Tag Archives: the gospel

Preaching in the Advent Season

When it comes to Christmas, some preachers are faced with one or more dilemmas:

  • Should I temporarily step away from the book I am preaching through to preach a special Christmas message or series of messages throughout December?
  • What texts and topics shall I cover?
  • How can I present the old, old story without coming across in a stale way? How do I stay fresh with texts and topics I feel I have exhausted?

Some preachers will not deviate from their normal preaching, but will continue through the book or series they are working through.  Some of these will probably recognize the season somewhere in the service.  Others will continue their normal preaching rotation, but may use the Christmas story as an illustration of the text.  If they are preaching on humility, they may point to how Christ’s first coming provides a perfect example of humility.

Others, however, will devote entire messages to the themes of Christmas.  If this is your preference, here are some ideas that may help you present fresh, helpful, Biblical messages for the Advent season, whether you are a pastor or are filling in this month.

Expository Series

  • Preaching through a portion of a book – the most obvious idea here would be to preach through Matthew 1 & 2 or Luke 1 & 2.  One year, I had the opportunity to fill in at a church in December and preached consecutive messages from Matthew 1:1-17, 1:18-25, 2:1-18, and finished with 28:18-20 (connecting the coming of the King to His marching orders in the Great Commission).
  • Preaching through selected passages – one could take a theme and preach expository messages from key passages related to it, for example: “Christmas prophecies made and fulfilled” or “Christmas with the patriarchs & prophets.”
  • Preaching stand-alone messages – one could select various passages to preach messages that are not part of a series, except that they share the Christmas theme (such as Genesis 3:15, Genesis 12:1-3, Isaiah 7:14, Isaiah 9:1-9, Micah 5:2, Matthew 1-2, Luke 1-2, John 1:14, Galatians 4:4-7, Philippians 2:5-11, Hebrews 1, etc.).

Topical Series

  • Biographical studies – perhaps “the characters of Christmas”; could focus on the significance of the individual in the larger story and lessons we can learn (positive & negative) from individuals such as:  Mary, Joseph, shepherds, magi, scribes, King Herod, Elizabeth, Zacharias, John the Baptist, Simeon, Anna, the angel Gabriel, Caesar Augustus (well, maybe not a whole message on him, since he is just mentioned in passing… but there could be some great contrasts between him and the true Ruler), God the Father, God the Holy Spirit and of course, Jesus.
  • Geographical theme – trace the events from Bethlehem to Egypt to Nazareth to Calvary or something similar.
  • Christmas carols – take the song title as the sermon title, give the background to the song in the introduction and the preach on the main text or truth the song declares (make sure it does teach truth — see the next suggestion).
  • Christmas: fact or fiction? or “the myths of Christmas” – could debunk common errors (Really a “silent” night?  Is it true that “little Lord Jesus, no crying He makes?”  Did the shepherds look up and see a star?  Did the wise men visit Jesus immediately after the shepherds?) and focus on giving an accurate account, encouraging the people that it is necessary to know what God’s Word actually says for ourselves.
  • The scandal of Christmas – man finds fiancée pregnant before marriage! king born in a cow trough!  etc. — there is plenty of shocking material in the Christmas story that points to the glory of God in using the lowly and unexpected to bring His plan to pass.
  • The wonder of Christmas – could deal with all the wondering and marveling that the people in the narratives do (Luke 2:18, 33) and how we ought to be far more amazed at what God has done than we are.
  • The necessity of Christmas – we don’t need a lot of the stuff we have or get, but we desperately needed for Jesus to come; one could preach a series on our accountability to God our Creator, the punishment our sin deserved, how Christ was qualified to be our sacrifice, and what He accomplished in His life and death

There are many ways to preach helpful, biblical messages for the Advent season.  And they can be intermingled as well (for example, preaching a biographical message each year and using the rest of the Sundays for an expository series).  But none of them will be as helpful and as biblical as they should be unless you also remember to do the following:

  • Connect passage to its context and main point, even if you’re focusing on a minor point.
  • Locate the Christmas story in the storyline of the Bible – particularly in how it is fulfilling God’s promises to bring salvation to sinful mankind.
  • Be sure to bring out who Jesus is, and the wonder of the incarnation – God taking on flesh, fully God and fully man (but perfect)it is also good to connect His humble birth, perfect life, substitutionary death, victorious resurrection, exalted title, and His future glorious return.
  • Explain why Jesus needed to come – although you could preach a whole message on this topic (one of the suggestions above), it needs to be present in some way any time we preach, if we are to be “gospel” preachers who preach the gospel.  And the whole reason Christmas should be so glorious is that it is an announcement of the gospel:   “good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people” (Luke 2:10).

The Unashamed Workman blog also has some suggestions for dealing with the “Challenges of Christmas Preaching” here.

Two related articles:

“An Ambivalent Hallmark Calendar Guy” by Dr. Michael Lawrence

“100 Failed Human Predictions” by Dr. David Murray

Acts 16 Sermon Summary

Three Ways God Spreads the Good News

Acts 16:6-34

People have utilized many ways of spreading news.  In the past, the Pony Express and the telegraph were means people used to share information.  Today, people use a plethora of methods to broadcast and receive news, such as television, radio, text-messages, cell phones, e-mail, and the Internet.

God can do anything He wants and could have chosen to write His good news, the Gospel, in the clouds.  He could have personally manifested Himself in a visible and audible form to every human being to communicate the message.  But God has chosen to spread His good news by other means.  In Acts 16, we see three of those means.

1. Obedience to Guidance (v. 6-13)

In Acts 16, we find Paul on his second missionary journey.  Like the writer of “Amazing Grace,” John Newton, Paul was now preaching the faith he had once labored to destroy because of the change God had made in his life.  Along with Paul were Timothy, Silas, and Luke (the author, whose pronouns change to “we” and “us” in verse 10 to indicate his presence with the group).

The missionaries thought they should go to Asia Minor (modern day Turkey), but the Holy Spirit did not allow them.  They were directed instead to Macedonia by a vision Paul received.  They immediately obeyed the vision, believing that God had called them to preach the Gospel there.  God used obedience to guidance to spread His good news.

In what areas do you need to obey God?  If you know what you should do, then the response should be immediate obedience.  Is there someone you know you should share the Gospel with?  God may use your obedience to guidance to spread His good news.

2. Faithfulness in Clear Evangelism (v. 14-15, 30-32)

Arriving in Philippi, a strategic and historic city, Paul speaks God’s Word to a group of women gathered for prayer.  This implies that there were not enough Jewish men in the area to have a synagogue, since Paul’s usual practice was to go first to the synagogue and preach Christ.  He went to people who needed the Gospel.  God opened Lydia’s heart and she believed the word Paul spoke.  Paul also shared verbally with the Philippian jailer, telling him not only to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and be saved but later speaking the Word to the jailer and his family, likely explaining matters more fully.  God used Paul’s faithfulness in clear evangelism to spread his good news.

No one likes a garbled, confusing message.  Therefore, we ought to be clear when we share the Gospel with people.  We know from other parts of the book of Acts that Paul made the matters of the Gospel clear to others so they would know what they should believe and why.  The Gospel is more than “Jesus loves you” or “ask Jesus into your heart.”  We ought to tell people about the greatness of God and His right as our Creator to tell us what to do.  We need to explain sin as rebellion against God, and that we are all sinners who deserve to be punished forever for despising God.  We need to tell them who Christ is (the God-man, the Son of God in human flesh) and what He did in His perfect life and substitutionary death for sinners.  We must tell them of his ascension and that He will one day judge the world in righteousness.  We must not merely leave them with these facts, but must call upon them to repent of their sin and trust in Christ alone for their salvation so that they may have eternal life and enjoy God forever.

Even as God opened Lydia’s heart to respond, He does the same with people today.  We are not responsible for the response to the message.  We are responsible to deliver the message faithfully.  God uses faithfulness in clear evangelism to spread His good news.

3. Praise in Suffering (v. 16-34)

Although Paul would not have adopted the motto, “Preach the Gospel – if necessary, use words,” he understood that his life should reflect the saving message he proclaimed.  He wanted His walk to support, not hinder, the spread of the words of life.

A demon-possessed girl annoyed Paul by following the missionaries and announcing, day after day, that they were servants of the most high God who were proclaiming the way of salvation.  Paul cast the demon out, much to the chagrin of her masters, who owned her as a slave and had profited from her fortune-telling business.  Paul and Silas were falsely accused of instigating chaos in the city, and were then stripped and beaten.  They were cast into the inner prison of the jail, and their feet were fastened in stocks which spread the legs apart and created much cramping.

These men who had come to proclaim God’s good news were now suffering for righteousness.  How did they respond?  At midnight, they were heard praying and praising God with singing.  They gave God praise in suffering, and He used it to spread his good news.  He sent an earthquake that nearly resulted in the jailer’s suicide, which Paul prevented by informing him that no one had escaped from the jail.  Trembling, the jailer asked what he must do to be saved, and Paul shared the Gospel with him.  He and his family came to know Christ through Paul’s and Silas’ praise in suffering.

Joni Eareckson Tada is another fitting example of praise in suffering.  She became a quadriplegic, losing the use of her arms and legs, as a result of a diving accident as a teenager.  Instead of remaining angry at God, she has praised Him for His goodness to her and has shared His good news with many – from her wheelchair.  I recently attended the funeral of a woman named Lisa, who reached the point of thanking God for her brain tumors because He used her suffering to help reach others with the Gospel.  It was fitting that one of the songs at Lisa’s memorial celebration was from Job 1:21, which speaks of how God gives and takes away, but His name is to be blessed, that is, praised.

Are you afraid to suffer for the Gospel?  Can you praise God in trials?  Have you considered how your reactions to suffering may bring to you greater opportunities to share the good news?  Rodney Griffin wrote a song from this passage in which he made the point that the times of suffering are the times that “God wants to hear you sing.”

Remember that James told us to count it all joy when we suffer (James 1:2-4) and Jesus said that we are blessed if we suffer for His sake and have great reward (Matthew 5:10-12).  Your best life is not now, but in the world to come.  Let’s not forget the power of God and his time-tested method of using praise in suffering to spread His good news.

Our communication methods may come and go.  E-mail and cell phones may one day be as obsolete as the Pony Express and the telegraph.  But until Christ returns, God will continue to use the methods He has utilized for the last 2,000 years to spread the Gospel:  obedience to guidance, faithfulness in clear evangelism, and praise in suffering.  As we obey, share, and worship Him, may He be pleased to use us to spread His good news.

Preached by Doug Smith, guest speaker at Fellowship Chapel, Bristol, Virginia, July 15, 2007

Click here to listen to or download the complete sermon (.mp3 audio).

Click here to download the Word document of this summary.

Click here to download a pdf file of this summary.

Beyond a VeggieTales Gospel: Preaching Christ from Every Text – Resources from Dr. Russell Moore

Did you know there are some churches where you may not hear the gospel?  No, I’m not talking about liberal churches, where fundamental doctrines such as the deity of Christ and substitutionary atonement and the resurrection are denied.  I’m talking about churches that claim to believe and uphold the gospel.  Many messages approach the Bible as little more than a self-help manual with “5 steps to…”

But the Bible is about far more than that.  It is about a cosmic struggle between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent.  It is about a holy God to whom we must give account.  It is about the pervading sinfulness of man.  It is about blood and sacrifice.  It is about the redemption bought by the sinless Son of God, through His perfect life and His vicarious death on the cross.  It is about the risen and returning King to whom every knee will bow and every tongue will confess.  It is about the need of every soul to repent of sin and trust Christ.

And no matter which part of the Bible is being preached, there is a path to Christ from that text.  While we must be sure we do not misinterpret the text, there is some way in which it predicts, prefigures, or patterns some aspect of our need of salvation and what Christ has done, when seen within the larger context of the whole Bible.

I encourage you to avail yourself of this excellent material from Dr. Russell Moore of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, about preaching Christ from every text.  Let’s be sure that if someone doesn’t hear the gospel that it’s not because we are failing to preach it.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-uwQi2Kea8A]

Book Review – Jesus’ Blood and Righteousness

Jesus’ Blood and Righteousness: Paul’s Theology of Imputation. By Brian Vickers. Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books, 2006.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Brian Vickers (M.A., Wheaton College; M.Div., Ph.D., the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) serves as Assistant Professor of New Testament Interpretation at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. A member of the Evangelical Theological Society and the Institute for Biblical Research, Dr. Vickers is also the Assistant Editor of The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology. His articles have appeared in Trinity JournalEusebiaThe Southern Baptist Journal of TheologyGospel Witness, and The New Illustrated Holman Bible Dictionary.

Perhaps you have heard the word justification defined this way: justification is God’s treating me just as if I had never sinned. But is this true? Does justification merely equal forgiveness of sins—as amazing as that is—or is there something more? Do we need an external righteousness that is not our own?

These are questions of eternal significance. In Jesus’ Blood and Righteousness: Paul’s Theology of Imputation, Brian Vickers argues that the question of whether Scripture teaches the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to the believer is not a mere academic debate but a matter that concerns the heart of the gospel and salvation (p. 15). Vickers states his argument on page 18: “The contention of this book is that the imputation of Christ’s righteousness is a legitimate and necessary synthesis of Paul’s teaching.” He has produced a persuasive and rewarding book defending this Scriptural doctrine.

Vickers desires to avoid the twin extremes of seeing too much in a particular text by importing ideas into it (eisegesis) and seeing too little in the text by failing to see the big picture (ignoring the interpretation of Scripture by Scripture). As a corollary goal, he hopes to show that “Protestant theology, particularly the Reformed tradition, has not been dominated only by systematicians who cared little for exegesis” (p. 18, footnote 4).

Vickers states that the book does not thoroughly examine all of the concepts related to imputation. Topics such as righteousness and union with Christ are not given an exhaustive treatment but are dealt with in light of their implications for imputation. He also informs readers that the book overlooks much important historical material to focus on the matters of exegesis related to imputation. Finally, this book does not contain a section devoted to a study of the New Perspective on Paul, although Vickers gives extensive bibliographical listings and interacts with proponents of New Perspective views in various sections as these ideas relate to imputation.

To give context and frame to the discussion, chapter one sketches the history of the doctrine of imputation, beginning with the Reformation and continuing to the present. The chapters that follow are an examination of key texts relevant to imputation and contain rigorous exegesis, technical language, and copious footnotes. Vickers concludes with a synthesis of Paul’s teaching and a final chapter on the importance of the doctrine of imputation. Each chapter closes with a helpful summary.

Vickers demonstrates that the doctrine of imputation was not fully developed by the Reformers but was refined by their followers in writings and church creeds. He argues that imputation, though often associated with covenant theology, is not restricted to a covenantal framework (p. 34, footnote 36). He shows that modern theologians can be found across the spectrum, including those who embrace traditional views and those who deny imputation but finds that the traditional view is a neglected doctrine in modern times (p. 44). Vickers notes that “the inductive and descriptive nature of biblical theology” can provide “a guard against unfounded deductions” from particular texts, but it can also pose a danger by preventing any kind of synthesis of various texts (p. 69). He argues for the legitimacy of systematic theology, particularly in regard to imputation.

Chapter two focuses on Paul’s quotation of Genesis 15:6: “Abraham believed in God and it was reckoned to him for righteousness” (Rom. 4:3, English Standard Version). Vickers shows that Paul’s understanding of Abraham is at odds with Jewish tradition that sees Abraham’s works as the ground of his justification. By studying the context of Romans, Vickers concludes that Abraham is ungodly, and he receives imputed righteousness through faith apart from works. Vickers sums up his conclusion on imputation in Romans 4:

Romans 4:1-8 is about the appropriation of righteousness, and that righteousness, as a status declared by God, is most clearly linked in this text with the non-imputation of sin, i.e., forgiveness. This status is brought about by the reckoning of faith as righteousness. Faith is not itself the righteousness, but as is made clear in the context, faith is the instrument that unites the believer to the object of faith. The object is thus the source of the righteousness that is reckoned to the believer (p. 111).

Chapter three discusses Romans 5:19 (“For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous,” ESV), as well as its immediate context of 5:12-21 and other sections of Romans. Adam and Christ, as representatives of the human race, determine by their actions the status of those they represent. Vickers concludes that this passage presents the basis for the counting of the believer as righteous in Romans 4. He writes:

The righteous status, made possible by Christ’s obedience, is applied to the believer when he puts his faith in God. Christ’s obedience “counts” for the status that is secured at the cross, and appropriated by faith, through which comes the declaration of the actual status, “righteous” (p. 157).

Second Corinthians 5:21 (“For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God,” ESV) is the focus of chapter four. Vickers argues that Paul draws heavily on the “Servant Songs” in Isaiah (such as chapter 53), which prophesy of Christ’s sufferings while placing them in a sacrificial context. This shapes the meaning of the phrase “made sin.” Furthermore, he says:

From first to last this is an act of God, who made Christ a sacrifice for sin by causing the sins of others to be counted to him. The twin statements, “a new creation” and “become the righteousness of God,” both centered in the phrase “in Christ” and dependent on his representative death, indicate that just as sin was reckoned to Christ, so too is Christ’s sacrificial death counted for righteousness to those “in him.” God counts them as righteous because they have Christ’s righteousness, they have Christ himself, and he has them (p. 190).

In chapter five, Vickers offers a synthesis of imputation taken from the texts examined in chapters two, three, and four. His position is strengthened by looking at the relation of other texts to imputation: 1 Corinthians 1:30Philippians 3:9, and Romans 9:30-10:4. He finds that Paul teaches that Christ’s righteousness is imputed to believers, His obedience having counted for those united to Him by faith. God has acted “through Christ on behalf of sinners, who though undeserving are forgiven and declared righteous as a free gift from God on the basis of Christ’s substitutionary death” (p. 232).

Vickers concludes that the imputation of Christ’s righteousness is a doctrine derived from a biblical-theological study of Paul’s writings and, therefore, is the teaching of the Scriptures.

Jesus’ Blood and Righteousness will challenge many readers, particularly those not acquainted with Hebrew and Greek words and grammar. The book is highly technical in some places, and the footnotes may become wearisome. However, Vickers has done his homework. He has produced an in-depth biblical-theological study that is well worth the effort to mine its gold. Educated readers, particularly pastors and seminarians, should obtain this book and study it.

Jesus’ Blood and Righteousness effectively bridges the unnecessary gap many try to create between biblical and systematic theology, revealing the need for both and the legitimacy of a synthesis of the various pieces of the puzzle, based on proper exegesis. Vickers admits that there is no single text that explicitly states that Christ’s righteousness is imputed to the believer, but, with thorough exegesis, consideration of objections, and interaction with other scholars, he convincingly demonstrates that the doctrine of imputation is nonetheless a scriptural teaching that Christians cannot afford to discard.

In the end, Vickers accomplishes his goal to show the legitimacy of imputation as a synthesis of Paul’s teaching, demonstrating that good systematic theology is based on proper exegesis. The book has reinforced for me the need to study the Bible carefully and to interpret Scripture with Scripture, so I neither read too much into a text nor miss the forest for the trees. It has also spurred renewed gratitude to God for the gift of Christ’s righteousness imputed to us through faith that unites us to Him. What grace that God counts Christ’s obedience as ours! What good news we have to share! Truly, as Edward Mote penned, our “hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.”

This review is revised from its original appearance at www.sharperiron.org.

Reviewed by Doug Smith