In the end, it’s all Jesus

I hate trying to play games when I don’t know the rules.  I have painful memories of trying to play euchre while still not being totally sure what the point was or what “trump” meant. No, I like to know what I’m doing, what the rules are, what the point is. So lately, as ministry has become complex and sometimes troublesome, I felt the same pang of not knowing exactly what the rules are anymore.

Thankfully, several providences have conspired lately to remind me of the point, to remind me that the gospel ministry is the gospel ministry. That is, if I am pursuing my calling faithfully and if our congregation is pursuing our calling faithfully, we will proclaim Jesus as the answer. And the next week, we’ll proclaim Jesus again. And then we’ll proclaim Jesus some more.

Here’s how God reminded me:

  • Recently, our elders asked me to prepare and preach a series of sermons on our identity as a church. The front of Immanuel’s bulletin reads “Worshiping, Serving & Proclaiming Jesus Christ, God With Us.” So it worked pretty well to preach a sermon for each: worship, service and proclamation. For the sermon on proclamation, though I was pretty set to preach on evangelism, through my Bible reading the Holy Spirit reminded me and re-convinced me that proclaiming Jesus is not just the heart of evangelism, it’s the heart of all ministry. Particularly helpful was the reminder of Paul’s ministry to the Corinthians, for whom he resolve to know and preach Christ crucified (1 Cor. 2:2) and to whom he saw himself as a permanent ambassador, always seeking to reconcile people to their Creator through Jesus (2 Cor. 5:20).
  • Second, our small groups are working this year through Paul Tripp’s book Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands. As God would have it, our first lesson was pretty much on point:

We must not offer people a system of redemption, a set of insights and principles. We offer people a Redeemer. In his power, we find the hope and help we need to defeat the most powerful enemies. Hope rests in the grace of the Redeemer, the only real means of lasting change. (Paul Tripp)

  • Finally, this week we’re diving into a new sermon series in Ezekiel. In reading a lot of commentaries for the background and outline of this amazing prophet, Iain Duguid’s comments on how to interpret the book of Ezekiel were especially helpful. He noted that while many in the past were fairly creative (to put it nicely) in their interpretation of Ezekiel, the right interpretation will always result in Jesus being proclaimed. And to those who might criticize, wanting to hear “ethical imperatives” and more specific, right-now application, Duguid writes:

The gospel (the good news about Jesus’ death and resurrection) is not merely the power by which dead sinners are raised to new life, it is also the power by which God’s people are transformed. The gospel is not merely the starting point from which we move on to ethics; it is the heartbeat of our lives as Christians.

So that’s it: we have nothing of ultimate worth to give to people, whether believers or unbelievers, apart from Jesus. Our preaching, our counseling, our evangelism, our discipleship, our encouragement, our parenting, our friendships–wherever we are put to help others, we only ultimately help by giving people Jesus.

And a final note: though proclaiming Jesus is wonderfully simple, it’s never simplistic. We don’t deny the complexities of life and that God’s Word gives help–but we give that help through, with and from Jesus.

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  1. Ellen Mora Olivetti September 28, 2011 at 4:54 pm #

    A good reminder for all of us. Sometimes we try to fix the problems, wanting so badly to help people, instead of pointing people to the answer – in the end, it’s all about Jesus.

  2. Lucas Hanna October 5, 2011 at 10:12 am #

    Well Said, It is easy to feel like you are spinning your wheels, it is to easy to wonder if you’re accomplishing anything, and it is to easy to conclude, from those feelings that doing something else, anything else,might be better or more “useful”. We walk by faith not by feeling.
    It’s good to ask ourselves tough questions, and analyze our methods, but in the end if we are pointing people to Christ, his word will not return empty.
    Thank you for the honest reminder.

    Lucas Hanna

  3. Rose October 11, 2011 at 3:29 pm #

    I’ve found it helpful to consider that the Word teaches 1) what man is to believe concerning God and 2) what duty God requires of man. Both Christ and christian duty are the concern of Scripture. I have seen too many pulpits major on christian duty to the neglect of Christ, but it can go the other way.

    When Paul addressed the Corinthians as unspiritual, he spoke only of the cross, but he clearly desired to move on to other things, to mature, meaty, spiritual things, not laying again the foundation. Are we walking in the Spirit, having the mind of Christ, having the Spirit poured out on all of us, or have we become dull, having begun in the Spirit, but now returning to the flesh? That will affect the content of the proclamation. Do you regard your audience as spiritual, perhaps needing to be reminded of things they already know, not really needing a teacher, because the Spirit teaches them, or do you think that maybe you are the only spiritual one in the room? Are you convinced of the priesthood of all believers, or are you addressing men in the flesh?

    • Jared Olivetti October 17, 2011 at 10:31 am #

      Hi Rose,

      Sorry for the late reply…and thanks for the comment!

      If I understand your comment correctly, I think I agree that pastors can make the mistake of preaching “gospel only” (here, “gospel” in the most narrow sense) to the neglect of Christian duty. And that our reformation forefathers would have us do both.

      What I’m trying to get at in my preaching (and here, writing) is that Christian duty is founded in and flows from the gospel. That is, proper preaching of the gospel will lead to living the gospel-life Jesus has for me. And proper preaching of Christian duty will always begin with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Because without Jesus, I have absolutely no ability to fulfill my Christian duty. Woe to the preacher (and his audience) who proclaims Christian duty without the Christ who first fulfilled that duty!

      I hope that helps.

      Peace, Jared

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