Preaching Ruins Everything

By Bob Hiller

There you are—It’s 4:00 PM. You’re sitting in your office planning your drink of choice for watching tonight’s Olympic events while getting fired up to cheer on the stars and stripes. With dreams of gymnastic gold and swimming excitement, you decide to parous the old Facebook page, when it happens. Your friend from two time zones over has already watched the events, and they are posting the results! You pretend like you didn’t see it, but it is too late. The USA’s dominance is no longer a surprise for you. The results are in, and you’ve seen them. The excitement is ruined. You know the end.

Before I move on to my ham-fisted preaching application here, let’s be clear, east coast friends. Posting results ruins it for everyone else! Keep it to yourselves, please. For the love of God and country, let us see for ourselves! And no, posting “SPOILER ALERT” does not let you off the hook!

While I grumbled over someone’s “spoiler” post this past week, it struck me that this sort of poor Facebook etiquette is precisely the job of the preacher. That is, our job is to ruin the end, so to speak. Ok, perhaps “ruin” isn’t the best use of language. Nonetheless, proper preaching of Jesus is simply news from the future breaking into the present to let you know how it will all turn out. I hate, or rather love, to spoil this for you, but on the last day, Christ wins and you get to enjoy the benefits of His victory. So many face the final judgment with so much fear and uncertainty. They wonder what God will finally say about them on Judgment Day. Good preaching announces and delivers the answer. Christ was greater than your sins. Yes, yours—specifically you. He’s not bringing them up on that day because they’ve been dealt with already, on the cross, by Jesus. Because of blood already shed on your behalf, you have been, are now, and, thus will be declared not guilty.

luther preaching

But, I’m afraid, it is this sort of preaching that utterly terrifies us. And it should! I mean, just think of the audacity of someone telling you now what God will say then! Where does a preacher get off posting the results before we actually experience the Last Day? If you preach like this, it is suggested, you’ll ruin the watching experience. It ruins all of the moral, spiritual, and intellectual projects I’ve engaged in to prepare myself for the end. It ruins all of my aspirations of thinking that my life is going to have some kind of impact on that final verdict. This sort of preaching doesn’t just ruin the end; it ruins me!

Yes! Exactly! That is the aim of this sort of preaching—to ruin you. In fact, it is to put that old you to death. But it doesn’t stop there. It raises you to a new life. That new life doesn’t begin at the end. It is here for you now! St. Paul has the audacity to tell you (yes, you), “You also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you might belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God.” (Romans 7:4) Or, “…one has died for all, therefore all have died…If anyone is in Christ he is a new creation; behold, the old is gone the new is come.” (2 Corinthians 5:14, 17). Your end is ruined! You’re dead! But Christ is alive and has given you a new life! Your end is now, for you are Christ’s!

I know this isn’t popular. I imagine many are uncomfortable with such audacious claims. Some may think it goes too far to announce God’s final verdict now. But let’s just enjoy the audacity of the spoiled verdict, shall we? Let’s preach the final verdict with boldness and joy! Let’s ruin the surprise on Judgment Day. The final judgment has come. It came on Jesus 2,000 years ago when He died the punishment for your sins. Golgatha was your judgment day. So was your Baptism, when God crucified you with Christ and you died. But take heart, for Jesus rose! And so did you! And you are a new creation in Christ!  And every Sunday, when you hear the pastor absolve your sins, you are hearing the risen Jesus’ final verdict for you. Yes, the absolving preacher ruins the surprise. Thank God!