Since 1942, a bronze bust memorializing an early twentieth century minister has stood in Denny Park, Seattle’s earliest city park. A plaque on the monument states, “To the Memory of Rev. Mark A. Matthews, D.D., LL.D., Preacher of the Word of God and Friend to Man.” Reverend Matthews (1867-1940), pastor of America’s largest Presbyterian Church in the early 1900s, delivered his sermons by pacing back and forth on the stage. Unlike many preachers of his day, he preferred not to preach behind a pulpit. More important to him than an actual pulpit, Matthews desired to preach “hiding behind the cross of Jesus.” In fact, he often prayed before preaching:
Hide me behind the cross,
Lift me out of self;
Teach me to speak the truth as He taught it [Emphasis added]. David L. Larsen, The Company of the Preachers: A History of Biblical Preaching from the Old Testament to the Modern Era, vol. 2 (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1988), 811.
The desire for a preacher to “hide behind the cross” sounds reminiscent of the apostle Paul’s convictional declaration, “to preach Christ and Him crucified,” in his first correspondence with the Corinthian church:
Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God (1 Cor. 1:20-24, NASB, Emphasis added).
Many of the wise men, scribes, and debaters during the apostle’s day preached appealing to signs or utilizing the wisdom of that age (vv. 20, 22). Such preaching attracted Jews and Greeks alike. On the other hand, Paul appealed to both Jews and Greeks by preaching Christ and Him crucified (v. 23), hiding both himself and his preaching behind the cross of Christ.
In order to emulate Paul’s preaching, gospel preachers of all ages must preach Christ and Him crucified. Those who conform to the apostle’s example also ensure while expositing the meaning of each text within its context that their sermons incorporate Christ-centered, evangelistic truths. Some of these truths include the following:
- Gospel preachers must preach Christ and Him crucified to ensure they preach a different Christ than the world conceives. Contemporary misconceptions about Christ and who He is abound. Some common misunderstandings about who Christ is include Him as merely a good teacher of Judeo-Christian morality, an unfortunate victim of the Roman Empire’s penal system, an idealistic Jewish zealot during the first century, and/or an all-inclusive advocate for contemporary, secular worldviews and causes. Advocates of these and other misunderstandings proclaim a false Christ, leading their hearers astray (Matt 24:5), ultimately providing them without hope in the world. However, preaching Christ and Him crucified contrasts misconceptions like these with the true Christ found in the Scriptures—God the Son, in the flesh, who willingly submitted Himself to His Father’s will as the once-for-all sacrifice for sin on the cross to save those who will receive Him.
- Gospel preachers must preach Christ and Him crucified to ensure they preach the responsibility of man’s sin. Since Adam and Eve’s post-Fall conversation with God (Gen 3:11-13), men and women blame their sins on anything and anyone but themselves. Prone to believe the serpent’s ancient temptation that mankind can compare itself to God (Gen 3:5), Adam’s race avoids responsibility for its own sin. However, the preaching of Christ and Him crucified confronts men and women alike with the responsibility of their own sin. Christ was not crucified on account of His own sin, for He did not sin. Instead, He was crucified for the sin of all mankind, taking sin’s curse upon Himself. As Paul declares, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree’” (Gal 3:13, NASB).
- Gospel preachers must preach Christ and Him crucified to ensure they preach the righteous demands of God concerning man’s sin. Perhaps the most well-known Bible verses are those that accentuate the love of God. Both believers and unbelievers know and even quote verses like “…God is love” (1 John 4:8, NASB) and “For God loved the world in this way: He gave His One and Only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16, HCSB). God’s love is obvious to those who hear that God sent His Son to die for the sins of the world. However, by preaching Christ crucified, gospel preachers pair God’s virtuous love with His divine justice. Christ’s death on the cross fulfills God’s righteous wrath against mankind’s sin and provides the only way anyone may avoid eternal separation from God in hell.
- Gospel preachers must preach Christ and Him crucified to ensure they preach His resurrection. Preaching Christ crucified necessitates that those who hear learn, or are reminded, of the Savior who died a bloody death on a cruel instrument of death for them. The sacrifice, suffering, and sorrow of Good Friday makes it possible for sinful man to be reconciled to holy God. However, every preacher who preaches Christ and Him crucified knows what lies beyond Jesus’ cross and burial and they must not neglect to proclaim His resurrection! As S.M. Lockridge, former pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in San Diego, masterfully declared:
. . . It’s Friday
The soldiers nail my Savior’s hands
To the cross
They nail my Savior’s feet
To the cross
And then they raise him up
Next to criminals
But let me tell you something
. . . It’s Friday
Jesus is buried
A soldier stands guard
And a rock is rolled into place
But it’s Friday
It is only Friday
Sunday is a comin’!
- Gospel preachers must preach Christ and Him crucified to ensure they preach the necessity of a response to God thru Christ alone. People commonly have hoped they will go to heaven on account of their own merit. However, if men and women could secure salvation on the basis of their own merit, Jesus unnecessarily died upon the cross. Apparently false teachers had convinced the Galatians during Paul’s day to neglect trusting in the crucified Christ he had preached to them and rely on their adherence to the Law. He rebuked them, saying, “You foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified? This is the only thing I want to find out from you: did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith” (Gal. 3:1-2, NASB)? Jesus necessarily died on the cross because He alone provided salvation for those who will repent, believe, and confess. Inasmuch, gospel preachers who preach Christ crucified call their hearers to respond to God through faith in Christ alone, because Christ alone can save.
On July 9, 1876, Charles Haddon Spurgeon declared in his sermon, “The motto of all true servants of God must be, ‘We preach Christ; and him crucified.’ A sermon without Christ in it is like a loaf of bread without any flour in it. No Christ in your sermon, sir? Then go home, and never preach again until you have something worth preaching.”  Charles Haddon Spurgeon, “To You,” Sermon No. 2899, http://www.spurgeongems.org/vols49-51/chs2899.pdf (accessed on February 5, 2017). Some preachers may not have something worth preaching, but all gospel preachers have Someone worth preaching! Gospel preachers, hide behind the cross by preaching Christ and Him crucified.
About: Dr. Matt Queen (@DrMattQueen) serves as the L.R. Scarborough Chair of Evangelism (“The Chair of Fire”), Associate Professor of Evangelism, and Associate Dean for Doctoral Programs in the Roy Fish School of Evangelism and Missions at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is married to Hope and they have two daughters, Madison and Matia. He and his family are members of Cana Baptist Church in Burleson, Texas.
|↑1||David L. Larsen, The Company of the Preachers: A History of Biblical Preaching from the Old Testament to the Modern Era, vol. 2 (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1988), 811.|
|↑2||Charles Haddon Spurgeon, “To You,” Sermon No. 2899, http://www.spurgeongems.org/vols49-51/chs2899.pdf (accessed on February 5, 2017).|