[Jesus] told them, “This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations. (Luke 24:46-47)
No wonder pastors enjoy preaching. The way to God has been opened and it is through Jesus. Repentance and forgiveness are preached in his name. Your task as a pastor is to present this good news in a way that is beautiful, engaging and persuasive.
Preach what has spoken to your own heart. But it gets even better. Not only do you preach truth that is attractive, you preach truth that has come alive to you amid the ups and downs of your everyday struggles. Preaching includes an implicit contract: the text has reached your own heart, and now you offer it to those you love.
With this in mind, preparation might begin with an email to your congregation. “Please pray for me today. I plan to spend some time working on my sermon on Romans 5. I want the Spirit and the Word to come alive for me.”
Preach the truth about God. You are preaching to people with real problems and needs. Guilt is, indeed, a real problem, forgiveness is a real need. Yet competing with these is a popular myth. It suggests that Jesus is nice. But the father—he is persistently peeved. He is just waiting for us to get out of line so he can vent a little of his wrath. To borrow a biological image, his resting state is one in which he is suspicious that we will sin very soon and he is already upset about it. I mention Romans 5 because it can potentially silence this myth by taking us directly into the character of God. Though the practical living sections of Scripture have their allure, it is here—knowing God truly—that sermons have their impact.
So though Scripture does speak of God’s wrath against sin, it is not the main emphasis. Scripture’s emphasis is that the triune God is inclined, by his very nature, to forgive. That is his resting state. His plan has always been to turn his wrath away from us and onto another, and he does this as an expression of his character rather than a response to our contrition.
God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. (Romans 5:8-11)
Love comes to sinners. Wrath has been turned away because God—Father, Son and Spirit—want it that way. Sin separates us from God no longer. He has attached himself to us. We cannot argue with the blood of Christ shed for us.
How can we discern whether or not this reality is pressing in and reshaping us? Life under a persnickety god is joyless. Life under the God who has revealed himself most fully in Jesus feels like hope rising and joy is our calling. Perhaps a simple “thank you” will keep us headed in the right direction.
Preaching starts with our own everyday struggles and the Spirit’s lively work in our hearts. Preaching then moves toward other people and their everyday struggles. From there, it always aims to surprise us with the character of God displayed ultimately in Jesus. Here we find that the triune God delights in communion with his people, and he has made the way for that through forgiveness in Jesus.