Bishop J. C. Ryle, one of England’s greatest preachers, wrote, “The brightest days of the Church have been those when preaching was honored. The darkest days of the Church have been those when it was lightly esteemed. . . . Let us honor the sacraments and public prayers of the church and reverently use them. But let us not place them above preaching.”
Do you agree?
Jesus must certainly agree, because he began his ministry in Capernaum preaching and teaching. Our text says, “From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.”
Mark says, “They went to Capernaum, and when the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach. The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law” (Mark 1:21-22).
It is said that, if you study the history of some of the great churches in America, you will find these places had the privilege of hearing God’s Word preached faithfully, dynamically, and lovingly by people who have themselves walked in a personal relationship with Christ and considered the Bible their only authority in matters of faith and life. The preachers were not necessarily great orators, but people who lived with great conviction. Preaching for them was a matter of life or death. They lived to preach.
One such church is the Moody Church in Chicago. Dwight L. Moody, considered to be the Billy Graham of his day, was the pastor of that church for many years. Today people still flock to the church knowing they will hear great preaching of God’s Holy Word. My grandson attends Moody church regularly, though it is not an easy church to attend. The parking is difficult and many other reasons exist for choosing another church more conveniently located. Yet, when asked why he chooses Moody for his regular place of worship, he is quick to respond, “I know I will hear a great sermon, and my soul will be fed on God’s Word.”
Moody and his successors have seen the importance of preaching and teaching the Bible. His church has drawn thousands of people over the years. We can learn from this example. It is one thing to attract people to our services through friendliness, motivational speaking, and attractive messages (even when they are not true to scriptural teaching). However, experience has taught us such congregations will not long endure. We must build on the Rock, and the Rock is Jesus.
Our text tells us that Capernaum was in the part of Palestine known as Galilee of the Gentiles. This means that many foreigners made Capernaum and the surrounding area their home. They were hungry for new thoughts on spiritual matters, so they came to hear Christ’s message.
Does that part of Galilee remind you of our nation? We have welcomed people with all kinds of spiritual backgrounds to our shores. Our society is made up of atheists, agnostics (people who are indifferent to religion), Moslems, Hindus, Buddhists, and other cults. What an opportunity the Church has to preach and teach these people about the grace of God!
Where preaching is strong, these spiritually-hungry people will listen. Where preaching is weak, the Church has little to say to them. Our culture writes off Christianity when the speaker is not sure what they are talking about. When the preacher or teacher fills his sermon or lecture with “This is probably true” statements, they do not impress the listener. “How can they teach me something that is not proven in their own mind?” Remember that Jesus taught with authority.
This leads to the question, What is the Church’s message? The answer is, Jesus sets the agenda. The topics are still relevant. Here are two examples:
1. God is your Father and wants to live in a personal relationship with you. He is not a tyrant who is out to get you. It is true that he can punish those who live contrary to his will. However, even that punishment is done in love. While our sin separates us from a righteous God, he sent his Son, Jesus Christ, into the world to suffer, die, and be raised to pay the price for our sins. He took our sins upon himself and went to the cross to pay the price for these sins.
If we will receive Christ, he will take our sins away and bring us into a relationship with him. That relationship is personal. We can come to him any time with our joys and sorrows, our worries and our confusions, for He has promised to always be with us.
When a church preaches and teaches this message on a regular basis, a relationship with Christ will develop in the lives of its listeners, even if it takes a lifetime. God is waiting for us, and he has plenty of time. But do we? Who knows what the next hour will bring.
2. “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be given to you as well.” This is a statement from Jesus’ sermon. Does it not need to be heard today also? You might wonder, if you receive Jesus and live according to his will, might you move into a three million-dollar home and drive a Lexus?
No. In fact, he tells us that his followers can expect suffering of one type or another. This verse is spoken to people whose lives are filled with worry, wondering if they will even have enough to satisfy the basic needs of life. Jesus says, “Trust me. I will direct you, and your needs will be satisfied.”
Discuss topics like these in a mixed group of believers and unbelievers and you will find interesting results. You can be sure they will be back for more.
Some topics Jesus raised are not appreciated by the natural mind. However, a congregation that wants to be a church of the Word cannot pick and choose what they will preach and teach. God’s Word must be proclaimed with conviction! These truths must then be wrestled with in a small group until it is time to move on to another teaching of our Lord. This does not mean that we will have the answers to all our questions in this life, but someday we will fully understand.
This text tells us the importance of a congregation guarding the pulpit and the classroom. Make sure you know what is going on. Remember, what we teach either strengthens or weakens the church. We can see evidence all around us that, where biblical ignorance increases in a church, the worshipers decrease in number. God gives us a wake-up call. Acting in love, let us investigate what is happening. This is pleasing to our Lord.