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Body Language: A Word for Preachers

July 6, 2011

The Burden of Preaching the Supremacy of Christ.  Few things are more worthy, but also more frustrating, than trying to use language to describe the supremacy of Christ.  It’s like trying to describe the Grand Canyon to someone who has never seen it.  You can say it is “big,” and that it is “beautiful” and even “breathtaking,” but you know that these words will not truly paint a picture of the canyon’s grandeur.  How does one speak about the greatness of Jesus without realizing how limited language is?  How do we try to describe Jesus without completely being humbled by our own frailties? 

This is the burden of preaching.  Every week, we speak of the majesty and splendor of God’s Son.  Every week, we mine for another treasure or facet of His glory.  And every week, we know that we have exalted His name but not to the degree that He deserves; we know that we have not fully implanted in the minds of our hearers His greatness.  It is a job that cannot be accomplished if not for the mystical and mysterious work of the presence of Christ co-laboring with His message.  The written Word and the living Word work hand-in-hand.  Without this, our language is dead.  It’s just too small no matter how articulate the speaker.

“The Excellency of Christ.”  This is the name of a sermon by Jonathan Edwards.  Most folks associate Edwards with his most famous sermon entitled, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.”  In The Excellency of Christ, Edwards makes it clear that we cannot speak of the supremacy of Christ in terms of simple descriptions or virtues.  In fact, Edwards says that we speak of Christ’s greatness in terms of “diverse excellencies.”  This essentially means that we talk about two descriptions or virtues contained in Christ that seem to be different, but in Christ are found together in perfect harmony.  For instance, Christ contains in Him perfect humility as well as exaltation.  He is at the same time the “Lion of Judah” and the “Lamb that was slain.”  Only Jesus can do this.  Edwards goes on to give examples of other  “diverse excellencies” that are so perfectly contained in Christ:  infinite justice and infinite grace, majesty and meekness, reverence toward God and equality with God, worthiness of good and endurance of suffering from evil, voluntary obedience and supreme dominion, sovereignty and resignation, and self-sufficiency and reliance.   Jesus’ supremacy must be seen as this grand – so grand that it must be described by two seemingly different qualities.  This view of the supremacy of Christ allows us to speak of Jesus’ greatness without sacrificing the mystery and superiority of His greatness to the words we use to try to describe him. 

Living Sermons of Christ’s Supremacy.  The church is the body of Christ.  Jesus is the head.  This means that the body is completely reliant upon Jesus as its source, guide, and determining character.  It also means that the body represents King Jesus to the world with the same mode of mission found in Jesus’ life and death.  The body is the hope that a preacher has in preaching.  If a word doesn’t find residence in the hearts of the hearers and then flourish to produce representation of Christ to the world, then the sermon has not found its highest purpose.  By itself, the sermon is only as strong as the sound system, which is usually no stronger than the walls of the room.   But when the Body of Christ receives the word and gains a picture of Christ’s supremacy, then the sermon is amplified through the lives of the people in the church.  When this happens, the sermon is no longer subject to the borders of the walls. 

The supremacy of Christ is meant to change lives.  We are to become so enamored with Christ that we confess “Jesus is the best thing I have ever seen or heard.  He is the best news.”  When He has the supreme place in our lives, then the limitations of our language do not matter so much.  We have instead “Body language” that cranks up the volume and vividness of the announcing of Christ’s greatness.

So preach, teach, and proclaim the splendor of Jesus Christ.

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