It may sound strange to ask, “How do I preach Christ from the Gospels?” After all, the Gospels, more than any other biblical books, are the explicit stories about Jesus and the explicit teachings of Jesus. These are the firsthand accounts of the birth, life, ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ. Everything the Old Testament anticipated about Jesus comes to fruition in the gospels, and every New Testament letter that comes later is explaining how the events of His life in the gospels have significance for the church. So preaching Christ from the gospels seems like a no-brainer!
Ways We Fail To Preach Christ From The Gospels
Unfortunately, preaching Christ from the Gospels is not automatic. There are plenty of pastors who preach sermons from the gospels each Sunday, but don’t preach Christ. We fail to preach Christ from the gospels when we fail to present Him as the hero who can rescue from sin. Three specific ways are: 1) telling our people to follow Christ’s example without referring to the Good News, 2) telling our people to follow another’s example without emphasizing Christ, and 3) telling our people to follow Christ’s teaching without rooting our exhortations in the gospel.
- Follow Christ’s Example
When preachers (We have all done it. Confession is good for the soul!) present Jesus merely as an example to follow rather than the Christ who saves, we fail to preach Christ from the gospels. One glaring example of this is the temptation of Jesus in Luke 4. That passage is often preached as if the point of the story is to pay attention in Awanas. Memorize your verses, like Jesus, so you can fight off Satan’s temptation. That reduces Jesus to an example rather than the Savior.
- Follow Another’s Example
Remember the story of the healing of the paralyzed man in Mark 2? Often when we preach this passage we emphasize the friends who brought the paralyzed man to Jesus rather than pointing to Jesus–the one who actually heals the paralytic! We urge our people to follow the friends’ example by bringing our friends to Jesus, making them the heroes of the story rather than Christ.
- Follow Christ’s Teachings
When we preach the teachings of Jesus without rooting them in the Gospel, we fail to preach Christ. For example, when we preach the Sermon on the Mount and exhort our people to love their enemies and pray for those who persecute them, if we leave the impression that the way to do this is merely exerting more effort instead of the gospel itself, then we imply that Christianity is about following rules more than grace.
Make Christ The Hero of The Sermon
You need to make sure your sermons are in line with the purpose of the Gospels. And, what is the intention of the Gospels? Paul tells his young mentee, Timothy, that the intention of the “sacred Scriptures” is to “give you wisdom for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (CSB, 2 Tim. 3:15). Of course, Paul had in mind the Old Testament when he wrote that, but the same intention would be true of the Gospels.
Matthew wrote to prove Jesus is the Jewish Messiah. Mark wrote to prove Jesus was the Son of God. Luke wrote to show that Jesus is the savior of all mankind, both Jews and Gentiles. Amazingly, John told his readers that Jesus did so many things that all the books in the world could not contain all the stories (John 21:25), but he wrote these stories down so that his readers might “believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (CSB, John 20:31).
The purpose of your sermon is to present Jesus as the hero so that your audience can believe in Him and be saved! The point of Mark 2 is that Jesus can forgive sins. The point of Luke 4 is that where Adam failed Satan’s temptation (after all, Adam is the last name mentioned before the story; Luke 3:38) and where we fail Satan’s temptation, Jesus succeeded, so He can save us from our sins, especially since he refused Satan’s enticement to bypass the cross. Jesus doesn’t just tell us to pray for those who persecute us, he actually does it from the cross (Luke 23:34). He is the point – the hero – of the Gospels!
What About Application?
I can hear someone object, “Where does practical application fit in?” The problem is that we often confuse who the hero of the sermon is because we rightly want to practically apply it to our peoples’ lives. By focusing more on our sheep (i.e. bring your friends, memorize verses, and be a good Christian who loves your enemies), we make them the hero of the sermon rather than Jesus. Being the hero is a weight our sheep can’t bear!
The truth is that only when Jesus is the hero of the sermon can helpful application flow to our audience. Since Christ is the Savior who defeated Satan, believe in Him and he will empower you by the Spirit to use the word to fight temptation. Since Christ can forgive sins, you need to come to Him for forgiveness and you need to bring your friends! Since Christ loves His enemies, He can empower His followers to love their enemies.
How to Preach Christ From The Gospels
So, how do you preach Christ from the Gospels in this way? Here are some diagnostic questions to ask of your sermon before you preach it:
- Who is the hero (the main character) of my sermon?
- Is the gospel of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone emphasized?
- Does my sermon give the implication that “I need to obey God in order to be accepted by Him?” Or, does my sermon give the implication that “I am accepted by God in Christ in order to obey Him?”
- Does my application locate the ability to obey in my sheep or in the Great Shepherd?
Keeping these questions in mind as you prepare your sermon will help ensure that you are pointing your audience toward the one who can save them, transform them and empower them to live in Christ.
About: Dr. Kevin Ezell serves as the President of the North American Mission Board, providing strategic vision, direction, and leadership as NAMB works to reach North America through evangelism and church planting. Kevin earned his bachelor’s degree from Union University in Jackson, Tennessee. He received a Masters of Divinity from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, and a Doctorate of Ministry from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. Kevin most recently served as Senior Pastor of Highview Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky for 14 years. He and his wife, Lynette, have six children, Anna, Shelly, Taylor, John Michael, Libby, and Micah Lyn.