16 that necessity is laid upon him.  He is compelled to preach.  And if he doesn’t, he says, “Woe to me!”  “Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!”  He has been entrusted with a responsibility and that responsibility involves the eternal well-being of his listeners.  Some of them were Jews and just like Paul before he was converted, they thought they were doing all right without Jesus.  But for the sake of their eternal well-being, Paul was compelled to bring the gospel to them.  Without that gospel preaching, the kingdom of heaven would not be opened for them. 

This afternoon we’re going to consider the critical importance of faithful gospel preaching.  We’ll look at this preaching and its:

  1. Character
  2. Contents
  3. Challenges

Back in the days of the apostles, there were options for communicating a message.  There was music – the ancient world knew about music and song and its great power to evoke an emotional response from people.  There was drama – our English word ‘drama’ actually comes from Greek.  The Greeks and the Romans left behind a huge legacy of plays and they knew the power of the stage for communicating a message that could challenge and shape those watching.  The modern world didn’t invent music or drama – these things have been around since long before the apostles walked the earth.  The modern world also did not invent dialogue and conversation.  These things too have been in existence for millennia.  Greek and Roman philosophers loved to try and persuade one another through the use of conversation.  If you’ve heard of the Socratic method, then you know what I’m talking about. 

Yet when Christ sent out his apostles to spread the message of the gospel, he didn’t send them with music.  He didn’t send them with drama.  He didn’t send them to engage in Socratic dialogues.  Instead, he commissioned them to preach.

In the Bible, preaching has a well-defined character.  Preaching is authoritative proclamation.  Preaching uses spoken words to communicate divine truth.  When you look at the book of Acts and listen in on the apostles as they carry out their commission, you hear them speaking words of power and authority.  They are heralds, bringing the message of their king.  The apostles didn’t bring suggestions to their listeners – they didn’t give them tips or hints.  Instead, they spoke as men who had been appointed by the Lord of lords to speak on his behalf.  As one example, consider what happened with Saul of Tarsus right after he was converted.  The man who would later be known as Paul immediately went to the synagogues.  According to Acts 9:20, “he proclaimed Jesus in the synagogues, saying, ‘He is the Son of God.’”  Notice that Paul didn’t say, “Please consider whether Jesus might be the Son of God.”  No, he proclaimed Jesus with authority saying that “He is the Son of God.”  There in Damascus or anywhere else, Paul didn’t try to spread the gospel with some singing or by putting on a little play, or maybe try some clown evangelism.  No, he preached using words and his words were communicated with authority.  “Jesus is the Son of God.  Jesus is the Saviour.  You must repent and believe.” 

QA 84 of our Catechism reflects this biblical teaching.  It says that the kingdom of heaven is opened with preaching “when it is proclaimed and publicly testified…” and the kingdom of heaven is closed with preaching “when it is proclaimed and testified…”  Proclaiming and testifying involves words spoken with authority.

Loved ones, the character of faithful gospel preaching places an onus on both congregations and pastors.   Pastors must bring the Word with authority from the pulpit.  They cannot water it down and make it sound as if what the Word says is optional for you, as if you could take it or leave it.  At the same time, that means that they have to work diligently during the week to be sure that when they come on the pulpit they can say, “Thus says the Lord…”  They have a calling to rightly handle the word of truth.  That requires diligence and much prayer on their part.  For you as a congregation, it also involves prayer.  You need to pray for your pastor.  You need to pray for him so that he can bring the Word of God with authority each Sunday.  And when that is done, your responsibility is also to humbly accept the Word of God as it is brought with authority.  Your responsibility is to hear the Word and heed it right away.  Not because it comes from your pastor as such, but because through the servant you hear the voice of your Master.  That was how the Thessalonians received the preaching of Paul.  He wrote in 1 Thessalonians 2:13, “And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the Word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as what it really is, the Word of God, which is at work in you believers.”  You see, the Word faithfully preached really is the Word of God and therefore it carries authority, and therefore you are called to humbly accept it. 

Now what about the content of faithful gospel preaching?  The content is a message that cuts two ways.  Paul spoke about this in 2 Corinthians 2.  He wrote in 2 Corinthians 2:15-16, “For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life.”  From that we can gather that faithful gospel preaching cuts two ways:  life or death.  Life for some, death for others.  This is not only the result of faithful gospel preaching, it’s also included in the content.

Our Catechism reflects biblical teaching when it says that gospel preaching includes an announcement of life.  It includes the announcement of the forgiveness of sins through Jesus Christ.  The gospel announces that because of Christ’s merits all our sins are cast into the depths of the sea.  They are out of the way and there is no obstacle in the way of a friendly and healthy relationship with God in heaven.  We are received as children and heirs.  Faithful gospel preaching testifies that there really is reconciliation with God through Jesus.  You can be right with God through what Jesus Christ has done for you and in your place.  Simply turn from your sin, turn to Christ, and believe the promise of the gospel.  When you receive that message in faith, the kingdom opens to you. 

But our Catechism also reflects biblical teaching when it says that gospel preaching includes an announcement of death.  There may be those who hear the message and reject it outright.  There may also be hypocrites, people who wear a mask and pretend to be Christians while their hearts are far from God.  Faithful preaching must also include the bad news for hypocrites and unbelievers.  Unless they truly repent and believe in Jesus, they remain under the wrath of God.  Unless they turn from their sin and turn to Christ, they will be eternally condemned to hell, an eternal conscious torment.  The kingdom will be closed to them.  God will justly judge them, both in this life and in the life to come.  You see, faithful gospel preaching must speak about hell.  It must include warnings.  Faithful preaching must warn both unbelievers and hypocrites with the judgment of God.  It does so in the hope that they will repent and believe and be saved from the coming wrath.  It is warning and threatening with a redemptive purpose in mind.  We want sinners to be saved!  God wants sinners to be saved!  He says it in Ezekiel 18:32, “For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the LORD God; so turn, and live.”  Turning means repentance and faith.  Repentance and faith result in eternal life.

That brings us to consider our responsibilities in this regard too.  Obviously every pastor has a calling to make sure that he preaches the gospel faithfully.  Every pastor must be conscientious about bringing a message which encourages believers with grace, but at the same time warns unbelievers and hypocrites with justice.  Both notes need to be heard regularly from the pulpit.  If they are not, then the responsibility falls first on the shoulders of the elders.  These brothers are tasked with supervising the preaching.  They have a calling to make sure that the Word is faithfully preached by the minister, that he proclaims grace and forgiveness, but also proclaims warnings for those who disbelieve and live in sin.  But there is also a responsibility for every member of the congregation in this regard.  If the preaching is imbalanced, then you need to speak up.  If all you ever seem to hear is grace and never any challenge to unbelief, you need to bring it forward to the minister.  If all you ever seem to hear are the warnings of God’s Word to unbelievers, again you need to address that directly with your pastor.  And if you can’t get anywhere with him, if your concerns are not addressed and alleviated, then it needs to be brought forward to the elders.  It needs to be put in the hands of the consistory.  We all have a responsibility to make sure that the gospel is faithfully preached, not only in terms of its manner or character, but also with regard to its content. 

Now I want to spend a few moments looking at some of the challenges we face today with regard to faithful gospel preaching.  The first challenge is nothing new.  Paul wrote about it in the first chapter of Galatians.  Paul was surprised that the Galatians so quickly were seduced by a different gospel.  The Judaizers were the ones who brought this different gospel.  They taught that you need Jesus for salvation, but not only Jesus.  You also need to do works of the law in order to be saved.  In other words, the Judaizers added human good works to the root of salvation.  Christ might get you started, but then it’s up to you to do the good works that please God to complete the equation.  You have to do your part.  Paul calls that a different gospel from the one he preached.  He says that even if an angel from heaven were to come with a different gospel, he should be cursed to hell.  Gospel preachers must preach the gospel of Paul, the gospel delivered to the apostles, the gospel revealed in Scripture.  That gospel nowhere contains good works at the root.  Our good works come in later as the fruit of this message, but not at the root.  Our salvation is in Christ alone, by grace alone. 

The challenge is always there to forget that.  Human pride is naturally so strong.  In what remains of our old nature, we still want to think that we can contribute something.  Moreover, there are hundreds of voices out there catering to that sinful notion.  Our culture goes in that direction and so do countless theologians and preachers.  However, faithful gospel preaching always puts sinful humanity in its place.  It debases man and exalts God.  Faithful gospel preaching never adds our good works to the redemptive work of Christ.  Woe to us if we ever forget the teaching of Galatians 1!

A second challenge has to do with authority in our day.  There is what seems to be an anti-authoritarian wind blowing through our culture.  It’s been blowing for several decades, since at least the 1960s.  People are suspicious and dismissive of authority when it comes to all kinds of areas of life.  They don’t want to listen to those who are in positions of authority, in fact the very notion of an authority is often regarded as distasteful.  As a result, just to take one example, we no longer have police forces, we have police services.  But ironically, the rejection of authority is usually not total – instead, it’s often selective.  People today choose for themselves which authorities they’re going to have and respect.  So pop stars speak out about human sexuality and suddenly they are highly respected experts on the subject.  Movie stars speak up about a crisis somewhere in the world and it makes the news – it seems that Hollywood automatically makes someone an authority in international affairs.  External institutional authority, however, has fallen on bad times.  That includes the church and the pulpit.

Loved ones, the Word of God calls us to be counter-cultural here.  Christ has given authority to his church.  He gave the keys of the kingdom of heaven to his church.  He said in Matthew 16 that whatever the church would bind on earth would be bound in heaven.  The church has special office bearers through whom Christ rules his church.  These things are taught us to by the Word of God.  Therefore, we have to have the discernment to see that our culture is against the Word of God.  We do not get to select our authorities.  We don’t have the prerogative to pick and choose.  God has chosen them for us.  That means that when the gospel is faithfully proclaimed from the pulpit, we accept it as the Word of God, as an authority in our lives.            

Our third and final challenge is probably the most serious one.  The preaching of the gospel is something that we hear regularly.  The challenge here is that when you hear something so often, it is so easy to take it for granted.  The challenge is complacency.  The challenge is to let that message just drift by you, go in one ear and out the other.  The challenge is that the message of God’s grace and forgiveness is just met with a “Whatever.  I heard all that before.  Nothing new.  Nothing exciting.  Who cares?”  We might not be so brazen to put it that way, but that’s the attitude.  It is a dangerous attitude, because it is so close to unbelief and hypocrisy.  When we take that attitude to the gospel, we are close to being under the wrath of God and eternal condemnation.  Hebrews 6 describes that condition as being one where you have had a taste of the heavenly gift, you’ve tasted the goodness of the word of God, but yet you hold up the Son of God to contempt.  Think about it.  Is there a more contemptuous phrase in English than “Whatever”?  That word is so filled with contempt and when that word or attitude gets applied to the gospel, we’re holding the Son of God in contempt.  Then, as Hebrews 6 says, you are near to being cursed, near to being burned up.  That’s frightening.    

There is a different and better way.  That way is summarized in QA 84 when it says that as often as the message of grace is proclaimed, you must by true faith accept the promise of the gospel.  Notice those two words “as often.”  That means it’s going to come a lot.  You’re going to hear it often, hopefully every Sunday.  And as often as you hear it, you need to conscientiously do something with it.  You need to accept it for yourself, embrace it each time again.  Believing the gospel is not just something that you do once, it’s something that needs to be done repeatedly in our lives. 

Brothers and sisters, let me make this as concrete for you as I can.  Please listen carefully.  Maybe you missed everything else in the sermon this afternoon, but here is where you really need to pay attention.  This is the most important point.  You will often hear pastors say something along the lines of what you find in the first part of QA 84.  You will hear something like, “Because of everything Jesus has done, your sins are truly forgiven.  Because of Christ, you are reconciled to God. You are his beloved child, because Jesus lived a perfect life for you, died on the cross for you, and lives to intercede for you.”  You need to interact with that in your heart each time.  It can’t just go in your ears and out again.  You need to interact with it.  In your head, you have to say, “Yes, I accept that.  I believe that this is true for me.  Jesus is my Saviour and I am God’s child.  I accept the promise of the gospel.”  Again, that’s not something you do just once at a certain point in your life.  It has to be done time and again, every time you hear it.  You need that gospel message to be preached to you, but you also need to do something with it.  You need to personally accept it.  Loved ones, I urge you to do this every time.

The faithful preaching of the gospel is a precious gift of God.  We need to treasure it, practice it, and embrace it.  By doing that, sinners will continue to be saved.  By doing that, our God will continue to be praised.  We need Jesus Christ and we need his gospel preached faithfully.  Nothing is more important for the church.  AMEN. 

Prayer:

Gracious God in heaven,

We treasure the gospel of grace.  We love you for having sought us as your children through Christ.  Thank you for again giving us the message of your grace and forgiveness through him.  Father, we again accept that promise of the gospel this afternoon.  We accept it with gratitude, with love in our hearts for you and for our Saviour Jesus.  We pray for the work of your Holy Spirit in our congregation.  We pray that he would continue to work faith and repentance.  We pray that especially for our children and young people.  Please give them the gift of faith and new life in Christ.  We also pray for any unbelievers or hypocrites who may be among us.  We ask that you would bring life to their dead hearts.  With your mighty Spirit, please turn them from their sin and to Christ.  O God we also ask that you would help our church so that we would be a place where the gospel continues to be faithfully preached and eagerly accepted.  Please help us to be people who love your Word and who respond to it in ways that please you.                                                  

 




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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