Preaching Is All About 'You'
We need to preach more about the Gospel!” a wellmeaning pastor admonished his brothers at a pastoral conference. As he continued his speech, a little old man shuffled up to the microphone. It’s hard to believe that this old pastor, barely over five feet tall, had been among the very first in all the German churches to reject publicly the Nazi Party platform and then struggled against Hitler for the rest of the war. He declared to his brother pastors: “For more than 50 years I have never preached about the Gospel. I have only preached the Gospel!”
Hermann Sasse put his finger on a perennial weakness in our preaching. The sermon is not mere information. The preacher must dare to speak the biblical “you!” in both Law and Gospel. “You killed the Lord of glory!” “Your righteous deeds are as filthy rags.” “You are the man!” (Nathan to David).
And the Gospel is proclaimed the same way: “Today is born for you a Savior.” “Your sins are forgiven.” “You are raised with Him in Baptism.” “The blood of Christ, shed for you.”
Preaching is a finger-pointing business. It takes courage to stand in the pulpit and let fly, accusing full-on with all the force of the damning Law. “The Law is to be preached in its full severity” (Walther). It takes even more skill to preach the full and sweet Gospel to sinners accused. Yet the Bible is packed to the brim with Christ’s full and free forgiveness, ready to be dished up and delivered by the lips of the preacher. “By killing he makes alive,” Luther emphasized again and again. And so our preaching must kill the old man, damn him thoroughly to hell and raise him up again with Christ and His free forgiveness.
Preachers, let’s sit at the feet of the apostles. Notice how many times “you” appears in Peter’s sermon:
“Men of Israel . . . The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified His servant Jesus, whom you delivered over and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release Him. But you denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses. . . .
“And now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers. But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that His Christ would suffer, He thus fulfilled. [You] repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that He may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets long ago. Moses said, ‘The Lord God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brothers. You shall listen to Him in whatever He tells you. And it shall be that every soul who does not listen to that prophet shall be destroyed from the people.’ And all the prophets who have spoken, from Samuel and those who came after him, also proclaimed these days. You are the sons of the prophets and of the covenant that God made with your fathers, saying to Abraham, ‘And in your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed.’ God, having raised up His servant, sent Him to you first, to bless you by turning every one of you from your wickedness” (Acts 3:12a, 13–15, 17–26 ESV).
I love a bit of humor in a sermon, a rhetorical surprise. A story is great, even the occasional personal story. I’m a fan of all sorts of styles, of changing things up and “finding a new string to thump” on occasion (Luther). But through it all, let’s stop preaching limply and merely only about the Law and the Gospel. Let’s preach the Law in all its condemnation and the Gospel in all its sweetness.
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