CHRIST AT THE MARGINS
by Pastor Paul K. Christianson
In the last section of chapter five of John’s Gospel we are confronted with testimonies concerning the Son of God (John 5:31-47). Certainly the human testimonies which bore witness to Jesus Christ in John’s day continue to be important in this present age. By far and away the most important form of testimony outside of scripture will not be found in books, in videos, music, or even on the internet: but in preaching! The most important form of testimony to Jesus Christ remains the preaching of God’s Son. This is God’s ordained means of setting forth His Son – not the multimedia presentation.
It is the goal of preaching to exalt Christ as the glorious Son of God, humbling man by the demonstration of his sin and directs him to the Son for salvation. In preaching the renewed man is commanded to pursue holiness, for no man will see God apart from holiness: that is the essence of biblical preaching. Therefore what a privilege it is to set forth Christ in preaching. Certainly the comment of the puritan Thomas Carlyle is most poignant: “Who, having been called to be a preacher, would stoop to be a king?”
Jesus Christ disclosed himself in the scriptures, saying, ‘Ye search the scriptures, because ye think that in them ye have eternal life; and these are they which bear witness of me; and ye will not come to me, that ye may have life’ (John 5:39, 40). Why did these Jews miss Jesus Christ? Because they made a prior determination, ‘and ye will not come to me….’ It is not a problem of the mind, but rather, of the will and heart. The Jews were without excuse: not only did the scriptures witness to the Messiah, the preaching of John the Baptist also gave witness to Christ. The problem was not a little more proof, or more incisive debating tactics contending to convince them: it was not a matter of evidence or presupposition, but will and heart!
A pundit once queried of C.H. Spurgeon as to how he would “… defend the Bible”,
to which he retorted, “Defend the Bible? I’d as soon defend a lion!” There is place and precedent for ‘…being ready always to give answer to every man that asketh you a reason concerning the hope that is in you’ (1 Peter3:15b), which must not be confused with the increasing phenomena we see in Christian circles of disputations regarding the things of God, as if logical argumentation, itself, has the power to change a heart. You may wrestle an unconverted man to the ground with brilliant proofs, yet he remains dead in sin apart from the work of the Holy Spirit. Such methods, in fact, lead to marginalizing the very One we wish to set-forth, the Lord Jesus Christ. Methods or arguments becomes more important than the soul of the person to whom we speak: and it often does not stop there. Those who adhere to the debate society approach of evangelism and apologetics have forgotten the words of our savior: ‘I am come in my Father’s name….’ (John 5:43a). Even Jesus did not come in His own name, but in the name of His Father. He wished to glorify His Father, and so must we. Therefore our manner and techniques cannot be self-glorifying. The Apostle Paul defined both his message and method when he wrote, ‘For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the Gospel: not in wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made void’ (1 Cor.1:17). A few verses later Paul asserts, ‘And I, brethren, when I came unto you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ, and Him crucified’ (1 Cor.2:1, 2).
Jesus Christ is marginalized, not just in method, but by unbiblical accentuation, or lack of balance in preaching. Ongoing cultural decline and societal retreat from Christian values rightly concern our pulpits about attacks upon family, marriage, and child-rearing. Book upon book published in recent years address these family issues. Preaching too is rapidly becoming family centered, and Christ is being pushed into the margins. One is struck, in examining the New Testament, with the infrequence of family topics compared to the constant uplifting of Christ in the apostles’ preaching. In some circles, this incorrect emphasis makes the Bible little more than a ‘How To Manual’ for the “nice family club”.
Indeed, like the pharisees there is a type of veneration for the Word of God, and like them it becomes the object of debate – not only has it become the object of debate – sacred doctrine becoming the turf of intellectual rugby match and self-congratulation. Christ serves as the frame, rather than the portrait by this wrong emphasis in preaching and teaching.
The Bible’s purpose is not as guidebook to the relative merits of various aspects of family life, or the Christian’s role in society, nor the “how tos” of debate. It is not to be reasoned to, but reasoned from that we might centralize Christ rather than marginalize Him.
Jesus said, ‘… I am the way, and the truth, and the life….’ (John 14:6a). Christ is the life, for ‘… no one cometh unto the Father, but by me’ (John 14:6b). The scripture is not an end in itself. The primary end of the scriptures, as well as preaching, is to point clearly and unabashedly to Jesus Christ, not to marriage or family or finances. So in our high regard for the scriptures, and in our preaching and teaching let us not pass over the Holy Spirit’s intention that they are to direct us to the Savior first and foremost.