Christ Above All
Robert C. Shannon
(c)opyright 1989, Robert C. Shannon.

    "We preach Christ," said the apostle Paul (1 Corinthians 1:23).  He spoke not only for himself but for his colleagues,
Barnabas, Silas, John Mark, Timothy, Apollos, Stephanas, Achaicus, Fortunatus, and Epaphroditus.

    He spoke not only for his colleagues, but for all the apostles.  When Peter preached at Pentecost he didn't dwell on the phenomenon of tongues or the accusation of drunkenness; he preached Jesus of Nazareth.  When Peter and John
spoke at the temple gate they spoke about Jesus.  It was that same Jesus they boldly presented before the council (Acts
3:20; 4:2, 10).  Philip preached Christ in the city of Samaria (Acts 8:5) and preached Jesus to the Ethiopian in his
chariot (Acts 8:35).  Upon Saul's conversion, "straightway he preached Christ in the synagogues" (Acts 9:20).  It was
Jesus as Lord of all that Peter preached at Caesarea (Acts 10:36, 42).  It was the Lord Jesus that nameless evangelists
preached to the Greeks at Antioch (Acts 11:20).  At Thessalonica Paul argued that "this Jesus, whom I preach unto
you, is Christ" (Acts 17:3).  At Athens "he preached unto them Jesus, and the resurrection" (Acts 17:18).  At Ephesus
even evil men recognized that it was Jesus whom Paul preached (Acts 19:13).  To the Corinthians Paul declared his
intent to preach nothing but "Jesus Christ, and him crucified" (1 Corinthians 2:2), and to the Phiippians he declared his joy that
"Christ is preached" (Phiippians 1:15-18).  He reminded the Galatians that he set forth Jesus Christ before them (Galatians 3:1). He wrote to the Romans that the "word of faith" that he preached was the Lord Jesus.

    It was not just "Jesus" that they preached.  It was Jesus as Lord.  The title is found at least twenty times in the book of
Acts.  The subject of the apostolic preaching was the Lord Jesus Christ, crucified, risen, ascended to glory and returning in
judgment (Acts 10:42; 3:20, 21; Romans 2:16; 1 Corinthians 4:5; 2 Corinthians 5:10; 1 Thessalonians 1:9, 10).  If the
first epistle of Peter is in fact a sermon, as some suggest, the subject of that sermon is Christ.  If in fact the gospel of
Mark is a sermon of Peter's, the subject of that sermon is Christ.  If in fact the book of Hebrews is a sermon with a
personal note attached, the subject of that sermon is Christ.

    The apostles did not concentrate on that one subject because they had no other possibilities.  They had had a keen
interest in the restoration of the kingdom to Israel, as Acts 1 shows.  Yet that subject is strangely absent from their
preaching.  Social issues abounded: slavery, women's rights, and many others.  Political issues abounded.  They lived
under Roman rule, in the midst of Greek customs, facing Jewish intolerance.  Yet they were silent about such things.  It
was said of Paul that he was not a defamer of the pagan gods and goddesses (Acts 19:37).  They refused to be drawn
aside by any other subject, no matter how interesting or appealing.

    For us, then, preaching Christ is keeping in step with the tradition of the church in the first century.  It also puts us in
step with the best traditions of the church in the centuries that followed.  Martin Luther said that a minister should
administer "nothing but Christ and the things of Christ . . . .  He should preach the pure gospel, the true faith, that Christ
alone is our life, our way, our wisdom, power, glory and salvation."   Thomas Chalmers preached for twelve years at
Kilmany, Scotland before he moved to Glasgow and to fame.  He said that during the first eight years of that ministry
he preached on honor, truth, and integrity, but noticed no improvement in the lives of his people.  Then he changed and began to preach Christ.  He said that at once he began to notice a change in their lives. When Henry Ward Beecher began his ministry, he saw little response and few results.  He turned to the New Testament to find out what the apostles preached and why they succeeded.  The rest is history.

    James S. Stewart wrote: "If we are not determined that in every sermon Christ is to be preached; it were better that we should resign our commission forthwith and seek some other vocation.  Alexander Whyte, describing his Saturday walks with Marcus Dods, declared, 'Whatever we started off with in our conversations, we soon made across country, somehow, to Jesus of Nazareth, to His death and His resurrection, and His indwelling: and unless our sermons make for the same goal, and arrive at the same mark, they are simply beating the air.  It was a favorite dictum of the preachers of a bygone day that, just as from
every village in Britain there was a road which, linking on to other roads, would bring you to London at last, so from
every text in the Bible, even the remotest and least likely, there was a road to Christ."1

    Stewart also speaks of "the commanding relevance of Jesus."  Manning called preaching "a manifestation of the
Incarnate Word, from the written Word, by the spoken Word:  He capitalized the W when he referred to the sermon
as the spoken Word, just as he did when he referred to the "Incarnate Word:"  But the spoken Word does not deserve
that capital W unless it points the listener to Christ, the Word made flesh.

    Hugh Thompson Kerr said, "We are sent not to preach sociology, but salvation; not economics but evangelism; not
reform but redemption; not culture but conversion; not progress but pardon; not the social order but the new birth; not
an organization but a new creation; not democracy but the gospel; not civilization but Christ."

    More than seventy years ago W.J. Lhamon wrote this tribute to the apostles:  "They were entirely and beneficently
innocent of all speculations about monarchianism and Eutychianism and Monophysitism and Monotheletism and
supralapsarianism and sublapsarianism and kenosis and the krypsis, arid the genus ideomaticum and the genus apostelesmaticum, and the genus majestaticum, and of transubstantiation, and consubstantiation, and eternal generation, and eternal procession, and cosubstantiality and tripersonality and the voliproesentia or the multivoliproesentia . . . Oh, thank God!  The apostles were beneficently innocent of all this.  They were too reverent and practical to indulge in such meddlesome speculations:

    In the Yale Lectures on Preaching for 1896 Henry Van Dyke said, "It is plain that the force which started the religion
of Jesus was the person Jesus.  Christ was His own Christianity.  Christ was the core of His own gospel . . . .  It was this
that sent the apostles out into the world, reluctantly and hesitantly at first, then joyfully and triumphantly, like men
driven by an irresistible impulse.  It was the manifestation of Christ that converted them, the love of Christ that
constrained them, the power of Christ that impelled them.  He was their certainty and their strength.  He was their Peace
and their hope.  For Christ they laboured and suffered; in Christ they gloried; for Christ's sake they lived and died."

    Listen again to Stewart: "The unspoken cry of every gathered congregation to the preacher is not, 'Is there any bright
idea from the current religious debate?' but 'Is there any word from the Lord?' not, 'We would see what advice may
be available', but, 'We would see Jesus'."2

    So the sermons in this book are sermons about Christ.  They fail to do justice to the subject, as all sermons must fail
to do justice to such a subject.  Perhaps they fail more than most.  But their objective, at least, is clear.  Men need to
know Christ above all other persons.  Preachers need to preach Christ above all other subjects.  The world needs to
receive Christ above all other remedies and prescriptions.  May all of us who stand in the pulpit be able to say with
Paul, "We preach Christ."

1.  James S. Stewart, Heralds of God. Charles Scribner's Sons, New York.
2.  James S. Stewart, Faith to Proclaim. Charles Scribner's Sons, New York.
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Christ Above All

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