Why we Proclaim: read.watch.reflect.practice.

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Why Proclaim?


    Why do we proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ? Why do we preach week in and week out ad nauseum? I have been proclaiming the gospel now for nearly 45 years all across the United States, on at least four continents that I can remember, and a long list of countries within those continents that I cannot remember. From time to time I ask myself, “Why?” On really bad days when nothing seems to be going right I don’t have very good answers to that important and haunting question. But on other days, when my heart is right and the air between heaven and earth is thin (and these days are a deep encouragement to me), the answer comes thundering down from heaven.

    On one level—and this is the most basic of all levels—we preach because we have been commanded to do so by the One who lived and died and rose again for us and for our salvation. When Jesus laid the Great Commission on the hearts of his earliest disciples he wasn’t speaking only to them. He was speaking to all who would follow after them, including you and me.

     I was awakened to this deep reality just moments after I was converted as a college student on the sands of Daytona Beach, Florida. I had gone to Florida for spring break with a group of fraternity brothers to do all the things our parents hoped we wouldn’t do. (And I add quickly that we were very successful, too.) All of that changed when one morning, struggling with a hangover from too much you-know-what the night before, I sat before a band shell where college kids were plugging in their guitars and constructing their drum sets for what looked to be to be a jam session. It wasn’t that at all. It was actually a chapter of Campus Crusade for Christ heating up for a day of beach evangelism. They sang songs that I didn’t know and several bore witness to Jesus, whom I also didn’t know. Then a college student preached from this text: “If anyone is in Christ there is a new creation, the old has passed away and behold the new has come.” He was reciting II Corinthians 5:17 and every repetition was like a depth charge to my soul. Within the passing of just a few moments I had been awakened to the gift of eternal life in Christ Jesus. And even more I was given a deep burden to join in and do precisely what he was doing.

     Why do we proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ?  Because after Jesus said, “Go…” we are left without a choice.

    On another level, though—and this is a level on which we rarely think—we preach because preaching is the method the living God has chosen to awaken the elect to their true identity in Christ. All who belong to Jesus have been chosen before heaven and earth existed.  There is a moving scene in the Acts of the Apostles that puts this in crystal clear light. Do you remember the moment when Paul became discouraged about his preaching in Corinth? Doubtless everyone who has ever preached knows the experience. In this instance the Lord came to put wind in his sails: “One night the Lord said to Paul in a vision, ‘Do not be afraid, but speak and do not be silent; for I am with you, and no one will lay a hand on you to harm you, for there are many in this city who are my people.’” You can read the remarkable larger context of the passage in Acts 18 and hopefully experience the Spirit updraft the next time you preach.

     Here’s when Acts 18 became real for me. For three brief but beautiful years in the early 1980s I was the pastor of the First Reformed Church in South Holland, Illinois, a sturdy, bellwether congregation if ever there was one. I was alone in my study at church late one Saturday night and I was stuck. (I realize I just admitted that I work on sermons late into the night on Saturday and my former students will be chomping at the bit to say, “Hey, you told us not to do that!”  I know, but sometimes it can’t be avoided.) I was working on Acts 18, or probably better I should say, it was working on me. The passage was the one I have already referred to: “…speak and do not be silent for I have many people in this city.” Try as I might I couldn’t make sense of it, so I did the only sensible thing I could think of, I called my old New Testament professor from Western Theological Seminary, the honorable Dr. Richard C. Oudersluys. I nervously waited for him to pick up the phone and when he did I even more nervously apologized for calling him at home at 11:00pm.

     He didn’t seem to care and cheerily said, “Yes, Timotheos (he often used my Greek name), to what do I owe this late night phone call?” I told him about my puzzlement in interpreting the Acts 18 passage. “Tell me, professor, what am I to make of this curious line at the end of Acts 18: ‘…speak and do not be silent for I have many people in this city’?” He cleared his throat and answered, “Yes, I should think we have here the curious relationship between proclamation and eternal decree.” To which I said, “Thank you very much but I have to try and explain this to real people tomorrow morning.” With that he offered this gem, “Just say to the people this passage means that if you belong to God, preaching is going to get you in the end.”

“…speak and do not be silent for I have many people in this city.”

     Preaching is going to get you in the end! There are other answers that can be given to the question, “Why proclaim?” but that one is the best. 

 

Timothy Brown

President and Henry Bast Professor of Preaching

Western Theological Seminary

Holland, Michigan

June 2015

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