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THE RESURRECTION OF CHRIST AND THE
VANITY OF MODERN PREACHING

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

A sermon preached at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles
Lord’s Day Morning, April 12, 2009

“And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain” (I Corinthians 15:14).


Dr. A. W. Tozer said, “If Christianity is to receive a rejuvenation…there must appear a new type of preacher…He will contradict, denounce and protest in the name of God and will earn the hatred and opposition of a large segment of Christendom” (A. W. Tozer, D.D., Of God and Men, Christian Publications, 1960, pp. 22, 23).

Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones often pointed out that we live in an age of poor preaching in America and Europe. He gave several reasons for this in his book Preaching and Preachers (Zondervan Publishing House, 1972). There is no question whatever in my mind that he was right about Western preaching. We live in a time of very weak and superficial preaching in America and Europe. How we long for preachers of the Gospel like Christmas Evans (1766-1838), Timothy Dwight (1752-1817), Howell Harris (1714-1773) and Asahel Nettleton (1783-1844)! Are there any great preachers here today? Name one! The days of great preaching are over in the Western world! You have to look to China and other Third World countries to find men who know how to preach!

One of the main reasons for weak, boring, miserable preaching is that our Western preachers have gotten off-subject! I don’t know about others, but my ordination certificate says that I was ordained at the First Chinese Baptist Church of Los Angeles, on July 2, 1972, to “The Gospel Ministry.” That’s what it says on my ordination certificate – that I was ordained to “The Gospel Ministry!” That means I was ordained primarily to preach the Gospel – not mainly to give motivational talks, not to teach the Bible, not to educate children, not to teach parenting, not to give people an emotional lift – but primarily to preach the Gospel! Most pastors were ordained to preach the Gospel. But they have gotten off-subject. That is one of the main reasons for the vain, weak, limp, insipid, and dry “preaching” in our Western pulpits today. Preaching that is not Gospel-centered can never be great preaching!

Listen to some of the subjects that famous American pastors are speaking on and you will see, by the very subjects, how boring they must be to the poor souls who must endure them Sunday after Sunday. These are real subjects, from real pastors today: “How to Submit Your Heart,” “Making a Difference,” “Healing the Hurts of Your Life,” “Seven Stages to Living Your Full Potential,” and “It’s Easier Than You Think.” Today’s “sermons” are not doctrinal. They are centered in pop-psychology and self-help. They mention Jesus, but they are not Christ-centered. The titles of modern “sermons” sound like articles in the Reader’s Digest – full of fluff and pablum – with nothing in them to disturb an unconverted church member – or catch the attention of a lost college student who might be in a service. These little “Reader’s Digest” sermons, given to soothe the elderly ladies and not ruffle any feathers, are killing real Christianity! They are not great preaching! And they are not great preaching because they are not Gospel-centered! They are not Christ-centered sermons, and sermons that do not have Christ at their center can never be great sermons! Put it down as an axiom – he who does not preach Christ crucified and resurrected, as his main subject, can never, ever hope to be a great preacher by anyone’s standards, even his wife’s!

What we have in place of real Gospel preaching are little “sermonettes” for “Christianettes,” the sort of sermon subjects I just mentioned. Preacher, spit that junk out of your mouth, and preach the crucified and resurrected Christ until the stars fall from their sockets, and the world is judged in fire. And as the bowls of divine wrath are poured out on a Godless world – keep on preaching the Crucifixion and Resurrection of the Son of God! Preacher, whatever others do – you keep on-subject, the subject you were ordained for – to preach the Gospel, to preach Christ crucified, to preach Christ resurrected from the dead! Keep that as your main subject Sunday after Sunday, year after year, decade after decade – until the Heavens melt in fire and the black hole of Hell is poured full to the top with sinners – keep on preaching the vicarious death of Jesus and His glorious resurrection from the dead! Spurgeon said he could not think of anything more important to preach on than those subjects. No wonder he was called the “Prince of Preachers!” It takes a prince of a man to stick to the subjects that will keep sinners out of Hell. It takes a prince of a man not to be tricked by the Devil into giving little “Reader’s Digest”-type sermons. Preacher, if you are reading this, repent and go back to Hell-fire, Bloody cross, physical resurrection-preaching that keeps men and women and boys and girls out of the Lake of Fire!

Let us draw close to our text to learn of Christ’s resurrection – one of the central points of true preaching, a point that has always been prominent in great preaching, for the resurrection of Christ is at the very core of the Gospel.

“And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain” (I Corinthians 15:14).

I will bring out two points.

I. First, if Christ be not risen then our preaching is vain and worthless.

Unlike so many modern sermons, the preaching of the Apostle Paul, and all the Apostles, was Christ-centered, not man-centered, as it is today. Every sermon but one recorded in the Book of Acts was preached on the resurrection of Christ. But today, preachers are always trying to make their sermons “relevant” to the modern needs of their congregations. That, in itself, is not wrong, but the way they do it is wrong. The Gospel of Christ’s death for our sins and His bodily resurrection from the tomb are terrifically relevant today! Nothing could possibly be more relevant! Yet where do we hear these great doctrines preached in our Western pulpits with any authority or power? It often seems to me that II Timothy 4:3 has been fulfilled in our time, here in America and Europe.

“For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears” (II Timothy 4:3).

Dr. Michael Horton, in his book, Christless Christianity (Baker Books, 2008) told of two different liberal ministers from “mainline” churches who were coaxed into attending more conservative evangelical churches on Easter Sunday. The first one was a “mainline” liberal theologian. He said there was no “sense that this was God’s gathering. The songs were almost exclusively about us, our feelings and our intentions…but it was not clear whom they were talking about or why…Although it was Easter, the message (with no clear text) was on how Jesus gives us strength to overcome our obstacles…the theologian left disturbed. He had come to an evangelical church at Easter, and instead of meeting God and the announcement of a real victory over sin and death by Jesus Christ [he was given a pep-talk on how to overcome your own obstacles]” (ibid., pp. 29-30).

A second liberal theologian went to a “Bible-believing” and “Christ-centered” church, also on Easter Sunday. He too was disappointed. “The sermon was something about how Jesus overcame his setbacks and so can we.” This further substantiated his view that there is little difference between evangelical and liberal preaching (ibid., p. 30). I totally agree with that evaluation.

Having attended two liberal seminaries, I heard a number of sermons in United Presbyterian, Episcopal, and other “mainline” liberal churches. When I became an independent fundamental Baptist twenty-four years ago I was greatly shocked to find that the younger pastors preached almost exactly like Episcopalians or Methodists! To my surprise, there was very little difference! The subjects were the same in both cases. The style of delivery was the same. And the response was the same. Everyone was lulled to sleep! The sermons of today are designed to please the older women of the church and keep them coming. They are not designed to convert young people! They are not designed to convert sinners!

“If Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain…”
      (I Corinthians 15:14).

Oh, the emptiness, the meaninglessness, the vacuous vanity of modern, man-centered preaching! In 1900 William Booth was asked, “What are the dangers confronting the coming century?” He answered, “Christianity without Christ.” And that is exactly what is being preached today. Christ is mentioned only in passing. “If Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain.” It is false, baseless, empty, void, futile, worthless, unsatisfying, vapid, unimportant, trivial, and useless!

II. Second, if Christ be not risen then your faith is vain and worthless.

“If Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain” (I Corinthians 15:14).

If Christ has not risen then your faith is false, empty, unprofitable, and useless. “Your faith is also vain.” This is repeated in verse 17,

“And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins” (I Corinthians 15:17).

Dr. Gill said, that if Christ is not risen,

Ye are yet in your sins; in a state of nature and unregeneracy, under the power and dominion of sin, being neither regenerated nor sanctified; for regeneration is owing to the resurrection of Christ from the dead…but if Christ is not risen, there never was, or will be any such thing as regeneration… moreover, if Christ is not risen, his people are under the guilt of their sins: there is no expiation nor remission of them, nor justification from them; for though he was delivered as a sacrifice to atone for their offences, and his blood was shed to obtain the forgiveness of their sins, yet he must be raised again for their justification, and be exalted as a Prince and a Saviour…to give repentance [and] remission of sins, or they will never enjoy these blessings; for notwithstanding his sufferings and death, if he lies under the power of the grave, they must remain under the power and guilt of sin, and be liable to everlasting punishment for it (John Gill, D.D., An Exposition of the New Testament, The Baptist Standard Bearer, 1989 reprint, volume II, p. 729; note on I Corinthians 15:17).

“If Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain” (I Corinthians 15:14).

But the Apostle Paul went on to say that he believed in the resurrection of Christ. He said,

“But now is Christ risen from the dead” (I Corinthians 15:20).

Paul and the other Apostles were changed from fearful unbelievers to courageous saints of God by encountering the resurrected Christ. They suffered and died because they knew that Christ had risen from the grave.

Stephen was stoned to death while saying, “I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God” (Acts 7:56). Philip was crucified. Matthew was beheaded in Ethiopia. James was stoned to death in India. Matthias was stoned to death in Jerusalem. Andrew was crucified on an X-shaped cross. It took three days for him to die. Mark was dragged to death through the streets of Alexandria. Peter was crucified upside down at Nero’s Circus. Ileana and I have stood on that spot. Thaddaeus was shot through with arrows in Armenia. Bartholomew was crucified. Thomas was speared to death by Hindu priests in India. Luke was hanged by the neck on an olive tree in Greece. Simon the Zealot was sawed in half in Persia. John was dropped into a vat of boiling oil, and only escaped death by a miracle. Paul was beheaded. These men died for preaching the resurrection of Christ. People down through the centuries have believed them because they were willing to die rather than deny that they had seen, felt and heard Christ after He rose from the dead.

Across the ages of time uncounted thousands have been tortured and murdered for the same reason. They encountered the risen Christ. They knew that He had been raised from the dead by the power of God. And I am saying to you this morning that you, too, can come to Christ. You, too, can know Him. Jesus said,

“All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out” (John 6:37).

When you come to Jesus, His Blood washes your sins away and you are born again. May that be your experience by faith in Christ Jesus. May the resurrected Christ become a living reality to you. As Paul Rader put it, in one of his songs,

Mary beheld Him, and “Master!” cried, After He came from the tomb;
Suddenly Jesus stood in their midst, Entered the tight shut room.
He who was dead is alive again! He who was dead is alive again!
Broken the strong, icy clutches of death – He who was dead is alive again!

Peter beheld Him there on the shore, Ate with Him there by the sea;
Jesus was saying, with lips once dead, Peter, dost thou love Me?
He who was dead is alive again! He who was dead is alive again!
Broken the strong, icy clutches of death – He who was dead is alive again!

Thomas beheld Him there in the room, Called Him his Master and Lord,
Put forth his fingers into the holes Made by the nails and sword.
He who was dead is alive again! He who was dead is alive again!
Broken the strong, icy clutches of death – He who was dead is alive again!
   (“Alive Again” by Paul Rader, 1878-1938).

(END OF SERMON)
You can read Dr. Hymers’ sermons each week on the Internet
at www.realconversion.com. Click on “Sermon Manuscripts.”

Scripture Read Before the Sermon by Dr. Kreighton L. Chan: I Corinthians 15:12-20.
Solo Sung Before the Sermon by Mr. Benjamin Kincaid Griffith:
“Alive Again” (by Paul Rader, 1878-1938).


THE OUTLINE OF

THE RESURRECTION OF CHRIST AND THE
VANITY OF MODERN PREACHING

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

“And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain” (I Corinthians 15:14).

I.   First, if Christ be not risen then our preaching is vain
and worthless, II Timothy 4:3; I Corinthians 15:14a.

II.  Second, if Christ be not risen then your faith is vain
and worthless, I Corinthians 15:14b, 17, 20;
Acts 7:56; John 6:37.