It would be extremely dangerous—even blasphemous—to indiscriminately model one’s preaching after Jesus. He just has too much on us. He’s God after all, and has a few more tools in his homiletical utility belt than we are equipped to handle. On the other hand, the need of our day is every bit as acute as when Jesus walked on the earth. The truth he taught remains the only antidote to the world’s spiritual poison.
One of the most interesting debates in homiletical circles is the degree to which contemporary preachers should preach like Jesus. On the surface, we might think it absolutely necessary to preach like the greatest Preacher ever. Isn’t he, after all, the perfect model? Shouldn’t we exhibit his simplicity, his connection with people, his boldness?
Some go even further and suggest that 21st-century preachers should adopt Jesus’s methodology. Often authors and homiletics professors support their approach to preaching by appealing to some aspect of his technique or style. He was a storyteller, they say, so sermons should be stories. The suggestions continue: He spoke in parables. He preached inductively. He preached deductively. He preached gently. He preached boldly. Opposing approaches to preaching often locate their respective convictions in Jesus’s preaching.
In some ways, however, modern preachers should no more emulate Jesus’s preaching than contemporary Christians should copy the crucifixion. Just as the work of redemption was his alone, a work in which we may merely share, so elements of his preaching can only be reflected in ours, but never actually appropriated.
Jesus preached about himself
The unique and distinctive marks of Jesus’s preaching are inextricable from his person, specifically his place in the Godhead. He preached with an intrinsic authority; our authority is derived. He looked into the hearts of men and women and perfectly saw their worth by divine creation and their sin by human commission; we can only approximate knowledge of either one. His preaching had the unmistakable gleam of the glory of God; on our best days, we struggle to get self out of the way and hope God might just show up for a little while.
At times the heavenly prerogative and intent of his preaching was to “conceal everything from the outsiders” (Mark 4:11) in order to keep to his divine timetable and plan, while our purpose can only be to help everyone—without distinction or discrimination—understand clearly the text’s meaning.
Most of all, Jesus preached about himself. Admittedly, for us that would be not only blasphemous, but pathetic. Like Paul, we must declare,
We don’t go around preaching about ourselves; we preach Christ Jesus, the Lord. All we say about ourselves is that we are your servants because of what Jesus has done for us. (2 Cor. 4:5)
From the time he announced to an exasperated Joseph and Mary that he had to be about his Father’s business, Jesus engaged in a self-centered and decidedly theocentric ministry of proclamation. As odd as that sounds, he could do nothing else. He is the Son of God, the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. To preach anything other than self would be to deprive his audience of knowing the only way of escape from their spiritual squalor and alienation from God.