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Preaching the Illimitable Riches of Christ

Category Articles
Date September 28, 2007

to proclaim … the unsearchable riches of Christ. Ephesians 3:8

Recently four teenagers, three of whom were entering their last year at high school, were killed in a car accident. I cannot imagine the grief and heartache of the parents of these young people, knowing that their children’s lives were snuffed out at such a young age. If given the opportunity, what would I say to them? Without being trite or simplistic, the only thing I could say to comfort them would be to point them to the illimitable, inexhaustible, unsearchable, unfathomable, untraceable riches of Christ.

Paul takes up this glorious truth in Ephesians 3:8, emphatically reminding the saints at Ephesus of a continuous theme in his epistles – that he, the least of the leastest of the saints, the chief of sinners, was privileged by God’s unfathomable grace to preach, to proclaim (not merely to inform of) the riches of Christ and his gospel, riches of which there is no limit, no end, no bottom, no beginning. Paul describes these riches later in this chapter as the height, depth, width, and breadth of the love of God, a love beyond mere knowledge. Paul is absolutely astounded at the riches of Christ and the privilege of preaching them to the Gentiles.

Every preacher of the gospel ought to feel the same way. Our world does not need to hear what we preachers think about politics, economics, or our take on the geo-political issues of the day. They do not need a mere lecture or teaching (though certainly preaching ought to give knowledge). Our world does not need a stand-up comedy routine from us, nor does it need pop-psychology. The needs of our world, in Paul’s day and today, are so deep, so profound, so beyond anything we can offer anyone, that only something eternal and supernatural will do.

And what is the preacher to proclaim? He must proclaim (this is not merely a suggestion or a dialogue) man’s sinfulness, his utter and total depravity. In Isaiah 1 the prophet says that donkeys know the manger of their master but God’s people are rebellious and do not know him. Preachers must not soft-pedal the depravity of man; they must not only stress the lostness of the unregenerate but also the folly and deceitfulness of sin which can plunge believers into ruin. They must ask searching questions of application in their sermons, never assuming that all their audience is converted, never giving their people an easy out concerning indwelling sin and its destructive and deceitful nature. They must preach God’s holiness, sovereignty, justice, mercy, and grace.

Isaiah is awed by the vision of God’s holiness, seeing his own sin and lostness, being amazed at God’s grace to him, moving him to say, ‘Here I am. Send me.’ (Isa. 6) The preacher must preach the glory, majesty, and scandal of the cross. In Isaiah 53 the prophet asks, ‘Who has believed our message, and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?’ He goes on to speak of the Suffering Servant, the Lord Jesus, causing the iniquity of us all to fall on him.

Finally, the preacher is to proclaim the illimitable, inexhaustible, unfathomable, unsearchable, untraceable riches of Christ. He is unreservedly, uncompromisingly, passionately, with Isaiah to say, ‘Behold My servant whom I uphold, My righteous One, in whom My soul delights … He will not cry out or be disheartened until He has established justice on the earth.’ (Isa. 42:1-4)

And why must the preacher preach the unsearchable riches of Christ? Because nothing else will satisfy, because Christ alone is worthy of such labour, and because man is hopeless, absolutely helpless without it. If I were given the opportunity to speak to these grieving parents mentioned above, I would say, as gently and compassionately as I could, ‘You will never again come home at night to your child. You will not be able to enjoy her graduation from high school, the mixed feelings of taking her to college for the first time, the joy of her wedding, the happiness of her giving you grandchildren. In the painful days ahead, when you awake in the night with a grief unlike anything you have ever experienced, I urge you to go to Jesus and cry out to him. Ask him for his grace to sustain you at that moment, to take away the awful pain of loss and separation. He will do so, but then you will experience that pain again and again, and you must do the same. Nothing else will truly satisfy you. A vacation will not do it. More money; throwing yourself into your work; or a new hobby will not do it. Friends will not do it either. Drugs and alcohol certainly will not get it done for you. You must run to Jesus by faith and drink deeply from the river of his grace. While the universe is ten million light years in depth, while Bill Gates has billions of dollars, and while Niagara Falls hurls thousands of gallons of water per second there is an end to these things. They are not inexhaustible. Only the love of God, the glory of union with Christ; only the promise of forgiveness of sins, right standing with God, and the hope of eternal life will satisfy in times of untold sorrow and grief. Run to Jesus for refuge. Take him by faith.’

Our world, so steeped in secularism, denies the power and glory of the resurrected Christ who indwells his people. One of the saddest aspects of modernity is to see people searching for comfort in creation, totally missing the riches of Christ for all who embrace him and believe in him. The preacher’s job is to prepare people to live well and to die well and he can only do this as he preaches the unfathomable riches of Christ.

And what is your job? You are to listen to the preached word, and by this I mean you are not to trifle with it, you are not to take it lightly, you are not to ‘take it or leave it’. You are to listen to it, believe it, act upon it, and repent when it shows you your sin. You are to understand that God looks to the one who is humble and contrite of heart, who trembles at his Word. (Isa. 66:1,2) Are you doing so, or are you placing your affections on creation, looking to people, places, and things to satisfy you, to salve your conscience, to remove the pain of your suffering? Are you lax in your attendance to the preached Word of God? For what reasons do you miss church? How often do you miss it? Are you casual in your personal and familial Bible reading and study? What motivates you? What gives you your greatest joy? Are you a doer of the Word of God, or merely a hearer?

Will you please encourage your preacher to preach the unfathomable riches of Christ? Will you release him from unrealistic expectations? He is not a comedian, political commentator, or economic adviser. Pray that he will preach the illimitable riches of Christ with unction and Holy Ghost power.

Rev. Allen M. Baker is Pastor of Christ Community Presbyterian Church in West Hartford, Connecticut.

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