On a Sunday in January, early in my ministry, I decided to break from our expositional study of Ephesians to preach on the sanctity of human life.
After much prayer, I laid out the biblical argument with passion and conviction. From Genesis 1, I explained how every human being is an image-bearer of God and consequently a person of great worth to their Creator.
From Psalm 139 and Luke 1, I made the case that personhood begins at conception, not birth; therefore, all human beings are to be protected, defended, and loved from conception. I quoted noted ethicist John Jefferson Davis, who contends:
During the earliest stages of human life—when the embryo does not look human—vulnerable human life is seen by God and is the object of divine awareness and concern.
I felt I’d been faithful to the task.
Immediately after my message, an older gentleman approached me with a hunched posture and haggard demeanor, and he handed me a note, folded in what appeared to be a hundred creases. He didn’t say a word. He just smiled.
After he sauntered away, I carefully opened the paper. What I found inside, bordered by mostly blank space, was a single sentence that read: “Where was the hope in your message for women who have had abortions?”
I was devastated. Sick, actually.
The man was correct: in my zeal to champion the rights of the unborn, I had neglected to provide the one thing a Christian sermon should never lack: Christ-centered hope.
That was nearly two decades ago, and thankfully God has since magnified my understanding of his grace, humbled me in a thousand ways, and radically altered my preaching, in spite of my foolishness and stubbornness. But that senior adult’s penetrating question has stuck with me, and I’ve come to appreciate it in a way I barely grasped at the time.
Preach the Remedy for Sin
Is it wrong to encourage people to be mindful of the harm done to the most helpless in our world—preborn children—and to exhort them to actively defend the defenseless? No. To the contrary, exposition often demands exhortation. But providing guidance (or correction) is not the primary function of the pulpit ministry.
Preaching is proclamation. The role of the pulpit ministry is to proclaim the whole counsel of God, of which Jesus Christ is the hero and object. Thus, as preachers our ultimate task is to “dispense” the bread of life via the story of redemption as realized in Christ’s obedient life, death, resurrection, ascension, and coming return. This was Jesus’s own pattern: As was his custom, Jesus opened the Scriptures and explained how they found fulfillment in him (Luke 4:16).
In Jesus’s sermon at Capernaum (John 6), he answers the familiar question “What must we do to be doing the works of God?” (v. 28) with a stunning reply: “Believe in the one [God] sent” (v. 29).
To a beaten down and exhausted crowd, Jesus offers himself as the remedy to their greatest fears and longings: “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst” (John 6:35).
Dispensing Jesus was the apostles’ prerogative as well: “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2). Similarly, it was the preacher of Hebrews’ mission to show Jesus’s superiority over all prophets, priests, and systems.
Every Sunday, whether we’re preaching to 30 or 3,000, the people gathered in our assembly are just like us: riddled by guilt and shame over bad behavior, unkept promises, and lapses in judgment. They are hurting. They are in desperate need of hope. Our chief responsibility as preachers is to herald Jesus Christ, good news in a world of bad news, news of forgiveness through faith in the person and work of God’s Son.
Preach Abounding Grace
A friend says pulpit malpractice is preaching the imperatives without also heralding the indicative of what God has done for us in Christ. In other words, faithful preaching includes law and gospel, the preacher reminding his flock of God’s perfect and holy standard, of which we all continue to fall short, but also Christ’s obedience on their behalf and the cleansing and forgiveness found in him.
Tomorrow is Sanctity of Human Life Sunday. I will certainly take a moment from the pulpit to share why we fight for the protection of the preborn. But I won’t make the same mistake I made 20 years ago. I’ll also passionately communicate the good news that for liars, thieves, blasphemers, pornographers, idol worshipers, adulterers, abortionists—and for women who’ve had abortions—there is complete and total forgiveness in Jesus Christ. The same grace on which we depend knows no limitations.
The woman who has undergone abortion and has turned in faith to Jesus need never be concerned that God is against her or is looking to punish her. She is a daughter of the Most High King. And she is beloved. Same with the abortion doctor who turns away from his horrid practice to follow Christ.
May we communicate such good news this Sunday and every Sunday.