The Preaching of Jesus Was Powerful and Relevant

Josh Buice


The world is very much interested in Jesus so long as he isn’t very preachy. This is obvious from the popular show “The Chosen” that has recently captured the attention of the secular sphere. “We were somewhat resistant. I thought it would be cheesy or preachy,” said Carlos Crestana. But by episode 5, he said, “We were all in. We told all our friends.’1Emily Belz, “The Real Miracle on the Set of ‘The Chosen’ Is Christians Coming Together” [accessed: 3/12/23]. Everyone seems fine with a Jesus who is not very preachy.

Everyone seems fine with a Jesus who is not very preachy.

When it comes to preaching, it goes without saying that preaching has fallen upon hard times. Many local churches today would like to substitute the pulpit and bold preaching for something more gentle and palatable. What do we know about Jesus’ preaching? An honest survey of the preaching of Jesus reveals that his preaching was both theologically rich and extremely practical. When we compare modern preaching methods to Jesus, we find that today’s pulpit is shallow and unbalanced. Far too often preaching aims at being immediately practical while neglecting biblical theology. We can learn much from Jesus’ preaching ministry.

Jesus and his Prophetic Preaching

In the Old Testament, the Prophet Moses is perhaps the most respected of all the prophets because of his work in delivering the law to the people and leading them out of the bondage of Egypt. In his ministry he literally spoke to God “face to face, as one speaks to a friend” (Exodus 33:11). One of the great prophecies of Moses was when he pointed the people to the dawning of a day when a prophet would arise who was greater than himself who must be obeyed (Deut 18).

Many Orthodox Jews believe this text in Deuteronomy refers to Joshua, the son of Nun.2Rabbi Michael Skobac, “Deuteronomy 18 – Who is the Prophet?” Jews for Judaism. [accessed: 3/13/23]. The religion of Islam teaches that the passage in Deuteronomy 18 is referring to the prophet Muhammed (AD 570–632). In Moses’ day, he was providing the details regarding the rituals and regulations for both the daily affairs in the market and the worship practices of Israel. He then points them to the prophet who would one day arise—this great Prophet who would lead the people.

Deuteronomy, a book that means the repeating of the law, ends with these words:

And there has not yet arisen a prophet in Israel like Moses, whom Yahweh knew face to face, in regard to all the signs and wonders which Yahweh sent him to do in the land of Egypt against Pharaoh, all his servants, and all his land, and in regard to all the mighty power and in regard to all the great terror which Moses did in the sight of all Israel.3Deuteronomy 34:10-12 [Legacy Standard Bible]

Not just any prophet could fulfill the prophecy of Moses. This figure that Moses foretells would be a special prophet unlike the great prophets of Israel’s history. Ultimately, Deuteronomy 18 is fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus, as the divine Son (John 1:1, 18) enjoyed perfect unbroken communion with God the Father (Matt 11:27; John 10:15). In Jesus’ earthly ministry, he put on display his deity as he healed the sick, raised the dead, gave sight to the blind, made the lame to walk, and the deaf to hear again (Is 35:5).

Jesus fulfilled the office of prophet as he predicted his own death, burial, and resurrection. In fact, he did it on multiple occasions (Mark 10:32-34). The first prophecy of Jesus regarding his death is detailed in Matthew 16:21–23 (see also Mark 8:31–32, and Luke 9:21–22). Immediately following the miracle of Jesus feeding the multitudes, he said that the “Son of Man must suffer many things” (Mark 8:31); be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes; be killed; and be raised again.

No other religious leader has been able to conquer death. Jesus not only predicted his death and resurrection, but after his bodily resurrection he appeared to hundreds of people over a period of 40 days to prove his deity. He is truly the Prophet greater than Moses.

The Power of Jesus’ Preaching

Within popular evangelical circles, preaching has been replaced with concerts and short snippy religious “TED-Talks” in the name of Jesus rather than the power of Jesus. I can recall walking through the exhibit hall of the Southern Baptist Convention in 2019 and seeing magicians exhibiting their evangelism ministries that employ magic tricks to capture the attention of children while pointing them to Jesus. It’s common to see ministries devoted to power lifting and other tricks while preaching is minimized.

When J.I. Packer was a student in 1948-49, he would travel across the city of London to hear D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones preach on Sunday evenings. The testimony of what Packer experienced in those days is critically important to the study of preaching. He said that he had “never heard such preaching.” It came to him “with the force of electric shock, bringing to at least one of his listeners more of a sense of God than any other man” he had known.4Christopher Catherwood, Five Evangelical Leaders, (Wheaton: Harold Shaw Publishers, 1985), 170.

Packer wasn’t referencing the Welshman’s thick accent. He was pointing to the powerful expositions that put on display the grand truths of Scripture with passionate declaration. It was D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones who once described preaching as “logic on fire.” In many churches, people need to be awakened from their state of lethargy as they sit under the trance of political speeches, comedy barn routines, and all manner of sloppy sermonettes that misuse the name of Jesus. The flame is missing from the pulpit.

Today many people view Jesus as a soft ecumenical religious leader who seeks to accommodate the culture and avoid any offense as he maintains a kind and gentle disposition. That’s a terribly deficient view of Jesus. If we want to know Jesus, we must know him as he is revealed to us in the pages of Scripture.

In Mark 8:27-30, we find the popular passage where Peter confesses Jesus as the Christ of God. However, as we read that passage, one thing that should stand out to us was the answer to the first question: “Who do people say that I am?” Jesus asked the disciples to explain the word on the street concerning his identity. In other words, he was interested in hearing the latest gossip about his identity in the public sphere.

The disciples responded by explaining that some were making the claim that Jesus was John the Baptist while others believed Jesus was Elijah or one of the prophets. The first name out of the mouths of the disciples was John the Baptist. Exactly how did John the Baptist preach? We can be certain that John the Baptist didn’t take the most gentle approach to preaching. He certainly wasn’t effeminate or ecumenical.

A survey of John the Baptist’s life reveals that he was born in order to fill the office of the prophet of God who would serve as the forerunner who would announce the coming of the Messiah. John the Baptist was a bold preacher who declared the truth of God’s gospel in the wilderness. He had the boldness of a lion and the conviction of a true prophet of God. He was unflinching in his proclamation, steadfast in his commitment, immovable in his calling, and always abounding in the work of preaching for the glory of God.

Scholars estimate the ministry of John the Baptist through historical studies to be between six and twelve months in total. Although his ministry was rather brief, John left an indelible mark upon the crowds who made the pilgrimage out into the wilderness to hear him preach.  Over the course a short period of time, hundreds of thousands of people made their way out into the wilderness to hear the preacher thunder God’s Word. 

John the Baptist was sent to bear witness of the Light.  That Light was Christ (John 1:6-8).  Not only did he preach the gospel, John was a judgment preacher as well. He refused to capitulate. He refused to skirt around sin in order to please the masses. As the crowds came to hear him preach, he was willing to say what everyone else was afraid to say out in the public. John the Baptist declared openly that it was sinful for Herod to have his brother’s wife. In other words, he called out the powerful public leader for adultery.

When people heard Jesus preach, there was great similarity between his preaching and the preaching of John the Baptist. There was no escaping the reality of his authority. You might be offended by his thundering sermons or you might fall on your face and worship him—but there was no doubt that he was preaching with great authority. At the conclusion of Jesus’ famous sermon known as “The Sermon on the Mount” the people concluded that Jesus was teaching with authority and not like the scribes of his day (Matt 7:28-29).

Jesus Preached the Gospel

Many churches today suffer from shallow pulpit syndrome. The local church is weak because the pulpit is weak. Rather than becoming a launching pad for gospel sermons, the pulpit has become deficient and the local church has become anemic. It was Richard Sibbes who once remarked, “Preaching is the chariot that carries Christ up and down the world.”5Richard Sibbes, “The Fountain Open,” The Works of Richard Sibbes, Volume 5 (ed. Alexander Balloch Grosart; Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1638/2001), 5: 508-509. We see this in the ministry of the prophets, the apostles, faithful pastors of church history, and most importantly in the ministry of Jesus.

As you listen to a preacher for any length of time, you will hear a constant theme or a reoccurring emphasis that continues to resurface over time. This common focus of a preacher spotlights an ongoing goal in his ministry. For instance, if you listen to any health, wealth, and prosperity preacher it’s very likely that you will hear something mentioned about money sooner rather than later. Other preachers are known for their focus on eschatology or politics, and those themes seem to accent every sermon they preach.

For Jesus, the central theme that he was focused upon was the good news of salvation. While Jesus certainly addressed many other issues from both theological and practical levels, his main emphasis and goal was to declare the gospel of God. Mark opens his Gospel with these words that vividly describe Jesus’ preaching ministry:

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”6Mark 1:14-15 [ESV Bible]

Notice that Jesus was a preacher, not just a talker. He proclaimed the truth. The word translated proclaimed is the Greek term “kηρύσσω” which comes from the official herald of the king who would be dispatched into the town square with a message from the royal throne. Everyone was to immediately stop and give attention to what was being proclaimed and declared as if the king was personally standing before them. In other words, this was no story time approach to explaining the Bible nor was it a monotone data dump from a stack of commentaries from his library. It was a passionate declaration of the truth.

Jesus’ peaching was quite different than many modern figures within evangelicalism. Israeli Historian David Flusser has argued that Jesus is to be understood as one who “represented a humanistic trend in Judaism that was then developing out of the liberal wing of the School of Hillel.”7 [1]David Flusser is cited by Richard N. Ostling, “Religion: Who Was Jesus? The debate among scholars is as heated as the one in Hollywood” Time Magazine, August 15, 1988. [Accessed 2/23/23] Flusser continues his description of Jesus by suggesting he “wanted a feeling of love and understanding and identification with one’s fellow human beings.”8Ibid. However, any serious reading of the New Testament contradicts the notion that Jesus was an ecumenical rabbi who roamed around employing a sappy ethic of love.

In Matthew 23, we find some of the most severe words that ever proceeded from Jesus’ mouth in his earthly ministry. They were directed at the religious leaders of Israel. The leaders of Israel were entrusted with positions of power and influence who should have been pointing people to God and leading the way for the worship of God, yet they were perverse men with polluted hearts. Jesus called them “blind guides” in Matthew 23:16 and “white washed tombs” filled with dead men’s bones in Matthew 23:27. The potency of Jesus’ preaching is demonstrated as he thundered the woes of judgment at the elite religious community. Jesus addressed the Pharisees by saying, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.”9Matthew 23:16 [ESV Bible]

We can learn much from the preaching of Jesus in our present hour.

Jesus was a judgment preacher who issued woe after woe as God’s faithful herald. In like manner, Jesus called out sinners personally. He did this in the case of the woman at Jacob’s well in John 4. Rather than accommodating her and seeking to win her over through kind words, Jesus took a different approach. He was honest with her about her sin. Jesus’ words pierced her heart as he exposed her adultery and divorce practices. However, as a faithful preacher of righteousness, Jesus did not leave her in a place of shame. He pointed her to the living waters of his sovereign grace where she would be totally satisfied and forgiven for her rebellion against God.

Compare Jesus’ preaching to the modern evangelical world or with some of the failed trends of evangelicalism and you begin to see a major contrast. I read an article by John MacArthur some years ago titled, “What’s Wrong with ‘User Friendly’?” In the article, John MacArthur is addressing the “User-Friendly” phenomenon that swept through evangelicalism with the seeker sensitive church growth movement. He provided some popular testimonies from these “User-Friendly” churches that were being used as marketing tools to reach their community. One person described their church by stating:

“The sermons are relevant, upbeat, and best of all, short. You won’t hear a lot of preaching about sin and damnation and hell fire. Preaching here doesn’t sound like preaching. It is sophisticated, urbane, and friendly talk, it breaks all the stereotypes.”10 John MacArthur, What’s Wrong with “User Friendly”? [accessed: 3/17/23]

In his earthly ministry, Jesus was never aiming at sophisticated urbane talk. Jesus was God’s Prophet who delivered the message of the gospel faithfully. The church growth movement was an utter disaster and a complete failure. The result of the church growth movement was that it accommodated the culture, watered down the message of the church, hijacked pulpits, and welcomed goats into the membership of the local church. Rather than remaining committed to the truth and preaching the Word of God faithfully, many pulpits caved to the gimmicks of the seeker sensitive ministry philosophy and sadly many of these local churches never recovered.

A survey of the Gospels will reveal Jesus conversing with men, women, and children. He taught large crowds and small gatherings. He discipled fishermen, a tax collector, a zealot, and those who were on various levels of understanding in God’s law. We can learn much from the preaching of Jesus in our present hour.

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1 Emily Belz, “The Real Miracle on the Set of ‘The Chosen’ Is Christians Coming Together” [accessed: 3/12/23].
2 Rabbi Michael Skobac, “Deuteronomy 18 – Who is the Prophet?” Jews for Judaism. [accessed: 3/13/23].
3 Deuteronomy 34:10-12 [Legacy Standard Bible]
4 Christopher Catherwood, Five Evangelical Leaders, (Wheaton: Harold Shaw Publishers, 1985), 170.
5 Richard Sibbes, “The Fountain Open,” The Works of Richard Sibbes, Volume 5 (ed. Alexander Balloch Grosart; Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1638/2001), 5: 508-509.
6 Mark 1:14-15 [ESV Bible]
7 [1]David Flusser is cited by Richard N. Ostling, “Religion: Who Was Jesus? The debate among scholars is as heated as the one in Hollywood” Time Magazine, August 15, 1988. [Accessed 2/23/23]
8 Ibid.
9 Matthew 23:16 [ESV Bible]
10 John MacArthur, What’s Wrong with “User Friendly”? [accessed: 3/17/23]
Author Open-Bible

Josh Buice

Pastor Pray's Mill Baptist Church

Josh Buice is the founder and president of G3 Ministries and serves as the pastor of Pray's Mill Baptist Church on the westside of Atlanta. He is married to Kari and they have four children, Karis, John Mark, Kalli, and Judson. Additionally, he serves as Assistant Professor of Preaching at Grace Bible Theological Seminary. He enjoys theology, preaching, church history, and has a firm commitment to the local church. He also enjoys many sports and the outdoors, including long distance running and high country hunting. He has been writing on Delivered by Grace since he was in seminary and it has expanded with a large readership through the years.