[Editor’s note: At SPT we welcome guest column submissions. Dr. Lyerly’s article is published here with gratitude.]
If you were to describe the typical pulpit in America, what would you say? Most importantly, when measured against the biblical prescription to “preach the word” (2 Timothy 4:2), how faithful is the preaching in our day? Unfortunately, when assessing many of today’s sermons, the conclusion is sobering—preaching is in a pitiful state. Or, as Steven J. Lawson notes, there is a “famine in the land.” 1Steven J. Lawson, Famine in the Land: A Passionate Call for Expository Preaching (Moody, 2003). While homileticians may agree with this conclusion, few highlight the major issue. As a result, the approaches taken to enhance preaching are ineffective.
The main problem in our pulpits is lethargic preaching that is focused on temporal matters. And such inadequate preaching is due to a lack of awareness of the second coming of Christ. The remedy is grasping the fullness of Christ’s return and preaching in the light of that day. It is only through an apprehension of the second coming that ministers will labor in earnest and preach with urgency. When preachers are gripped by the return of King Jesus, the pulpit is set ablaze.
Preachers who preach with laxity tend to be focused on things of this world and fail to arouse listeners’ focus on eternity. Without regular warnings about the imminence of the Lord’s return (and the assessment all people will face on that day), Christians cannot fully grasp the importance of living holy lifestyles. Lacking hope in the age to come, comfort through trials is diminished. There is little fuel for evangelism, so people die and go to hell while congregations occupy their days with the worries of the world. Far too many pulpits are pleasant, shallow, and timid.
However, when God’s messengers grasp the imminence of the second coming of Christ and understand that with his advent Jesus brings judgment, reward, and the eternal state, preaching is transformed. Men of God are burdened to warn the unconverted, urge people to live with a gaze on the everlasting, and encourage Christ-followers to chase holiness.
The New Testament teaches that the second coming is imminent and we are to be expectant for the Lord’s arrival. The New Testament also shows that when Jesus returns, he brings judgment—both damnation and eternal reward. And with Jesus’s return, all mankind—believer and unbeliever—will stand and give an account of their lives (this, of course, includes pastors). Therefore, men must preach with a holy zeal, heralding the reality of eternity at every opportunity.
THE IMMINENCE OF CHRIST’S RETURN
The New Testament’s emphasis on the imminence of Jesus’s return is defined by two focal points. First, the New Testament warns of the uncertain timing of the second coming, explaining that no creature will know the day or the hour of Christ’s arrival. Therefore, the entire world must be ready for that day. Second, the New Testament teaches that the second coming of Christ is the next great event in redemptive history, so the world should be expectant, longing, and looking for that moment. One text that focuses on the imminence of Christ’s return is Matthew 24:36-51.
The verdict from Jesus’s message in Matthew 24:36-51 is that the timing of the second coming is concealed, and it could occur at any minute. Therefore, be watchful for his return. This is the essence of the imminence of the parousia. Since the date is unknown to humanity, there will be nothing out of the ordinary before the Lord descends from heaven. And because the moment of this day is getting closer, live with a gaze on the everlasting. For the glory of Christ’s return may be manifest this very hour.
THE JUDGMENT AT CHRIST’S RETURN
Ok, so Jesus’s return is imminent. He could come back this instant. But why is that important? Because he will oversee the final judgment—a divine reckoning. The New Testament teaches that there will be one public event with judgment for believers and the unregenerate when Jesus returns. In this public assessment, the Lord will grant eternal rewards to the beloved and will disperse degrees of wrath for those heading to hell. Christ-followers will receive the fullness of their salvation, their faith will be sight, and the lost will be damned. Following the final judgment, Jesus will inaugurate the new heavens and the new earth.
Matthew 25:31-46 and John 5:25-29 describe the day of judgment before the Almighty and the consequences that follow. These passages show that there is one assessment for all of mankind, and the designations given to each creature are immediately enforced. These passages also confirm that the judgment and each person’s eternal destiny coincide with the moment of Christ’s return.
Second Corinthians 5:1-10 and 1 Corinthians 3:5-15 reveal that the final judgment is for both the Christian and the unbeliever. Stated differently, the final assessment is not just for damnation. Christ-followers will have their stewardship tested, and their eternity will be shaped by their fidelity to King Jesus. The believer will stand before God as a beloved child, but one’s eternal responsibility will be linked to their faithfulness while on earth. Those outside of Christ will receive gradations of punishment according to the heinousness of their lives.
PREACHING AND CHRIST’S RETURN
Application for preaching is tethered to the described events of the parousia. Because Christ’s return is imminent, and since this day is accompanied by grave consequences, preachers must grasp the fleeting nature of life and yearn to enliven their listeners. The lost must be warned and the Christian should be encouraged to live obediently, striving for eternal reward. Not only will congregants stand before the Lord, but each preacher will face his Maker and his ministry will be judged. The standard will be faithfulness, and the faithfulness of one’s life will be measured based on what was pursued for the glory of God.
Preachers must immerse their sermons with the reality of the final day and press their audience to live for the everlasting. Such preaching is only possible when the man behind the sacred desk is one who, by God’s grace, understands these things for himself, feels the weight of his frailty, and perceives his own need to live in the light of eternity. Because when a man is consumed with the Lord’s assessment, he will be obsessed with faithfully administering his duties. He will preach the Word, and he will do so with urgency. The New Testament’s teaching on the second coming of Christ necessitates earnest proclamation.
IS YOUR PULPIT SET ABLAZE?
We need a reformation in our pulpits. And reform begins with an awareness of the gravity of the return of Christ. So then, brother preacher—assess your own preaching. Do you preach in the light of the second coming? Are you urgent as you stand before the people of God? Is your pulpit set ablaze?
My prayer is that this brief article has been an encouragement to press on. But for some, the truths exposed in Scripture serve as a warning and a rebuke. Friend, Jesus could return today. Are you consumed with that reality? Are you ready? What about the people you serve?
Never forget—as a minister of the gospel, you care for the bride of Jesus Christ. You have been charged to protect, lead, and feed his beloved. Of all the men in the cosmos, you have been designated to shepherd his flock. Pastors have been beckoned by the Almighty to protect those he loves, those he purchased with his own blood. The souls given to Christ by the Father have been entrusted to you to shepherd, and he will not take your stewardship lightly.
The King of glory has stepped away for a short time. He has gone on a journey and has left his bride into the care of overseers. His cherished possession, provided before eternity by the Father, has been handed to you. As he left, he gave you a book of instructions. This book prescribed exactly how you were to care for his beloved. You are not to add to or take away from his words, but you are to know his will and follow it without hesitation. Because, one day, the King will return, and he will examine his bride. He will discover what condition she is in, and how she has been cared for.
After retrieving and embracing her, he will then seek those tasked with serving and protecting her. He will find you. Your name will be called. Your life and ministry will be put on the scale, and it will be tested by fire. The only thing that will matter on that day is how you obeyed the Master and how faithful you were to fulfill your duty. There is no greater calling, but there is also no greater responsibility.
Your congregation does not need a conversation. Those under your care do not need jokes. And they definitely do not need your personality. Preach in the light of the second coming, because Jesus brings judgment for the damned. Labor with excellence because those under your care will stand and give an account of their lives. Lead well because your life will be put on the scales—only what has been done for Christ will last. Live for eternity, minister for eternity, and preach with urgency. And when you do, your pulpit will be set ablaze.
|￪1||Steven J. Lawson, Famine in the Land: A Passionate Call for Expository Preaching (Moody, 2003).|