Dear Pastoral Students:
I want to bring you a charge as we begin this season of study. My charge to you is to preach one sermon. This is what I mean.
If we read Paul right, then this former blasphemer could never get over the grace of God that forgave and called “an insolent man” into the ministry of His Son, Jesus Christ. It is not hyperbole to say, as we survey the life of St. Paul, that he really only had one sermon. Of course, the great Man of God would preach the Gospel in different contexts, using different messages, and explaining New Covenant theology in Christ Jesus out of the Old Testament sacred writings to different people. He was, most certainly, as we remind you to be, “true to the text.” Yet this did not alter, could not alter, the deep-seated, internal “operating system” that had been placed there by the Lord. That “operating system,” if you will, ran all the programs for Paul. The grace of God that would cause Paul, in 1 Timothy 12-16 to explain to Pastor Timothy that the way to deal with all the extensive challenges (he has summarized these dark problems in earlier, opening sentences and will expound upon them in following verses) in Ephesus was to minister out of the sacred encounter and divine calling that one has with and from the risen Lord Jesus Christ, is what also led to the spontaneous doxological combustion in verse 17. How characteristic of the “Apostle of the Heart Set Free” (Eerdmans, 2000) as F.F. Bruce called him, to insert the language of praise as he concluded the narrative of conversion:
“Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, to God who alone is wise, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen” (ESV).
Thus the internal operating system, his own conversion, leads to a constant expression of praise. He ministers out of a core that is a veritable nuclear reactor of grace that produces a life of praise, whether in prison or being beaten or ministering freely before pagan philosophers on Mars Hill. This is the “one-sermon” motif that ruled this man’s life. God’s grace can save anyone, anywhere, with any past. His own life had become “a pattern to those who are going to believe on Him for everlasting life” (1 Timothy 1:16).
What is your one sermon? If you are a believer you have one. If you are a believer who has been called to preach the unsearchable riches of Christ to others, then you surely have one. Your one sermon is what God has done in your life. Your one sermon is your sacred encounter. It is your divine calling. It may be the one sermon of a faithful covenant family who were used of God to bring you to Christ in the home with godly examples. Your calling to preach came as you realized the brokenness of the world which did not have that experience. Or, it may be the sacred encounter of Christ in a prison cell and then the wrestling you had when you knew God was calling you to preach, like Charles Colson, whether bound in the shackles of a penitentiary or the chains of false religion. That is your one sermon. John Wesley was a “brand plucked from the burning” and that theme runs throughout all of his messages. Whitefield burned alive with the glory of his assurance of salvation. Can you read Whitefield and not come away with that one sermon? Spurgeon was arrested by the lay preacher who called for him to “look, look!” and to see his salvation in the Lord. He would call many others to “look” to God in thousands of messages, strong with that one compelling mandate which became his one sermon. What is your one sermon? What makes you burn alive with Christ until your messages break out in a holy conflagration of praise? That “one sermon” is the work of God in you and it will be the Spirit-compelling feature of your ministry which will cause you preach every sermon, from every text, with Gospel power and Scriptural faithfulness.
I, therefore, write you and appeal to you to, now, bring all of your studies before the bar of God, recalling His work in your life, His call on your life, and go to preach one sermon for the rest of your life. And others will break into spontaneous doxological combustion too.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.