There is a difference between preaching Christ and preaching about Christ. Preaching Christ is presenting him so clearly and directly that the people experience the sermon this way: “It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified” (Galatians 3:1). Preaching about Christ is presenting ideas related to him. It’s a good thing to do. But preaching Christ is more profound, more daring and more helpful.
In Intellectuals, page 31, Paul Johnson wrote of the poet Shelley, “He burned with a fierce love but it was an abstract flame and the poor mortals who came near it were often scorched. He put ideas before people and his life is a testament to how heartless ideas can be.” It is not enough for us preachers to burn with a fierce love. We must burn with a fierce love for Christ the crucified Friend of sinners and for the sinners right there before us who need that Friend. Ideas about Christ can even be heartless. But Christ crucified befriends sinners, and they feel it.
Calvin comments on Galatians 3:1, “Let those who want to discharge the ministry of the gospel aright learn not only to speak and declaim but also to penetrate into consciences, so that men may see Christ crucified and that his blood may flow.” Christ’s blood flowing into the human conscience, setting people free as they sit there listening to the sermon – that is preaching Christ.
One way to test ourselves is to ask, What are the people who hear me preach walking away with? Have they seen Christ himself during this sermon, or have they only interacted with ideas about Christ? As a preacher, I cannot make people engage with him. I wouldn’t want to try. But I can and must preach in such a way that he stands forth as obvious and available to the people right then and there.