Scripture’s origin, authority, and power compel us to preach it (2 Tim. 3:15–4:2).
God’s people proclaimed his Word in the earliest days of history. Moses instructed the priests to read the law before Israel: “Assemble the people . . . so they can listen and learn to fear the Lord your God” (Deut. 31:12). God put his word into the mouths of the prophets (Jer. 1:9) that they might announce his message (Jer. 1:7). Ezra stood on a platform before the assembly and read from the law for hours on end (Neh. 8:3) as Levites instructed the people about the law and made its meaning clear (Neh. 8:7–8).
Jesus began his ministry by going to Galilee “proclaiming the good news of God” (Mark 1:14). Preaching stood central to his ministry (Matt. 9:35), and he sent his disciples to preach (Mark 3:14).
About one-fourth of Acts consists of extended sermons, public addresses, or summaries of sermons (2:14–39; 3:12–26; 7:2–53; etc.). The apostles and early church prioritized preaching (6:4) such that they “never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Messiah” (5:42). The final verse of Acts pictures Paul under house arrest in Rome, where he preached about Jesus “with all boldness and without hindrance” (28:31).
For early believers, preaching filled a dual purpose of evangelizing those who did not yet follow Jesus (Acts 2:14–41) and edifying those who were already followers—challenging them to deeper devotion, service, and fellowship (2:42–47; 20:20). The early church often followed the pattern of synagogue worship. During the assembly, someone read from Scripture, then either that person or someone else expounded on what was read. Jesus preached in this manner in the synagogue in Nazareth (Luke 4:16–27), as did Paul in Pisidian Antioch (Acts 13:14–41). When believers began holding their own assemblies separate from the synagogues, they continued to include preaching as a part of worship (Acts 20:7).
Paul testified, “I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” (1 Cor. 9:16). He commissioned Timothy, “devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching” (1 Tim. 4:13); and, “Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction” (2 Tim. 4:2).
One afternoon, I browsed the aisles of a Christian bookstore until a painting caught my eye. I stepped toward it, then stood mesmerized. The Legacy, by Ron DiCianni, pictures a preacher standing before his congregation. He holds his Bible in one hand and grasps a pulpit with the other. He pours out his heart with agony and passion. Behind him, flanking each shoulder, stand Jesus, apostles, and prophets. This great cloud of witnesses surrounds the preacher, pushing him to proclaim the gospel with boldness and courage. The preacher walks in their footsteps; he furthers their legacy.
All who dare to proclaim the Word of God and the gospel of Christ continue the legacy. The baton passed from the patriarchs and prophets to Jesus, to the apostles, to countless others throughout the generations, and to you and me. When we stand to preach, we don’t stand alone. Those who came before encourage and challenge us, bidding us to stand as they stood and preach as they preached.
Preaching fills an essential role in God’s plan to redeem his lost children through Jesus. God uses “the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe” (1 Cor. 1:21). Paul explains that we preach so that people might find salvation in the name of the Lord: “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!’” (Rom. 10:14–15).
Preaching is not passé. It’s not a futile relic from a bygone era. Preaching is God’s means of announcing the hope and salvation of Jesus to the world. When someone opens God’s Word and proclaims it with God’s empowerment, all within earshot are ushered into a holy moment of eternal consequence.
For these reasons, James Earl Massey called preaching a “burdensome joy.” Like the prophets, we carry “the burden of the word of the Lord” (Zech. 12:1; Mal. 1:1 NKJV). When we preach, we don’t just speak about God; we speak for God. We don’t stand to read term papers, deliver speeches, or recite monologues, we represent the God of the universe by heralding his good news. May we never preach the Word flippantly, but with the fear and trembling that recognizes its eternal significance.
Students sometimes ask if I still get nervous when I preach. “Absolutely,” I respond. “If you’re not at least a little nervous, you haven’t grasped the gravity of what you’re doing.”
The enormity of the sacred task weighs heavily on us. Yet its joys propel us, week after week, to pour out our lives in his service. We are like jars of clay, but we carry within us priceless treasure (2 Cor. 4:7)—the message of grace in Jesus for which all the world hungers, because of which all hell trembles, and through which God welcomes his children home. Those who preach share the honor of declaring these infinite, exhilarating wonders of God.
Ultimately, we preach his story of his hope through his Son. Christian preaching focuses on the story of Jesus (1 Cor. 2:2). The Bible, and thus our preaching, addresses other matters, but the narrative arc always brings us back to what is “of first importance,” the death and resurrection of the one who gives life and salvation (1 Cor. 15:1–8).
In my parents’ guest room hangs a pencil sketch that contains all the words in the gospel of Mark, written in tiny letters. If you stand close and squint your eyes, you can make out the letters and read the words. The artist shaded the letters, however, so that when you stand a few feet back, the text forms the face of Jesus. The entire Bible could be written in this manner. Peer closely at the stories of Adam, Noah, Abraham, David, Isaiah, Peter, and Paul. Then, step back and take it all in. It’s the story of Jesus, of God redeeming his world through his Son.
Every passage of Scripture, from cover to cover, furthers his story.
Thus, we preach Jesus.
This post is adapted from Preaching: A Simple Approach to the Sacred Task by Daniel Overdorf If you are interested in adopting this book for a college or seminary course, please request a faculty examination copy. We will also consider requests for your blog or media outlets.
Preaching with power and conviction is too important to be left to chance
In Preaching, experienced preacher and teacher of preachers, Daniel Overdorf, leads readers through a tested process for sermon preparation that takes proclaiming God’s Word seriously yet does not overcomplicate the task or overwhelm the preacher. Overdorf describes and demonstrates consistent, manageable steps to effective preaching, including:
- Clarifying the convictions that drive your preaching
- Identifying the main idea of a Scripture text
- Forming memorable word pictures,
- Reducing reliance on notes
- Connecting with the congregation throughout the sermon
- Speaking authentically