It is a joy to have Roger Carswell as a guest post today. Roger is a Christian man who has such a passion and desire to see people reached with the message of Jesus. He is the author of many books and gospel tracts, check out his material here at 10ofThose and on his blog.
A friend recently attended a University Christian Union Carol Service. There were over 800 people present. When I asked him how it went, he replied that it was a great opportunity, but then added of the speaker, ‘A great communicator, but no gospel. He simply did not preach the cross.’ Warren Wiersbe in an article entitled ‘No news is bad news’ wrote: ‘We have heard well-outlined sermons, based on careful exegesis, that did not proclaim the gospel or even mention the name of Jesus! And they were preached not in liberal churches but in evangelical churches.’
We know that it is only the body of Christ who will faithfully proclaim the good news of the gospel. There is no other group or organisation committed to doing that, but sadly much of the church is failing to do so. Whatever size of congregation, the people are likely to be educated, shrewd people, who want to hear pertinent truth. Yet somehow we are in a situation where we may give careful expositions, cerebral insights and doctrinal feasts yet we are failing to proclaim ‘Christ and Him crucified.’ Christ alone, not wise and eloquent words, or even erudite exegesis, can save, feed and bless the soul. Of course there is an offence to the cross, but it is the most wonderful and urgent message. The gospel is not a philosophy to be debated or an idea to be discussed; according to Romans 1:16 it is a power to be unleashed. So why are we so reluctant to preach the straightforward gospel? The good news did not fit Jesus’ times or His world, nor ours, but let it slip and our irrelevance and impotence will be increasingly evident. GK Chesterton had it right when he said, ‘If the Church marries the spirit of the age, she will soon become a widow.’ We are to proclaim Christ and Him crucified.
I would have loved to have heard the Apostle Paul preach. He can at least mentor us through his letters. To the Corinthians he wrote: ‘For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.’1 He deliberately sought to exclude from his preaching and the enthusiasms of his mind, everything but that great central truth. The crucifixion and resurrection are the heart of the gospel. If we have the choice of great eloquence or true faithfulness, then our pride ought to be laid on the Lord’s altar, as we depend on His truth to do its eternal work.
A Definite Christ
There is a real Christ, who was born, lived, died and rose again. And as a Puritan expressed it, ‘He who rose from the clods, we expect from the clouds.’ Jesus is God incarnate, the Saviour of the world, who came to seek and to save the lost. He is the beginning, middle and end of our salvation. All the blessings of God come to us through Christ. As Christians, we love Him. So let us fearlessly proclaim Him. I have found that when I focus on Christ, quiet stillness often descends on the listeners. I believe that the Holy Spirit delights to honour the Lord Jesus. And, even in this secular age, I am sure that there is still something very appealing about Christ.
The 20th century American preacher, Vance Havner, told the story of two boats which were passing each other on the Mississippi River when an old black man said to a passenger as he pointed to the other boat, ‘Look, yonder’s the captain!’ When asked for an explanation, he said, ‘Years ago, we were goin’ along like this and I fell overboard and the captain rescued me. And since then, I just loves to point him out!’ Surely we feel this way about Jesus. Since trusting in Him, He has won our hearts, and we want to speak of Him. Let us do so with fresh vigour. He has been lifted up on the cross, so He will draw people to Himself.
A Definite Cross
The cross of Jesus did not just happen; He came for the very purpose of dying as our atoning sacrifice. The cross is indispensable. Our Creator took on Himself flesh and suffered and died. God ‘laid on Him the iniquity of us all’. ‘He bore our sins in His own body on the tree’; ‘And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world.’ ‘He died, the Just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God:’ The Bible makes so much of the Christ crucified, because it reveals the very heart of God. The hymn expresses this well:
It is a thing most wonderful,
Almost too wonderful to be
That God’s own Son should come from heaven
And die to save a child like me.
– William Walsham How
Jesus is the Lamb slain before the foundation of the world – so the gospel of Christ has been in God’s heart throughout eternity. Christ’s sacrifice for our sins is our only means of salvation. All the blessings of God come through Jesus and Him crucified. Four times the New Testament tells the story of the death of Christ and, though sparing the detail, these narratives are weighty in their theology. Therefore any preaching or doctrine which is not embedded in the cross is bound to lead us astray.
In reality, to fail to proclaim the cross is to be a traitor to the gospel.
A Definite Conclusion
If Christ and Him crucified is true, then the only conclusion is that we, like Paul, will be determined to know nothing else. My responsibility is not to tickle the ears of listeners by fancy thoughts, stories or jokes. Let others be political if they wish. Let others rummage for new ideas or controversies, which may even hit the headlines of the Christian press. Let others charm their hearers and become ‘pleasers of men’. Jesus commanded us to proclaim to the nations and our neighbours four basic truths: His sufferings, His resurrection, repentance and forgiveness of sins2. C.S. Lewis said, ‘I didn’t go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of port would do that. If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity.’
Message by message I want to pave the way to the cross and use words and every fibre of my being to point people to the One who suffered and died on Calvary’s cross and is now risen and alive. We need to explain to all the hidden work of Christ: that He bore our sins in His own body on the tree – He died as the sin-bearer, and substitute for sin. I plead that we return to evangelistic preaching. This gospel needs to be proclaimed regularly from our pulpits, in our pedestrian precincts, from bandstands in parks, in our Zoom events and through gospel literature. Christians enjoy expositions, but we are deluding ourselves if we think that we are fulfilling the Great Commission simply by ‘feeding the sheep’. The Great Commission is not about discussing theology or the latest Christian book over a latte. It is about proclaiming Christ, snatching the lost from fire and saving them3. And who knows, it may be that the Lord will work with us as we do4.
As God’s servants, we are to make much of Christ and Him crucified. Mr. Spurgeon was 21 years old when he said, ‘Calvary preaching: Calvary theology, Calvary books, Calvary sermons! These are the things we want. And in proportion as we have Calvary exalted and Christ magnified, the gospel is preached.’ Of course there are different styles of preachers, and varying personalities will present truth in a variety of ways; but as David Larsen expressed it, ‘No two violinists will play a symphony exactly the same, but the brilliance and genius of the composer will be set forth by the faithful artist. This is the task of the gospel proclaimer: to process and package the truth of the evangel for listeners of our time.’5 Praise the Lord for great communicators, but my prayer is for more gospel preachers. Let us be determined to know nothing but Jesus Christ and Him crucified.
Roger Carswell works full-time speaking to students and adults about the believability of the Christian faith and its relevance to the modern world. He is married to Dot and they have four children.
- 1 Corinthians 2 v. 2
- Luke 24:46&47
- Jude 23
- 1 Samuel 14:6
- David Larsen in ‘The Evangelism Mandate’ published by Baker