“What sermon had the most impact on your life?”
That question was asked by my friend Jeff Purswell at a recent dinner with some friends. We all paused and began to recount our histories of hearing sermons. We all reflected upon the difference the preaching of God’s word has made in our lives. This question provoked a wonderful review of each man’s experience of grace through preaching.
Something happens in the preaching of God’s word that doesn’t happen in our private devotions or small groups or even listening to a sermon online—as important as these practices are for the Christian. But they are no substitute for the experience of hearing God’s word preached to the gathered church. J.I. Packer describes it this way:
“I continue to believe in preaching and to maintain that there is no substitute for it, and no power or stature or sustained vision or close fellowship in the church without it…Preaching mediates not only God’s authority, but also his presence and his power. Preaching effects an encounter not simply with truth, but with God himself.”
And each guy at the table that night attested to a similar experience as we reflected on the difference preaching in general and a specific sermon made in our lives. No wonder John Jewel (Bishop of Salisbury from 1522-1572) exhorted those he served to:
“Despise not, good brethren, despise not to hear God’s Word declared. As you tender your own souls, be diligent to come to sermons; for that is the ordinary place where men’s hearts be moved, and God’s secrets be revealed. For, be the preacher never so weak, yet is the Word of God as mighty as ever it was.”
There is no substitute for hearing God’s word preached to the gathered church. For here in this ordinary gathering each week, the extraordinary takes place as we encounter not simply truth, but God himself.