Pastors today find themselves in a culture that disdains any outside authority dictating how to live or what to believe. A lack of authoritative expository preaching inevitably leads to the congregation’s lack of obedience and confusion about the mission of the church. Walt Kaiser asks, “Where has the prophetic note in preaching gone? Where is the sense of authority and mission previously associated with the biblical Word? One of the most depressing spectacles in the Church today is her lack of power. . . . At the heart of this problem is an impotent pulpit.”
Is the American church suffering from an impotent pulpit? If so, what is the remedy? Did Jesus Himself preach with authority? If so, should pastors emulate the preaching style of Jesus? The Synoptic Gospels reveal Jesus as a “herald” (κῆρυξ) who preached with authority. One of the primary words used to describe Jesus’ preaching comes from the word group κῆρυξ or κηρυσσω. In ancient Greek culture, the office of the herald was extremely important for both the political and cultural life of the Empire. Entrusted with a message from his sovereign, a herald held no authority to deviate from the message, but instead had to deliver it faithfully as the official spokesman for his superior.
Stott claims, “Heralding is not the same as lecturing. A lecture is dispassionate, objective, academic . . . but the herald of God comes with an urgent proclamation of peace through the blood of the cross, and with a summons to men to repent.” As a herald, Jesus elevated the sacred text and preached it with both clarity and authority. He summoned people to repent and believe the gospel.
Matthew. After his baptism and subsequent testing in the wilderness, Matthew introduced Jesus’ public ministry as that of a herald. Matthew 4:17 says, “From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’” The word employed for “preach” is κηρυσσω. Matthew emphasizes Jesus’ role as a preacher again in 4:23, which states, “And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people.” This verse stresses the three-fold nature of Jesus’ ministry as preaching, teaching, and healing; but the priority seemed to be upon preaching. Matthew 9:35 repeats this same theme, “And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction.”
Time does not permit delving into the richness of Matthew Chapter 10, but it is here that Jesus mobilizes his disciples to preach the gospel in order to fulfill God’s mission to reach the Jews. At the end of this discourse, Matthew gives a summary statement in Matthew 11:1: “When Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples, he went on from there to teach and preach in their cities.” The word “instructing” (διατάσσω) is a rare Greek word which means “to give detailed instructions as to what must be done—to order, to instruct, to tell, to command.” It carries the idea of military language in giving orders. The preaching ministry of Jesus in Matthew proved instrumental in leading his followers to fulfill their mission of reaching the lost with the gospel.
Mark. Mark introduces Jesus by portraying him as a preacher. Mark 1:14–15 states, “Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.’” This word used for “proclaiming” is also κηρυσσω. Jesus spoke of the urgency of his preaching mission in Mark 1:38-39: “And he said to them, ‘Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.’ And he went throughout all Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and casting out demons.” He remained focused on his role as a leader sent on a mission to preach the gospel. Yet, the disciples wanted to capitalize on his simply being a traveling miracle worker. As such, they tried to hinder him from his mission of preaching. Yet, knowing that his Father has sent him with the expressed purpose to preach the gospel, Jesus remained undeflected from this mission. Jesus came as the Consummate Prophet to whom people must listen, and to refuse to listen is an act of defiance. One cannot simply ignore Jesus’ message. He does not simply impart general wisdom or philosophical information or tidbits of Bible trivia. Because of the kerygmatic nature of his preaching it demands urgent and immediate compliance.
Luke. Luke’s gospel pictures Jesus as a preacher sent from a sovereign God to proclaim the gospel with urgency, both in the synagogues as well as the marketplace and countryside. Luke 4:43–44 states, “But he said to them, ‘I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose.’ And he was preaching in the synagogues of Judea.” Jesus stressed the urgency of his mission to preach the gospel by using the term “I must.” Commenting on this passage Quicke argues, “We must never lose the centrality of preaching to the leadership of Jesus. Jesus has a world to love and save and does it by preaching/leading to the cross and beyond. It is his preferred method.” Luke 8:1 reads, “Soon afterward he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God.”
Just as Jesus was a herald proclaiming his lordship, pastors should heed his call as heralds proclaiming the universal sovereignty of the King. Modern pastors should imitate Jesus as they herald the gospel with authority through careful exposition of the Scriptures with the ultimate aim of seeing people bow to the Lordship of Christ. Preaching with authority like Jesus will help cure the problem of impotent pulpits in the American church. Preaching like Jesus, pastors can effectively lead their churches to fulfill its mission through obedience to the Great Commission.
Sean Cole has served as the Lead Pastor at Emmanuel Baptist Church in Sterling, CO, for the past eleven years. He has a Doctor of Ministry in Expository Preaching from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and a Masters of Divinity from the Rocky Mountain Campus of Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary. He also serves as an adjunct professor of Old and New Testament, Systematic Theology, Church History, and Biblical Interpretation at Colorado Christian University. He served two terms as the President of the Colorado Baptist General Convention. He hosts a podcast called “Understanding Christianity.” He has been married to his wife Dawn for the past 22 years and has two boys, Aidan and Zachary.
Walter Kaiser, Toward an Exegetical Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1981), 20, 235-36.
John R. W. Stott, The Preacher’s Portrait (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1961), 37.
Michael J. Quicke, 360-Degree Leadership: Preaching to Transform Congregations (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2006),175.