On the Inexhaustible Riches of Preaching Christ and Him Crucified
The atonement—Christ’s blood shed as the ransom for sinners—is the very core of the gospel. There is no good news without Christ’s sacrifice, for without the shedding of blood there can be no forgiveness of sins. To preach the cross means to preach penal substitutionary atonement. When a preacher says, “I am a gospel man!” he means—he ought to mean—“I am a preacher of the cross of Christ!”
But what does that mean? What did Paul have in mind when he told the Corinthians that he “determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor 2:2)? Does it mean that we incessantly preach narrow and shallow “Calvary sermons,” mindlessly rehearsing basic phrases and tropes?
By no means! Of course, first and foremost, it does require that we preach a crucified Christ as the sole object of saving faith. The penal substitutionary atonement of Christ is our good news. When pushing them back to the very essence of salvation, Paul asked the Galatians, “Who has bewitched you that you should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed among you as crucified?” (Gal 3:1). Such preaching means sweetly, intelligently, engagingly, inventively, attractively, persistently, stubbornly, holding up the wonders of redeeming love in the death of the Son. It means preaching from both the Old and New Testaments—from the types and shadows, and from the glorious fulfilment. It means pressing Christ’s claims upon needy souls.
But preaching the cross does not end there. The great themes and topics of Scripture are to be heralded on a regular basis. In doing this, we must always follow the road that brings us back to our Savior. We must display truth so that Christ is seen at the heart. Preaching Christ is not merely tacking him on as an addendum to our messages, or as part of a random gospel appeal. Jesus is not just a name to be repeated time after time. Rather, we are to see all the truths we expound as connected to our Lord. According to Alexander MacLaren,
Preaching Christ does not exclude any theme, but prescribes the bearing and purpose of all; and the widest compass and richest variety are not only possible, but obligatory for him who would in any worthy sense take this for the motto of his ministry, “I determine not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ and him crucified.1
And this is what we must pursue both in more directly evangelistic preaching and what we might call more pastoral ministry. The apostles brought every issue of doctrine and practice, every question of faith and life, back to Christ and him crucified, and resolved it at the foot of the cross.
Were there divisions in the church? Between nationalities? Between factions? Between individuals? Was there creeping legalism? Were libertarianism and antinomianism asserting themselves? Were there false teachers preaching any of a range of heresies? Were there sad and doubting Christians? Did believers need comfort or exhortation? The right response to any and all of these dangers and difficulties was and always is the same: Jesus.
Read over the epistles through this lens, and see how the cross is the answer to division between Jew and Gentile, to legalism in Galatia, to paganism in Ephesus, to mysticism and syncretism in Colossae. It deals with antagonism between Philemon and Onesimus, with forgiveness between saints in Ephesus, with selfishness in Philippi.
Christ is not only the entrance into the kingdom, He is its abiding life-principle. His penal substitutionary atonement not only brings sinners into the way, it keeps them and helps them on the way. There is nothing in the Christian life that is divorced from the crucifed Christ. He is the golden hub of the gospel wheel, and the whole is only true and balanced insofar as he is kept at its center.
Christ in his death and resurrection is the beating heart of the gospel. So preach penal substitutionary atonement in all its range and richness. Preach the cross. Explain it and apply it. Preach Christ and him crucified, for the abiding and abounding life of every soul.
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1 Alexander MacLaren, The Expositor’s Bible: Volume 6 (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1956), 224.