Phil Cox

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Preaching Works!

22nd September 2012

Matthew 8v1
When he came down from the mountainside, large crowds followed him.

This single sentence comes immediately after Matthew’s account of the Sermon on the Mount (in chapters 5 to 7) and immediately before four healing stories (in Matthew 8v2-17). But why is it there? I think the answer is this:

Matthew wants to make it clear that Jesus didn’t need miracles to draw a crowd. His preaching was enough.

In Matthew’s account of Jesus’s life, the only mention of Jesus performing miracles before the Sermon on the Mount is in:

Matthew 4v23-25
Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. News about him spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralysed, and he healed them. Large crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea and the region across the Jordan followed him.

This passage doesn’t say whether it was the preaching or the miraculous healing that drew the crowd. I suspect both would. But, so far as we know, there were no miracles at the Sermon on the Mount – just preaching of the word of God. And again Matthew tells us that even as he came down from the mountainside, where he had been preaching, large crowds followed him.

Preaching works!

It’s wonderful that we sometimes experience God's miraculous power healing our bodies, and it's good to testify about what God has done for us, but it’s not through healing that God chooses to save us - it’s through preaching:

1 Corinthians 1v21b
God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe.

Romans 10v13-14
for, "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved." 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?

Some churches have seen a wonderful outpouring of God’s mercy in physical healing, but churches are not hospitals – they’re communities of God’s people, and our primary calling is to make disciples through preaching and baptism:

Matthew 28v18-20a
Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you."

This emphasis on preaching and discipleship is also in:

Mark 16v15-18
He said to them, "Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation... And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well."

Physical healing is wonderful. But it’s a sign that accompanies our main ministry - preaching. Physical healing is much less important than preaching the word of God, as physical health is much less important than a relationship with Jesus. Remember what Peter said when Jesus asked if the disciples were going to abandon Him:

John 6v68-69
Simon Peter answered him, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God”.

It’s great to have our bodies healed, and our lives put back together, here on earth, but it’s very insignificant compared to inheriting eternal life. As Paul wrote:

2 Corinthians 4v16-18
... Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

Jesus often told people not to speak to others about their healing (see, for example, Matthew 8:4 and 9:30). Have you ever wondered why He did this? I think it’s because his healing ministry was far less important than his preaching ministry. And so should ours be. He didn’t want many people coming to Him just for physical healing. He wanted to maximise His opportunity to preach the word of God.

Some in our generation want to reduce the preaching in their churches to little more than a 5 or 10 minute “thought for the day”. We’re told that modern people can’t concentrate for more than a few minutes. That would be a sad reflection on modern society if it were true, but a good sermon can hold our attention, can teach us about God and can do us eternal good.

1 Corinthians 12v28
And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those having gifts of healing...

If you’re a preacher, as I am, then please keep believing that you’re ministry is of vital, eternal significance. We’re called to preach the kingdom of God in a way that brings men and women to believe in His love, His power, and His redeeming sacrifice on the cross. And let’s both pray and work, so that our preaching is interesting, engaging, understandable and – most of all – biblical, and pray that God works to save those who hear it.

And if you're a church member, and your preachers are a bit boring, please pray for them. It really is in your interest to do so.