WHY PREACHING MATTERS
Why Preaching Matters
Chances are, like most people, you’ve probably not thought much about what preaching is, what it’s supposed to do, or why it matters. On one level, that makes sense. You’re probably not a pastor, so you think, “Why would I need to know about all that preaching stuff?” On another level, though, when you see what God says about the importance of preaching in the life of his people, it would be crazy not to understanding something about preaching.
There are lots of places in the Bible that we could go to see what God says about preaching, but one of my favorite passages is tucked away in the Old Testament book of Nehemiah. Here’s what happens in that story.
After returning from their imprisonment in a foreign land, God’s people got to work rebuilding the temple according to the instructions God had given them. When they were finished, they gathered together in the city square, and they asked the chief priest to stand on a high platform and read to them from the sacred Scriptures. (Sound familiar?)
Ezra (that was the priest’s name) opened the book and began to preach. As they listened, the people started to cry. I wasn’t there, but I’m pretty sure they weren’t crying because of the quality of the sermon. Rather, the story tell us that they did not understand what was being read to them, and from where they were sitting, it sounded like very bad news.
But it wasn’t bad news; it was a message about the best news of all. So, what’s a priest to do?
Well, Ezra (with the help of a few other priests with him) decided to “make the Scripture clear and give the meaning so that the people understood what was being read” (Neh. 8:8). They preached good news to the people, saying, “Do not mourn or weep. Go and enjoy the best food and drink, and share with those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength” (Neh. 8:9-10). Then all the people began to eat and drink, sharing their feast with others as they all celebrated with great joy, “because they now understood the words that had been made known to them” (Neh. 8:12).
What Preaching Is
As we saw in the story, preaching plays an important role in the life of God’s people. By design, preaching is the authoritative declaration of what God has said in the Scriptures, with the goal of explaining and applying the good news about Jesus to the hearers. Or as Ezra put it, preaching aims to ‘make clear’ what God has said, and ‘to give the meaning so that the people understand what is being read.’
Preaching matters, therefore, because God has revealed himself in Jesus (Heb. 1:1-3), and Jesus says the Scriptures are what reveal him (John 5:39). So if the Scriptures are a window that lets us see Christ, then preaching is like Windex. Its job is to make Jesus as clear as possible. And that, of course, is a huge deal. After all, the good news about Jesus, the gospel, is where the power of God is found. That’s why the apostle Paul writes, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Rom. 1:16).
Do you realize what Paul is saying? People want the world to change, and he is saying that change will only happen through the gospel. The power of God that changes, heals, and rescues is found only in the good news about Jesus.
That’s where preaching comes in. Though God could have chosen any means of transforming the world, he has chosen to use our words about his word. This makes sense, if you think about how God has chosen to work in the past. In the beginning, God’s word first created the world, and his word today, from the lips of His servants, is now re-creating it.
Whether he liked this fact or not, Hermen Melville at least recognized the role that preaching played. In his famous novel Moby Dick, he so eloquently summarized how God uses preaching in the world: “The pulpit is ever this earth’s foremost part; all the rest comes in its rear; the pulpit leads the world.”
How Preaching Works
But don’t miss how this happens: Preaching is God’s chosen way to transform the world, not because preaching is inspirational or motivational speaking, but rather because preaching brings an encounter with Jesus himself, who is the true Redeemer of the world.
The men who led the Protestant Reformation knew this well. John Calvin wrote, “In preaching God calls us to Him as if He had His mouth open and we saw Him there in person.” And he also said, “We ought not so much to consider men as speaking to us, but Christ by His own mouth.” Martin Luther exclaimed, “Since Christ is the Lord of the past, the present, and the future, his proclamation continues in his body, the church. Thus the proclamation of God’s Word is a means of grace which calls, gathers, and redeems the people of God.” Luther added, “Preaching is God’s Word as surely as if God Himself were speaking to you.”
Those quotes may sound like very high, self-congratulatory words of praise (for those men were preachers, too). But what they say about the importance of preaching, and how it is actually God who speaks through preaching to save sinners, is merely an echo of what God himself has already said.
“Since the world through its ‘wisdom’ did not know him,” the apostle Paul writes, “God was pleased through the foolishness of our preaching to save those who believe” (1 Cor. 1:21). Elsewhere Paul writes, “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? . . . Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ” (Rom. 10:14, 17).
This is why Martin Luther says, “To preach Christ means to feed the soul, make it righteous, set it free, and save it, provided it believes the preaching.” Jesus told his disciples to ‘tend his flock’ and to ‘feed his sheep’ (John 21:15-17). We see that what Jesus meant was the able, clear, consistent preaching and application of the gospel which is the power of God for salvation. This is how God unleashes his power in the word: through preaching!
Doug Ponder is one of the founding pastors of Remnant Church in Richmond, VA, where he serves in many of the church’s teaching ministries. He has contributed to several published works and is the author of Rethink Marriage & Family. His interests include the intersection of theology, ethics, and the Christian life. Follow him on Twitter @dougponder.