In 1980 Klaas Runia outlined a number of criticisms being leveled at the whole concept and practice of preaching in the church.1 The attack was seen to be coming from social scientists, communication theorists, and theologians. Runia saw it as warranting a measured response in defense of the traditional practice of proclaiming the word of God. But there are hard questions about preaching that we need to address, for even in evangelical churches the centrality of the sermon, and the method of its delivery, have come in for criticism and much modification.
Runia quotes P. T. Forsyth as saying: “It is, perhaps, an overbold beginning, but I will venture to say that with its preaching Christianity stands and falls.”2 There is no doubt that we are faced with the hard questions of the nature of preaching and its importance. Do we capitulate to the modern theorists and theologians, or do we press on and preach the traditional Sunday sermon even if it seems that in numbers of regular listeners we are losing ground? Of course not all congregations are dwindling, and there are always the spectacular success stories to spur us on and to provide us with role models. But how do we determine the nature of success, and what criteria do we use to establish the effectiveness of preaching?
Evangelical Protestants stand in a long and venerable tradition, going back to the Reformation, of the centrality of preaching in the activities of the gathered congregation. We could appeal to the practice of the Reformers, the Puritans, and the leaders of the evangelical revival, not to mention the great preachers of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. There are stirring accounts of men like John Wesley, George Whitefield, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, and, more recently, Campbell Morgan, D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, and Billy Graham, whose preaching to thousands was profoundly effective in the conversion and edification of so many. We have to ask about the stimulus for this activity through which multitudes have been converted to Christ. Can it really be simply a passing phenomenon destined to become outdated as we enter a more technologically oriented age of electronic communication media?
One of the real gains of applying the method of biblical theology is that it enables us to understand the biblical teaching on any given topic in a holistic way. We are not dependent on a few proof texts for the establishment of a doctrine or for understanding the nature of some important concept. We can look at what lies behind the developed concept as we may have it in the New Testament, and ask what is really impelling it into the prominence it seems to have. We can observe the various strands that give this doctrine its texture and its richness. We can then better evaluate the importance it should have in the contemporary church.
The standard manuals on preaching rarely deal with the subject from the point of view of biblical theology. There may be many reasons for this, but one of them would be the comparative neglect of biblical theology among evangelicals and the outright suspicion of it among many non-evangelicals. This is a regrettable state of affairs and somewhat hard to understand. After all, the common conviction of evangelicals is that the Bible is the word of God and that we have a commission to proclaim it. Yet for some reason, the obvious perspective of the unity of the Bible, the overall message of biblical revelation, seems to become submerged under a mass of lesser concerns.
Building a Biblical Theology of the Preached Word
It is clear from the New Testament that the primary means by which the church grew was through the preaching of the gospel. The apostle Paul, who wrote to the Corinthians that he was determined to know nothing among them but Christ and Him crucified, expressed it simply: “we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles” (1 Cor. 1:23; 2:2).
The act of proclaiming, or preaching, was not the giving of opinions or of reinterpreting old religious traditions in new and creative ways. It was proclaiming the word of God. Whatever the form of the proclamation, the content was the gospel of Jesus, and it was by this means alone that people were added to the church. “Faith comes through what is heard, and what is heard comes through the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17). We note to begin with that the word of God now attaches to both Jesus and to the testimony about Jesus. It is the latter that extends to apply to the final canon of this testimony, so that we rightly refer to the Bible as the word of God.
The soundest methodological starting point for doing theology is the gospel since the person of Jesus is set forth as the final and fullest expression of God’s revelation of His kingdom. Jesus is the goal and fulfillment of the whole Old Testament, and, as the embodiment of the truth of God, He is the interpretative key to the Bible. Another reason for beginning with Jesus Christ is that our encounter with Him is where our faith journey begins. When we are converted to Christ everything changes for us, including our view of the Bible. Whereas we may previously have regarded it as a fallible, human book, full of contradictions and reasons for not believing, we now see it as God’s word of truth through which we gain a grasp on reality, a perspective that is totally new and comprehensive.
All biblical texts testify in some way to Jesus Christ. This makes Him the center of biblical revelation and the fixed reference point for understanding everything else in the Bible. Furthermore, as Paul reminds us in Romans 1:16, the gospel is the power of God for salvation for everyone who believes. As we develop a biblical understanding of salvation we recognize that it involves the whole process by which God brings us out of our sinful darkness into the light of Christ, conforms us into His image, and, on the last day, perfects us in His presence for eternity.
What is the role of preaching in this grand plan of salvation? In starting with Jesus as we seek to develop a biblical theology of preaching, we note some key assertions. For example, in John 1:1-14 and 14:6, He is the very Word of God that has become flesh and that is the embodiment of truth. Jesus did not come merely to tell us the truth; He is the truth. The implications of these statements for hermeneutics and biblical theology are enormous. Unless we want to maintain that there are two words of God, two different messages, then the very closest relationship is established between Jesus Christ and the Bible. They are not identical, for one is God come in the flesh whom we worship as God; the other is an inspired book that is not God and that we do not worship.3
The prologue to John’s Gospel reminds us that the divine communication by which the worlds were made is the same word that has taken human flesh in order to dwell among us. This passage alone is sufficient to send us back to the beginning of creation to examine the way the creative word has worked until now. John is telling us that there is a history of the word that is part of salvation history, and this climaxes in the event he describes in v. 14 as the word becoming flesh and tabernacling among us.
In making the comparison between Moses and Jesus, John does not detract from the ministry of Moses but links it to the greater word of God that brings grace and truth. In describing the incarnation of Jesus as a “tabernacling,”4 John deliberately links the incarnation to the dwelling of God among His people in the tabernacle as recorded in the Old Testament. This is confirmed by the way he moves very quickly to incorporate the account of the cleansing of the temple in chapter 2. Here the temple of Herod is but a symbol of the true temple that has come with Jesus. Jesus’ reference to the destruction of the temple is clearly a reference to His own death, for His claim to rebuild it in three days is interpreted by John as a reference to the resurrection.5
The effect of John’s treatment of the logos in this prologue passage is to place the incarnation of the living Word, Jesus, firmly in the context of salvation history in Israel, and to extend the line of this holy history back to the creation and behind that to the preexistence of Christ as the eternal Word of God.
The Word of God That Addresses Us
Given that a biblical theology of preaching is integral to a theology of the word of God, we need to understand the significance of this word in the whole plan and purpose of God. The gospel of the Word who becomes flesh requires us to examine its antecedents in the Old Testament. We will briefly examine the nature of the word of God in creation, judgment, and salvation, as the redemptive history unfolds and moves toward the fulfillment in the gospel. The word of God by which all things were created is the word that establishes a covenant with a people being redeemed, and that finally bursts into our world as the God-man, Immanuel.
1. Creation and Fall
The holy history approach to the word of God in John’s prologue suggests a methodology for the development of a biblical-theological overview of the subject. John begins his Gospel by recalling the first words of the book of Genesis, but in so doing he identifies the word of God by which creation was effected as the same word that became flesh. The Genesis account tells us that God spoke the universe into being and thus establishes the principle that is developed throughout Scripture that God chooses freely to relate to His creation by His word.
In keeping with this is the fact that when He creates the human pair He blesses them by addressing them with a spoken word (Gen. 1:26-30). It is an aspect of their being created in the image of God that He addresses them with words, and that they are able to understand this address.6 The word that He speaks establishes and interprets the context within which human beings exist and relate to everything else in creation. There is a hierarchy of relationships in which God is sovereign Lord of all and chooses human beings to be His regal representatives by having dominion and authority over the rest of creation.
Genesis 3 tells of the process by which the serpent persuades the humans to doubt the integrity of God’s word and to reject its authority. The “fall” is really a failed attempt to leap upward and to wrest authority from God and His word. Despite the awful consequences, the human grab for power is in fact the assertion of the principle of human autonomy and independence from the authority of the Creator’s word. Thereafter the question “Has God said?” will characterize the rebellious will of human beings as they seek to escape the implications of the right of the Creator to rule them by His word.
The next stage in the drama is the new word of God spoken to Adam and Eve as a word of judgment that involves the whole of their domain. In effect, since they have chosen to challenge the authority of God’s word and rule, the creation that has been subjected to human rule will from now on challenge that rule. The most awful judgment is that their rejection of the life-creating word results now in the sentence of death. However, the grace that, as John reminds us, finds its perfect expression in Jesus is already in evidence. God begins even within the word of judgment to unfold a plan of grace.
A redress of the disaster is more than hinted at in Genesis 3:15, and the very fact that the sentence of death is delayed so that life, procreation and the struggle for subsistence go on indicates a wider plan for the destiny of creation.7 As that plan unfolds, the word of the Lord is central both in pronouncing judgment on the enemies of the kingdom of God, and in proclaiming the salvation of a people chosen to be the inheritors of the kingdom. A biblical theology of preaching is a specific aspect of a broader biblical theology of the word of God, and it will only make sense in that context.
2. The Word of God as the Covenant of Salvation
God’s plan of salvation is made known through His word. Even on those occasions when He reveals Himself by more visual means, such as dreams and visions, these are interpreted and communicated in words. The predominant emphasis is on God speaking, and when He is said to appear to someone it is usually in order to speak or to reveal His glory.8
This speaking of God is never mere information giving because it is a word of judgment and of redemption. Those scholars who, like William Temple, have rejected the notion of propositional revelation have often resorted to a false dichotomy between God communicating truth concerning Himself and God communicating Himself.9 As is so often the case, we are not faced with an “either-or” decision, but one of “both-and.” Knowing God is not some mystical and incommunicable thing. We know Him through His acts and His word, by which He informs us of His acts and interprets them to us. God’s communication of Himself through the presence of His Spirit does not happen apart from His communication about Himself through His word. Furthermore, we would not know of the presence of His Spirit if it did not please Him to tell us about it.
The function of the covenant as the promissory relationship that God graciously establishes with people has been the subject of much scholarly study. It has also provided the structure within which the Christian Church has traditionally understood God’s activity.10
The covenant formula is frequently discussed in terms of ancient treaty forms, and this has been a productive idea.11 However, we cannot escape the notion of promise as integral to the covenant, that is, a word that God speaks about a future event by which He will fulfill His purpose of restoring His people and, with them, the whole creation. Thus the covenant with Abraham in Genesis 12:1-3 is paradigmatic of salvation history that is to come. It promises a people, a land for them to live in, a blessed relationship with God and, through this elect people, a blessing that will spread to all the peoples of the earth.
The apparent irony of the biblical story is the way in which these promises are so elusive. The end of the Genesis narrative presents a scenario that in almost every way denies the reality of the covenant promises. They remain just that — promises. A people, few in number, find themselves in a land not promised, and soon there unfolds the horror of the oppression that they will suffer at the hands of the Egyptians.
The covenant word is, however, presented as the authentic word of a gracious God who keeps covenant with His people.12 On the basis of this covenant word God chooses Moses to go to the enslaved Israelites with a word of salvation (Exod. 2:23-25). He is chosen to be both the mediator of God’s saving plan for His people and the prophetic mouthpiece who will speak the word of God to the people. He is commanded to go and to speak to Israel and to Pharaoh. He has a word of promise to Israel; a word of salvation that is accompanied by signs and wonders and, above all, by the mighty acts of God that bring about the release of His people from captivity. Then Moses is called upon to establish the covenant existence of the nation by bringing the word of God to the people at Mount Sinai.
God’s address to Israel at Sinai is analogous to His address to Adam and Eve in Eden. There the word prescribed the relationship of the people to God, to each other, and to the creation. Now a newly created nation is given a word that prescribes its relationship to God and to the world around it. It details the relationships that are to exist within the nation and between groups and individuals. In each case the word of God establishes the framework within which people will interpret the universe around them. In each case there is a covenantal element and in each case the word of the Lord is the focus: God has spoken and the only appropriate response is, “Everything that the Lord has spoken we will do” (Exod. 19:8). The main difference between the word inside Eden and the word outside Eden is that the former is spoken directly by God to His people and the latter is mediated through a human intermediary who acts as God’s mouthpiece.
As Adam and Eve were intended to respond with obedience to the creative act of God and His word, so Israel was intended to respond with faith and obedience to the redemptive-creation of the nation in the exodus. It is important that we see the word of God at Sinai in the context of the covenant promise and the redemptive deeds of God in saving His people from Egypt. The giving of the Sinai law begins with “I am Yahweh your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery” (Exod. 20:2). Most people are familiar with the statement that puts the whole of the law into the context of a people who have been saved by grace and are now commanded to live consistently with that fact. Yet, how easily we transgress that principle by preaching law without the word of the gospel to support it as a word of grace.
3. “Thus Says the Lord”: the Beginning of Preaching
For the moment let us concentrate on the biblical emphasis on God speaking or commanding His prophets to speak, and His prophets speaking what they affirm to be the words of God.13 The pattern of prophetic word that is established in the ministry of Moses becomes the definitive pattern of God speaking to His people. The prophets are also the preachers of the Old Testament. Over four hundred times the phrase “Thus says the Lord” is used in the Old Testament prophets or narratives about the prophetic activity of proclamation in Israel.
A variety of words are used to convey the idea of proclaiming the word of the Lord. When it comes to the question of Israel’s obedience and faithfulness, it is the prophetic voice that brings the word of judgment because of a broken covenant. At different phases of Israel’s history the prophetic ministry fulfills different roles: law giving, king making, indictment of sin, promise of salvation. In each situation it is the word of God that is proclaimed.
The biblical-theological epoch in which Abraham and Moses received the word of God came to a grinding halt after reaching its high point with David and Solomon. As the nation goes into decline, it no longer reflects the saved status of the people of God. During the first stages of the decline the prophetic voice calls the people back to faithfulness to the Sinai covenant. This is predominantly what the ministry of Elijah and Elisha is about. However, as Israel continues down the slippery slope to disaster because of unrepentant rebellion against the word of the Lord, a new breed of prophets emerges. These prophets have three basic things to say within the specific context of Israel’s sins. They have a word of indictment, a word of judgment and a word of restoration. Frequently the latter is given in the stereotyped form of what is referred to by form critics as an oracle of salvation.14 Characteristically it begins with the formula “fear not” or “do not be afraid.” It is a word spoken in a situation of impending disaster or judgment and expresses the faithfulness of God to save His people.
There is one more characteristic to be noted that is crucial to the biblical theology of preaching. In the prophetic word of hope the theme emerges of the future saving work of God, which comes about actually through the proclamation of the word of God. This is not surprising given the function of the word in creation. Thus, as God created by His word, so He will also bring about a new creation by proclaimed word.
The difference between the first and new creations is human mediation of the word in the latter. This theme is most notable in the prophecy of Isaiah. We have a prophetic message that doesn’t simply promise a future saving act of God but indicates that it will be through proclamation that this salvation will come: “Go out from Babylon, flee from Chaldean declare this with a shout of joy, proclaim it, send it forth to the end of the earth; say, ‘The Lord has redeemed His servant Jacob!’ They did not thirst when He led them through the deserts; He made water flow for them from the rock; He split open the rock and the water gushed out” (Isa. 48:20-21).
“Therefore My people shall know My name; therefore in that day they shall know that it is I who speak; here am I. How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace, who brings good news, who announces salvation, who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns'” (Isa. 52:6-7).
And the passage that Jesus read in the synagogue at Nazareth (Luke 4:16-30): “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me, because the Lord has anointed Me; He has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn” (Isa. 61:1-2).
The theme of a future day of salvation coming with the proclamation of the word of the Lord is repeated many times over in the latter prophets of Israel.15 I repeat that the prophetic office is directly and theologically connected to the revelation of God as the One who has created by His word. The prophetic proclamation speaks the word of God for salvation. Isaiah 65:17-25 gives us a vision of the new heaven and earth that underpins the notion of new creation in the New Testament: “For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating; for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy, and its people as a delight. I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and delight in my people; no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it, or the cry of distress” (Isa. 65:17-19).16
The Medium Is the Message
1. Jesus as the God Who Speaks
The phrase “the medium is the message” describes the importance of the medium through which communications are made. This idea is addressed in a well-known book by the Canadian academic Marshall McLuhan in his book The Medium Is the Massage, the title of which gives an ironic twist to the common phrase.17 McLuhan considered the influence of the various media of mass communication to be far greater than the actual messages they conveyed. Thus the medium becomes the real message that shapes our thought.
McLuhan’s idea could be applied to the gospel, for here the medium, or the mediator, is himself the content of his message. We can go further, for in understanding who Jesus is we begin with the fact that He is God come in the flesh. John’s Gospel picks up a number of the implications of this fact, which is the subject of the prologue. The word was God, says John, and everything was made by Him.
How do we know God? When Philip asks Jesus to show Him the Father He is reminded that to have seen the Son is to have seen the Father (John 14:8-10). This is not a claim to a monistic being of God but an assertion of the unity within God and the exclusive role of Jesus as revealer of the Father. This has some far-reaching implications for preaching, for once again we are faced with the fact that once the Christ has come He is the God who reveals to us the Father. If our congregations would see God, they must see Him in and through Christ. This prevents the three letter word G-o-d from becoming an empty frame in which the human mind can construct its own image of God. But, of course, this is true only if the five letter word J-e-s-u-s is filled with content from the biblical witness to Jesus.
2. Jesus as the Word of God Spoken
When Jesus claims to be the truth He makes Himself the arbiter of what is real and the source of all meaning. Here again we see the medium being the message. The prologue to the Epistle to the Hebrews puts Jesus, the Son, as the word that supersedes the word of the prophets: “Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days He has spoken to us by a Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom He also created the worlds. He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and He sustains all things by His powerful word. When He had made purification for sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high” (Heb. 1:1-3).
Here Jesus is spoken of as the prophetic word, the creative word, the God-revealing word, the sustaining word and the redeeming word. The preacher must allow his exegesis to explore the implications of this, and seek to understand what it means for Jesus to be for us the pattern of all truth. A sound Christology becomes a vital part of our theological formation, and without it we will probably become purveyors of sentimental images of Jesus.
What Jesus says in the Gospel narratives can never be taken as anything other than an explanation of what He is and what He does. His words are an important part of the message, but they must not be isolated from His deeds. A preacher dealing with the actual sayings of Jesus will find it all too easy to slip into the error of conveying the idea that the essence of Christianity is what Jesus taught. People will soon reduce the notion of the teachings of Jesus to a few ethical generalities or the golden rule. Jesus is left as merely the good teacher. Let the preacher who would preach on the parables of Jesus take heed!
3. Jesus as the Proclaimer
There is a clear emphasis in the Gospels on the fact that Jesus taught. He was an itinerant preacher, and many of His sayings are preserved for us in the Gospels. But at the heart of it was His conviction that He fulfilled the Old Testament word, and one such word was the passage from Isaiah 61 that He read in the synagogue at Nazareth. Jesus the preacher is a subject for our consideration, for at the heart of His proclamation is His saving work. The two go together. One of the problems that dogs the preacher of texts from the Gospels is the ease with which it is possible to remove the sayings of Jesus from the wider context of the doings of Jesus.
One of the great gains of modem literary criticism has been to refocus attention upon the literary structures of the documents and the strategies of the authors. Yet passages such as the Sermon on the Mount are still taken and used in sermons as self-contained and self-explanatory texts, without any respect for the Gospel’s theological concerns. Given the emphasis in all four Gospels on the death and resurrection of Jesus, it is strange that the sayings of Jesus are so frequently used merely as ethical guidelines.
Jesus as the preacher stands as the fulfillment of all Old Testament prophesying. In Deuteronomy 18:15, Moses, the first and definitive Old Testament prophet, promised Israel a new prophet. Many such prophets arose, but none perfectly fulfilled the prophetic role to the degree that Jesus did. The mark of a true prophet in the Old Testament was difficult to define in objective terms. Even the passage referred to (Deut. 18:20-22) indicates how to identify the false prophet rather than the true one. Of the true prophet it is said that he would speak whatever God commands (v. 18). Somehow, it seems, the word of the Lord through the prophet would authenticate itself. Again in Jeremiah there is a negative definition of prophecy. The false prophets do not speak the word of the Lord because they have not stood in His council (Jer. 23:18-22). If there was any prophet who had stood in the council of the Lord and was sent by God, it was Jesus.
4. Jesus as the Obedient Hearer
Biblical theology helps us to appreciate a critical factor in the Christology of the New Testament: that Jesus comes as the One who fulfills all God’s purposes for humanity and, in particular, for Israel. Adam and Eve show themselves to be disobedient to the word of God and rebellious in their rejection of it. However, in the wilderness outside of Eden God demonstrates His grace and mercy.
Eventually a new son of God is chosen to receive this grace, but in this case it is an entire nation that enjoys the privilege. Yet Israel also shows itself to be disobedient to the word of the Lord. With the passage of time, and as the purposes of God unfold, the disobedient son of God comes under judgment, and the empire of David and Solomon declines and slides into oblivion. A small remnant of the faithful remain in exile, and the prophetic word declares that a day will come when a faithful remnant will be restored to the promised land and God’s saving purposes will be worked out. The remnant will consist of people who listen to the word of God and obey. The word will be written on their hearts, and they will truly know God.18 But where is this true son of God?
According to Matthew’s account of Jesus’ baptism (Matt. 3:1-17), John the Baptist is baptizing in connection with his call to repentance. He balks at the idea of baptizing Jesus but is told to do it, for “thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then the Spirit descends on Jesus and a heavenly voice declares, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” Thus Jesus as Son of God is portrayed as the One who fulfills the filial righteousness demanded of Adam and Israel.
Luke also deals with the temptation in a similar fashion as Matthew. Both record the first temptation as involving the challenge to Jesus’ sonship and His reply, quoting Deuteronomy 8:3, which in full says: “He humbled you by letting you hunger, then by feeding you with manna, with which neither you nor your ancestors were acquainted, in order to make you understand that one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.”
Thus, both Matthew and Luke begin their accounts of the adult ministry of Jesus by demonstrating that He is the true and obedient Adam, and the faithful Israel. He fulfills all righteousness by being the truly obedient human being. Here at last is a human that hears the word of God and obeys it perfectly. Jesus is thus the God who speaks the creating word at the beginning. He is the God who speaks now the new-creating word. He is Himself the message of that word, and He is the faithful hearer of the word.
This latter point is important for the way we deal with the application of passages that concern the people of God. If, say, we are preaching on the Psalms and reference is made to the people of God, the fact that Jesus fulfills the role of the true people of God should affect our application. Our biblical theological approach shows us that Jesus is both the true preacher and the true listener. In this way He justifies us as we struggle to preach faithfully, and He justifies the congregation as they struggle to listen faithfully.
The Word in the World
While He was still here in the flesh, Jesus began to transfer the task of preaching to His disciples. He sent them out to preach about the kingdom of God, that it has come near. So, for example, Luke 10:2 records the sending of the Seventy with the injunction, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.” When they return joyfully recounting the fact that demons have been subject to them He says, “I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning” (Luke 10:18). Satan is defeated by Christ, but the victory is made effective by the ministry of preaching.
This particular direction in Jesus’ ministry seems to become submerged under other developments, notably Jesus’ determination to go to Jerusalem to meet His death. However, we shall see that in fact the suffering and death of Jesus is what makes the activity of proclaiming the kingdom effective and powerful. The death of Jesus comes as an unwelcome shock to the disciples. They do not seem to have grasped that the nearness of the kingdom of God is bound up with His death. Luke pointedly leaves it to the dying thief to uncover the reality, and even he has not got it quite right.
He seems to recognize that Jesus is the king, but His humiliation in crucifixion surely cannot be a demonstration of His kingship. So he asks, “Jesus, remember me when you come in your kingly power” (Luke 23:42). Jesus’ answer is “Today.” The thief’s inability to square the crucifixion with the kingdom is apparently shared by the two Emmaus-bound disciples of Jesus, and it earns them a strong rebuke: “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into His glory?” (Luke 24:25-26).
The post-Pentecost activity of preaching the gospel is shown by Luke to continue the proclamation of the word once the incarnate Word leaves the scene. The resurrection has cast a new light on the crucifixion, and thus the disciples ask if the kingdom will now appear: “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6). Like the dying thief, they still expect the kingdom to appear as a political reality with Jerusalem and the temple at the center. The answer they get is that the kingdom will come in the world through the activity of preaching: “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by His own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:7-8).
They will be His witnesses, and if there is any doubt what that involves, it is dispelled when the Spirit comes on the day of Pentecost. The phenomenon of tongues signals a reversal of Babel and the fact that salvation comes through the preached and heard word of God. It is the word about Christ. And when the apostles are forbidden to preach, their answer is: “Whether it is right in God’s sight to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge; for we cannot keep from speaking about what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19-20).
So the apostolic task of preaching continues in the Early Church as the means of bringing about the reality of the kingdom. And thus it is to remain until the day when Jesus will return in great glory to consummate the kingdom. God goes on relating to His creation by His word. The preacher’s task is a solemn one, for, “God decided through the foolishness of our proclamation to save those who believe.”19 The proclamation defies the logic of the godless mind-set, yet it is God’s chosen way. The pattern that our brief biblical theological survey has revealed is that of the proclaimed word of God as His chosen means of both creation and new creation.
The Christological perspective involves the fact that, while God spoke directly to innocent and sinless humans in Eden, the pattern that emerges once sin enters is that of a humanly mediated word. The prophetic word prepares the way for the incarnate Word of God. After His ascension the ministry of preaching is the appointed means for the continuance of this saving principle. But since Christ is the creating word, proclamation that fulfills God’s purpose is only ever the word about Christ. How does our preaching testify to Christ? That is a solemn and challenging question that we cannot avoid.
Taken from Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture by Graeme Goldsworthy, (c) 2000, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan. Used with permission.
1Klaas Runia, The Sermon Under Attack, The Moore College Lectures, 1980 (Exeter: Paternoster, 1983).
2Runia, The Sermon Under Attack, p. 1, quoting P. T. Forsyth, Positive Preaching and the Modern Mind, The Lyam Beecham Lecture on Preaching, Yale University (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1907), p. 3.
3The frequent charge against evangelicals of bibliolatry is born of prejudice and does not fit the facts.
4The use of the verb that means “to take up one’s dwelling in a tent” is almost certainly a reference to the tabernacle in the wilderness.
5This point seems to be missed by those who see the other references of Jesus to the destruction of the temple as primarily pointing to the literal destruction of the building in A.D. 70.
6A biblical theology of prayer would need to investigate this principle that God first addresses us before ever we can address Him.
7The structure of the revelation of this plan is discussed and outlined in Graeme Goldsworthy, Gospel and Kingdom: A Christian Interpretation of the Old Testament (Exeter: Paternoster, 1981), and According to Plan: The Unfolding Revelation of in the Bible (Leicester: IVP, 1991).
8For example, Gen. 12:7; 26:2, 24; Exod. 3:16, 6:3.
9This mistaken notion is refuted by Peter Adam, Speaking God’s Words (Leicester: IVP, 1996), p. 18. See also Leon L. Morris, I Believe in Revelation (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1976), chapter 6.
10See William J. Dumbrell, Covenant and Creation: An Old Testament Covenantal Theology (Exeter: Paternoster, 1984); Thomas Edward McComiskey, The Covenants of Promise (Nottingham: IVP, 1984); O. Palmer Robertson, The Christ of the Covenants (Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1980).
11For further discussion see chapter 11 of Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000).
12The Hebrew word hesed expresses this covenant faithfulness of God and is translated in a variety of ways in the English versions: mercy, loving kindness, steadfast love, and so forth.
13In the NRSV the phrase “God spoke/said” occurs over 50 times; the phrase “The Lord spoke/said” occurs over 250 times; and the prophetic phrase “Thus says the Lord” occurs over 400 times.
14This aspect of a biblical theology of preaching is dealt with in Gail O’ Day, “Toward a Biblical Theology of Preaching,” in Listening to the Word, ed. G. O’ Day and T. G. Long (Nashville: Abingdon, 1993).
15For example, Isa. 62:11; Jer. 23:18; 31:7; Nah. 1:15; Zech. 1:17.
16This passage finds many echoes in Rev. 21:1-4.
17Marshall McLuhan, The Medium Is the Massage (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1967). In this and many other books, McLuhan expounded his views that the communication media, rather than the content of the messages they convey, are the real shapers of the way we think.
18Jer. 31:31-34; Ezek. 36:24-28.
191 Cor. 1:21. The foolishness refers primarily to the content of the proclamation, but this cannot be separated from the act of proclamation, which is meaningless without the content.

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