The Power of Preaching
By Barry L. Davis
Approximately 50 times a year I stand up in front of a congregation and preach. I have been preaching for many years, and in my early ministries preached twice each Sunday. In other words, I’ve preached thousands of sermons, and chances are, you have too. For most of us in pastoral ministry, preaching is considered, both by the preacher and the parishioner, to be the most important thing that we do.
I always spend a great deal of time in preparation for that half hour or so that I am privileged to communicate on Sunday morning. In fact, I find it one of the most significant things that I can spend my time on, and that is why I have dedicated my life to doing it. The reason I do what I do in this regard is because I fully believe in the power of preaching to change people’s lives – and if I didn’t believe that, I’d quit doing it.
For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. – 1 Corinthians 1:21 (ESV)
He isn’t saying here that preaching is foolish, but that it appears foolish to those who seek wisdom through philosophical or other means. It appears foolish to those who are perishing because the main message being preached is one of God being murdered upon a cross. But God makes it very clear that through the preaching of His Word His power is revealed and it is the means by which people will be saved. We see a good example of this in Acts 14:1:
Now at Iconium they entered together into the Jewish synagogue and spoke in such a way that a great number of both Jews and Greeks believed. (ESV)
Paul and Barnabas were not offering sermonettes, or simply nice sayings to make everyone feel good, but were preaching in the power of God so that people’s lives would be changed. And lives really were changed as a result of the message they gave and the spirit in which they gave it. The exact same can happen when you preach God’s Word in power.
In this article I am using the word “PREACH” as a framework to help us understand how God uses this powerful tool, and hopefully to impress upon you the power that preaching can have over your unchurched friends. What I want us to do is see how God used preaching throughout the history of Acts and elsewhere and how He still uses it today.
When we proclaim something we are making some type of an announcement. In preaching we are proclaiming the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In a nutshell, we are giving the good news of the Gospel of Christ. Let me give you just a few examples from the book of Acts.
And as they were speaking to the people, the priests and the captain of the temple and the Sadducees came upon them, greatly annoyed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead. – Acts 4:1-2 (ESV)
And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus. – Acts 5:42 (ESV)
Let it be known to you therefore, brothers, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. – Acts 13:38 (ESV)
In these three examples alone we see the proclamation that Jesus is the Messiah, that Jesus offers us forgiveness of sins, and that Jesus rose from the dead. We will see these same themes proclaimed by the apostles and others throughout the entire New Testament.
I have studied every sermon preached in the book of Acts and the most common theme by far is Jesus’ resurrection from the dead and the events surrounding it. From this fact we learn that the power of preaching is found in the message that we are proclaiming. And what we are called to proclaim to the multitudes is that God has come in the flesh, lived a sinless life, died on the cross as our substitute, has risen from the dead, and now sits in glory at the right hand of the Father. Please keep this in mind as you prepare your future sermons. While there is certainly a place for messages on family life, being a good boss/employee, and many other topics, central to everything we preach must be the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Peter Jenkins began a 5-year, 4,500-mile walk across America in Oct. of 1973. First published as two articles in National Geographic, his memoirs then led to two best-selling books. Two years into the journey, he stumbled into an Alabama revival and ended up accepting Christ. Jenkins says: “I grew up in Connecticut in a very quiet, official, East Coast Presbyterian church. My parents believed, and they made their 6 children go to church and Sunday school. I wanted a religion that had emotion in it – I wanted a religion that had life, action, and the kinds of things I found in the kind of music I loved. When the revival began, this guy from Texas named James Robison came out screaming and preaching and throwing his arms around. There was sweat dripping and everything. He was dressed in a three-piece suit and cowboy boots. The two of us could not have more unalike. I was this young man with sun-bleached reddish hair down to his shoulders and an unshaven beard. But I honestly felt like when he was preaching the gospel, a huge sword was slicing me into a whole bunch of pieces. He was saying, “Joining a church won’t make you a Christian any more than joining a Lion’s Club will make you a lion. From the day you were born, you wanted to do your own thing and you were rebellious against God. If you really want to really know God, you’ve got to repent of this rebellion which the Bible calls sin.”
I could relate to that – I thought I was a pretty good person – I thought I was in search of the truth. The more I heard this stuff, [the more I realized that religion is not the answer; salvation is. You just have something inside of you that knows when you hear the truth. All of the things we think about ourselves, how we define ourselves—all that is insignificant when it comes to what’s going on in our soul. James gave me one of the greatest gifts anybody could have ever given me – He led me to the Lord.
Preaching is not just proclaiming the truths of the Gospel; it is applying those truths of the Gospel to individual’s lives so that those lives are restored. Peter was quoting the prophet Joel in his first sermon and this is what he said:
“Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” – Acts 2:21b (ESV)
What was he saying? He was saying “I’m not proclaiming Jesus to you as a theory, but as a reality – not as a God who wants to condemn you, but as a God who wants to save you.” Preaching should bring restoration to those who have never known God as well as to those who once knew Him but have checked out for some reason or other.
I’ve attended some churches where we never received any teaching beyond the most elementary doctrines of the Christian faith. The members didn’t know how to apply their faith to their everyday life because no one ever showed them how. One of the things that makes preaching powerful is that it can and should be used to equip those who are already believers in how to live their faith, share their faith, and know their faith intimately.
Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God. – Hebrews 6:1 (ESV)
This maturity of understanding spoken of here comes only when the servant of God preaches and teaches the deeper things of God to the Christian community. It is our job as Christian leaders to make sure that our flock is learning, step-by-step, the deeper things of God.
(Paul saying farewell to the elders in Ephesus): …I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house. – Acts 20:20 (ESV)
And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ. – Ephesians 4:11-12 (ESV)
While we talk a lot about evangelism, we must realize that our job isn’t over until we have fully equipped those who have been won to Christ. If you are staying true to your calling as a minister then your members should walk out of church every week better equipped than they were the week before. If that’s not happening, something is wrong. I certainly wouldn’t limit this equipping to the weekend sermon, as there should be plenty of other opportunities available, but it definitely begins for most churches in the corporate worship time.
There is nothing more comforting than knowing that you are a child of God, that your sins have been forgiven, that you are bound for heaven, and that God loves you. Preaching is powerful, because it takes the comfort of God from the Word of God and brings assurance to His people.
And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” – Acts 2:38-39 (ESV)
The promise of forgiveness and salvation is given as an assurance to all who turn to the Lord. I’ve been in churches where the minister actually said, “I hope that we’ll be saved…we’ll just have to wait to find out.” That is utter hogwash and goes completely against the mandate that God has given to His preachers. We are given the power to proclaim that God not only makes promises, but that He keeps His promises, and that we can live for Him because we do so with the assurance that we are His children now, and we will always be His children.
Stephen Kingsley owns a carpet cleaning business and he offers a special service for removing pet urine odors. To show potential customers their need for the service, he darkens the room and then turns on a powerful black light. The black light causes urine crystals to glow brightly. To the horror of the homeowner every drop and dribble can be seen, not only on the carpet, but usually on walls, drapes, furniture, and even on lamp shades. One homeowner begged me to shut off the light: “I can’t bear to see anymore. I don’t care what it costs. Please clean it up!” Another woman said, “I’ll never be comfortable in my home again.” The offense was there all the time, but it was invisible until the right light exposed it. It would have been cruel to show customers the extent of their problem and then say, “Too bad for you” and walk away. He brought the light so that they might desperately want his cleaning services.
In the same way, God shines the light of his commandments through preaching, not just to make us feel guilty and leave us that way. He has a cleaning service to offer—salvation through Jesus Christ.
Peter preached: “Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out.” – Acts 3:19
The power to preach is found in its ability to convict us of sin, lead us to repent, and to experience the refreshing waters of salvation. I will never forget week after week, coming under the preaching of a powerful spokesman for God and having my sinfulness come to the surface. Did that anger me? No! It helped me to realize that my life was headed down the wrong path and that only Jesus could make me whole again. We must not be afraid to preach to convict those who are away from the Lord, as well as to those who have professed faith in the Lord but, to use an old and almost forgotten term – backslidden – so that they will turn back to Him.
Recently, a Kansas City pharmacist was charged with diluting cancer treatment drugs, Gemzar and Taxol, in order to make a larger profit. So far there are 20 felony counts against the pharmacist, Robert Courtney. He admitted to diluting the drugs during a period of time spanning from November 2000 to March 2001. This man held life-saving power in his hands and for the sake of personal gain diluted it to the point where it could not help people.
We can do the same with God’s life-saving truth if we do not respect and honor Him in the message we proclaim. The words said from the podium must always be said in such a way as to bring honor to the God we claim to worship. I don’t have a single verse to give you to illustrate this – to get a sense of the honor and esteem with which these early preachers spoke of God you would need to read through the entire book of Acts, and actually the entire New Testament. We obviously don’t have space for that, but we need to recognize that the real power of preaching is derived from the one whom we are preaching about. If we are going to see results God must be honored by every single word that comes from the stage – and we need to be committed to doing that every week.
 “Peter Jenkins Finds Jesus While Walking America,” accessed January 12, 2015, http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2003/januaryweb-only/1-6-22.0.html.
 USA Today (8-28-01)
Barry L. Davis spent two decades as a Senior Pastor and started the ministry of The Pastor’s Helper in 1996. The Pastor’s Helper strives to provide tools and resources to help pastors succeed in their ministry calling. His latest book is God-Driven Leadership: A Call to Seeing, Believing, and Living in Accordance with Scriptural Principles, from which this article is derived.